Sunday, January 6, 2013

Gender and Ministry: Why John Dickson is Wrong about Women and Preaching (part 3)

The last several days have seen quite a hive of activity and interest regarding Dickson's recent publication.  By and large (from what I've seen) the debate has been conducted at a fair and reasonable spirit.  This is positive, as the ultimate aim of any discussion of this type is to achieve clarity on what the position of each side of the argument actually is so that those outside can determine whether a new thesis has merit.  I, personally, am very grateful to John Dickson for engaging with some of my thoughts on this blog.  His comments have helped me to sharpen up my thinking not only on his position but on my own as well.

Before we move on to discuss what it means "to teach" and what place a "sermon" has in the life of the Church, it would be worth quickly recapping the points of Agreement and Disagreement that have been covered so far.

John Dickson and I basically agree:
1) That it is important to allow Scripture to dictate the definitions of Word ministries.
2) That the ministry of "exhorting" (parakaleo), while having areas of overlap, is distinct from the ministry of "teaching" (didasko)
3) That having time during the gathering of the Church for the ministry of exhortation would be a Good Thing.
4) That it is too common in evangelical culture for women to be denied the opportunities to use their spiritual gifts in a way consistent with Scripture because of an exaggerated fear of transgressing the prohibition of 1 Tim 2:12.
5) That complementarian evangelical leaders should make the effort to reassess their ministry structures to see if inappropriate exclusion against our Sisters In Christ is occurring and make changes where necessary.

John Dickson and I basically disagree:
1) That the semantic range of parakaleo can extend to include "to comment on and apply a text of Scripture."
2) That an analogue can be made between a modern "sermon" and either Paul's speech in Acts 13 or the mission of Silas and Judas in Acts 15.

That is as far as we've got.  Whether a modern "sermon" can or should be regarded as "teaching" is the next topic to which we must turn.  However, while word studies and historical context can help us, I believe that this is a question more of systematic theology than Pauline exegesis.  I believe there is no "proof-text" that we can appeal to prove the sermon's credentials as "teaching" for the simple reason that considering the sermon as an early church phenomenon would be an anachronism.  The sermon is, instead, a product of the changed Doctrine of Scripture that the Church inherited in the post-apostolic age.  It is a reaction to what Holy Scripture was found to be and what the Church was created to be.  This means the discussion must move into areas of Ecclesiology and Christology, but I believe that this will result in clarity rather than confusion.

Discerning the Meaning of Didasko and Didaskolos

I had initially intended to do a lexical study of didasko in a similar fashion to how I had treated parakaleo in the previous post.  However, I found that Lionel Windsor had pipped me to the post, saying almost exactly what I was going to say but much better (he is a New Testament expert, after all).  I encourage all my readers to take the time to read Lionel's work as he goes into far more detail than what I now intend to do here.

Respecting the place of "teaching" in the New Testament, Dickson writes:

'Historical and exegetical considerations combined make clear that "teaching" for Paul means preserving and laying down the fixed traditions of and about Jesus as handed on by the apostles.  Teaching is not explaining a Bible text, nor is it applying God's truth to congregational life; it is making sure that the apostolic words and rulings are well known and maintained in the church." (p.18, emphasis original)

Dickson's definition of "teaching", we notice, has very clear boundaries.  If you were a 1st Century Christian and you wanted to know, for example, what Jesus said in the Parable of the Prodigal Son, you would ask the Teacher of your church to relate the story.  However, if you wanted to ask a follow-up question as to how the younger son could be so openly embraced when he had clearly broken one of the Ten Commandments by dishonouring his father, it was not the Teacher's job to tell you but someone else's (e.g. the Exhorter or Prophet).  Once the New Testament was recognised as the written form of "teaching", then this written tradition came to replace the oral tradition that was present in the earliest days of Christianity. (p.20)  Therefore, the role of Teacher for the church, if it exists at all, does not exist in the same technical sense that Paul refers to in 1 Tim 2:12.

It is important to acknowledge the accuracy of the historical context that Dickson outlines.  Certainly, in the early days of Christianity, the 'apostolic deposit' was indeed a primarily oral tradition.  Any new teachings would have to be weighed not against an authoritative text, but against how they would compare to the message which had been believed.  As a result, the role of Teacher most probably looked very different in that context from what we might imagine it to be.

Yet I still have two main problems with Dickson's thesis.  First, the New Testament seems clear that the role of Teacher was not only concerned with the preserving and laying down of the fixed traditions, but that other aspects of interpretation and comment were involved.  Second, Dickson's proposal appears to focus on the Means of "teaching" rather than its Ends, with the result that applications for the modern context are misinterpreted.

The Teacher (didaskalos) in Scripture is, as Dickson maintains, usually viewed as a source of oral traditions or revelation that can be then passed down to the Faith Community.  However, it is also clear that these Teachers were not merely information repositories, but were also expected to interpret and apply the tradition to their context with the expectation that others will internalise the information.  Thus, in my view, Dickson's restriction of the role seems to me to be without justification.  Though this topic could be explored in far more detail, a few examples will have to suffice.

The Old Testament example par excellence is the address of Moses to the nation of Israel in Deuteronomy.  Moses' intention is not merely to recite the revelation of the Law which he has received from God, but he does so in order that the Israelites might "hear" them and follow them in the Land (Deut 4:1-2).  After Moses has finished outlining the Law, he then offers application and comment in the form of Blessings & Curses and encouragements that this Law is not too hard to follow (Deut 27-30).  Moses seemed to have been keen not only to tell the people what God had said, but what they should do and how they should do it.  Moses the Teacher was, in fact, commenting on and applying his own word.

