November 25, 2020

10 Questions for Complementarians by Bill Mackinnon

000016.jpgBaptist Elder and BHT Fellow Bill Mackinnon has written some of the most interesting and provocative essays ever to appear at That tradition continues as Bill asks some inevitable questions raised by Southwestern Seminary President Paige Patterson’s interpretation of I Timothy 2:12. Welcome to the stage, Professor Mackinnon.

Certain portions of the internet are abuzz with discussions regarding the termination of Dr. Sheri Klouda from her position as assistant professor of Old Testament languages at Southwestern Baptist Theological Seminary. She was terminated, ostensibly, because she is female, and according to seminary president Paige Patterson’s interpretation of 1 Timothy 2:12, not qualified to teach men the Hebrew language. You can read about it here, and here. There is some question as to whether the termination was both ethical and legal, but that’s not what this article is about. It is about 1 Timothy 2:12, and what a consistent application of that verse (however you interpret it) means in real life. 1 Timothy 2:12 states:

2 And I do not permit a woman to teach or to have authority over a man, but to be in silence.

The 2000 Baptist Faith and Message seems to hold with the very common view that this verse means that women should not serve as pastor or elder in a church. Many, if not most conservative complementarians are quite happy with that interpretation. Some, like Greg Koukl prefer an interpretation of the Greek word for man (aner) as “husband,” meaning that the women is not to usurp the authority of her husband, consonant with Ephesians 5. It is unreasonable, he suggests, that all Christian women are to be under the authority of all Christian men, at all times, everywhere. But this appears to be precisely the position of Dr. Patterson, as evidenced by his interview with BP News.

When asked about the common conservative interpretation of 1 Timothy 2:12, that women cannot serve as pastors in the local church, Patterson responded:

“Would somebody please find that in the text? It is not in the text. That is not said. There is no mention of occupation in this text at all. This is not a question of occupation. It is a question of an assignment from God, in this case that a woman not be involved in a teaching or ruling capacity over men,” Patterson said. “It is a prohibition of a woman teaching or ruling over a man in the church,”

Now if by “church,” Patterson meant the local body, many conservatives would probably be on board. But Patterson’s actions at SWBTS regarding Dr. Klouda show that he applies that rubric to the church as the body of Christ as a whole. If you read the comment threads for the linked articles, you can see that many people agree with this position, which I will reiterate here: All Christian women are to be under the authority of all Christian men, everywhere, in all cultures, for all time. Christian women must never be in a position to teach Christian men anything, ever.

So there we are. Not all complementarians are created equal. Now it is not my intent to refute this particular interpretation, as insanely offensive as I find it. Others have tried, and I doubt if I can convince you. But if you are someone who agrees with the above statement, I have a few questions for you, just to clarify your position.

1. Do you believe that Christian women should only work in the lowest of entry level positions, lest they inadvertently find themselves in authority over a Christian man? Or perhaps Christian women should only work in “women only” organizations? Or perhaps you think that women should not work outside the home at all?

2. Should Christian men avoid working in organizations where somewhere in the organizational hierarchy over them, there might be a Christian woman?

3. If you are pulled over by a female police officer whom you know to be a Christian, how do you make her understand that she has no authority over you (assuming you are male)?

4. Are secular places of higher education off limits for Christian men (or even seminaries with less rigid gender rules) considering the fact that at such places Christian men might find themselves being taught by Christian women?

5. Are high school teaching jobs off limits for Christian women, since at the higher grades they might be teaching Christian males old enough (by our culture) to be considered men?

6. If a Christian woman becomes President of the United States, how do you reconcile the conflict of 1 Timothy 2:12 and Titus 3:1? Or do you simply conclude that no Christian woman would ever consider such a position?

7. Should Christian women refrain from writing books, or papers, or internet articles, lest a Christian man should read them and accidentally learn from them? Or should such books and articles come with a warning label –For Women Only!-?

8. Must all music and worship leaders in the Church be men, since to lead implies being in authority? If you are in a church with a female song leader and she tells everyone to stand to sing, what do you do? Stay seated? Walk out?

9. At what age does a Christian son go from being under his mother’s authority to being an authority over her (and his sisters, whether younger or older)? One assumes that this is the same age where the mother must stop teaching her son.

10. Does the “all women under the authority of all men” concept remind you of another well known monotheistic religion that is in the news a lot lately?

