What’s happening to our preaching? A response to John Dickson: Hearing Her Voice: A Case for Women Giving Sermons

John Dickson, Hearing Her Voice: A Case for Women Giving Sermons.

Update (2015): A lot of discussion has occurred since I wrote this review – including a book-length response. See here for a detailed history of the discussion, with links.

On Boxing Day 2012,* a series of electronic booklets called “Fresh Perspectives on Women in Ministry” was released by Zondervan. One of these booklets was written by John Dickson, a highly respected Australian evangelist, writer, researcher and Anglican minister. Although I have only met John briefly, I have personally appreciated and benefited from much of his written work–both academic and popular. He has been involved in Christian ministry for significantly longer than I have; nevertheless we do share a number of things in common. I write regularly for an organisation (Matthias Media) with whom John has had a long and fruitful association. I am a Sydney Anglican minister myself. I also share similar academic research interests to John, particularly regarding the application of New Testament historical research to contemporary ministry.

John’s booklet is, as the title states, “A Case for Women Giving Sermons.” The booklet raises issues which are of great interest–and importance–to many Christians, including (and perhaps especially) Christians in Sydney. It is inexpensive and easy to download, ensuring a wide dissemination. Furthermore, it has been released at a time over the Australian summer holiday period when many Christians are at summer camps and missions, reflecting and discussing theological issues with one another. The nature and timing of the release of this booklet necessitates a number of relatively fast, but also relatively substantial responses. There are already some responses out there (e.g. Luke CollingsPeter Bolt). I trust that this response of my own will be helpful for those seeking to engage with the issues John raises.

A measured response to “a modest proposal”

I write with some trepidation. Despite the need for relatively speedy responses, it is also important to write these responses with care and precision. There are a number of reasons for this. First and foremost, of course, we need to ensure we are doing justice to our brother’s views. This is especially important when the brother in question is a minister of the gospel who is seeking to promote discussion about biblical Christian ministry and preaching–a claim he makes repeatedly in his book, and which is of course clearly evident from his personal ministry over many years. Secondly, John has raised some real, important concerns about the nature of women’s ministry in our context. We need to be careful not to mute or overlook these concerns, but rather to take the opportunity to listen, learn and respond appropriately. Thirdly, we need to take care that any criticism we offer does not miss the mark and thus fail to be constructive. I will have criticism, of course. In fact, as my title indicates, I think John’s booklet has raised fundamental questions that deserve probing responses and further discussion – not just regarding the particular ministry of women, but also regarding the nature of contemporary preaching in general. It would be a great shame, however, if such responses and discussions degenerated into simplistic slogans. Finally, while I’m sure he doesn’t intend to create division, a number of the points John makes are potentially very divisive. In light of these claims, we need to do whatever we can to promote gospel unity and avoid an unnecessary “taking of sides”.

Dickson’s proposal is highly focussed, relatively straightforward and concisely argued. It concerns the meaning and contemporary application of the term “teach” in 1 Timothy 2:12:

Let a woman learn quietly with all submissiveness. I do not permit a woman to teach or to exercise authority over a man; rather, she is to remain quiet. (1 Timothy 2:11–12)

Dickson’s proposal is as follows:

I hope to show that the specific activity Paul disallows to women in 1 Timothy 2:12 does not refer to a general type of speaking based on Scripture. It refers to a specific activity found throughout the pages of the New Testament. It means preserving and laying down the traditions handed on by the apostles. This is not easily equated with the explanation and application of a Bible passage found in today’s expository sermon. If this is correct—if Paul’s “teaching” and our “sermon” are not identical—the biblical warrant for excluding women from the pulpit is not strong. (66-69, screenshot here)1

Dickson is also at pains to point out a number of things that he is not seeking to do. Two of these things are especially worth noting here:

  1. Dickson is not seeking to reject, undermine, remove himself from or in any way denigrate the biblical, reformed evangelical heritage of his Sydney Anglican context.
  2. Dickson is not seeking to promote “egalitarianism”. He believes there are key differences between men and women in the home and in the church.2 He is simply arguing that the ministry of the pulpit does not constitute one of these differences.

Of course, there may be consequences and implications arising from Dickson’s argument which he does not imagine or intend. Indeed, one of my aims in what follows will be to highlight some of these potential consequences and implications. However, I am not seeking to attribute any intentional malice or mischief to Dickson himself.

My response to Dickson’s booklet will follow, in order, three steps:

  • I will affirm a number of things I genuinely appreciate about the booklet.
  • I will scrutinise and question Dickson’s argument for a specialised, technical definition of the word “teach” (Greek didaskō) in 1 Tim 2:12.
  • I will question Dickson’s (and indeed our own) assumptions about what is actually happening in a contemporary sermon.

Things I appreciate about Hearing Her Voice

There are a number of things about Dickson’s booklet that I truly appreciate, and which are worth highlighting and affirming.

Firstly, the booklet urges us to think historically about the Bible. Although Dickson’s booklet is not an “academic” publication, nevertheless it does for us what good biblical scholarship should do. It forces us to use the lens of historical imagination to think about the Bible and to apply God’s word to our contemporary situation. I am using the term “imagination” positively here. It is too easy for us to read the Bible assuming that the situation into which it is written is in every respect the same as our own. Although we should not highlight the differences too strongly, there is great value in “imagining” (on the basis of biblical and other historical evidence) what it would have been like “back then,” so that we can better understand what the Bible is (and is not) saying to us “here and now”. The particular questions which Dickson forces us to think through are important: What would church have looked like at a time when nobody (not even the “preachers”) had the same easy access to the collected documents of the New Testament which we take for granted? How should this affect us, as we seek to appropriate texts about congregational life, written into such a situation (such as 1 Tim 2:12)? These are questions worth asking, even if we disagree about the answers.

Secondly, the booklet makes us think practically about a particular biblical word. Dickson writes as one who is convinced (as I am) that God speaks to us through the very words of the Bible. Thus his special focus on the word “teach” (didaskō), far from being a dry exercise in pedantry, is designed to help us consider what God is really saying to us, and what that should mean for our contemporary ministry practices. There are, indeed, some parallels between what Dickson is doing here and the work of an earlier generation of Sydney evangelicals – most notably Broughton Knox and Donald Robinson’s articulation of the biblical doctrine of church. They pointed out that the Greek word ekklēsia, which is usually translated as “church” in our Bibles, doesn’t necessarily map directly onto the English word “church”. They then sought to apply that linguistic insight to our modern church practices. This generated many fruitful discussions (along with many disagreements and misappropriations!). Dickson’s investigation is nowhere near as detailed as that of Knox and Robinson, of course. Nevertheless, the parallels between the two endeavours should help us to remember that sustained concentration on individual words is a worthwhile exercise, even if we disagree about the results of the investigation.

Thirdly, Dickson raises an issue that is worth discussing–even more so than the oft-cited issue of “women’s ordination”. Dickson deliberately says nothing about ordination (52, screenshot here). This is, to my mind, a good thing. The question of ordination has to do with church structures, offices and organisation. These issues, while important, are derivative. They are not the heartbeat of the evangelical faith. Rather, we are (or should be) even more interested in those fundamental questions about the word of God itself: particularly about how God’s word is to be spoken and experienced in the concrete relational context of regular Christian gatherings. Dickson’s booklet raises these important questions, albeit from the viewpoint of a particular question concerning the role of women.

Fourthly, Dickson is seeking to promote the regular practice of women speaking encouraging words in church in a biblically appropriate way. Dickson calls on his potential critics to explain why our church gatherings so rarely allow opportunities for women to offer encouraging words (742, screenshot here). He says that he would be delighted with even a minimal response to his book, in which some of his readers decide afresh to “give women more of a voice in the church service” (747, screenshot here; cf. 290, screenshot here), even if they do not invite women to share the pulpit. I write as somebody who would fit roughly into this category of respondent. I recall just a few weeks ago at church how I was greatly encouraged by an elderly widow, a Christian woman who spoke at some length about her efforts at evangelism. Through her example she gently but firmly exhorted and rebuked us all! This sort of thing should happen more often. During my own time leading a congregation and preaching, I have made some efforts to do as Dickson suggests, but I have to admit that it’s been a bit feeble; I could do more. So I appreciate Dickson’s call here (on this topic, see also Luke Collings).

“Teaching” ain’t teaching?

Let’s now get into the details of Dickson’s argument.

Dickson’s technical sense of “teach”

As I have already said, much of Dickson’s argument is focussed on a single Greek word which appears in 1 Tim 2:12: didaskō. This word is translated “teach” in most of our modern English versions. Dickson, however, is claiming that this word often has a “specific”, “particular” and “technical” sense, especially in Paul’s letters (including 1 Tim 2:12). It refers, he argues, to an activity which was directly relevant to the first century church, but which has no real modern equivalent. It refers to the process of

carefully preserving and laying down for the congregation the traditions handed on by the apostles. (294, screenshot here)

This was a vital role in the early church because of their historical situation:

In the period before the texts of the New Testament were available (before about AD 100), a church’s only access to the range of things the apostles had said about Jesus and his demands was through a teacher, the one entrusted with the “apostolic deposit.” (295, screenshot here)

Dickson thus links the term didaskō directly with the process of “oral tradition” by which early Christian teaching was transmitted (see esp. 407-433, screenshot here). Indeed, by quoting 1 Cor 11:23-24 (374, screenshot here), Dickson implies that the word “teach” belongs in pretty much the same field as other words which are usually accepted by scholars as referring to oral tradition, such as “deliver” (paradidōmi) and “receive” (paralambanō). Dickson is quite specific about what “teaching” would have looked like. It would have consisted of relatively short, concise repetitions of traditional phrases (see e.g. 695-696, screenshot here). The job of the teacher was simply to “rehearse for you [i.e. the hearer] the specific sayings he had committed to memory (just as the Pharisees could repeat what Rabbi Hillel had said about divorce laws)” (658, screenshot here). The teacher’s role was thus quite specific, but it was also invested with “maximal” authority because the sayings he repeated came directly from Jesus and the apostles and thus required unquestioning acceptance (685-693, screenshot here).

Of course, since we now have access to the authoritative New Testament Scriptures in the fixed canon, the role of “teaching” in this technical sense is defunct. “No human being preserves and lays down the teachings of Jesus and the apostles anymore” (664, screenshot here). Since there are no “teachers” in this technical sense, Dickson argues that the command of 1 Tim 2:11-12 does not apply to anyone alive today. This kind of maximally authoritative “teaching” no longer exists–our authority, instead, lies in the Bible. In fact, while he doesn’t say it, we could reasonably imply from Dickson’s argument and his use of various analogies (70, screenshot here; 236, screenshot here) that it would be better not to use the word “teach” at all to translate the Greek term: “teaching” ain’t really teaching!

Dickson’s Rejected alternative: an extremely generalised sense of “teach”

In a number of places throughout his booklet, Dickson makes a contrast between his own very specific understanding of the word “teach” as a technical term for transmitting oral tradition, and an alternative understanding which he rejects as inadequate in most instances. The alternative understanding of didaskō which Dickson rejects is an extremely generalised sense of the term “teach.” In this understanding, the term “teach” refers to any sustained activity in which one person informs another person about (or on the basis of) biblical or gospel truth. Dickson refers to this sense variously as “pretty much any sort of biblical talk” (165, screenshot here), “the broadest possible meaning” (240, screenshot here), “any extended speech in church” (240, screenshot here), “all forms of public speaking in church” (677, screenshot here).

Dickson consistently contrasts his own very particular understanding of “teach” with this alternative, extremely generalised sense. Indeed, he often seems to argue as if these are the only two viable options for understanding the word.

The argument

Dickson’s argument has three key elements.

Firstly, Dickson points to the many instances where Paul uses the word “teach” or its cognates (such as “teacher”) alongside and in parallel with other words that refer to speech such as “prophesy” and “exhort” (e.g. Rom 12:6-8, Eph 4:11). This shows that the word “teach” cannot be used in the extremely generalised sense–otherwise, what are the other words doing there? Therefore, in Paul’s normal usage it must have a more specialised, technical sense (163-273).3

Secondly, Dickson points out that Paul sometimes uses the word “teach” in a context where he is clearly referring to the passing on and laying down of oral tradition (e.g. 2 Tim 2:2). Therefore, the word “teach” likely refers to this process (400, screenshot here).

Thirdly, Dickson shows that his specific, technical definition of the term “teach” is consistent with most of the other instances of the term or its cognates in Paul’s letters, especially in the pastoral epistles (1 Tim, 2 Tim, Titus).

Another (obvious) alternative?

Dickson claims that for his argument to be shown to be wrong, a critic must provide “an alternative understanding of authoritative teaching in 1 Timothy 2:12 that fits with the historical and biblical data” (736, screenshot here).

I will, then, propose an alternative understanding of the term “teach.” This understanding is, as far as I can tell from consulting dictionaries and looking up the term in Greek usage, a very common usage of the word in the ancient world. It also maps reasonably well (albeit not perfectly) onto the English term “teach”.4

To “teach” normally refers to an activity of transmitting intellectual and moral truth from one individual to another (or to a group of others), in a manner which is usually predicated upon some relationship of order or authority between teacher and learner (e.g. parent-child, teacher-disciple, leader-community).

This understanding of the term “teach” is, of course, more general than Dickson’s “special”, “technical” and “particular” sense which restricts its usage to the passing on of oral tradition. Nevertheless, it is also more specific than Dickson’s alternative, extremely generalised sense as “all forms of public speaking in church”. This is because “teaching”, when contrasted with other kinds of biblical or gospel speech, implies or assumes a clearer sense of an ordered relationship of authority between teacher and disciple.5

In this understanding, then, 1 Timothy 2:12 would be referring to a kind of communication of Christian truth in which there is a clear relationship of order or authority between speaker and hearer. Paul is prohibiting this kind of communication being exercised by women to men in a congregational context.

Returning to the arguments of the booklet

In light of the existence of this alternative, Dickson’s argument is not as strong as it might at first appear. Let us re-examine the various elements of his argument.

Firstly, I am quite prepared to accept Dickson’s argument that “teaching” isn’t used as a catch-all term to describe any communication of biblical truth to anybody else. However, ruling out this extremely generalised sense doesn’t necessarily imply that we must accept Dickson’s very specialised, technical sense. Another, standard, sense is available to us and should be considered first: teaching means the authoritative transmission of truth from one individual to another, in whatever way is most appropriate to the context in which the word is being used. This understanding of teaching, by itself, would account for the fact that “teaching” is distinguished from “prophesying”, “exhorting”, etc. Teaching is different to prophecy, exhortation, etc. because the relational dynamics involved in teaching are different to the relational dynamics involved in prophecy, exhortation, etc. We do not have to jump to the specialised, technical sense to explain the parallel use of “teaching” alongside “prophesy”, “exhortation”, etc.

Secondly, an understanding of the word “teach” which allows it to refer to any kind of authoritative transmission of the truth allows it to be used, on occasion, in places where the passing on of solemn tradition is in view (such as 2 Tim 2:2), since the passing on of solemn tradition is indeed one kind of authoritative transmission of truth. This does not mean, however, that every instance of the term (such as 1 Tim 2:12) must be referring to the passing on of oral tradition.

Thirdly, the idea that the word “teach” can refer to any kind of authoritative transmission of truth (depending on the context) is also consistent with the other instances of Paul’s usage. It makes sense, for example, of the command for older women to be people who “teach what is good” (using the cognate term kalodidaskalos) and so train younger women (Tit 2:3-4) – the relationship of authority here is predicated on age.