In the New Testament, the figure we see as the primary Teacher is Jesus.  It is the title that he is most often given by both Followers and Casual Observers during his earthly ministry.  There are several interesting aspects about the labeling of Jesus as Teacher.  First, he is given this title without having any attachment to a particular rabbinical tradition.  Instead, his teaching role is first observed  within the context of Jewish religious communities with an established written tradition and as having an authority distinct from those who would usually be seen as religious instructors (Mk 1:21-22).  Second, Jesus is appealed to as a Teacher not only to recite established teaching but also to comment and apply it to particular questions (e.g. Mk 10:17-31, Lk 12:13-21, Lk 20:27-40).  Jesus' actions show that the people expected him not only to know, for example, what Moses said but also how the tradition should be applied in contemporary context.  Of course, we must be careful about generalising to ourselves what may be proper to Jesus alone, but it is at least worthy of note that this pattern of teaching is much more integrated in terms of passing on and commenting on/applying the message than the definition Dickson prefers.

In my past life studying Educational Psychology, one of our foundational principles was that "learning" does not occur solely as an external reality of "knowledge" is "transmitted" from teacher to student.  Instead, information and principles must be internalised so they may later be applied to the life of the student outside the learning environment.  In this way, "learning" is predicated on the belief that the Teacher has done more than communicate the knowledge clearly, but has done so in a context where the Student has received the knowledge and has been willing to submit to the expertise of Teacher so as to alter their established knowledge categories and preconceptions in order to integrate the new information.  This has to happen in the context of a relationship of trust and a recognition of the authority of the Teacher.  If such a relationship isn't present and the focus is on information only then it is unlikely that any real learning will occur.

Bearing this in mind, I concur with the definition given by Lionel Windsor regarding the shape of New Testament teaching:

'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).'

But what of Dickson's assertion that such an understand of the activity would have been far from the apostle Paul's mind in 1 Timothy 2:12 and that what would have been foremost would have been the passing down of oral tradition?  It is important at this point that a distinction is made between the Means and the Ends of "teaching".  What Dickson is claiming is that because the Means of "teaching" have necessarily altered because of the acceptance of the New Testament there must not anyone in the Church who works towards those original Ends.

Let's take the example of Engineering.  Ever since the 17th Century a standard tool for the engineer was the slide rule.  As a consequence, if you did serious study in engineering anytime from then up to 1980 you would have been expected to be proficient in the use of these instruments.  It might have fairly been said that engineers were the Slide Rule People.  However, with the advent of professional electronic calculators the slide rule quickly fell out of favour and now are only of interest to extremely nerdy collectors.  Would it therefore be fair to argue that because everybody now uses calculators that there are no longer any such people as engineers because they were the Slide Rule People?  Of course not!  Just because the Means of their profession have changed the Ends (building roads/bridges/dams/etc) are still the same.

The same might be said of the office of Teacher.  The Means of their office have changed as they no longer have to preserve and lay down the apostolic oral tradition.  However, if those Means were directed towards an End that the ancient and modern Church have in common, then it may be that others in the modern Church might also fulfill the role of Teacher and thus the command in 1 Timothy 2:12 would have continuing relevance.

But what might this End for the Church be?

A People in the Incarnate Word through the Written Word

Here we must discern what the purpose of the "sermon" is, and thus the office of Teacher, by considering for what Ends the Church has been established by God.  I can think of no better passage with which to start than Ephesians 1.  A complete exposition is beyond the scope of this post, but a few observations are necessary.  First, those who are called by God are those Predestined to be a Household expecting an Inheritance.  Not only our Legal but our Relational status has changed with respect to God.  Second, such benefits flow to those whose identity is In Christ.  Our righteous status comes though being a community incorporated into Christ and thus sharing in the victory that he has over sin.  Third, the same power that makes the Church wise with respect to God is the same power that has raised up Christ as head of the Church.  The Church which knows and submits to Jesus as its Head is that which is acting according to the true will of God.  Therefore, the Church is eternally a community under authority, one that does not determine its own destiny but is eternally submissive.

But who is this Christ that the Church submits to?  John 1:1-17 tells us that this Christ is the Word of God made Flesh.  This incarnate Word is not in competition with the written Word but is in fact the pure revelation of the godhead and the source of the authority of all Scripture, both Old and New Testaments.  Moreover, this Word came to be not just the Subject but the Content of God's highest revelation now and forever (Heb 1:1-2).  As T. F. Torrence puts it:

'The Word of God has taken historical form and is now never without that historical form.  It takes its form from our human language and our human reason, but it is all that as the medium of divine revelation, and permeated with the message of God.  Here the Word of God become flesh is no mere message from outside of, or alongside of, the historical event of Jesus, but is Word of God to man as essentially human word an essentially historical event, and yet without ceasing to be the transcendent and eternal Word of God.  That Word of God become event, that message of God active in history, is the New Testament kerygma or proclamation, and in the very heart of that kerygma, as its content, is the person of Christ.' [1]

The Church is called to be a community in submission not simply to textual propositions, but to the historical reality of Jesus as the Word of God amongst us.  But this reality is proclaimed by the living Word of Scripture, for in it God testifies to Jesus' testimony to himself.  Thus, as the Church hears the Written Word not only read but expounded in the congregation they are engaging in an act of communal submission to what God has done but what God is continuing to do through the authority given to the Resurrected Word.  The Bible lives because Jesus lives!  Therefore, while we might tease out words and look for applications in a particular text in a sermon, this is never the End of the exercise:

‘Scripture is not simply a propositional shaft to be exegetically mined and theologically refined like so much textural dross to be purified into systems of philosophy and morality.  On the contrary, both the form and content of the New Testament are elements in the divine drama of revelation and redemption (i.e., focusing on the triune mission of Word and Spirit, what God says and does on the stage of redemptive history).' [2] 

The role of the Teacher in the early Church was not merely to preserve the apostolic tradition in order to pass it on, but to create and encourage by that message a community maturing in faith and ready to life as disciples of Christ in this present age. The real End, therefore, of any "teaching" in the Church is not what individuals might get out of it in terms of knowledge and application, but instead what God is doing through the congregation as they come under his Word in an attitude of humility.