You may think I’m being unfair here but I don’t agree. I don’t mind people holding different views than I do but I do like to insist on consistency. If you are going to argue that the Nazirite laws support your anti-alcohol position, then you had better hold to a anti-haircut, anti-raisin position also. If you think God doesn’t want you to eat ham them you had better not be hitting the shrimp and clams. Likewise, if you think 1 Timothy 2:12 extends beyond the local church body, then I don’t think it’s unreasonable for you to answer the above questions.


  1. Bill,

    All I hear is SILENCE………

    They wouldn’t dare answer these questions because they will either look like the Neanderthals they are or they will have to contradict their position. So silence is the best answer.

    It seems that some within the SBC are desperate to regain the heritage of people like John R Rice, Jack Hyles, and the Sword of the Lord (who were all SBC at one time)


  2. Bill, your general line of argument in this essay seems to be to take your opponent’s viewpoint and extrapolate it to its logical conclusion and then show how ridiculous it is. (reductio ad absurdum).

    The trouble with this form of argument is, that though it generates lots of high fives, yee-has and hoots of derision from those on your side, it is not at all likely to persuade the opponent, precisely because they do not agree that their position leads to the absurd conclusions you propose. Would you be impressed by an argument claiming that to be an egalitarian means that you deny that any person should ever be in authority over another person? I don’t think most complementarians will see your 10 questions as anything but facetious.

    But since you’re asking, and since I’m a complementarian of sorts, I’ll provide the definitive answers for you.
    1) No, No and No
    2) No
    3) By means of preaching, citing Scripture and dance
    4) No
    5) No
    6) No and No
    7) No and No
    8) No. You are presumably free to respond as you see fit, unless you believe in the absolute authority of all women over all men at all times.
    9) 120. Yes indeed.
    10) Yes – now I see it. Complementarians are all Muslim inflitrators! I knew there was something fishy about John Piper.

    Anyway, having said all that, from what I’ve read I think the way Klouda has been ousted from her position is a disgrace and you are well within your rights to call people such as Patterson to properly explain the boundaries and implications of their viewpoint.

  3. Bill MacKinnon says

    I’m a complementarian also. But not of this variety, obviously. Facetious? Absolutely. What I’m waiting is for someone to claim that seminaries are really churches so they can keep the standard interpretation of the verse and my ridiculous questions don’t apply.

  4. I have a question that I’ve been pondering concerning 1 Timothy 2:12 and I hope this is an appropriate place and time to ask it. Is there any significance to Paul introducing this section with “And I do not”? My general impression of Paul is that he likes to write in the imperative when issuing instructions, so this seems like a shift. It seems to me like he’s providing a personal example rather than definitive instruction. Does Paul talk in this manner more than I’ve noticed? Or am I reading too much into this? I’m genuinely curious and haven’t read anything that discusses this.

  5. Another one of those lousy complimentarians here, but with a different slant. 1 Cor 11:5 hints that women were allowed to prophesy and pray in the assembly. They weren’t allowed to interpret or speak in tongues (1 Co 14:34-35) And the verse in question says they can’t teach, nor hold authority over a man (or their husband). Yet Priscilla and Aquilla in Acts were able to explain more clearly the Gospel to Apollos. From this I think you can deduce that it is the authoratative teaching of the Word to the assmebly that was off limits, not authority in general or teaching in general. Perhaps why Patterson did what he did was because he considered this woman as teaching the word with authority over men. Whether or not this verse in Timothy applies to the Seminary world is unknown because Paul’s intent did not hold the least inkling of application to the modern Seminary context. But…a blanket statement that the Word cannot be authoritatively exposited in an assembly by a woman who has authority over a man I think can be universal. Now if this class mirrored that situation, perhaps his goal was right even if his means were not.

  6. The obvious solution is for Christian men to never interact with Christian women in either the church or the marketplace.

    Neither should a Christian woman ever tell a man anything he doesn’t already know. Otherwise, she might accidentally teach a Christian man something. And well, we just can’t have that.

    Sure, it could work…

  7. I’ve posted quite a bit about this here. Basically, I think 1 Tim 2:12 is talking about husbands (as is 1 Cor 11).

    The key though is that our attitude to women in authority over us should be to submit to them. It’s easy to make a case for that Scripturally, and very hard to make a case for any other approach.

  8. Although I am a complementarian [watch that first e, jmanning,] I have to acknowledge that in the one church we attended where the women gave sermons, too they ran rings around the men because they prepared their talks. In that little farming community, the men would get up and rabbit on for a while, whereas the women would give an interesting, well-researched, biblical message. One of the men used to preach a series each time he spoke: the history of this parish part 37, etc, etc.