Furthermore, it is worth noting that outside the pastoral epistles, the word “teach” (didaskō) does not sit at all comfortably within the vocabulary of oral tradition. On the one hand, many of the key places in Paul’s letters which Dickson cites to support the concept of oral tradition (367, 378) do not in fact mention the term “teach” (e.g. 1 Cor 1:14-17, 2:2, 3:10, 6:9-11, 9:3-6, 11:2, 11:23-26, 15:1-11; Gal 1:6-9; 1 Thess 4:1-2). Rather, the more common technical terms for the passing on of oral tradition are words such as “deliver” (paradidōmi) and “receive” (paralambanō) along with their cognates. On the other hand, in the Old Testament and in contemporary Jewish circles, the term “teach” often involves a specific written text (e.g. Deut 4:10-13, Neh 8:8 LXX, 2 Chr 17:9 LXX, Ezr 7:10, Rom 2:20-21), and so must be broader than Dickson’s specialised, technical understanding of the term as a reference to the laying down and passing on of oral tradition.

Teaching is still teaching!

I still believe, therefore, that Dickson has the burden of proof before him. He has shown that his definition of teaching as the laying down or passing on of oral tradition is sometimes consistent with its usage in the pastorals. But this is far from proving that it must be what Paul means in 1 Tim 2:12. To my mind, a more obvious understanding of the word “teach” is the authoritative transmission of truth from one individual to another, in whatever way is most appropriate to the context in which the word is being used. Dickson’s insistence that we are dealing with a specific, technical understanding of the term is an interesting hypothesis, but it has yet to be developed into a compelling argument.

What’s actually happening in a contemporary sermon?

As we have seen, the first plank of Dickson’s argument is that the “teaching” activity which is forbidden to be exercised by women to men in 1 Tim 2 is a specific activity involving “carefully preserving and laying down for the congregation the traditions handed on by the apostles.” I have argued above that Dickson does not present a convincing case for this understanding of the term “teach”. The second plank of Dickson’s argument is that contemporary preaching is something quite different; it is more like the biblical activity of “exhortation” (e.g. Rom 12:8), an activity which is never explicitly forbidden to women.

Dickson’s argument does not ultimately stand or fall on the basis of whether contemporary preaching is identified with the activity referred to by the biblical term “exhortation”. Hence I will not pursue the issue here.6 I believe, however, that there are even more significant questions which arise from this second plank of Dickson’s argument. These questions concern Dickson’s stated understanding of what contemporary preaching actually is.

For Dickson, a sermon is essentially a verbal commentary on a Bible passage along with some application. Dickson articulates this understanding consistently throughout his booklet: preaching is “explanation and application of a Bible passage” (68, 266, 324, 458, screenshots here, here, here and here); it is “commenting on the apostolic teaching (and various other parts of Scripture) and urging believers to apply God’s Word to modern life” (634, screenshot here); “[t]he words of the modern preacher are more like a commentary on Scripture and an application of Scripture” (694, screenshot here; cf. 247, screenshot here).

Dickson does not argue for his view of preaching; rather he simply assumes that the bulk of his readers will share his understanding of the nature of the contemporary sermon. Of course, I completely understand why Dickson would assume this definition of preaching. “Commentary” and “application” is indeed what a lot of preaching looks like. In fact, in purely formal terms, Dickson’s description of preaching is pretty accurate. If you analysed the formal structure of most sermons, you would probably find that commentary and application do take up quite a large chunk of what’s going on (at least in Sydney).

But let’s take a step back for a moment. “Commentary” and “application” might be what preaching often looks like. But is this really what preaching actually is, at its core? Or at the very least, is this what preaching really should be?

Dickson’s booklet has caused me to reflect on my own personal experience of sermons by others, and sermons I’ve preached, and on what I know about the best preaching in church history. And I am not satisfied with an understanding of preaching which views it simply as “commentary plus application.” Now let me ask you, if you have experienced or participated in preaching–are you satisfied with this definition? I think there is far more going on.

Sermons at their best are, I propose, communicative acts in which a preacher, empowered by the Spirit of God, delivers God’s truth to his hearers in a way which transfixes and transforms their whole heart–mind, will, conscience, affections. Of course, because God’s truth comes to us in and through the inspired words of the Scriptures, it is right to ensure that our sermons clearly and demonstrably rely upon the very words of the Scriptures. This is why, as Dickson affirms, the “default form” of the sermon is “exposition and application” (461, screenshot here). But identifying the default form of the sermon is not the same as identifying the essence of the sermon. A good sermon is more than this. It is a delivery of God’s truth from speaker to hearer.

Furthermore, there are real relational dynamics of authority going on when preaching occurs in a concrete gathering of believers. These relational dynamics are different from the relational dynamics that are in play, for example, when an individual is sitting at home reading a written commentary or devotional literature. This is why the preacher has, and should feel, a weighty responsibility towards his hearers. He is communicating God’s truth to them; they are learning God’s truth and need to act accordingly. Granted, the authority inherent in the preacher is always derivative. Preachers rely on the Bible. They can get it wrong. They can and should be questioned. The listeners should check it out for themselves. The authority of the preacher is, of course, not “maximal” (692, screenshot here). But the authority of a preacher is still more tangible and weighty than that of a commentator, say, or of a person giving an encouraging word in church.

In other words, preaching is–according to the common biblical understanding which I outlined above–“teaching”!7

This is not the place to mount a strong biblical defence of this understanding of preaching as “teaching” in the sense of authoritative transmission of biblical truth. At this point, I must simply appeal to to the way in which preaching has been understood historically–at least in the Protestant, Reformed, Anglican tradition–and to my readers’ sense of what a sermon is.

In fact, in making this point, I’m not seeking simply to criticise Dickson’s booklet. This is a question and a criticism I have for myself, and for all of us. Dickson has given us a definition of preaching–commentary plus application–which he thinks, probably quite correctly, will be generally accepted by his readers. Why is this so? I wonder if it is because we have, as a whole, thrown out the baby with the bathwater. We have rightly recognised that the authority of the sermon is entirely derived from the authority of the Bible. We have rightly insisted that most sermons should follow the form of a Bible passage: sermons should bring out what the Bible says, speaking about it, explaining it, and applying it. But in doing so, have we reduced preaching to a set of activities? In concentrating on the form of preaching, have we forgotten its essence?

Indeed, one of the things I found most dissatisfying about Dickson’s book was his lack of attention to these kind of relational dynamics. As he discussed the various forms of Christian communicative acts in the Bible, he consistently relegated issues of authority in interpersonal relationships to the background. Whatever we make of 1 Cor 11 and 14, for example, we must agree that the main thrust of Paul’s argument is that the general nature of the man-women relationship must be visibly apparent in the act of prophesying. But Dickson’s discussions of these passages tended to concentrate mostly on observations of sameness: Paul doesn’t “forbid” prophesying (113, screenshot here); the woman’s prophecy is to be assessed in the same way as that of men (688, screenshot here). These are interesting observations, of course, and correct as far as they go. But they do not go very far.

I guess Dickson would object that he was making a very specific point, and so couldn’t go into all the details concerning relationships, authority, etc. This would be fine if Dickson’s booklet was simply a proposal concerning the meaning of the word “teach” in 1 Tim 2. But he has offered to do far more than that. He is seeking to defend women preaching. The relevant passages of the Bible, as well as the relevant contemporary issues, all have relational dynamics and issues of authority at their core. These issues cannot be ignored.8

When Christians speak to one another (indeed, when anyone speaks to anyone else), we are at the very same time participating in and affecting relationships with each other. These relationships will, at times, involve different kinds of “authority”, sometimes subtle, sometimes explicit. In many parts of the New Testament (including 1 Tim 2:12), the relational dynamics of Christian speech-acts are clearly in the foreground. We can insist all we like that our communities only have the Bible as our authority, and there is no other kind of authority that is relevant. But that would simply be naïve. Leadership carries authority, and preaching carries authority–along with responsibility. If I claim there is no particularly relevant authority in my preaching, I am shirking my responsibility. I will not feel the weight and solemnity of what I am undertaking. And I will probably be quite dangerous too, like a man casually swinging a sharp sword around his head without realising its ability to cut and pierce.


There are many things to appreciate about John Dickson’s book. In particular, I believe that he is right in his desire to promote the regular practice of women speaking encouraging words in church in a biblically appropriate way. We should be asking ourselves whether we are properly affirming the speech of women in church. We should also be asking ourselves whether we are so fixated on “the sermon” in church that we denigrate other ways of speaking.

Nevertheless, Dickson’s argument–that the term “teach” in 1 Tim 2:12 should be restricted to the process of “carefully preserving and laying down for the congregation the traditions handed on by the apostles”–is not compelling. A more straightforward understanding of the word “teach” is the authoritative transmission of truth from one individual to another.

Furthermore, Dickson’s understanding of the nature of modern preaching is too restrictive. While “commentary” and “application” are the default form of sermons today, there is far more to preaching than this. Sermons involve the authoritative transmission of truth from preacher to hearer. The authority involved in preaching is a derived authority, which is always subject to that of the Scriptures. Nevertheless it is a real authority which cannot be understood simply by reference to the idea of “commentary” and “application”. Therefore the modern sermon has significant overlap with the activity of “teaching” referred to in 1 Tim 2. In our efforts to promote the speaking ministry of every believer–including and especially women–let’s not forget the weighty responsibility of the public preaching ministry.

If we should (and I agree with Dickson that we should) be hearing more of the voices of the women among us, at the very same time we will need to be discerning about the relational dynamics involved. We will need to do things that take seriously and clearly demonstrate those relational dynamics. After all, this is the thrust of 1 Cor 11 & 14 – and the issue at hand in 1 Timothy 2. Dickson considers doing something like this in light of his own framework–he suggests that we could allow women to preach some kinds of sermons but not others. He claims, however, that it wouldn’t work, because any time he thinks of an example, it “smacks of a legalism that does not reflect the gospel” (755, screenshot here). I would suggest that the problem of legalism in fact stems from Dickson’s own approach, which seeks to divide Christian speech-acts into different formal types and then to ask which formal types are forbidden to women and which are not. A more rounded approach to relational dynamics and Christian speech-acts, such as that advocated by Claire Smith,9 would, I pray, be less susceptible to such legalistic applications.

* (Minor edit: omitted a confusing reference to Christmas Day in Australia)

  1. Throughout this article, numbers in brackets refer to location numbers in the Kindle e-Book.
  2. While Dickson prefers to avoid the term “complementarian” (89, screenshot here), if pushed he calls himself a “soft complementarian” (820, screenshot here).
  3. Col 3:16 is probably a rare instance of the word being used by Paul in an extremely generalised sense (301, screenshot here).
  4. It is, for example, the sense of the word “teach” found in the Anglican ordinal, which is still used for the ordination of Anglican ministers in Australia: “And now again we exhort you, in the Name of our Lord Jesus Christ, that ye have in remembrance, into how high a Dignity, and to how weighty an Office and Charge ye are called: that is to say, to be Messengers, Watchmen, and Stewards of the Lord; to teach, and to premonish, to feed and provide for the Lord’s family; to seek for Christ’s sheep that are dispersed abroad, and for his children who are in the midst of this naughty world, that they may be saved through Christ for ever.”
  5. It seems that in Col 3:16 the term is being used in a derivative sense: the authoritative “teaching” of Paul (1:28) and Epaphras (2:7, cf. 1:7), as the “word of Christ”, is now being appropriated by the entire community through communal speech and song.
  6. For those who are interested in this point, Luke Collings has recently demonstrated that the identification of modern preaching with “exhortation” has a number of flaws.
  7. Moo, cited by Dickson, states that “teaching” is both “the careful transmission of the (apostolic) tradition concerning Jesus Christ” and “the authoritative proclamation of God’s will to believers in light of that tradition” (618-619, screenshot here). Dickson, in discussing Moo’s statement, omits the word “authoritative”: he only deals with the question of the “proclamation of God’s will to believers in light of that tradition” (625, screenshot here). However, the concept of “authority” is directly germane to Moo’s statement – it is, indeed, the issue at hand! The issue of authority is simply absent from Dickson’s discussion. For Dickson to omit both the word “authority” and the concept of authority from his discussion shows he is not engaging with the issue Moo is raising about the nature of “teaching”.
  8. Dickson does briefly raise the idea that modern sermons carry some kind of “authority” (683, screenshot here) but immediately dismisses its relevance because it is quite different to the kind of authority that the first-generation “teachers” (i.e. transmitters of oral tradition) had. More engagement with this issue is needed.
  9. God’s Good Design, chs. 2-4.



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95 responses to “What’s happening to our preaching? A response to John Dickson: Hearing Her Voice: A Case for Women Giving Sermons”

  1. Henry Gentles

    The push to have women priests or preaching over men comes from belief that without it, the status of women is denigrated. Scripture is clear, men and women have the same status before God in the church(Gal 3), no matter what your station in life is. Now, if you believe that men and women have equal status, then it doesn’t matter that God chose men to be Priests over Israel etc. Women’s status is not impinged! There seems to me to be a complete failiure for both sides of the argument to actually understand the root of the problem. Everytime someone publishes pro women preach/teach literature what they’re really saying is, “Your devaluing the status of women if you don’t agree and comply”! Which is a lie from the pit if you believe Gal 3 etc!! It is just a play for authority in the belief that they achieve equal status. A status they already have in Christ, but someone said to them, “do you really have equal status with the men?” If the status of men and women is the same, then who cares that God appointed the men to minister to the flock etc. Doesn’t affect your status or value before God. This sort of rubbish could have been put to bed 30 years ago, they’re arguing for STATUS!!

    1. John Clapton

      I find it rather ironic that in the Anglican Diocese that has more vocational deacons of the female gender than anywhere else in Australia, the women are denied one of their fundamental diaconal functions in the liturgy – the invitation to confession, the reading of the Scriptures and the preaching, and the invitation to say the Creed together.

      In both the BCP and AAPB it “pertaineth” to the Deacon … to serve, to assist the priest in divine service and help in the administration of the holy communion, to read the holy scriptures in the church, to give instruction to young people (in the Catechumenate), to baptise if the priest is absent, and to preach – if licensed to do so by the bishop.

      I can see that this conditional clause about preaching is a perfect let out for those opposed to women as preachers, but at the time it was drafted in the BCP there was no possibility of women being deacons so gender was not to be the reason by which a deacon would not be so licensed by the bishop.

      As you said, Henry, this sort of rubbish should have been put to bet 30 years ago.

      If I could make an observation from history. In almost all of the great revival movements of the church, in the early flourish of spirit-filled enthusiasm, women were liberated to preach and do so very effectively, but after not too long a time, the forces of the established structures of power silenced the women again. Any church that silences its women is quenching the flame of the Spirit in their lives and denying the church of the valuable ministry they could offer.

  2. Tony Blue

    Hi Lionel –
    As a member of an independent evangelical church (where I find myself biting my tongue whenever this issue arises), I should be glad that Sydney Anglicans are debating the issue, as at least there is a forum for expressing opposing views.
    While I don’t know who is right – it may be John Dickson or you – my personal summary of what Jesus said to the theologians and senior pastors, as recorded in the new testament, was that they had totally and utterly missed the point of everything written in the scriptures.
    Perhaps a bit harsh, but are we are all still guilty of the same charge today?