Ultimately, it is neither the preacher nor Scripture that is the true Teacher of the Church, but Jesus himself.  Acknowledging him as our Spiritual Head entails both submission and obedience (Jn 13:13-17).  As such, the Church finds its identity in the Incarnate Word through submission to the Written Word.  In doing so, the Church fulfills the purposes for which God called in Ephesians 1.

But does this mean that Dickson is right, and that the Church should have no human teacher but only Jesus through the Word?  I believe the answer is No.  That the Church retains the office of Teacher is an expression of the Relational aspect of teaching.  We would be missing something important if, for example, during our communal times we merely assigned 20 minutes of silent Bible reading and expecting that this would constitute "teaching".  Instead, I believe, during a sermon the Teacher leads the gathered redeemed community in an act of communal submission to the Word with the expectation that God will teach through the Teacher.  In this the Teacher is a Shepherd who serves under the Great Shepherd, feeding and caring for the flock until the Great Shepherd returns (cf. Jn 21:15-19 1 Pet 5:1-5).

As a consequence, we can see that the restriction on the teaching role of women in 1 Timothy 2:12 has ongoing relevance as it relates to an act of communal submission that has parallels in the created order.  How is it possible that the community could engage in proper submission to the Word through the teaching of appointed elders if symbolically they were re-enacting the pattern of rejection of God's order in Genesis 3?  In fact, when 1 Timothy 2 is considered as a whole, it is all about the community adopting attitudes of Christ-like submission - everybody is to submit to the authorities placed in power by God by praying for them, men are to submit by pursuing prayer rather than disputing, and women are to submit by rejecting worldly status symbols and embracing quietness.

At this point it is necessary to stress again the appropriate limits of this understanding of "teaching". It does not mean that women should be restricted from ANY type of Word ministry because of the fear that they will pass on knowledge to a man and therefore rob him of his God-given Masculinity.    Instead, as I understand it, the ONLY direct application of 1 Timothy 2:12 is during that particular period of united communal submission to the Word.  There is no warrant to extend it all aspects of pastoral or Word ministry, such as weddings, funerals, administration of sacraments, chaplaincy ministry, and so forth.  As a general principle, in the ministry of the Church (by which I mean All Believers, not just Clergy) should be a partnership between men and women, each using their gifts as God has given for the glory of His name.  But for that brief 20 minute space in our communal life as we come with equal submission before God's Word to be taught by Him there remains an exegetical and theological case that this activity should be led by and happen though the ministry of a man.


[1] T. F. Torrence, Incarnation: the Person and Life of Christ (ed. Robert T. Walker; Downers Grove: InterVarsity Press, 2008), 13.

[2] Kevin J. Vanhoozer, “The Apostolic Discourse and its Developments”, in Scripture’s Doctrine and Theology’s Bible: How the New Testament Shapes Christian Dogmatics (pp.191-207; eds. Markus Bockmuel and Alan J. Torrance; Grand Rapids: Baker Academic, 2008), 194.


  1. Luke,
    I'm glad to read your thoughts.
    We all see things from our own point of view, but I can't see how you have dented the argument of Hearing Her Voice at all. All you seem to have done is show that 'teaching' throughout the New Testament can have a broader meaning than I point to in the Pastoral Epistles. I agree.
    To invalidate my argument, you must show that 'teaching' in the Pastorals has the broad meaning you attribute to it in Moses or Jesus. This is the mistake I will be pointing out to Lionel Windsor, too. He did a great job of showing that 'teaching' elsewhere in the Bible can mean more than I claim for it in the Pastorals but he didn't deal with the Pastorals at all. I regard this as a failure to engage with the principal argument of my book. One cannot use the broad meaning of a word throughout literature as evidence against its specific and technical usage in a particular stream of tradition (like the Pastorals). So, I put this question to you: Everyone agrees that 'teaching' in the Pastoral Epistles (and elsewhere) several times does refer to passing on the apostolic deposit, but can you find examples of Christian 'teaching' in the Pastoral Epistles that cannot refer to this? To answer this question is to engage with my argument.
    Thanks again for the ongoing discussion.
    God bless,

  2. The issue of course is obviously that Paul understood the extended broader meaning of the term "teaching" when he chose to use that word to describe the importance of "passing on the faith" in the pastoral epistles. It is obvious that Paul's exhortation to Timothy about preaching the Word includes elements of teaching, evangelism, exhortation and application.

    1 I solemnly charge you in the presence of God and of Christ Jesus, who is to judge the living and the dead, and by His appearing and His kingdom:
    2 preach the word; be ready in season and out of season; reprove, rebuke, exhort, with great patience and instruction.
    3 For the time will come when they will not endure sound doctrine; but wanting to have their ears tickled, they will accumulate for themselves teachers in accordance to their own desires,
    4 and will turn away their ears from the truth and will turn aside to myths.
    5 But you, be sober in all things, endure hardship, do the work of an evangelist, fulfill your ministry.

    Paul's usage of teaching was not just in the narrow sense of passing down the oral "apostolic tradition". It included the impartation of life through the preached word.
    I love Bunyan's description: The Interpreter commanded his man to light the candle, and bade Christian follow him. He led him into a private room, and Christian saw the picture of a very grave person hung up against the wall. It had eyes lifted up to heaven, the best of books in its hand, the law of truth was written upon its lips, the world was behind its back; it stood as if it pleaded with men, and a crown of gold did hang over its head.
    This picture is to show you that the man’s work is to know dark things and explain them to sinners. You see him stand as if pleading with men. You see that the world is cast behind him, and that a crown hangs over his head; that is to show thee that he cares nothing for this present world. He loves only his Master’s service, he is sure in the world that comes next to have glory for his reward. “Now,” said the Interpreter, “I have showed thee this picture first, because the man whose picture this is, is the only man whom the Lord of the place whither thou art going hath chosen to be thy guide, in all difficult places thou mayest meet with in thy way.”