  9. No, I didn’t mispell it, I just like giving compliments. That’s my position 🙂

  10. I have to tell you, I vacillate between a fairly liberal complementarian (meaning a mature Christian woman can hold any position in the church except for senior pastor) and full blown egalitarian. Even if these questions are a bit extreme, thank you for making the point. I have been hurt many times when my work is considered women’s ministry simply because I’m a woman (although the article may have nothing to do with a particular ministry but hermenuetics) or because I wasn’t allowed to teach a Sunday School class even though I have theological training and a passion for teaching. They took the guy who had no training and didn’t particularly want to teach. Yeah, it hurts.
    So thank you for raising these issues.

  11. Mr. Mackinnon,

    What are your personal thoughts on 1 Tim 2:12 in regards to female pastors? I know that my own denomination (ARP) doesn’t allow women to be pastors, but I also know that some of our most effective missionaries are women. Being an ex-Catholic and basically an old fart, I’m personally not hip on female pastors, yet I know a Methodist one who I have great respect for.

    Anyhow what are your thoughts on this matter?


  12. I’ve been in many churches in the past where missionary women are allowed to “share.” Interestingly enough, at times, this “sharing” turned out to be teaching. Aahh..semantics.

  13. I’ve seen a number of instances where a woman in some capacity “shares” with a mixed crowd, even in the evening worship service. Just about the only difference between them and the guest preachers that come in sometimes is that they don’t call what the women do “preaching.”

  14. Bill MacKinnon says

    My complementarianism pretty much begins and ends at the role of pastor, at least where that verse is concerned. Gammell raises a good question about the places where he seems to almost step out of the role of the definitive teacher and simply give his opinion. It’s a good point but I think whatever he said is still probably going to fall under the blanket of “inspiration.” I don’t have a good answer.

  15. Michael,

    I’m interested in your comment on the 1Tim2:12 passage. The reason for women being fobidden to teach is directly linked here with the fact that Adam was created first and that Eve was decieved.


  16. My views are fairly well known. I believe churches should do what they believe is right, and I’m an egalitarian.

  17. Does Dorothy Patterson have any men in her classes at Southwestern?

  18. my question in all of this concerns another verse found in the same passage (1 Tim 2:9 NKJV) “in like manner also, that women adorn themselves in modest apparel, with propriety and moderation, not with braided hair or gold or pearls or costly clothing”.

    so is paige patterson going be consistent and crack down on all those heathen women in his seminary that have braided hair or gold or pearls on them? is there going to be dress code inspection ensuring that these women are wearing clothing purchased at the local walmart, target, goody’s or thift store?

    i don’t understand how certain leaders of the SBC can pick and choose which texts to apply and put into practice, all the while continuing to insist that the whole of scripture is authoritative, sufficient, inerrant (i forget all the other words they tag on there . . .)

    i grew up southern baptist (and still technically am because my membership is still there) and to be quite honest, i’m not sure what i believe on this issue. i understand patterson’s point of view, whether i agree with it or not is another question. that’s his logical conclusion coming out of how he approaches scripture, and he’s simply being true to what he believes.

    but there’s a more fundamental issue than women in ministry at hand. that’s how we approach scripture. whether the SBC wants to admit it or not, they say that they don’t believe the commands in paul’s epistles are bound to a certain culutres, times or situations, but instead they are God’s will and required in all cultures in all times. but in practice they deny that and pick and choose what they want apply.

  19. It doesn’t matter what you believe about the proper role of women in the church. This is just wrong. In attempting to uphold one Scripture verse concerning female submission, Patterson has trampled on a million other Scriptural principles concerning love, justice, and the equality of all before Christ. I don’t know what Paul’s intentions were in 1 Timothy 2:12, but surely he did not intend for it to be used as justification for anything this outrageous.

  20. Q11. So what happens when and if your President and Vice President die and the Speaker of the House assumes power?

  21. Bill,

    Very thought provoking questions. There are many areas where believers need to ensure they apply Scripture both accurately and consistently. Your contribution to this debate over a woman’s role in ministry based on 1 Timothy is very refreshing.

    I’ve submitted it to ( so others can read it, too.

  22. If you look into the ancient language of 1 Timothy 2:12, you will find that the word “women” can also be translated as “wife” and the word “man” can also be translated as “husband.” Even further, you will discover that the word “teach” can be translated as “rebuke”. Using these different translations the verse now sounds something like this…

    And I do not permit a wife to rebuke or to have authority over her husband, but to be in silence.

    That is just some food for thought…

  23. One explanation I’ve heard over the years is that, Paul is addressing how he has handled specific conflicts. He’s not saying “God says do not permit…” but “I do not permit…” Yes? No? Maybe?