    1. Hi Tony – just a quick note to say sorry that it took me a while for me to get this comment approved on my site. I’m away at the moment in Katoomba and don’t have great internet access – and for some unfathomable reason your comment was originally marked as spam!

      I probably don’t have time to enter into a debate or to answer your question adequately, but I am still a bit confused by your comment and (rhetorical?) question. I’d bee grateful if you’d clarify why you think we might totally and utterly missing the point of everything written in the scriptures, and what this has to do with this particular discussion?

  3. Lionel, thank you very much for your measured yet insightful and (I believe) incisive response.

    I too was thankful for John’s challenge to hear more women’s voices in our churches, yet I was not convinced by his argument of narrowing the definition of ‘teaching’ and thereby removing 1 Tim 2 from the equation. Although John lists some of the uses of ‘teach’ that might go against his thesis (footnote 24 – and these are enough to suggest that the term is more general), I believe a number of other references (including cognates) can be read in the way that support your conclusion.

    I was also surprised with his definition of modern preaching as ‘expounding the teaching and exhorting believers to live in accordance with the teaching’. Surely there is more to preaching than this? You have highlighted the relational aspect. I would have thought that more consideration of the more common words for preaching (kerusso and euangelizomai) would be necessary. I would think that our sermons ought to include a deal of correcting, rebuking and encouraging (1 Tim 4:2) amongst other things! (As an aside, I am not convinced that parakaleo is always best translated as ‘exhort’ – ‘encourage’ seems to work well in many places).

    I also had some concerns about raising the possibility that a modern sermon might also be equated with ‘prophesying’ (#624). I know John wouldn’t be the first person to do so, but it lowers the bar on prophecy so much as to make it a nothing. (Perhaps I should address this more elsewhere).

    Thanks again for what you have written.

    1. Oops, the reference should, of course, be 2 Tim 4:2

  4. […] Lionel Windsor has carefully and graciously responded to the new e-book by John Dickson in which he argues why women may now preach sermons.   I commend it to you; it may be found here. […]

  5. This is just to let everyone know that John Dickson has said some kind words about my response to his booklet, and would like to give a relatively substantial response in turn. He’s asked for me to post his response as a new post on this site (rather than have it lost in the comments section). I think this is a great idea. I’m about to head up to Katoomba CMS Summer School for a week; I’ll post his response on my return.

  6. John Clapton

    Just hearing their voices is but a small step past tokenism, in my view. I really can’t fathom why Sydney Anglicans hold on so vehemently to their view that “complimentarianism” is a more appropriate Gospel understanding of the place of women in the church, when there is far more powerful language asserting “egalitarianism” as the plan.

    We are all children of God, all created in God’s image, and there is neither Jew nor Greek, slave nor free, male nor female in this Kingdom – WE ARE ALL ONE IN CHRIST. Let not our interpretation of other texts lead us into contradiction of this foundation statement of Paul.

    1. Henry Gentles

      There it is again, John believes role defines status!!

      1. John Clapton

        I can’t see the words ROLE or STATUS in my comment.

        There are times when I look at the church, particularly my own Anglican church, and get the impression that we simply sanctified all the hierarchies of power and status in Judaism and Imperial Rome. I believe Jesus was opposed to these and that his opposition to them was the greatest single contributor to the events that led to his execution by the State.

        There is no hierarchy of status in the Kingdom, and since it is the Spirit who gives gifts to whomever with which certain roles are undertaken, then it is clear the role does not define status.

      2. Henry Gentles

        This IS what you wrote isn’t it John?

        “We are all children of God, all created in God’s image, and there is neither Jew nor Greek, slave nor free, male nor female in this Kingdom – WE ARE ALL ONE IN CHRIST. Let not our interpretation of other texts lead us into contradiction of this foundation statement of Paul.”

        Your saying, to disallow women the role of preacher/teacher etc over men is a contradiction of Paul’s Gal 3 statement on Status in Christ. (Which is impossible if you read my first comment correctly and think a little)

      3. John Clapton

        But Henry, your suggestion that it should not matter in a completely egalitarian Kingdom, where all are of the same status, that some have one role and others have another, can just as easily be applied against what seems to be your view – that it is a God-given role for men to teach, and that the prohibition of women from teaching should not be regarded as denigration.

        You are assuming that those pushing for women’s ministry are concerned about status when in fact I at least am talking about role. It doesn’t matter a fig what your gender is, if the Spirit of God clearly gives gift and calling to take up a leadership role – and there are plenty of both OT and NT examples of women who crossed the cultural divide of their day to take up roles generally reserved for men.

        Luke’s quotation of the Prophet Joel on the day of Pentecost is a clear indication that things will be different in this Spirit empowered Kingdom. So “your sons and your daughters will prophesy (preach), and your young men shall see vision and your old men dream dreams” is a clear call to expect roles to be different in this Kingdom that they were in the past.

        Any attempt to preserve the hierarchy of roles in old Judaism – the Levitical priestly cast – which is after all just a differentiation of role – is to fail to recognise that Jesus said often enough that there was to be a new way in the Kingdom.

      4. Henry Gentles

        1. If the pro teach women are not concerned about status then what is the problem with Paul disallowing women to teach over men? There is no problem!

        2. You misunderstand Luke completely, Paul explicitly has the women prophecying in 1Cor 11 – 1Cor 14 but in full submission to the men whilst at worship(which has nothing to do with their status, I labour the point but ppl think there is something wrong about this).

        The same Paul who clearly says in 1Tim 2 they must not teach or have authority and then the following related chapter, the husband of one wife is the one who must be apt to ‘teach’ ie the male is the teacher in the marriage.

        Moreover, the blunt warning in 1Cor 14 which concerns all the headship material, false teaching about the resurerection and appropriate worship,

        “If anyone thinks he is a prophet or spritually gifted(ie one who teaches) let them acknowledge that what I am writing is THE LORDS COMMAND!! If he ignores this he will be ignored.” etc.

        That single verse destroys the Moo/Dickson oral tradition idea because the prophecying he is trying to reign in(ie. the false worship & doctrine) must be tested against what Paul has written ie he does not say against the Apostollic tradition handed down to you etc, he is saying test it against what I have written and the authority to which you must hold this? Take it as “The Lord’s Command”!! Astonishing thing to say really but shows us what was being ‘teached’ (taught)! ps. Tim was actually with Paul in Corinth too so would know what was taught also!!

        I think Dickson has decided what he wants to say first, then completely ignored some really obvious stuff that contradicts it!

      5. John Clapton

        1. It is because the anti-women stance is concerned about status that people like you, Henry, belief so intransigently that a women must only offer ministry in full submission to a man. Submission is not a ROLE issue, it is a STATUS issue. If the anti-women stance is not concerned about STATUS then what is the problem with them teaching men?

        2. As for Paul and Luke, there are sufficient examples of women acting independently of men in the expression of the Spirit-given ministries. Those whom Paul greets at the end of his letter to the Romans include several women – Mary, Junia, Tryphaena and Tryphosa, the mother of Rufus, Julia and the sister of Neraus. It is clear in Acts that Lydia, a widow, was able to act autonomously, and of the famous ministry couple Priscilla and Aquilla, most scholars have interpreted the fact that Priscilla is almost always named first as an indication that she was the driving force for the couple.

        While I do not share Dickson’s evangelical world-view, I think that he has done an exemplary task of demonstrating that there has to be a way of dismantling male dominance in a church that is predominantly populated by women. I think that his effort at demonstrating that TEACHING is just one form of public utterances in the church and that the correlation of this with modern day preaching is faulty at the very least – thus opening the way for women to be involved in preaching. Nowhere does he seek to remove a woman from the oversight of male leaders, but he does open they way for them to speak.

        As for his exegesis of the issue of oral tradition – I was at first sceptical of his claim that teaching was about the preservation of the Apostolic traditions, upon reading his whole commentary I think he makes a valid point. Your suggestion that “If anyone thinks he is a prophet or spritually gifted(ie one who teaches) let them acknowledge that what I am writing is THE LORDS COMMAND!! If he ignores this he will be ignored.” demolishes his argument is dependent on two things

        1. Does being a prophet or spiritually gifted really mean (as you imply in your bracketed interpolation) teaching – I am not persuaded of it; and

        2. Does what Paul has written, which he calls THE LORD’s COMMAND, come within the defined Apostolic deposit of the tradition that only men could teach us about? It may or it may not, but as Dickson established, once it was written down, the field was open for commentary and exhortation by all without women contravening the command that women not teach.

        Henry, I am not going to persuade you to think otherwise than you do, I am sure, but my wife and I were both ordained for ministry over 30 years ago and my wife has never exercised her preaching ministry in submission to me as the leader. We have been equally yoked in the Lord’s work, each gifted differently and serving as appropriate to our calling, and I think any objective assessment of our preaching would put hers as better than mine insofar as her ability to share big ideas and inspire the faithful. So it is unlikely that you will persuade me that your exclusively masculine view on ministry, especially priestly and preaching ministry is right.

        However, I was pleased to read John Dickson’s work. In another time and place I might have suggested that his approach was not unlike the way Pharisees went about determining what was working on the Sabbath and what was not.- very careful definition of the meaning of words. But in this case that would be unkind. I think he makes a valuable contribution to the evangelical discussion of this issue.

      6. Henry Gentles

        When ppl start making dozens of points and start arguing their pov from an increasingly wider and wider front, it kinda smacks of desperation. I addressed your reading of Luke in Acts and showed you that Paul has women prophesying in Corinth in full submission to men, to demonstrate that what you originally said is plainly wrong!

        Obviously I can’t address all the new additional points you raise but this one is kinda obvious,

        Now your saying,

        “1. Does being a prophet or spiritually gifted really mean (as you imply in your bracketed interpolation) teaching – I am not persuaded of it;”

        When there’s entire chapters in 1 Cor 11 – 15 which outlines the Spiritual Gifts and describes how they are to be used (in love for the edification of the Church)and what their purpose/function is in the congregation(eg. each mans prophesy must be weighed, must be intellegible, acknowledged against what I have already written etc). Either your haven’t read it or you have selective memory?

        Even the CONTEXT of 1Cor 14 when Paul says if anyone thinks he is a prophet or spiritually gifted, the immediate context 1Cor 11 – 14 and even the opening chapters of 1:10ff – 4:21 (false teachers) should be enough to tell anyone of reasonable intellect that it’s all about what constitutes legitimate teaching (eg. in love, in the vernacular, in submission etc etc etc) and the giftings of the ppl who provide the teaching(prophecy).

        If your not persuaded then may I suggest you read it again?

      7. Alex Greaves

        I’m not sure the Kingdom is egalitarian. We’re all sons of God (Romans 8:14-17) but we haven’t the authority of the Son of God (Ephesians 5:23b). Prophets and prophesy are weighed (1 Thessalonians 5:40-21) but apostles and their writings are the word of God (2 Timothy 3:16 + 2 Peter 3:15-16) – presumably, and according to Dickson, the word of God by which prophesy is weighed. Jesus is in very nature God (Philippians 2:6), but his head is the Father (1 Corinthians 11:3b).

        So it is wrong to say that the Kingdom abolishes hierarchy, when we are talking about different people having different roles, with some having authority over others.

        The verses I cited don’t prove that men are to lead women and not the other way around. They do prove, though, that your typological argument is wrong.

      8. ‘Any attempt to preserve the hierarchy of roles in old Judaism – the Levitical priestly cast – which is after all just a differentiation of role – is to fail to recognise that Jesus said often enough that there was to be a new way in the Kingdom.’

        I would agree with this if the defence of patriarchy was simply an attempt to preserve hierarchy in Judaism. It isn’t, it is an attempt to honour the creational order. While new creation lives within the present creation it upholds and honours its values. I find it strange that we accept other creational responsibilities (such as ecological duties, pro-life, marriage, work) but reject patriarchy. The church, above all, should honour God’s creational design intentions; the new does not overthrow the old, it respects and obeys it.

        There will come a time when the old creation will cease to exist then there will be an entirely different order when marriage and presumably patriarchy will be no more. But that time is not now. We are at the moment aliens living in a country to which we do not belong, but it is still God’s country and while we live there we abide by his rules for life in it.

      9. God was Father before he ordained creation, and is Father at the final judgment and into eternity. If one wants a theology of relationships, patriarchy will forever be foundational to it.

        God could reveal himself in scripture as Father only because human fatherhood already existed to reflect his divine Fatherhood. He gave that reflection in nature and general revelation, which is why we had words for it as the scriptures were given.

        But the scriptures don’t simply equate divine Fatherhood with human fatherhood. Divine Fatherhood is subsumed within broad teachings of God’s character that flesh out what any human fatherhood worthy of the name ought to reflect. Human fatherhood as we experience it is condemned by scripture as corrupted. It is not, however, invalidated by sin, just corrupted.

        We live in a culture, though, that explicitly denies fatherhood (have a baby and dealings with public services and you’ll pick it up as a practical reality, though the ideas and words for it are everywhere in popular discourse). I am the head of my family, but that is only executed by officialdom, via them serving my wife as final authority in regard to my son’s welfare.

        Our culture is as it is, not by accumulation of negligance, but due to deliberately legislating against patriarchy, starting with male headship in marriage, continuing in primary guardianship of children, and out from there into every more subtle social institution that has traditionally reflected an expectation of masculine responsibility. Only just recently it finally reached (at least in law) the bayonet wielding bottom line of the infantry battalions that are the ultimate foundation of social security. (Oddly triggered by a female officer cadet being defended in being sexually immoral against standing orders.) And indeed, one might ask, why should men be the only ones to kill and be killed, in a society that does not look to their sex to uphold the special responsibility of defending it in any other capacity.

        Patriarchy is still reflected in official denominations only because of religious exemptions from gender legislation.

        I beg to differ with John on an subtle, but key point. Patriarchy doesn’t flow out of marriage, marriage flows out of divine Fatherhood. Even without marriage, in heaven, there will certainly be divine Patriarchy, but there may well be human patriarchy also. The risen Jesus was a man, the ascending Jesus was a man, and he will return, we are told, in the same way, my speculation is that Jesus will be a man at the parousia, also at judgment and beyond. And we too, like him, will retain our glorious womanhood or manhood and the reflections of divine Patriarchy that our species was created to reflect where appropriate.

        And how does it bear on the current discussion? Well, is there any way in which preaching *necessarily* needs to reflect divine Patriarchy? (I’m not entirely convinced that there is, though it would hardly be a surprise if there was.) On the other hand, is there anything about 1 Tim 2:12 *and context* that reflects divine Patriarchy. Both in the verse and in the context I would think there are explicit words, phrases, themes and logic that do most certainly point in that direction. But I’ve said quite enough already.

        Our Father in heaven, honoured be your name. Yahweh, Father, your will be done on earth as it is in heaven.

      10. John Clapton

        Do you understand metaphor? Do you understand anthropomorphism?

        Your theology here is going the wrong way.

        God is!

        God has no gender – only plant and animal creatures have gender.

        That we use gender-specific language to describe God is our best attempt to express what we understand of God – not what God is.

        So when we describe God as Father it is not because God was Father before Creation; we use it because when we look at the very best that Fathers have to offer their children it comes close to how we think God exists in relationship to us. We can do the same with the idea of Mother, and in so doing we are saying that when we look at all the very best that mothers can offer their children comes close to how we think God exists in relationship to us.