    He knows and explains dark things (teaches) and he pleads with men (exhortation). Both are included in the act of teaching and preaching.
    Thank you Luke for making this clear and presenting a great series.

  3. Steve,
    These things may be 'obvious' to you but not to me. I can't see that you have answered the question posed above. Where is the instance of Christian 'teaching' in the Pastorals that clearly does not refer to the apostolic deposit? Everyone agrees there are numerous uses of the terminology to indicate that deposit; so where are the ones that don't fit? If no such evidence is forthcoming, the right conclusion seems to be that we have here in the Pastorals a 'technical' use of a general word, akin to the word 'evangelise' which just means to tell grand news of any kind but came to mean (in Paul at least) the specific grand news of Jesus' life, death and resurrection. A general word has a technical use. It looks like the same is happening to didaskein/didaskalia in the Pastorals and elsewhere. If you can show me otherwise, I'm ready to listen.
    God bless,

  4. Thanks Luke for the thoughtful response.
    If I may engage with John's question, if the premise is wrong then such an example you're asking for doesn't need to be found, the fact that Paul doesn't use 'teach' in any other way would suggest he is using it in its broadest possible way in every case, not in a restricted, technical sense you read into 1 Tim 2:12.

    Having said that, maybe John you would disagree, but it seems to me 1 Tim 5:17 is an example of Paul using both 'preaching' and 'teaching' in regards to the role of Elders, so that's not laying down apostolic teaching is it? It's preaching and teaching of what has already been laid down now done by Elders, the next generation of church leaders? How can 2 Tim 2:2 then mean anything other than Paul expecting 'teachers' to carry on this type of 'teaching' in every generation until the parousia?

    So it would appear that codification of apostolic doctrine doesn't negate the need for teachers or the role of teaching, it simply gives them something to teach, not in the same way as the apostles but certainly in the manner prescribed by them, 1 Tim 2 and 3 being good examples of such prescription. If codification was all that was needed for 'teaching' then why do so many get it so wrong?

    I'm keen to encourage women to excersise their gifts, i'm really thankful this is something John has brought to the churches attention and hopefully it's something we can all agree on. In our church gathering we have a regular spot for testimony and women often share, however, seeking to obey God's word as we read it, the teaching of Scripture is done by Elders.

    Thanks again for the thoughtful dialogue.

    In Christ's Love,

  5. Hmm,
 I really am not a scholar, and i say this not as an inverted boast but as a confession. But i still cannot see Dickson’s main point or query being answered. I am not sure if i totally agree with John D on all this but i am troubled by the weakness of our answers and the ease with which people find “answers” that do not go close to answering his challenge as persuasive and obvious.
 I am reminded of and remain troubled and warned by, my experience with some Roman Catholic friends. These men are deep lovers of Christ, they suffer for Him, and they are careful students of the New Testament but they seem utterly unable to read Matt 16:18 without “knowing” unshakeably that this proves something huge about the present bishop of Rome, when it clearly doesn’t. This is worth reflecting on - go on, i dare you - these men believe that they are subject to scripture, yet their thinking is severely incapacitated - utterly unconsciously. 
I do fear, that perhaps, just possibly, we have become a little like these good men, in this area. We just know what 1 tim 2:12 means. Men we admire have taught us so, other verses have been read through that lense thus convincing us that the whole Bible speaks like that. We have argued this case and suffered for doing so - (serious reinforces of any view) Important influence-ers in our lives have even impressed on us that this is THE battle of our times, this is the “watershed” etc, and many dopey worldly excuses have been tried to evade its force, setting us up to discount anyone daring to say - “Brothers-have we really heard this word aright” - so when we meet someone challenging our take on this, we have trouble hearing. Any half decent argument seems to do. Even if they are firing in the wrong direction. Even if we use a point that clearly our “opponent” would agree with to argue against our opponent.
 Luke i really appreciate your labour, this is more a response to some of the responses both here, and on ye olde fb, by non-lightweights. Nevertheless Luke, i do leave with the impression that you have not yet answered John D main argument despite a few requests. 
 Also, personally, I am not used to hearing Moses as recorded in Scripture or Jesus preaching in Palestine as the obvious models of what preachers are doing in church. Best not to just respectfully disagree with Moses or Jesus as we would feel free enough to do if we heard, say John Dickson on 1 Tim 2:12 or Don Carson on the return of Christ and the millennium. (can “the Don” be wrong? or more shockingly - could we be wrong?) 
Nehemiah 8 may be a more apt picture if we are going to go choosing from the OT. 
“In all things - charity” - Please forgive me if i have been unfair or harsh - work in progress