        BUT – this does not mean God is a Father or God is a Mother.

        They are metaphors.

      11. You are quite right, John,
        I do *not* think God’s fatherhood is a metaphor,
        in my opinion that would take my theology in the wrong direction:
        we are made in God’s image, not he in ours.
        George Lakoff and others have a theory of cognitive linguistics,
        where they argue that the embodying of the psychology of our minds
        constrains the patterns of metaphor we find cross-culturally in various languages.
        We could theologise that hypothesis such that being the embodied image of God
        our language itself is constrained in ways suited to communicating about and with God.
        But the bottom line is that metaphor is constrained by reality,
        we see a distinction in scripture regarding God and gender along these very lines.
        God is “like” a mother–similie–in various places, but he just *is* Father.
        Is Yahweh not a great King? Is he not Lord? And Saviour?
        Or are those metaphors also?
        Doesn’t page one of our Bible say *we* are the metaphor, albeit a concrete one?
        What features of fatherhood does God actually lack,
        that we couldn’t simply say are incidentals of the flesh
        rather than core realities of the relationship?

  7. […] has published this response on his own blog, and allowed us to re-post it here. You'll find some interaction from other readers over there, and […]

  8. Richard

    Thanks for drawing this to my attention; I’ll have to check out Dickson for myself. I do think he raises an intriguing proposition, personally I have no issue with women preaching owing to 1 Cor. 11 where women clearly ‘prophesied,’ i.e. declared God’s authoritative word to his people. Moreover, in Rom. 16 we find Phoebe who would have read out Paul’s letter to the church at Rome and answered questions, explained it in more detail. In other words, she would have exercised a teaching ministry (cf. Jewett’s commentary on Rom). Finally, I’d agree with Dickson that the command of 1 Tim 2:11-12 does not apply to anyone alive today, from a sophisticated ‘mirror-reading’ of the two Pastorals to Timothy, it seems that the issue was a local one confined to Ephesus in the late 50s or early 60s AD.

    1. Richard

      1. There is a clear distinction between prophesying and teaching; prophesying is the communication of a direction revelation from God without mediation while teaching is the explanation and application of the Word/gospel/covenant. This distinction is present in the OT where Priests had the duty of teaching the covenant and prophets spoke under spiritual movement. Priests were ‘official’ and prophets were ‘unofficial’. Priests spoke and functioned within the official cultus while prophets were unoffocial and operated without the cultus. To some extent this distinction may well carry over into the NT church. What certainly carries over is the formal distinction between prophecy and teaching.

      2. 1 Cor 11 praying and prophesying may well not have taken place in the formal church gatherings. This, at least, has been the position held by many if not most over the centuries. Certainly, 1 Co 11:16/17??? goes on to describe the gathered church (when you are come together….) in a way that suggests the previous verses have a wider application.

      3. Phoebe is such a feeble case of assumption and pleading that it seems to me to show the desperation of those who promote it. The text does not tell us she actually carried the letter, far less that she read it out and commented upon it. This is sheer conjecture. Even if she did carry it if there were restrictions on public teaching then we may be sure she did not explain it; we must allow the clearer to enlighten and modify the unclear, especially where the unclear is conjecture and eisegesis.

      4. Don’t you think the kind of ‘sophisticated’ reading necessary to make 1 Timothy and 1 Cor 14 say the opposite of what they appear to say is just too sophisticated? Did God who sovereignly inspired these letters really intend to confuse ordinary Christians, indeed most Christians for hundreds of years until we could have the blessing and enlightenment of the sophisticated exegetes of our day?

      1. Richard

        Hi John,

        I’ve not the time to go into much detail on all your points:

        1. I do not quite understand where you are getting the distinction between teaching and prophesying. You’re appeal to the OT is unhelpful and you’re distinction between priests and prophets artificial: Ezekiel was both a prophet and a priest, and it is well attested that prophets operated within the cultus (e.g. Haggai, and Zechariah). In his commentary on 1 Cor. Garland (p. 516) follows Hill’s definition of prophecy (‘New Testament Prophecy’) as ‘pastoral preaching that offers guidance and instruction…the result of prophesying is that the hearers learn and are convicted.’

        2. You’re reading of 1 Cor. 11:18 is strange and special pleading. It ignores the rhetoric of Paul’s argument. There is no reason to think that the previous verses have a wider application. The reference to angels in v. 10 reflects Jewish understanding that angels were present at worship. Further, the verse you highlight indicates Paul is moving on from headdress in public worship to the divisions at the Lord’s Supper.

      2. Hi Richard

        Thanks for responding. Unlike you I think some insight from the OT can be useful here. I think it is helpful to see what prophecy meant in the OT and to consider how it functioned in terms of the cultus. Two things stand out a) it was always a revelation b) it included fore-telling of specific events. While one could be a priest and a prophet the giftings were distinct.

        I am not so sure that the reading of 1 Cor 11;18 is so strange. I do not think it is at all conclusive but I think it merits weighing. But Richard, don’t you think your claims of ‘special pleading’ are ironic in the light of your own arguments re Phoebe and constructed backgrounds that invert the plain meaning of texts.

      3. Richard

        Hi John,

        A fair bit of research has been done on the role of letter carriers in the Greco-Roman world which shed light on what the role of Phoebe would have been. Moreover, it’s not the case that the plain meaning of the text is being inverted, rather they are being preserved but comprehended in their cultural setting. We both agree that women were forbidden to teach in the Ephesian congregation, what you need to do is demonstrate (a) this was not a specific injunction only for Ephesus within the apostolic period and (b) that it applies also today. Do check out Jewett’s commentary on Romans.

        Regarding prophecy in the OT and the relation with priesthood, I believe you are being somewhat simplistic in your analysis. I’ll point you towards ‘Prophecy in Its Ancient Near Eastern Context: Mesopotamian, Biblical, and Arabian Perspectives’ by Martti Nissinen and ‘Writings and Speech in Israelite and Ancient Near Eastern Prophecy’ by Ehud Ben Zvi and Michael H. Floyd. But even assuming that you’re correct, did not Jesus unite the kingly, prophetic, and priestly? And are we not all baptised into Christ by one Spirit and so we are all prophets, priests, and kings? Try this.

  9. Lionel, while I love the opportunity to think hard about what we do in the pulpit on Sunday, I wonder if we are causing a problem by creating an intermediary category of “preaching” or “sermon” to the discussion about 1 Tim 2:12.
    By introducing this explicit category, you have defined ‘preaching’ in a specific way, and included in that definition a form of relational dynamic that includes authority. Are you saying that everyone who stands up at the front and speaks from a bible passage in any way is preaching and holding a level of authority over the hearers? I’m fairly sure you do not believe that. So now this intermediary category of ‘preaching’ forces us to define what events at the front of the church are preaching and are not preaching, so we can know which ones are didasko and hence not appropriate for women.
    The logic is something like:
    1. Didasko means ‘xxx’ (including authority)
    2. Preaching means ‘yyy’ (including authority)
    3. Therefore all preaching is didasko
    4. ‘What I am doing this Sunday’ is/is not preaching
    5. Therefore ‘what I am doing this Sunday’ is/is not didasko (and inappropriate for women)
    This is exactly the terms that the debate has been expressed to me for many years. Unfortunately, the debate as I have heard it unquestioningly assumes the truth of points 1-3, and then gets all hung up on points 4 and 5.
    If we resist the desire to define what ‘preaching’ is, but instead focus on the definition of didasko, can we not leave it up to each person or congregation to discern whether a specific action in their church holds the kind of authority implied in didasko? Then we can instead discuss what is unique about didasko that is distinct from parakaleo, euangalizomai, propheteia, etc., and how to discern it in our modern context.
    For example, our church has a recent focus on lay preaching. When a member of my congregation steps up and gives a 20 minute sermon, I do not feel a relational dynamic of authority. It feels more like a peer exhorting (parakaleo) me. However, when the senior minister steps up, I feel that authority, and I think I agree with you that it is didasko. However, by creating the category of ‘preaching’ that is assumed to always be didasko, we end up in the discussion of whether it is ‘lay preaching’ or something else, based on a series of definitions of what ‘preaching’ is or should be.

  10. It seems to me the problem in our churches (writing from the UK) is primarily about what the preachers think they are doing (the final major point). I wholeheartily agree that ‘commentary plus application’ is an incomplete description of biblical preaching (even if a true description of much contemporary preaching, even good contemporary preaching). ‘Face to face’ with God is how Moses’ preaching of the 10 commandments is described in Deut 5. Is it possible Peter has the preacher’s words in mind when he says ‘and the one who speaks with the very words of God’ (1Peter4)? Are these better description of true biblical goal of preaching, of which ‘commentary and application’ are an essential ingredient but defect without something more? ‘with complete patience and teaching’ in 2Tim4 points toward the essential need for ‘commentary and application’. Does ‘Preach the Word…’ suggests there is something more needed though?

    Thanks for the thought-provoking article – I referred over from Proc Trust.


  11. […] you haven’t seen it yet, Lionel Windsor has written a response to pot-stirrer-in-chief, John […]

    1. John Clapton

      It’s funny but I would never have picked John Dickson as a pot stirrer, let alone the pot-stirrer-in-chief.

  12. John wanted to provide a substantial reply to my response. He has requested me to post his reply as a separate article on this site, in order to avoid the limitations of the comments function on my original post. This makes sense, and I’m pleased to oblige. Please have a look at John’s reply.

    1. And my reply to John’s reply is here.

  13. Henry Gentles

    I think it’s very odd that nothing is said about 1Tim 3 where the Husband of one wife must be apt to ‘teach’. There’s that word that is supposedly difficult to define again! Paul see’s the Husbands as the one responsible for teaching ie male teaching elder, this informs the female prohibition to teach or have authority a few verses prior in the previous chapter!!

    I’m also almost certain from memory that Timothy was with Paul in Corinth so a quick look at those two letters will tell us what Paul was actually teaching as opposed to this apostolic deposit idea? Timothy was an eye witness to Paul’s entire teaching manifesto during most of his missions but even off the top of my head the letters to the Corinthians cover way way more than any apostollic deposit!! I don’t think that straight jacket is gonna fit I’m afraid? Spose I’ll have to Corinthians again!

  14. Dannii

    If I understand correctly, John wants to define “teaching” as the transmission of the oral apostolic deposit, or in other words the transmission of an oral canon. I haven’t read the book yet (anyone interested in donating/lending a copy to me?), but his reply he focuses on these verses: 1 Tim 1:15, 3:1, 4:9, 2 Tim 1:13-14, 2:2, 2:11, Titus 1:9, 3:8, Rom 6:17 and 2 Thess 2:15. He says that “the truth transmitted via ‘teaching’ is the truth of the apostolic deposit.” I disagree!

    Firstly we have the “trustworthy saying” verses: 1 Tim 1:15, 3:1, 4:9, 2 Tim 2:11, Titus 3:8. With the exception of Titus 3:8 none of these verses mention “teach”, and so they cannot be used as evidence of a technical use of the word “teach”. Proclaiming trustworthy sayings could be teaching, or it could be exhorting, or prophesying. If we want to use a verb Paul uses, why not “remind” which comes in 2 Tim 2:14. Furthermore, there is no indication that these sayings are even part of the apostolic deposit!

    2 Tim 1:13-14 is probably John’s strongest case, but I’m still not convinced (see my last paragraph). Indeed, the use of the word “pattern” suggests to me that Paul is envisioning an ongoing process, which is exactly what we see in 2:2. And unless I’m mistaken, “teach” isn’t in these verses!

    2 Tim 2:2 suggests a perpetual process with each generation teaching the next. There is nothing here to suggest a technical canon-transmitting sense of “teach”, and the perpetualness is surely a mark against John’s argument that the “teaching” of the pastorals has ceased.

    Nothing in Titus 1:9 suggests that the elder’s teaching is deposit transmission. It seems rather generic and holistic to me.

    Romans 6:17 is consistent with the idea of a transmission canon, but it doesn’t require it. Instead Paul could be saying that the people are obeying a unique teaching he gave to them alone. I don’t think he did give them a unique teaching; just pointing out that the text allows such a sense.

    Lastly 2 Thess 2:15: doesn’t this entirely undermine John’s argument as it says that the teaching is sometimes through writings?

    One more thought: in many of these verses “teaching” is a noun. It could well be that the noun “teachings” does indeed have a narrow or technical sense in some of the NT, just as the “writings” does. But I’ve never heard anyone suggest that the verb “write” has the same narrow sense. Any evidence of a narrow sense of “teachings” is no evidence that the verb “teach” in 1 Tim 2:12 has a narrow sense.

    1. John Dickson

      The correct string of passages – incorrectly copied and pasted from my book to my piece for Lionel – is as follows:
      1 Tim 1:10; 6:1; 2 Tim 1:11-14; 2:2; Titus 1:9; 2:10; Rom 6:17; 16:17; Col 2:7; 2 Thess 2:15.
      Some of your points may still stand. I encourage you to read the book.

      1. At John’s request, I’ve corrected the text to ensure the correct passages appear.

  15. Margaret Thatcher

    I am enjoying reading this discussion including John’s reply to your reply. Thanks to both of you for continuing the discussion in such a generous and polite way. It is so much more helpful than falling into the trap of impugning each other’s motives.

  16. Thomas Clay

    I am not theologically trained or anything (sorry if I am not understanding all the arguments) I just have a couple of questions:

    1) From conversations with regular church goers it seems to me people have allot more trouble understanding the prophet and the role they play in the Church. So could someone let me know why everyone seems to be so sure of what it means to be a prophet and to prophecy rather than what it means to teach?

    2) Is the emphasis on male prophets much greater than female prophets in the bible merely because of the male dominated society of the time, or could God have chosen whoever he wanted?

    2) How does Paul’s justification in 1Timothy 2:13-15 for what he is saying in 1Timothy 2:12 impact on the way we view the use any gift for the good of the church (i.e. in light of the order of creation and the unity of Adam and Eve)?

    Thanks for your patience.

    1. Richard

      Hi Thomas,

      My answer will differ from John’s I am afraid; the topic of OT prophecy is a fascinating one and the phenomenon of prophesy in the OT is variegated. It is custom to divide up prophecy in ancient Israel into three stages: (1) pre-classical prophecy, (2) classical prophecy, and (3) post-exilic prophecy. See Blenkinsopp’s ‘A History of Prophecy in Israel’.

      We also need to be cognizant that much of our data on prophecy comes from the books commonly known as the Deuteronomistic History the editors of which possessing a very specific understanding of prophecy, and note how the vast majority of John’s references come from this corpus or those books that have had a Deuteronomistic hand in them (Jer, Am, 2 Kgs, Deut).

      It is also debatable as to the degree to which prophecy in the OT was foretelling.

      It is also fascinating when we compare the prophecy in ancient Israel with her neighbours; I’ll point you towards ‘Prophecy in Its Ancient Near Eastern Context’ by Martti Nissinen and ‘Writings and Speech in Israelite and Ancient Near Eastern Prophecy’ by Ehud Ben Zvi and Michael H. Floyd.

      So if OT prophecy was primarly about forth-telling then if NT prophecy is similar, then it too was about forth-telling and akin to modern day preaching.

      1. I think your analysis is quite good until your last paragraph. The common feature of prophecy — including explicit examples of prophecy in the NT — is the reception and transmission of an immediate message from God. This is not the same as explaining previous revelation (such as the exegesis or application of Scripture).

      2. Richard

        Martin, I do not doubt that one element of prophecy in the OT was the reception of an immediate message, but we should also recognise that prophets also served to apply previous revelation to contemporary situations…hence they are seen as prosecutors in the covenant lawsuit.Herbert Huffmon has written an article on this, and seems to be available online for free. If you’ve not seen it, P. R. Davies’ edited volume ‘The Prophets: A Sheffield Reader’ is worth checking out.

      3. Richard

        ‘but we should also recognise that prophets also served to apply previous revelation to contemporary situations…hence they are seen as prosecutors in the covenant lawsuit.’

        This I agree with, however, they were doing so from a standpoint of revelation, an immediate message from God. This was their claim and was tested by a) covenant consistency b) did the fore-telling part come true.

      4. Richard, in circumstances where prophets “apply” previous revelation (typically the terms of the sinai covenant), it is the specific application that arrives through immediate revelation and so this remains the distinctive feature of prophetic activity.

        If Huffmon’s article is online, please provide a link or at least the actual name of the article.

      5. Richard

        Martin, to say that ‘it is the specific application that arrives through immediate revelation’ is no more than an assertion, I’d suggest that it could just as easily have been the prophet knew the covenant stipulations (Deut 28//Lev 26), saw that Israel/Judah were failing to keep them and so warned about future judgement, plus with the Assyrians growing in strength there is no absolute necessity for ‘immediate revelation’ in the case of many of the classical prophets. We need to deal with the various prophets in their various historical situations, rather than making generalisations.

        The article is ‘The Covenant Lawsuit in the Prophets’.

      6. Richard

        I have no doubt that the prophet knew the covenant stipulations but this does not negate the immediacy of the prophetic message. The (classical) prophets specifically claim that they are speaking as God’s mouthpiece from revelation -the whole prophecy not a part. Their prophecy could be tried in two ways a) did it in fact articulate with the covenant b) did the foretelling element of the prophecy prove to be true.

        Re your distinction between prophetic periods ( in my view a distinction without a difference in terms of the material points of our present discussion) we find in the pre-classical the same hallmarks we find in the classical

        1Kgs 13:1-3 (HCSB)
        1Kgs 13:1; A man of God came from Judah to Bethel by a revelation from the LORD while Jeroboam was standing beside the altar to burn incense.1Kgs 13:2; The man of God cried out against the altar by a revelation from the LORD: “Altar, altar, this is what the LORD says, ‘A son will be born to the house of David, named Josiah, and he will sacrifice on you the priests of the high places who are burning incense on you. Human bones will be burned on you.’ ”1Kgs 13:3; He gave a sign that day. He said, “This is the sign that the LORD has spoken: ‘The altar will now be ripped apart, and the ashes that are on it will be poured out.’ ”

        Of course their is increased sophistication in the later prophets but the core characteristics remain constant. The title retains a consistent core that identifies a form of God speaking.

      7. Richard

        FWIW; I think we are going into areas unrelated to the topic of the post, so I will let this be my last word.

      8. Richard, it is not merely an assertion but an extrapolation from instances where direct divine communication is made explicit in the text (e.g. Nathan and David or the frequent claims that Yhwh or the Spirit of Yhwh speaks directly to the prophet). Huffmon’s article certainly does not contradict this — it merely argues that the content of the prophetic message is consistent with the blessings/curses outlined in the covenant.

        So I think the definition given by Lester Grabbe is correct: “the prophet is a mediator who claims to receive messages direct from a divinity, by various means, and communicates these messages to recipients” (Priests, Prophets, Diviners, Sages: A Socio-Historical Study of Religious Specialists in Ancient Israel, p. 107).

        This does not correspond to what happens in most contemporary sermons.

    2. Thomas

      What we should remember is that decisions we make (scholars or ordinary students of Scripture) are not always based on an honest attempt to grapple with Scripture. We all bring our prejudices and sometimes (often) these prejudices may be so strong that they blind us to the text (we do not have ears to hear).

      In the case of ordinary folks like me who read Scripture we have the added danger of ignorance; we may not know what the bible actually says but pontificate anyway.
      In the scholars case, the added danger is more likely to be giving undue deference to scholarly sources and assured research so-called.

      Re this particular issue of patriarchy, I have to be careful that my views are not based on a conservatism of age (I’m in my fifties) and of personal church history (conservative evangelical background). Richard, I imagine, has to take care his interpretations are not unduly influenced by societal and academy pressures where respectability and career demand egalitarian conclusions. Scholarship ought to curb prejudice but i doubt it does, it simply makes it more subtle and drives it underground.

      I try to avoid my prejudices by reading the better expressions of those who disagree. I have done so over the years but there is an endless flow so its not possible to read everything (and wearyingly unedifying). I have yet to find any who (to my mind) adequately undermine the traditional (many hundreds of years worth) conclusions

      a) creation establishes patriarchy and the rest of the OT/NT uphold it. Scripture is not simply accommodating patriarchy but advocating it.

      b) the specific passages that forbid women teaching are not local but universal in application because they are based on creational norms.

      Again, I would say, read scholarly monographs, but do not be dazzled or intimidated by them. Test them against the bar of Scripture. Consider how often they cite Scripture and see if they use it in context when they do. Read and reread the Scriptures. Immerse yourself in them, especially the NT, and get a handle on how it flows. This will save you from personal ignorance and scholarly sleight of hand when you come across it. It will give convictions no amount of book learning will.

  17. Thomas

    Nor am I (theologically trained) and many will say (rightly) it shows. Having said this, while I respect theological training I do not get too deferential. After all, Jesus attended no college or rabbinical school (and don’t forget the ignorance theological training instilled in those who had it in Jesus’ time). Jesus’ of course, was in one sense a special case, a one off. The apostles, however, had none either. They had the Spirit. John tells us that if we have the Spirit and the Scriptures we have all that we really need. I say this, not to diss training, but to encourage us to make the Scriptures and the Spirit our authority and every theological fad stringently subject to it. I am persuaded the more tome we spend in Scripture itself the better.

    Re prophets I simply look at what Scripture says re prophets. Look up the word in a concordance and check through the references in context and see what they say.

    The prophet seems to be someone who is the mouthpiece of another. Aaron is this to Moses. God’s prophets we may expect to be God’s mouthpiece.

    Exod 7:1-2 (ESV2011)
    And the LORD said to Moses, “See, I have made you like God to Pharaoh, and your brother Aaron shall be your prophet. You shall speak all that I command you, and your brother Aaron shall tell Pharaoh to let the people of Israel go out of his land.

    God’s Spirit comes upon them and they prophesy (Nums 11:17, 29).

    Amos 3:7-8 (ESV2011)
    “For the Lord GOD does nothing without revealing his secret to his servants the prophets. The lion has roared; who will not fear? The Lord GOD has spoken; who can but prophesy?”

    Jer 1:5-10 (ESV2011)
    “Before I formed you in the womb I knew you, and before you were born I consecrated you; I appointed you a prophet to the nations.” Then I said, “Ah, Lord GOD! Behold, I do not know how to speak, for I am only a youth.” But the LORD said to me, “Do not say, ‘I am only a youth’; for to all to whom I send you, you shall go, and whatever I command you, you shall speak. ​Do not be afraid of them, for I am with you to deliver you, declares the LORD.” Then the LORD put out his hand and touched my mouth. And the LORD said to me, “Behold, I have put my words in your mouth. See, I have set you this day over nations and over kingdoms, to pluck up and to break down, to destroy and to overthrow, to build and to plant.”

    Notice there is no intermediary. The prophet speaks directly from God.

    What he said generally involved some measure of predicting. This is one way to test if the prophet is true.

    Deut 18:20-22 (ESV2011)
    But the prophet who presumes to speak a word in my name that I have not commanded him to speak, or who speaks in the name of other gods, that same prophet shall die.’ And if you say in your heart, ‘How may we know the word that the LORD has not spoken?’— when a prophet speaks in the name of the LORD, if the word does not come to pass or come true, that is a word that the LORD has not spoken; the prophet has spoken it presumptuously. You need not be afraid of him.

    The other way, once the covenant had been established and a body of written truth existed was to check that whatever the prophet said was consistent with the revealed and authoritative word for if he did speak from God then what he said would be consistent with the revealed authoritative covenant.

    Deut 13:1-5 (ESV2011)
    “If a prophet or a dreamer of dreams arises among you and gives you a sign or a wonder, and the sign or wonder that he tells you comes to pass, and if he says, ‘Let us go after other gods,’ which you have not known, ‘and let us serve them,’ you shall not listen to the words of that prophet or that dreamer of dreams. For the LORD your God is testing you, to know whether you love the LORD your God with all your heart and with all your soul. You shall walk after the LORD your God and fear him and keep his commandments and obey his voice, and you shall serve him and hold fast to him. But that prophet or that dreamer of dreams shall be put to death, because he has taught rebellion against the LORD your God, who brought you out of the land of Egypt and redeemed you out of the house of slavery, to make you leave the way in which the LORD your God commanded you to walk. So you shall purge the evil from your midst.

    By tracing references through the OT and into the NT we can build up a profile of what a prophet was. In my view immediate revelation was integral involving forth-telling and normally some element of fore-telling.

    Prophets could be male or female but it is possible that the dominance of male prophets reflected God working within a patriarchal society to some extent.

    For me, the main thing is to search Scripture and see that it does say rather than to put weight on constructed backgrounds that are often highly speculative.

    A similar study of the family of words for ‘teach’ suggest that teaching involves enabling others to understand what is already written and authoritative. Aaron in Ex 7 acts as Moses prophet to Pharaoh but in Lev 10 (as God’s Priest) he is to teach the inscripturated word, the covenant revelation.

    Lev 10:8-11 (ESV2011)
    And the LORD spoke to Aaron, saying, “Drink no wine or strong drink, you or your sons with you, when you go into the tent of meeting, lest you die. It shall be a statute forever throughout your generations. You are to distinguish between the holy and the common, and between the unclean and the clean, and you are to teach the people of Israel all the statutes that the LORD has spoken to them by Moses.”

    Priests in Israel seemed to have the duty of authoritative teaching of the covenant word.

    2Kgs 17:25-28 (ESV2011)
    And at the beginning of their dwelling there, they did not fear the LORD. Therefore the LORD sent lions among them, which killed some of them. So the king of Assyria was told, “The nations that you have carried away and placed in the cities of Samaria do not know the law of the god of the land. Therefore he has sent lions among them, and behold, they are killing them, because they do not know the law of the god of the land.” Then the king of Assyria commanded, “Send there one of the priests whom you carried away from there, and let him go and dwell there and teach them the law of the god of the land.” So one of the priests whom they had carried away from Samaria came and lived in Bethel and taught them how they should fear the LORD.

    Ezra 7:1-11 (ESV2011)
    Now after this… Ezra the son of… Aaron the chief priest— this Ezra went up from Babylonia. He was a scribe skilled in the Law of Moses that the LORD, the God of Israel, had given… For Ezra had set his heart to study the Law of the LORD, and to do it and to teach his statutes and rules in Israel. This is a copy of the letter that King Artaxerxes gave to Ezra the priest, the scribe, a man learned in matters of the commandments of the LORD and his statutes for Israel’

    Mic 3:11 (ESV2011)
    ​Its heads give judgment for a bribe; its priests teach for a price; its prophets practice divination for money; yet they lean on the LORD and say, “Is not the LORD in the midst of us? No disaster shall come upon us.”

    It seems to me what we find in the OT we should assume has continuity in the NT unless we have good reason to think otherwise. The distinction seems to hold good though of course all NT believers are priests (and thus in one sense all are teachers) yet there are still authoritative teachers who teach the Covenant word (gospel) and like the priests of the OT these are exclusively male.

    1. John Clapton

      John, you may not be theologically trained, but you certainly know your way around the Hebrew Bible.

    2. Richard

      It is a bit of a leap of logic to say that since the priests of the OT were exclusively male, therefore teacher of the gospel must also be exclusively male. You recognise that the dominance of male prophets reflected God working within a patriarchal society to some extent, could this not also be the case with priests? And if we no longer live in patriarchial times, then why should we restrict the office of preacher and teacher of God’s word to men alone? Didn’t Peter say that ‘your daughters shall prophesy’ and ‘both men and women…they shall prophesy’? Prophets were authoritative teachers in the OT, and there were prophetesses too (Deborah, Miriam).

      1. ‘It is a bit of a leap of logic to say that since the priests of the OT were exclusively male, therefore teacher of the gospel must also be exclusively male.’

        My point initially was simply to point to a similar kind of OT divide; God allowed male and female prophets but not male priests (officially charged with the responsibility of teaching the covenant – the revealed word – to the people). If such a divide did exist in the OT then its apparent existence in the NT does not appear so arbitrary or strange.

        ‘You recognise that the dominance of male prophets reflected God working within a patriarchal society to some extent, could this not also be the case with priests?’

        Not if God regards male leadership in teaching a matter of the creational patriarchy he has created. That he has women prophetesses suggests this role was not exclusively male for principled reasons therefore male dominance must be for other reasons.

        ‘And if we no longer live in patriarchal times, then why should we restrict the office of preacher and teacher of God’s word to men alone?’

        Because whatever times we may live in our duty as Christians is to reflect God’s creational order in our marriages and our churches.

        ‘Didn’t Peter say that ‘your daughters shall prophesy’ and ‘both men and women…they shall prophesy’? Prophets were authoritative teachers in the OT, and there were prophetesses too (Deborah, Miriam).’

        I have agreed there were female OT and NT prophets. Peter’s point is not about sexism or ageism, his point is that in the NC since ALL of God’s people have the Spirit ALL have the mind of the Lord. He reveals his mind to all not just a few. He gives his Spirit to all and not just a few. He could have equally said all could teach/evangelize/preach because his point is nothing to do with different giftings or church order but simply the gift of the Spirit to all and the implications of this – all are God’s mouthpiece. In OT terms, in the NC ‘all know him from the greatest to the least’.

        As you said earlier we are all ‘kings’… but not all rule in the church.

  18. […] – this is where the debate is being fought out on the interwebs by Lionel Windsor, and Dickson himself (in a great model of how you can disagree with people without calling their character into […]

  19. Thanks for modelling such gracious engagement Lionel and John – my two cents is a little bit too long to post as a comment, and is here.

    The tl:dr; version is I don’t think preaching is teaching. I think it’s preaching (kerusso) – the proclamation of the Lord Jesus as the awaited Christ who brings God’s kingdom. A Christ-centred Biblical Theology means that every time we teach from the Bible we should be “preaching” Christ… I suspect this is an authoritative act (the Pharisees certainly thought so cf Luke 20:1-2), and that 1 Timothy is establishing, through its parameters for elders, who can wield that authority in the church context.

    1. Slightly embarrassing now that the site refresh has the trackback to this post right above my comment…

  20. John Clapton

    I think Jimmy Carter has something to say about this in The Age today. http://www.theage.com.au/opinion/losing-my-religion-for-equality-20090714-dk0v.html He is absolutely right in my view.

    I poke my head into the world of Sydney Anglicans every now and then just to see how they are going – nothing has changed. To think that this thread has been going over and over text after text for three weeks trying to justify silencing half of Gods people beggars belief. You look very muck like the Pharisees as they decide whether something done on a Sunday is “Working on the Sabbath” or not.