  6. It has been an interesting debate that you guys have been having, but sadly, you are all missing the most important question - WHY did Paul write what he wrote? You have both written thousands of words debating the definition of one single word in the text, but not once have you investigated the reason WHY Paul was addressing this issue in the first place. As we are exhorted in scripture, we need to rightly divide everything we read in the bible, utilising every means at our disposal, and that includes non-canonical or non-scriptural sources. We cannot ignore evidence just because it is not written about expressly in scripture. Otherwise we end up with a myopic, narrow view, and this is where false doctrines come from. It is well known that the main deity worshiped in Ephesus at that particular time in history was Artemis, or Diana. We know from many sources that the main devotees of Artemis were women and slaves, and that she was "attended", or served in the temple by chaste priestesses called Mellisai, or "bees," and by eunuch priests. The Encyclopaedia of Greco-Roman Mythology additionally states that Artemis was attended by female attendants who performed wild and erotic dances in worship to their goddess. The question then should be asked, did Paul write what he did to Timothy for this specific reason? The church in Ephesus would have included many converts from the Tempe of Artemis, including, you could quite rightly state, former priestesses from the cult. Could Paul be replying to an issue that Timothy had asked advice for? Could he have written what he did because those converts, who had been used to calling the shots, as it were in their religious rights in the temple, were perhaps trying to continue the same practices that they performed in the temple? Could some of the women who were former Artemis devotees feel that it was their right to teach in the church? Of course, we cannot know for sure whether this was the case or not. But it is vitally important that when we are faced with difficult and contradictory passages in the bible (there are many examples of female leaders, teachers and preachers in both testaments) we examine their meaning and intent with every resource available to us, and that includes, as I said, external non-biblical sources. We also cannot assume that everything written in scripture applies to us today. We must remember that Paul's letters were written in a specific time in history, to a specific person or church, and for a specific purpose, and many of the things that Paul writes were addressing specific issues that that person or church were facing at that time. We must also be aware that in many cases we are reading a reply to questions and situations that Paul had been asked advice for, a little like listening to only one side of a telephone conversation. We cannot just take what he wrote as absolute gospel just because he wrote it. We must rightly divide what we read, because if we simply take everything he wrote at face value, then we get crazy doctrines such as women having to wear hats and head coverings in church, and this particular one we are addressing, where women who have incredible teaching and preaching gifts are forced to sit in pews, never allowed to operate in the amazing gift that God has given them because of a misunderstanding of historical context.

  7. Hi Ian,

    There is a sense in which you are correct - I have not "answered his argument". Rather, my intention has been to disagree with some of the premises on which his argument has been built. For example, I believe that his focus on the Means of didasko in the the Pastoral Epistles has obscured the Ends to which Paul was directing this action and which can be discerned from looking at the pattern and goals of Christian Instruction in the New Testament more broadly. It may be that I am wrong about the premises, but if I'm not then I think the burden of proof still remains with John to show that the Ends of "teaching" in the Pastorals are different from what we find elsewhere.

    Also, let me reiterate, that I believe that there are no exact parallels (Moses and Jesus included) for what we do in our regular gatherings. My point was that for these two best-known examples of Teacher in the Bible their activity was not limited to laying down an oral tradition but included commenting on existing tradition. This should be taken into consideration when we are trying to establish what we are doing when we Preach The Word in our post-apostolic age.


  8. Hi Shaun,

    The scenario you propose is, of course, plausible and has been pointed out to be so in the debate in the past. But I think that there are a few arguments against it:

    1) It is an argument from silence. There is no indication in the text that any troubles that the Ephesian church had was the result of lingering pagan practices. Instead, chapter 1 seems to point the finger at those who wish to be "teachers of the law", suggesting a more Jewish origin for the disquiet. Perhaps the Ephesian church would have benefited from a copy of Colossians (maybe they did given Col 4:16)

    2) The instructions given in the rest of 1 Timothy 2 are ones that apply to all the churches Paul was connected with, as evidenced by the word "everywhere" in v.8.

    3) There is no indication in vv.8-9 that these women were more used to "calling the shots" or were a particularly headstrong bunch that needed particular reigning-in. Instead, Paul seems concerned for good order generally. Therefore, the church wherever it is found should not be a forum for women to have a social status competition through physical appearance. In the same way men should not use the church to boost their own status by turning the church into a debating club where they can shout each other down over disputable points. I think history tells us that these problems were not localised.

    4) With respect to hats, I recommend Claire Smith's discussion of that point in her recent book which shows how Christians have changed the practice but should keep the principle.


  9. Luke, I think I am agreeing with you and Lionel in the definition of didasko, but you have done a similar thing to Lionel in moving from didasko to ‘sermon’. So I’ll repeat the question I asked on his blog here, to hear your thoughts:

    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. To clarify my previous comment, your last paragraph states:

    the ONLY direct application of 1 Timothy 2:12 is during that particular period of united communal submission to the Word.

    It is this two-step move from didasko, to the "united communal submission" to (therefore) preaching that I am unsure of.

  11. Thanks Luke,
    that does make your responses, or what could seem like lack of response a bit clearer.
    But do you not think it might be helpful to answer his challenge or is the answer that he is right but his question is based on a total clear misunderstanding.
    I still doubt the rightness of choosing Mo and Jesus as your model for us - they were the very source of Revelation, at least at our receiving end of it - if honest it felt that you embarked on an unconventional parallel because it seemed likely to support your prior conclusion - but my capacity to discern hearts is a tad limited.
    *** For the slow learners here (or those who have been overly distracted by fishing and parties) can you remind me of exactly what you mean by the distinction between Means and Ends. Even if you repaste the clearest summary of it.
    I do not want to be a distraction from the main question, but one of the reason why my best hunch (open i believe to correction) that Paul would allow woman to do what i have done for years in "pulpits", is that the gift he says we should be eager for, that builds up the church, that Ends in "edification, encouragement and exhortation" (1C14:3) - ((All of which sounds quite like us and preaching)) is one that we Know woman engaged in in church.
    Those ends sound pretty much the desired ends of preaching - but i have always noted that the same ends can be achieved at by different activities. But i was bailed up for some years on 1C14:3 on the question of the ends being exactly what we dream of when we preach. SO perhaps prophecy is close to preaching - Many of the Puritans seemed to think so, as did Peter Jensen in a nuanced way when i had him in class. I have watched over two times studying at MTC that we do change the definition of prophecy quite quickly depending on who we are arguing with. Convenient but dodgy.
    1 Pt4:11 should not be forgotten.
    For many years i have been troubled by the lazy careless way we have gone direct form "teaching" of 1T2:12 to what we do when we open the scriptures with our people. Unconsciously assuming what was under question.
    Just for those who missed it, JD's argument is one that the great NT scholar Donald Robinson (ex Vice-Principle of MTC etc) and "complementation", used to argue with power and grace. It has seemed a shame to me that the women can't preach team have often pretended and some at least deliberately misled those they taught that all half decent evangelicals believe what they believe.
    AGain i stress Luke i am not suggesting at all that you are doing this - thanks

  12. Hi Mike,

    I think what you say has a lot of merit. If you read my first post on John's book you see that I agree that we need to wrestle with each of the technical words so that we can clarify (if possible) where it may be that we have overgeneralised. I am certainly open to that and I'd love to hear more from people with a particular expertise in this area.