    Either we are all God’s children, we have all received the Holy Spirit and associated gifts, and all have a duty and responsibility to contribute to our life together as the Spirit leads – or we are stuck back in the Law that Jesus came to liberate us from.

    If a women presents herself to the leadership of a church saying God has called her to a ministry of leadership and preaching how dare you allow your prejudice to simply close off that sense of call on the basis of her gender – and justify it on the basis of a so-called higher authority (the so-called WORD OF GOD found in the Hebrew and Christian Scriptures).

    You quibble over STATUS and ROLE. You quibble over AUTHORITY and SUBMISSION. You quibble because all you have is words and the careful distinctions of one over another to ensure you continue to protect your position of authority over women (NB I have even generalised YOU to only mean MEN).

    Please open your eyes to see the wonderful work being done by women alongside men as their equals in all sorts of places we call The Kingdom of God – teaching, preaching, serving, leading, healing, equipping – and all as gracious expressions of their life in the Spirit of God.

    If you cannot see this then you are blind as the pharisees who incurred the wrath of Jesus many times. If you can see this, why do you continue to prevent the work of the Spirit among you by stifling the gifts the Spirit so clearly has given to the women among you.

    I thank John Dickson for his contribution. He made it in terms he thought you all might understand, but clearly you are not just content, you are quite INTENT in staying bound up with the text which you have made your god.

    1. Henry Gentles

      What’s at stake is idolatry, is it not? Worshipping God in a manner he has expressly forbidden!! Are you saying we are forbidden to acknowledge what it plainly says? Headship from Creation is not worth discussing and to do so is pharisaicical?

      You can’t compare this to sabbatarianism, thats just a cheap shot, we all know Jesus is at God’s right hand and in Col we are told you are free to choose because Paul explains we are free to choose! In 1Cor we are not told we are free to choose to observe Headship did he?

      Headship in Creation has not changed according to Paul (unless you think he’s a liar)!! Paul makes that clear in 1Cor. The penalty for Idolatry is still Hell(yes that’s in the NT too – see Jesus 12 times)! Paul says there are no Idolaters in Heaven(yes that’s in the NT too).

      If Dickson is wrong then he is opening the door to idolatry, I think that’s worth discussing!

    2. Thank you very much John Clapton for making these points. Some discussions must be recognised as pharisaic in nature – forgoing the great story of Christianity and grace for the law and its singular importance. To engage in those discussions as if the law (whether in Deuteronomy or the letters of Paul) was all that mattered is to forget something about the Gospel.
      When will people come to see that this kind of biblical study is not the protection from sin that we have made it.

    3. Matt Peters

      I agree John Clapton that our Diocese is pharisaic in its interpretation of I Timothy 2:12. The discussion of not permitting a woman to teach a man is conveniently limited to face to face gatherings. Certainly Paul is using it in that context, however other forms of teaching were non-existent at that time. Face to face was the only way that teaching could occur. He justifies his command on the basis of creation and the fall. If that is the justification for the limitation then it must surely apply in all other modern situations where a woman could teach a man. Today we have books, cds, dvds, radio, tv, podcasts, internet etc etc. Surprise, surprise, our diocesan leaders encourage men to be taught by women in all these other areas. We have been told that all women and all men should read Claire Smith’s latest book. However the author wouldn’t be permitted to preach a sermon on the same material in many churches in our diocese (not that she would want to). Quite clearly a case of obeying the letter of the law rather than the spirit of it – exactly the same sin that Jesus accused the Pharisees of committing.

      It has been my view for some time that the extent of this limitation has long been determined by what most women in our churches will accept. We were told by our minister some time ago that it is a sin for a woman to preach to any gathering including any men. All women would be outraged though if men were told it is equally a sin to read their teaching books, to listen or view their teaching talks on electronic media, or to access any of their online material. Yet surely that should be the case if the teaching limitation is because of Eve being created second and becoming a sinner first. As I have said, to limit this teaching and authority of men over women to only the hour on Sunday morning is not in the spirit of the command.

      If one takes the view that there is any limitation on women teaching in our church gatherings, whatever the NT Greek word may technically mean, then it must also apply to these other modern means of teaching as well.

      Don’t get me wrong, based on what I see as New Testament practice, I am firmly convinced that women should be permitted to preach to mixed gatherings. Thank you John Dickson that your book takes the same view. I only raise the above issue to highlight the hypocrisy on this issue of some in our churches.


  21. Matt

    Actually Matt, both OT and NT do allow women to teach men in various contexts. Apollos (a bible teacher) is taken apart by Aquila and Priscilla who instruct him more fully in the truth. The issue is whether they can teach in public formal authoritative contexts in church.

    I acknowledge some of the difficulties of cds, dvds, college etc. Colleges is a difficult one. However, it is surely better to be at least mainly right than wholly wrong.

  22. Adam Clay

    After reading the ebook and reviewing these posts, I still sit here completely agreeing with Lionel and, at the same time, sympathetic to John but unconvinced. The biggest question I have rising from John’s ebook, which remains unspoken or assumed, is the acceptance of a disembodied state of ‘knowledge’ which is the “apostolic deposit” in the New Testament. Please forgive me if I express some ignorance here, as I would be happy to be shown wrong, but based on this premise, it can appear as reasonable to draw the conclusions John does. However it does not make sense of the relational aspect of knowing Jesus and passing on his words. In my mind, as I read Johns book, I had pictures of little mp3 recorders running around with Jesus, capturing all the words he said so they could regurgitate them, and what ever was spilled onto paper we got to keep in the NT (praise Jesus!). As it is, so much of what we see in the NT is embodied people ‘knowing’ Jesus and sharing that, as attested to by the many traditions of the early church which we know about. As we fast track into our churches today, don’t we see the same, embodied people ‘knowing’ Jesus? Teaching, encouraging, passing on, etc…

    This point led me to consider the ‘knowledge’ Paul had of the Lord. As raised in a few of the verse’s John quotes (1 Cor 11:2, 23- (from the Lord); 2 Thes 3:6), in my mind, this raises questions of the relationship between Paul’s ‘knowladge’ of the Lord and his understanding of teaching. In other words, the relationship between Pauls understanding of Lord through tradition and its influence on Pauls understanding of teaching. Again, with a little more technicality, the relationship between the paradosis (παραδοσις) in Paul and the usage of didasko (διδασκω) by Paul and those he would have pass on the “apostolic deposit”.

    Curious to know, and food for thought, ciao.

    1. Adam Clay

      Just to clarify, embodied knowledge matters in my mind as opposed to disembodied knowledge because it puts relational aspects on the table as opposed to just functional aspects.

    2. John Dickson

      You comment here does not seem to reflect my work or the historical reality: “as I read Johns book, I had pictures of little mp3 recorders running around with Jesus, capturing all the words he said so they could regurgitate them.”
      Imagine you’re a Christian in Ephesus in AD 60. How do you know what Jesus said? How do you know about his tenderness to tax collectors, his response at his trial or the names of the witnesses to his resurrection? There is no Gospel written, right? What you describe as ‘regurgitation’ is your direct connection to the apostolic record. Christians thought of the apostolic deposit in the heads of the teachers the way you think of Luke’s Gospel. It is not a static, formal, robotic account of the life, death and resurrection of Jesus. It is your only channel – along with the other three Gospels – to knowing what the Lord was like, what he said and what exactly he did for you and me. As I point out below, I do not doubt that teachers also clarified and explained their material, but their central role was to preserve the apostolic voice in the way our New Testament does (in a superior way) today.
      Let me know if you have further questions. I’m keen to engage.
      God bless,

      1. Adam Clay


        Thanks for your reply, it’s actually good to hear you believe my comment doesn’t reflect your work, as it was my subjective impression of a quick read through your book, not, as you may be suggesting, my thoughts on reality.

        Im not entirely sure if you picked up on the point I was trying to make, or possibly thought it was irrelevant to the wider discussion, but my questions had a few levels to it, first, a question more to do with the apostolic tradition you understand Paul to be passing on, say as opposed to Peter and second, that your work seams (as Ive understood correctly or incorrectly) to take any form of embodied process out of transmission via “teaching”.

        The questions you ask in your reply kinda hits on the two sides of what Im trying to express.

        How do you know what Jesus said?
        How do you know about his tenderness to tax collectors, his response at his trial or the names of the witnesses to his resurrection?

        The difference between these two questions in a sense reflects the point behind my questions. Jesus demonstrated who he was in his words and his deeds, ultimately not reducible to any kind of transmission then the form in which it was delivered, in person. In relationship, as a person, witnessed to by those who know him. Not simply a memorization of times and dates, facts and figures (although these things are extremely important), as if Jesus was now Gods cosmic download of memorable facts, but as he is, a person (now glorified).

        I hope that communicates the vibe of what I mean by this second question.

        However, getting back to the first part of my question, Paul’s “apostolic tradition”, as I understood the gist of your argument, your saying that the NT is equivalent to the apostolic tradition, and the apostolic tradition is equivalent in the minds of 1st century teachers as a relaying of historical facts (Hence Im guessing why you initially suggested Luke, and, critical questions aside, the other gospels.) if Ive got you right.

        Which makes me wonder, how is it that you can say Paul had access to all the “Facts of Jesus life” (the apostolic deposit) in the way Peter did? If the apostolic voice is purely knowing the facts and words of Jesus, then couldn’t you argue that Paul didn’t have it, or we can’t be certain he had it, unless Jesus at Damascus downloaded a whole bunch of facts, sayings etc. But even then its at best speculation. This is the concern Ive been having with respect to your work. I almost want to stir a bit and ask your two questions of Paul, how does Paul know what Jesus said, or was like. or how do you know Paul knows what Jesus said, especially before he went to Jerusalem (Gal 1).

        These questions remind me of 1 Cor 15 and Galatians to be honest, I think of these as they are also historically early.

        Particularly, Gal 1:11-12; 1:14; 1:15-16. As these refer to Paul zelos for his father traditions (paradosis), however still receiving the gospel from the Lord, not taught (didasko) but reveled (apokalupsto) and and what he went and did with it.

        As a side note, it’s interesting that circumcision here, was at the heart of the Galatians turning to another “gospel”.

        It seams to me that what Paul had received and is passing on is more basic, or atomic, then just preserving Jesus words and sayings, which drives the very core of fundamental life change. Change in lots of ways as Paul outlines for us in the the NT. Not simply as application of “teaching” but whole hearted conviction of a message which is true.

        Again, just briefly, 1 Cor 15, but mainly focusing on 1 Cor 15:3 and Acts 10:41-43. Seams as though what ever was being passed on had something to do with the scriptures. Might it be naive to suggest that at that level Peter and Paul were passing on the work of OT exegesis/ theology, oral or not?

        I guess in a very unsophisticated and non academic conversational type fashion, Im trying to ask you what you see as being the relationship between Paul as he knows the Lord, and the apostolic voice he is commanding men to preserve.

        I just wonder if this is the line of where you concede either Paul didn’t have the apostolic deposit as you have said it to be, or you haven’t presented a whole picture of what the apostolic deposit, preserved by “teaching”, entails.

        Which is where I end up, wishing to say it is the facts, but testified by the scriptures, in the life of those who bare witness to them and that worked out in community, as God would have it done. The message which is being transmitted/taught is effectual in the life of the one teaching it. As embodied people. And that under the Lord in relation to one another. The message and its content force a particular mode of delivery, expression in practice, way of speaking, thinking, acting that preserves the message as it was given and has been believed. Not simply as words on a page, but fire in the heart.

        Any hows, sorry for the length and terrible grammar, I’am interested to engage, and wonder if out of politeness and a bit of wisdom it might be appropriate to not hammer Lionel’s blog space in order to continue this particular conversation? suggestions, facebook?

        Keep Trusting Jesus,


  23. […] A Comprehensive Response to Dickson […]

  24. My reply to John is here – along with a little explanation of why I haven’t been able to reply to all the correspondents and commenters over the last little while.

    1. Dannii

      I’m going to expand on this with a post at my own blog, but I don’t think *any* of your four levels are actually accurate definitions for “teach” in English.

    2. Dannii

      I’m going to expand on this with a post at my own blog, but I don’t think that *any* of your four levels are accurate definitions for “teach” in English.

  25. Ben Pakula

    Hi Lionel and John – thanks to you both for the good quality and gentle manner of the to-ing and fro-ing about this issue.

    Lionel, thanks for the clarification on the “levels” of encoded meaning within “teach” (and its cognates). I think it has been especially helpful for understanding the differences between your and John Dickson’s understanding of 1 Tim 2:12.

    John, many a good instructor has told me to be bold enough to ask questions due to the high likelihood that many others will secretly be thankful. I therefore pose the following question to you

    Let us assume for the sake of argument that:

    1. The most narrow (“level 4”) definition of “teach” holds true, and,

    2. It holds true even if we agree with Lionel that the burden of proof lies with your proposal (on account of it’s being out of kilter with how Paul writes both in the pastorals and the rest of the Pauline corpus).

    Surely then, a rather crucial question emerges: why on earth did Paul prohibit women from giving the authoritative transmission of the apostolic deposit verbatim, without elaboration?

    If we see the answer as coming from the verses following the prohibition, then clearly we must concede that Paul cites the rather grand and timeless doctrines of both creation and redemption in order to affirm a command concerning a particularly narrow and time-bound practice.

    To put it another way, why on earth does Paul think (apparently) that a prohibition on women passing on the pure apostolic deposit is a means of upholding God’s work in creation and redemption?

    Kind regards,
    Ben Pakula.

  26. John Dickson

    I am thrilled to read Lionel Windsor’s latest interaction. Let me clear up one thing and provide two or three further points for reflection. Fortunately, I can be very brief.
    (1) It never entered my mind that Lionel’s motive in offering an argument was to prop up the practice of keeping women out of the pulpit. I was speaking only of the effect of his argument when I said he has only provided people with an ‘out’ from my argument. I honestly cannot see how anything I said went to motive, but I want to apologise unreservedly for giving that impression.
    (2) I am willing to admit that I may have overstated in my reply the extent to which ‘teaching’ in the Pastoral Epistles only referred to exact repetition of the apostolic words, without elaboration. I guess I was aiming at clarity by pressing things strongly. I think I would prefer to revert to what I say in the book itself: “I would not dispute that ancient teachers were involved in something like exposition (of the Old Testament as well as the memorised or written apostolic traditions). I can well imagine that their teaching—i.e., their transmission of the apostolic deposit—was frequently augmented with explanations and exhortations on the basis of the traditions. However, that should not distract us from observing that the constitutive purpose of teaching, as distinct from explanation, prophesying, exhorting, and preaching, was, as I hope I have demonstrated already, to pass on the memories, rulings, and insights of the apostles.” The expression “constitutive purpose” is the key, and I do stand by that.
    I hope this quotation also provides a suitable reply to Lionel’s further comment: “John would say that the verb “teach” refers only to the passing on of this word verbatim, and not to any kind of elaboration on this word (level 4, above). But this is not an obvious step to take. It makes more sense to assume that to “teach” means to employ various didactic means to ensure that other people learn the “teaching”. This would include passing it on to others verbatim, but there is no obvious reason why we must narrow down the referent to unadorned verbatim transmission.” I am happy to admit that various techniques were employed by teachers to “ensure that people learn the ‘teaching’.” I am just saying that helping people “learn the teaching”, i.e., knowing the apostolic deposit like we know the New Testament, is the constitutive purpose of teaching.
    (3) I am glad Lionel essentially agrees that teaching in the Pastoral Epistles is “the authoritative transmission of the apostolic deposit” (his Level 3 description). This is wonderful. I see this as the heart of my argument. What Lionel describes as Level 4 (“authoritative transmission of the apostolic deposit verbatim without elaboration”) is a caricature dependent on my own attempts at strongly emphasizing what ‘teaching’ was. I regard all this, then, as a huge step forward and a lovely meeting of minds. This leads to fourth point.
    (4) Lionel discusses what sermons today might be, and he makes a significant and welcome concession: “I believe that there are more sermons that are close analogies to what Paul called “teaching” than John does. But that doesn’t mean I want to go along with a bare polarised approach to the issue.” Wow! How many sermons are not close analogies to what Paul called ‘teaching’—1%, 10%, 20%? This is the key question. It is exactly where I wanted to move the conversation. As I say in the book, some people may conclude from what I argue that “all sermons are open to suitable men and women,” but others may conclude, as I do, that “sermons are seen on a spectrum: some are more like prophesying and exhorting and aim to urge obedience to Scripture or encourage confidence in God’s truth; others function more as a focused mandating of apostolic doctrine.” It seems, then, that Lionel and I are really on the same page. He may place more sermons at the ‘teaching’ end of the spectrum than I do, but he accepts that there is a spectrum. I look forward to hearing good reports about the occasional sermon being given at his new church by godly and qualified women.