    To clarify the quote from my last paragraph (which I see now isn't quite as clear as I would have liked), I don't believe that the "sermon" is the sole way that "teaching" COULD happen in our common time, but that as our culture currently stands it is the only action that I can see of communal submission to the Word. With respect to it being a time of "authority", I don't think it matters whether the teaching is lay or clerical led (though it can feel different) as the ultimate authority is from God through the Word not the nature of the office the preacher holds or the gravitas he might bring to the activity.


  13. Hi Luke,

    I wish to address your statement that "the ONLY direct application of 1 Timothy 2:12 is during that particular period of united communal submission to the Word". I just don't see how you can really apply this verse in such a limited way.

    I raised the matter of women leading mixed bible study groups in a comment on one of your previous posts. Surely there is a teaching function, according to your definition of teaching, in leading such a group. What do you feel about women leading mixed bible study groups? I also have great difficulty aligning your argument of women not being permitted to teach/preach to men in our Sunday services, with other modern teaching methods which we are encouraged to use - namely books, cds, dvds. For example, Mark Thompson in his blog ( says all women and all men should read Claire Smith's book "God's Good Design". Yet the author would not be permitted to deliver a sermon series on the same material in many of our diocesan churches. So it is not the author's authority or credentials or her material nor her gender that precludes her from teaching men, but the method and place of delivery of her application of Scripture. It is ok for men to be "taught" by her in other ways, at other times and in other places. If your view is correct, is not this a case of obeying the letter of the law rather than the spirit of it?

    If you reject John's view of teaching and include preaching as a modern form, surely limiting the application of these verses to Sunday preaching is just a different form of, in Peter Bolt's words, "minimizing the prohibition".


  14. Thanks Luke.

    To clarify, I'm not worried about whether every form of didasko is in the form of 'sermon' - I know you don't think that. My concern is the implication that every instance of what we call 'sermon' is an example of didasko. I think that is a very dangerous position given the variable definition of 'sermon' within common usage (which is, in part, demonstrated in John's usage). Lionel's approach of tightly defining 'sermon' runs the risk of equivocation where the argument in the 'laboratory' uses a tight definition of 'sermon' but once it is out in the churches, it is un-critically applied to anything that a person might call a 'sermon'.

    This is why I want to drop the terms 'sermon' and 'preaching' from the debate, and instead focus on the hallmarks of didasko and how we can discern them in whatever word ministry is occurring.

  15. Matt, you are demonstrating the problem that I am trying to highlight. Once we use very general words like 'teaching' (or in Luke and Lionel's case, 'preaching' and 'sermon') we need to be very careful to ensure that our personal understanding of the English word is a correct and accurate representation of Paul's use of didasko.

    This is why I use didasko when referring to the Pauline concept, not 'teaching'

    Paul's use of didasko, alongside parakaleo, evangalizomai and propheteia, suggests that we cannot re-define every form of word ministry as didasko simply because it matches in some way our English word 'teaching'. John is right to point out that there is a specific or technical meaning to the word that Paul is using in 1 Timothy that is more limited than the English word 'teaching' - the debate is about the meaning of the word.

    We need to understand didasko in relation to parakaleo, evangalizomai and propheteia, in such a way that we do not rob the other words of any meaning at all except as a sub-set of didasko.

  16. Dear all,
    I do not feel you have met the challenge. The more sophisticated way not to answer is to say "I reject the premise of the question" but, in this case, the premise is secure and so this sounds like an avoidance strategy.
    So, I put this plainly:
    1) Are any of you disputing that 'teaching' words in the pastorals do, on a number of occasions, refer to passing on the apostolic deposit?
    2) Are any of you able to find an example of Christian 'teaching' in the Pastorals that clearly does not refer to passing on the apostolic deposit?
    These are historical-critical questions. If the answers are 'no' and 'no', the conclusion is clear: 'passing on the apostolic deposit' is the only meaning we can confidently assign to 'teaching' in the Pastorals. Once this conclusion is reached - and I think it is inevitable - the discussion should then focus on the theological or pastoral question of the degree to which modern preaching from the Bible is an analogy to this ancient 'teaching'. I agree there are interesting debates about this to be had, but I don't think we can move to those debates until the historical-critical questions are confronted.
    I must seem infuriatingly singleminded in this line of questioning but, to me, it is the test of whether you are engaging with the argument.
    By the way, you do all know this was the view (not only of Donald Robinson, apparently, according to Ian Powell but) of J I Packer. This doesn't make it right, I know, but it does reassure me that I may not be as misguided and lightweight as some of the above responses indicate :-)

  17. John, I actually hoped that the point I was making was similar. We need to engage with exactly what didasko meant in 1 Tim, and leave the definition of 'preaching' to one side for a while.

  18. As to your actual question, I fear that you have a logical problem similar to proving the negative. To rephrase your challenge to us:

    Paul's specific, technical use of didasko in the pastorals does not mean anything else other than passing down the apostolic deposit.

    (Is that accurate?)

    This is a classic negative, in that it cannot be proven, instead it merely survives as "not dis-proven". As an historian, you are familiar with similar problems with claims of the non-existence of a biblical person/tribe/place based on the lack of evidence for the existence.

    To put it another way, if I was looking at statistical data, I'd plot each number and draw a curve that described all the numbers and come up with a formula (or definition) that explained all the numbers. That definition is not proof that another number will not appear that lies outside of the curve. When an outlier appears, it disproves my curve, rather than my curve defining the outlier. The curve is an indication of where future numbers will lie. An indication whose strength lies solely in the size of my sample population. The more number I have, the more likely my curve definition is correct.

    Thus the answers to your two 'challenge' questions are indicative, but not conclusive. Particularly since we do not have a huge number of uses of didasko (we have a small statistical population).

    Even if every single incidence of didasko in the pastorals matches your definition (and I confess I have not yet gone over each of them), it is still not proof that Paul's specific, technical meaning was limited to that definition. It is not proof that, should we find the letter to the Laodiceans, or Corinthians A and C, we would not see a different use of didasko that involved a different aspect.

    Now I'm not saying you are wrong. I hope the history of my engagement with you, Luke and Lionel will show I'm not defending one position or the other, but equally willing to critique either from my comfy arm-chair.

    However, I am not entirely sure how to 'prove' that you are right.

    This is not to say that I am not going to look at the data to attempt to answer your two challenge questions. And I recommend that, out of nothing else but respect, others do the same.

  19. Mike,
    Thanks for your thoughts. I agree that none of this will be probative. History and theology are always probabilistic. I would just say that my reading is highly likely. If I can put it another way that may make sense:
    1. We can see in Paul's earlier epistles that 'teaching' can have the clear meaning of 'the apostolic deposit' delivered or received (details in the book). It is indisputably one of the ways Paul is known to have used the word.
    2. In the Pastorals there are numerous examples of 'teaching' being used in this narrow way to speak of the apostolic deposit Timothy had received and was to lay down for churches and for other teachers to lay down. No one is disputing this (it is in all of the commentaries on the Pastorals).
    3. None of the other numerous examples of 'teaching' language in the Pastorals can be show to have a different meaning - it's not like we can find Paul using it of, say, exposition of OT Scripture or of exhortations to pray more, and so on.
    4. Hence, the only meaning we can clearly discern for Christian 'teaching' in the Pastorals is passing on the apostolic deposit.
    Does that prove that 1 Tim 2:12 must mean passing on the apostolic deposit? No. Does it make it likely that this is what Paul is talking about? I would say: yes, especially since Paul links it with 'authority', which seem to underline that he is talking about teaching in its highest, strictest, most official form.
    This is only part of my argument, of course. Other planks include: (1) the variety of other speaking activities Paul describes as 'different' - exhortation, prophesying, etc; (2) the fact that there was no New Testament when Paul wrote 1 Tim, which rules out that teaching equals exposition; (3) the fact that an expository sermon on a New Testament passage is a form of speech that simply could not have existed in Paul's day; (4) and other things I'll leave you to discover in the book.
    All in all, I think this view is highly likely. I can see some 'outs' from the implications of my argument above, but no 'dents' in the argument itself. I am happy with that outcome. Luke is a long way off showing that John Dickson is 'wrong'; but he has helped those who already think I'm wrong to find escape routes from my case. Fair enough. Well done.
    Honestly, thanks for the keen engagement.
    God bless,

  20. A thought came to me in the shower this morning...

    John and I are basically in agreement that Paul's use of didasko in the Pastorals was strongly connected to the task of passing down the oral tradition regarding Jesus and his teaching - this was necessary given that the NT was either not yet written or not widely distributed. Where we seem to differ is whether "teaching" was concerned with simply passing on this tradition or whether there was another goal or End in mind through that action.

    I wonder whether having a good look at the related verb "to learn" (Gk. manthano), particularly as it is used by Paul, might give some further clarity on his intentions for didasko, as this is the verb that seems to be contrasted with didasko in v.11.

    I haven't done any work on it yet, but I'm going to keep turning it over in my mind for a while.


  21. Luke,
    Some of my best thoughts occur in the shower - and when I go for a run!
    I am not sure your idea will help much. First, I don't think anyone imagines that 'learn' became technical language in the way that everyone agrees didaskein/didaskalia become (non-exclusively) technical terminology. Secondly, even if 'learn' was Paul's main verb used with 'teach' (and I'm not sure it is), it would not follow that wherever we find 'learn' in Paul the thing being learnt comes from 'teaching'. The one doesn't logically lead to the other. To give another example: in Paul the response to the gospel is usually either 'believe' or 'receive'. Confirming this does not mean that wherever we find 'believe' or 'receive' in Paul the thing being believed/received is the gospel.
    For what it's worth, I understand the purpose of teaching very simply: it was to lay down, or affix, the apostolic tradition in churches as the measure against which other activities (like 'prophesying') were to be judged. It had roughly the same purpose as contemporary Bible reading. We want our people to read and reread the New Testament so that it lodges in their lives and provides an anchor for everything else. That's what 'teaching' did. Other activities, such as exhorting and prophesying, seem to me to be where the more existential appeals were made on the basis of the 'teaching' (and the OT reading).
    Let me know how you go.
    God bless,

  22. ". . the purpose of teaching very simply: it was to lay down, or affix, the apostolic tradition in churches as the measure against which other activities (like 'prophesying') were to be judged. It had roughly the same purpose as contemporary Bible reading . . ."


    At the risk of being mischievous (and my tongue is only partially planted in my cheek), does this suggest that we should only allow men to read the Bible in mixed congregations?