    1. Hi John, life’s too short for endless discussion, so I’ll keep it truly brief.
      (1) Your sentence “That is a success—for both of us” is a claim about my motive.
      (2-3) The referent of a word is different to its connotations. Sometimes you seem to separate the two to make one point, at other times you seem to mix the two together to make another point. It feels like the coherence of your argument is suffering as a result.
      (4) The “key question” is not about percentages. It’s not about maintaining our standard practices while tweaking proportions on a roster. I’m disappointed that this is where you want to move the conversation, and I’m not wiling to go there with you. The key questions, as I keep saying, are about how to reflect relational dynamics in our speech, and about what sermons actually are. These are the far deeper, more important questions to be asking. The answers will have practical results, but these results can’t be reduced to an increased percentage of women “giving sermons”.
      God bless,

  27. John Dickson

    I’ll try beat you for brevity 🙂
    1) It was never intended as such. Really. I was only saying that you achieved a modest result; and I achieved more than I expected.
    2-3) So make it simple, and take the quotation I offered from the book. I think that is clear enough: the constitutive purpose of teaching is the key.
    4) Oddly, I agree entirely with this. I just keep looking at it from the ‘results’ viewpoint – that has always been my weakness. ‘Relationships’, Dickson. ‘Relationships’!
    Still, the point is the same: you seem to agree women can give some sermons, so long as this flows from the right relational dynamics. I’ll go with that.
    I’m sorry if this seems like endless discussion. I’m enjoying it.
    John (135 words to your 174!)

  28. I have not been keeping abreast of the comments nor Lionel and John’s extended exchanges – I hope to read them shortly. But here’s my fundamental difficulty.

    Steve Chalke (UK) came out recently in favour of same-sex civil partnerships for Christians. Part of his supporting argument is that Scripture is clear on women’s role in the church. Plain straightforward exegesis forbids women to teach yet we dismiss this; we create a more sophisticated hermeneutic to do so. Are we not inconsistent in refusing to do the same with homosexuality.

    Now, apart from Chalke’s own dis-ingenuity (I doubt if he always thought the teaching on women so plain) I ask

    Does his point that that the Bible plainly forbids women to teach not touch a nerve? Do any without a high evangelical view of Scripture really doubt this? Will not future generations say precisely what Chalke is now saying and mock our present attempts to make black say white? Will not our over-sophisticated nuances come back to bite us? Will our attempts here seem as self-evidently ridiculous (and specious) to a future generation as the attempts of some C16/17 Christian writers to justify their actions and beliefs seem to us now? Will much of our laboured hair-splitting be seen simply as casuistry?

    1. John Clapton

      This idea of a “plain straightforward exegesis” really means a literalistic interpretation of the text without taking into account all the considerations that good exegesis would require – in other words it is almost an oxymoron in those terms.

      The words themselves may say “Women should keep silent in the church” etc. but the work of exegesis is to unpack those words in their historical, cultural and theological contexts and see what they could mean for us today, when words so often have different meanings than they did then.

      John DIckson has given us a pretty good example of exegesis in trying to unpack the text and demonstrating that our modern equation of preaching with the allegedly forbidden “teaching” is inappropriate, and that there are many other forms of public speaking that is edifying to the church and which women (and men) should be appropriately authorised to offer to the church – but not PROHIBITED because it might constitute what is prohibited by the words in Timothy.

      1. John C

        I don’t agree. Has two thousand years of interpretation been merely naive literalistic interpretation without due consideration of exegetical rules. By plain exegesis I certainly don’t mean a crude literalism nor do most who may use similar language.

  29. […] my recent interactive book review, it was also worth including these reflections sent to me by Dani Treweek, a friend and colleague […]

  30. Just to let everyone know that Dani Treweek has added some further reflections which I thought were worth a post in their own right rather than being relegated to the comments section. You can read Dani’s post here.

  31. John Dickson

    Just to let everyone know that I have some thoughts for Dani to consider.

    Dear Dani,
    There are parts of your complaint about Hearing Her Voice that are valid and insightful. There are parts I found unfair. Let me speak to both.
    First, you’re right that I should have acknowledged the excellent ministry being done by women in evangelical circles. You’re not the first to point this out and, as a result, last week I added the following paragraph to the forthcoming print version of the book:
    Finally, I need to make clear that my argument is not in any way intended to devalue the terrific things women are already doing in my own conservative evangelical circles. I would hate my emphasis on sermons to suggest that eternally valuable ministry is not taking place out of the pulpit: as women lead small groups, inspire people to reach out, conduct care services, follow up newcomers, read the Bible one-on-one with other women, and so on. My point is not that women should be able to do the ‘real’ work of preaching to mixed congregations—still less that there should be ‘symmetry’ between the sexes in church. I am simply trying to explain why I think we have been unnecessarily cautious in excluding women from giving what we call sermons.
    In light of your piece, I will also include ‘sermons to women’. I did know such sermons were being given; indeed, hearing the other (female) speakers at this year’s Katoomba Women’s Convention was one of the reasons I was excited to be invited by KCC to be one of the speakers in September.
    Normally, however, the preaching of women to women is something, almost by definition, that is invisible to me. It slipped my mind when writing the book. I glad for the criticism, and sad to have given you the impression “John doesn’t believe my voice can truly be heard unless it is being heard by men.” I will make amends.
    Then there are the parts of your critique I find unfair. You claim without quotation that the “underlying tone of Hearing Her Voice seems to suggest that women throughout Sydney are eagerly longing to have their voice heard from the pulpit.” Given that I don’t believe that is true, I studiously avoided such a tone. I want to ask you to produce a line that illustrates your point.
    The one quotation you offer later in your piece actually undoes the point you go on to make . Let me explain. You complain that I have written a book “about us (complementarian women), but not for us.” And, further, that “There is no occasion on which John appeals to complementarian women like myself to reassess our position – even though it is our voices under discussion!” The effect of these lines is to leave me looking/feeling like someone who is devaluing women. Indeed, Dickson “made me feel somewhat alienated.” Yikes. Give me that guy’s address …!
    But then I remembered that I was in fact writing a book for the ‘gatekeepers’ on this issue: male leaders of Reformed evangelical churches. And it was you who reminded me of it. You quote me as saying: “I want to invite my friends and colleagues to reassess (again) the biblical basis of their own reticence to invite women into the pulpit.”
    I wrote this book for those who make the decisions about whether “to invite women into the pulpit.” And I make clear that that’s who I wrote the book for. Just as my argument was very focused, so was my target audience. I knew plenty of others would read it (just as I know believers read my books intended for sceptics), but the ‘voice’ was deliberately intended to be that of one senior minister or gatekeeper to another.
    Your next criticism illustrates the point: “The truth of this seems to have been confirmed by the fact that a complimentary copy of the publication has recently been sent to (as I understand it) all the senior ministers/rectors of Sydney Anglican churches.” And then you complain, “yet not to the ordained or commissioned women in the diocese who surely constitute a significant portion of the ‘trained and godly women’ whom he wants to see preaching on Sunday mornings!” Well, yes. Doesn’t this undo your point? I wrote this for senior ministers and then sent them all a free copy. There is nothing untoward in overlooking ordained or commissioned women. I discriminated equally against male and female Christian workers who were not senior ministers.
    Your comments got me thinking: Should I change the voice of the book in light of these criticisms? Should I make a pitch to complementarian women in our churches? I decided: No way – because then some other reviewer, equally interested in casting suspicion over the work, might well criticize me for trying to ‘go around’ the godly male leadership in our churches by making a direct pitch to women. The book itself could then be seen as a rhetorical attack on male headship. Having been accused of all sorts of socio-rhetorical craftiness, this doesn’t seem far-fetched.
    Here is my final point, and it is one that has frustrated me and given me great cheer throughout the month of January: Why aren’t the biblically-focused evangelicals arguing with me from the Bible? Where is the counter-analysis of the use of didaskein and cognates in the Pastoral Epistles? Where does this terminology in the Pastorals clearly NOT refer to laying down the rulings and remembrances of the apostles? These are the key questions.
    I know that you, Dani, were not intending to offer a biblical critique, so I won’t criticize you for not writing the piece I wish you had. I just want to raise this obvious point and invite others—especially senior ministers—to engage with the argument itself, pretty please.

  32. Mark Topping


    When I read your brief exegesis of 2 Timothy 3:16, I must admit that I found it a little unconvincing to the broad argument of the book. Could you possibly delve a little deeper into how this discussion of “teaching” fits your paradigm?

    My initial impression of that text suggests that the Scriptures themselves are that which are profitable for teaching, not just the historical basis/history for the apostolic deposit. The Scripture (OT) itself teaches.They are not just profitable for Timothy’s teaching (apostolic deposit).

    “Useful for teaching refers to positive teaching, while rebuking represents the negative aspect. The Scripture contains both encouragement and warning, and this double aspect is always present. On the ethical plane, the Scripture provides both correcting and training, again stressing both negative and positive aspects. All these uses of Scripture were admitted by Judaism…”~ Donald Guthrie

    “Teaching includes instruction in doctrine and matters of Christian conduct, and in this context the emphasis is more on building up the community of believers than on proclaiming the gospel to unbelievers.”~ Phillip Towner

    “As for our creed, Scripture is profitable ‘for teaching the truth and refuting error’. As for our conduct, it is profitable ‘for reformation of manners and discipline in right living’. In each pair the negative and positive counterparts are combined. Do we hope, either in our own lives or in our teaching ministry, to overcome error and grow in truth, to overcome evil and grow in holiness? Then it is to Scripture that we must primarily turn, for Scripture is ‘profitable’ for these things.”~ John Stott

    These commentators understand this verse in a way which appears totally different to what you suggested in your book…

    “For Paul, The Old Testament provides a supportive role for the task of laying down the apostolic “teaching”. (Loc 506)

    “”Paul says the Scriptures are merely “profitable” for Timothy’s teaching, not that teaching involves the content of these Scriptures…studying Scripture is beneficial for Timothy’s teaching role”. (Loc 506)

    Are you reading your narrow definition of apostolic deposit into this verse? If so, does this effect your argument? I’m not suggesting that “teaching” here is the equivalent of the sermon. I am suggesting that the teaching referred to in 2 Tim 3:16 is not the apostolic deposit, but the role of Scripture within itself.


    Mark Topping

    1. John Clapton

      I wonder if the long string of commentary here illustrates how much we shape our exegesis of texts by other theological presuppositions. If we have already adopted a view of the subordination of women under the headship of a man, then the text we have in 1 Tim speaks eloquently and simply – women have no place in the public utterances made in church services. Conversely, if we have already adopted a view that we are all equal in the eyes of God and that the Spirit gives gifts to men and women alike, then our exegesis of the 1 Tim text will seek to interject meanings that allow that in other circumstances than that specifically mentioned here it is not impossible for women to have a role in the public utterances of the church.

      Just occasionally, we have someone like John Dickson, whose theological presuppositions might have been more closely aligned (at least in our assessment of him – not necessarily his) with the former view, who seeks to address the text in a new way to see if there is in fact another way.

      I think he has done a great job – even if he has not convinced some of the commentariate here.

  33. John Dickson

    Dear Mark,
    I’m not sure if anyone is still viewing these comments. I hope you at least find your way back here for this response.
    The tricky thing to work out in this passage is whether the ‘teaching, rebuking, correction’ etc is what is being done to Timothy (by Scripture) or to the congregation (by Timothy with the assistance of Scripture). Both are valid interpretations found in the commentaries. It hinges on whether the full equipped ‘ho tou theou anthropos’ is Timothy or any ‘person of God’, i.e., those Timothy teaches, etc.. It is true I opted for the latter (following Marshall among others) but the former can be well argued.
    Let’s assume the former, for a second. Does this affect my argument? Not really. Let’s suppose the ‘useful’ thing the OT Scriptures do for Timothy the man of God is ‘teach’ and ‘rebuke’ him. As he reads the OT Scriptures he himself is taught, rebuked, trained and so on, so he can better fulfil the task Paul is about to recall, “preach the word…” If this is the sense of the passage, ‘teach’ here doesn’t refer to laying down the apostolic deposit or explaining the Scriptures to others. It refers to the way the OT Scriptures, as they are read, lay down for Timothy the fixed, inscripturated demands of the living God. This usage of didaskalia is evidenced in Rom 15:4, which I discuss briefly in the book: “Whatever was written in the past (the OT), was written for our teaching (didaskalia) …” Here the OT does its own mandating of God’s will as it is simply quoted or read out. ‘Teaching’ here certainly doesn’t refer to the ‘teaching’ of that text by someone else.
    So, if we go with that same sense in 2 Tim 3:16, we have indeed found an instance of didaskalia that doesn’t mean ‘the apostolic deposit laid down’. Instead, it is the ‘Old Testament deposit laid down’. What it doesn’t mean – as this section of my book was written to show – is that ‘teaching’ refers to explaining the text of Scripture to others. I would press this further and say that the meaning of teaching you propose for 2 Tim 3:16 does just as good a job of criticising the view that ‘teaching’ is explaining a Bible text as my interpretation. In fact, the two interpretations are analogous, for they both refer to the mandating of God’s truth found in the fixed form of either the OT Scripture itself or the apostolic deposit. In the former, the reading of the OT itself lays down its own divine truth. In the latter, the apostolic deposit is laid down with the assistance of the OT. The ‘teaching’ the OT does as it is read is the old covenant parallel of the new covenant activity of the ‘teaching’ performed as authorised men rehearse the remembrances and rulings of the apostles.
    In short, what you propose may take away from me an instance of didaskalia that I had previously interpreted as apostolic deposit but, at the same time, it underscores why didaskalia in 2 Tim 3:16 cannot refer to Timothy’s exposition of the Bible to others. I give my interpretation 55% reliability and yours 40%, leaving 5% for the view that ‘teaching = explaining the Bible’.
    In the revised version of the book, I think I will point all this out. That is the benefit of this kind of interaction. Thank you.
    God bless,

  34. Simon Roberts

    Dear John,

    You comment:
    “Here is my final point, and it is one that has frustrated me and given me great cheer throughout the month of January: Why aren’t the biblically-focused evangelicals arguing with me from the Bible? Where is the counter-analysis of the use of didaskein and cognates in the Pastoral Epistles? Where does this terminology in the Pastorals clearly NOT refer to laying down the rulings and remembrances of the apostles? These are the key questions.”

    Given that the book is just over a month old it doesn’t really surprise me that many people haven’t had the time to read and respond yet. Having read the book very early after it was released it has still taken me some weeks to find the time to put together some thoughts. Such is the nature of ministry and getting things up and running in local churches at the start of a year.

    I offer them at the link below and will also mail you a copy on Monday.



  35. John Dickson

    Thanks. I look forward to reading your thoughts. I appreciate your point about people digesting things slowly. I guess my thought was directed especially at the blogs of Mark Thompson and Peter Bolt who between them produced over 5000 words of criticism and did not engage in a critical analysis of ‘teaching’ in the Pastorals Epistles and Paul. That’s what’s been puzzling me – though, I am sure such a critique is on its way.
    I hope to get to your review this week (a have a sermon and the Superbowl tomorrow!). Assuming you don’t convince me I’m mistaken, are you open to publishing a rejoinder?
    God bless,

    1. Henry Gentles

      I think Peter Bolt buried your idea that you can straight jacket the meaning of ‘teaching’! You should read it again maybe? After nearly 2000 years you seem to think you’ve arrived at a conclusion that everyone else has overlooked, which changes the entire orthodoxy of what constitutes legitimate congregational worship?

      1. It hasn’t been 2000 years of an established orthodoxy. I’m not a theologian, but I grew up as an anglican in sydney, and the prevailing view in the 70’s was not against women preaching, at least in practise, in the churches. The emphasis placed on this, the alignment of views on women preaching with orthodoxy, so much as it is treated like a line in the sand, is recent, in my experience. Witness the decision not to let John speak at KCC, whereas John Stott preached an egalitarian line there in the 80’s, and presumably in line with his beliefs allowed women to preach at All Souls Langham Place. Looking at the sweep of christianity throughout 2000 years, I don’t think it is sustainable to say that the current emphasis of sydney evangelicals, within the Anglican church only, represents “the entire orthodoxy of what constitutes legitimate congregational worship”

      2. John Clapton

        Sad, but not surprised that John Dickson was prevented from speaking at KCC.

        There is something intrinsically unhealthy about trying to stifle debate. Maybe KCC is not a rostrum from which John wishes to be heard, but one can only squarely formulate their own views in the context of vigorous engagement with what may ultimately be alternative views.

        That is why I have engaged in the discussion of this forum.

      3. Henry Gentles

        What Dickson and yourself have failed to acknowledge is that when a man gets up to preach his wife is right their with him for in God’s eyes, the 2 have become one!! The Bible does not overlook this relationship. There is no misrepresentation of women as Dickson might have you believe, this is just his inability to cope with basic Bible Teaching about relationships, in order to pander to feminist individualism within the Church. When her husband speaks, which is her Head, she is speaking also for the two are one and share the same status. Having women preach in any Church is a relatively new thing(it is forbidden after all), if you can’t agree with that historical fact then I guess you may have other problems apart from acknowledging the blatantly obvious. I wrote from the start that this is about the STATUS of women.

  36. Simon Roberts

    Dear John,

    I look forward to hearing more of your analysis of didaskein and cognates in the Pastoral Epistles to show from those letters why it must mean what you say it means.

    And certainly, if you will publish my rejoinder in your book I will publish yours on my blog 🙂


  37. John Dickson

    Simon Roberts,
    I have written a response. I would be willing to ask Zondervan to include your review (indeed, all reviews and my responses) in future editions. That said, when you read my rejoinder, you may feel differently about some of what you say – which does not seem as strong as your tone suggests you think it is.
    I’m trying to find a place to publish it – Mike Bird is getting sick of me! So, are you sure you won’t publish it?
    In any case, I’ll be offering up my thoughts sometime soon.
    I’m trying to find you on Facebook, too. Can you connect with me. You seem to have disappeared for me.

  38. Jennifer

    Could you start your own blog where you can freely post whatever responses you want? That would seem to me to be the standard and accepted way to go – rather than expecting anyone who writes a review of your book to publish your rejoinder as a post on their blog.

  39. John Dickson

    Good thought. I just don’t know how to do it and don’t have time to maintain a proper blog. But I’ll consider it because a few people have said the same thing.
    God bless,

  40. The Elephant in the room.
    So far no one I have noticed has remarked on or dealt with the elephant in the room that is politely being ignored and yet we all are in danger of being squashed by it. The elephant is revealed in Dickson’s short statement that “I hope readers will find that the following historical observations, none of which are controversial in scholarship today, will clarify rather than confuse the meaning of 1 Tim 2” reference – Dickson chapter 2 ‘laying it down: what teaching really is.’
    What isn’t controversial for Dickson is both the dating of the Gospels and the Oral Tradition and he immediately goes on to talk about the oral tradition in section 2.3. I have no problem with the dating of the Gospels as I see that as subsidiary to the issue before us, my main beef is with moving from how oral traditions are passed on via story etc to the notion that these somehow influence the meaning and content of NT passages.
    But before I deal with the question of the content of these oral traditions, what about the support of scholarship regarding oral traditions. Dickson infers they support his thinking regarding 1 Timothy 2:12 but does it?
    Of course I thank Dickson for making me read Dunn’s ‘Jesus Remembered ‘ even if it has been done rather too quickly and I am in danger of misunderstanding some of Dunn’s arguments. Even so I am sure some will generously point out my missreadings and mistakes.
    Central to Dunn’s approach is to build upon the so called fruits of form criticism. Fruits which I myself take to be rotten because they are grounded in Kantian ideals and enlightenment ideas. I too had to study and write essays on form criticism as a requirement of my Bth but that doesn’t mean I agreed with the assumptions and approach of form criticism. It is just in my mind merely a nefarious notion.
    We see form criticism mentioned frequently in Dunn, picking up as he does the advent of the oral tradition enquiry beginning with Bultmann and form criticism, Dunn page 193, But let’s be gracious and for the moment assume form criticism is a viable approach. And let’s also take Dunn as representative of the oral tradition hypothesis even though I admit I would do well to read Keener and Bauckham. But time for the non academic is of the essence and other priorities often must take precedence.
    What I see Dunn saying in regard to oral tradition has more to do with the methods of transmission of oral traditions and how they work out in communities. I do not see it evidencing the content as to oral traditions or in particular the oral traditions of the apostles, and nor does Dunn provide any evidence of what those traditions were. Even when talking about Paul and his conversion Dunn is still very much only concerned with character and transmission of oral traditions. And even at that level he makes assumptions that can be regarded as controversial.
    For example, using the three accounts of Paul’s conversion as attested in Acts 9, 22 and 26 Dunn sees them as valuable examples of the way oral tradition functioned. It seems for Dunn that central to his analysis of the biblical accounts is his assumption from Bailey that the significant thing to focus in on as evidence of an oral tradition is the core element, one can readily acknowledge this core even when there may be a difference in supporting details. However in regard to Acts 9, 22 and 26 this assumes that Luke is not using Paul’s conversion theologically. That is, he is being truthful to the facts of the event of Paul’s conversion but selecting details to make a point within the movement of his Book. Why assume these passages reflect the ‘oral principle of variation within the same’ pg 212 rather than it is Luke’s inspired use of the essential reality of Paul’s conversion which Luke sourced out from eyewitnesses? Luke 1:2 Further we need to ask what is the practical application of assuming the passages are examples of the way oral traditions functioned. Even if we go so far as to grant the possibility of the source of the event Luke uses to be an oral tradition one has to be careful in how they use this to determine the meaning of the passage. Far too often they are in danger of missing the point drawn out by the supporting details eg Paul before Ananias in chp 26, that Luke is making and settling instead for some generic understanding and application. This approach can be likened to how some take from the three parallel accounts of the Gospel stories where they dealt with as similar instance and preaching an amalgamated message.
    At the one point Dunn veers more towards considering the content of the oral traditions, namely in the post Easter emphasis of the Jesus tradition that Moule’s work focuses on, but even then there is little by way of the content of those traditions discussed and certainly no compelling evidence presented.
    So as far as I can see Dunn addresses the character and transmission of oral traditions but doesn’t speak of the content of those traditions.
    The point I then have to ask is how one determines what the content of these oral traditions are when there is no extant documentation of their content. To presume that the content is the New Testament is to presume too much. It is pure speculation. It becomes even more precarious when Dickson claims that the oral traditions of the Apostles were so important that special care had to be taken in passing them on to others, and thus the implied restriction of teaching oral traditions by women. Yet we must ask, if these traditions are so important as to their content how come there are no sources regarding their content, either in the period before the writing of the New Testament or even via way of commentary by Church Fathers. An reference to Papias does not support the importance or content of these apostolic traditions and that reference in Dunn only picks up on his statement that snatches of prayer and hymnody flow in and out of the texture of pastoral exhortation. However to presume that such an expression in writing must have some causal link to oral traditions because oral traditions reflect a similar character makes a big assumption that is without supporting justification. Be that as it may, Papias still doesn’t mention content regarding the oral traditions of the apostles. See Dunn. ‘Jesus Remembered’ Pg223 and footnote 216. I would have thought if these apostolic traditions were so authoritatively important someone would have made notes somewhere and these sources would have been found. It is sounding far too much like an argument from silence.
    Consider how Dickson sees the historical support of the oral tradition as working out in his argument.
    He says “Christian doctrine in the early decades of the church was maintained, for the most part, not in writings but through the memorizing and rehearsing of all the fixed information the apostles had laid down for the churches”, and says we see a glimpse of this in the Lord’s Supper of 1 Cor 11 “as I passed on to you”.
    He then makes the remarkable statement “Epistles like 1 Corinthians were not the principle means of laying down the apostolic traditions; they functioned as written supplements to an oral tradition that had already been ‘delivered to’ and ‘received by’ the churches over many years. This may require some imagination to think through but it cannot really be disputed.”
    I may have misconstrued Dickson’s point here in thinking the above statement seems to put more weight and importance on the oral traditions than the New Testament Scriptures, they are just “supplements”. But however we take this, it remains strange that such weighty and authoritative traditions have no extant documentation nor are mentioned by the Church fathers. That is an historical gap the size of a black hole – nothing is left but supposition or as Dickson says a bit of imagination.
    Let me make one final point which is not at all related to historical scholarship. See how Dickson moves his argument regarding 1 Timothy 2:12. First that oral traditions were in play before the writing of the New Testament documents. Second, that there were oral traditions of the apostles in play. Third, that he then takes “teach” in 1 Tim 2:12 in a technical sense so that Paul equates teach with the passing on and laying down these oral traditions of the apostles. What he needs to show clearly is that this was Paul’s intent in using the word teach. That Paul clearly links the word teach with apostolic traditions and their passing on. But Paul doesn’t do that. Indeed he says in the Pastoral Epistles which Dickson wants to say is the documentary range for considering this notion of teach, that in Titus Paul says women can teach other younger women. One would then have to conclude that the limitation in 1 Tim 2:12 has to do with men and women in meeting together, not the restricted role of such teaching to men! Of course Dickson could say that teach in Titus 2:3 is a compound of teach and good, so it’s “teach what is good” and so is not used in the technical sense he gives teach in 1 Tim 2:12.
    Just my two cents worth in a very limited time frame. Certainly John Dickson has stimulated me in thinking about such references in the epistles that speak of the prior teachings of the apostles to the Churches before the inscripturation of the New Testament.
    God Bless

  41. John Dickson

    Dear Gary,
    Thanks for the engagement. I’m glad I forced you to read Dunn. It is one of the finest volumes ever written on Jesus.
    I think the answers to your questions are simpler than your long reflections might anticipate.
    1. The apostolic oral tradition is clearly what is now contained in the Gospels, as well as in the apostolic letters. We know this because (a) Paul tells us as much in the references to his ‘tradition’, (b) the numerous Gospel details mentioned in passing in his letters with which he expects his recipients to be familiar (c) the testimony of Luke that his work contains in written form what Theophilus had already been taught, (d) the testimony of Papias that Peter’s own teaching is contained in Mark, (e) the general consensus of the early fathers that the Gospels record what the apostles preached in their ministry.
    2. The connection between ‘teach’ and Paul’s oral tradition is not conjecture. Paul makes clear in the Pastorals that his deposit is the new covenant traditions of the gospel and his own rulings on its basis. I believe this case is made in my book, so I won’t rehearse it here other than to urge you to read 1 Tim 1:1 – 2:12 and 2 Tim 1:7 – 2:2 in Greek noting all of the uses of didasko/didaskalia/didache and other compounds in these units.
    3. The use of kalodidaskalos in Tit 2:3 is easily explicable. The term is an adjective meaning “good-teacher-like”. Women are to be like good teachers with respect to the younger women in their care. This makes perfect sense within my reading of ‘teaching’.
    God bless,

  42. John, thank you for your comments, they detail the issues a bit more. However you fail to pick up on my first issue which is that the historical scholarship speaks to the transmission and character of oral traditions, not their content and this is really crucial when addressing the oral traditions referred to by Paul.

    Where Dunn for example tries to look at a biblical passage and speak to the issue of oral traditions, eg Acts he fails really to understand as I pointed out, the points that Luke is making and this is exacerbated by seeing only the core elements of oral traditions and not taking note of the supporting details. This is the problem with Dunn’s approach. It is methodologically misplaced. Similarly I am suggesting that your theory that teach in 1 Tim 2:12 is technical, dealing with oral traditions of the apostles and thus restricted is hermeneutically misplaced because it reads into the text from the basis of the reality of oral traditions to this is the referent of the word teach in Paul here.

    Secondly you seem to me to be failing to take account of the context in 1 Timothy. What you seem to be doing with 1 Timothy 2:12 is to declare that ‘teach’ there is technical, it is the passing on or the oral traditions of the apostles, and this was restricted to men. However, literary context for meaning comes before any “supposing” and given Paul speaks of false prophets teaching in chapter 1:3 it seems likely the word means the same thing in 2:12. In that case it isn’t that they were teaching the oral traditions of the apostles in error, no, the text tells us they were teaching “another doctrine” – the content, the object of their teaching was another doctrine. Again Paul reinforces the sense in which the heretics wanted to teach, they wanted to be “law teachers” and the object again of their teaching is the Mosaic law. As Homer A. Kent says, mixing law and grace. What I see happening here isn’t teaching related to oral traditions as such but doctrines and the mosaic law.

    My point with Titus 2:3 is again the use of the word teach for women. They are to teach, teach what is good, it is not a word to be taken as “good teacher like”. If women are to teach and you are saying Paul uses teach in the pastorals with the technical sense or oral traditions, then you would have women here teaching the good oral traditions of the apostles, but that is what you are saying Paul forbids in 1 Tim 2:12.

    I agree with 1a-c and 1 e. I don’t know Papias’ argument so I will accept that for the present. The issue before us is hermeneutical. What do we do with the reality of the oral traditions – they are referred to in Paul yes indeed, but our starting point is that we feed the flock with the Word of God revealed, that is, given us in the Scriptures. We contend for the faith entrusted to the Saints. My take there is the faith is not some nebulous oral traditions the content of which is debatable but the Scriptures both Old and New.