  23. Bob,
    In the early days of my sojourn into heresy, I had the same thought myself - indeed, only men did read the Bible in church for much of church history.
    However, I came to realise that the Bible reader is not in any sense the repository of the truth being read out and that we all have the same 'deposit' sitting on our laps as she reads. Thus, while the same end is achieved in the modern New Testament reading and ancient 'teaching', the means are sufficiently different for us not to apply the restriction of 1 Tim 2:12. I realise your tongue was only half in your mouth, so that's my 'half' answer. The general point remains: in a period when there was no New Testament, the only way churches (for at least the first 100 years) could recall what the apostles said was through the ministry of teachers.
    God bless,

  24. John,

    My tongue was half in my cheek, but completely in my mouth - otherwise I would have been poking it at you! :-)

    Thanks for the reply, and also for raising this issue in such a helpful way. Unlike you and Luke and Lionel (whom I met for the first time today at Summer School) I need more time to process all these thoughts and reasonings, but I still intend to come back to this soon.


  25. I hope it is OK to come a bit late to this debate. Thanks for your very helpful analysis, Luke, and to John for generating an interesting debate. I would like to ask John, however, (if this is an appropriate forum) to clarify something. His claim as I read it is that there are some occurrences of the verb "to teach" (didasko) in what we call the Pastoral Letters in which what is meant is something like the verbatim passing down of the actual words of Jesus (and/or teaching of the apostles?). Yet is it really obvious that this is what the word meant? On my reading none of the uses of "teach" HAVE to mean "hand down verbatim the tradition". John, in your challenge to Luke and to Lionel it seems to me you have unhelpfully reversed the onus of proof. Rather than asking "are there contexts where this could NOT be the meaning?", as someone who is putting forward a new and limited meaning of the word you are required to show that in each use your suggested meaning is the most likely. I have read your book and I do not think, with respect, that you achieve this goal.
    It also seems to me that the point that was made above about women reading the Bible in churches today seems cogent here. If all that a "Teacher" in this technical sense was doing, was passing on the exact tradition, then why could not a woman do it as well as a man? The person passing on the tradition would not be exercising a personal authority. This makes Paul's limitation hard to understand.
    Neil Foster

  26. Neil,
    Thanks for the interaction. Let me answer your queries.
    First, it is important to point out that what I am proposing is not novel. All NT specialists agree that the terminology is used in this way. The book lays out examples from scholarship. Among the passages that clear mean this, the most important is 2 Tim 1:11 - 2:2. The matrix of ideas is very compelling. First, Paul says he is the 'teacher' par excellence; next Timothy is told to be the guardian of the apostolic deposit, the words Paul delivered to him; then Timothy is urged to train other reliable men to rehearse the apostolic words to others and this is explicitly called 'teaching'. Other texts include Tit 1:9; Gal 1:12; 2 Thess 2:15. Given that we can demonstrate this meaning and can't demonstrate any other meaning in the Pastorals, I think the burden of proof is exactly the right way around.
    Please also keep in mind that there is nothing new in my explanation of what teaching refers to; only in the question of whether the modern sermon is identical to ancient teaching. I think not. I would add that my view is almost identical to that of J I Packer.
    I'm not sure I follow the final question but I'll have a go. An ancient 'teacher' had an unparalleled authority precisely because they were the only ones entrusted to guard the apostolic deposit - since it wasn't written down anywhere. Your only access to what the apostles said was through the teacher. There was nowhere else to consult, no higher court. That level of authority is only something we would attribute to the New Testament canon itself today. It is derivative authority, of course; all authority is (apart from the Lord's). But it is the highest personal trust one could be granted.
    Why did Paul give this task to certain men only? I think he saw a pattern in the creation story: Adam was created first and thus was the recipient and protector of the original word; yet Eve was deceived. To Paul, this speaks of the necessity that in the new covenant only certain men should be the protectors of the new word. This didn't mean women couldn't given encouraging speeches in church, i.e., prophesy. It just meant they couldn't be the final authority.
    I hope that helps.
    God bless,

  27. Luke,
    It would not be accurate to say that I think "the Church should have no human teacher but only Jesus through the Word". We have many 'teachers' in the English sense of that word. My point is simply that the thing Paul is talking about as 'teaching' doesn't correspond to the modern 'Bible teacher'.
    If by 'teacher' we mean someone who helps us submit to the Word of God in church, I agree that such a person exists today. It's pretty much what any good sermoniser will do. It's just that this is not what 'teaching' was for Paul and, apart from offering some lofty theological quotations, you have not demonstrated otherwise.
    What you have done above is provide a wonderful theology of the majestic moment where we all sit under the Word of God for 20mins, and then you have called that 'teaching' and suggested that Dickson doesn't think this majestic activity goes on anymore. That doesn't feel accurate.
    The majestic moment you describe is what I call 'exhorting' or 'prophesying' or even 'preaching', none of which are forbidden to a woman. Therefore, I can't see how your argument affects my case.
    God bless,

  28. Hey luke, late again, but your argument has holes.

    To say, oh the teachers explained too, and then move to preaching could lead us into some serious genocide. I'm pretty sure the teachers breathed as part of their role, are we to restrict women from breathing in church.

    Anyways, there was a comment on the last post about being passive aggressive, so before I make the next point, I wanted to reassure your gentle readers that Luke and I are good, good friends from theological college.

    this is so bloody typical of evangelical 'scholarship'. We all cheer and run around joyously when Richard Bauckhams 'Jesus and the Eyewitnesses' comes out, ("take that liberal scholarship"), but then baulk at using some of the same conclusions when it might affect our practice!

    The thing that really opened up the line of thinking John is talking about was listening to one of our local luminaries speaking on 2 Timothy 3:14, and speaking as though his talks were like Paul's teaching, then listening to a talk from a cult leader on 2 Timothy 3:14, with the cult leader speaking like he was Paul, then another, and another, and another.
    Hahahah. Much easier when we admit that we are not the apostolic witness!

    Love to see you soon Luke
    Mike Wells