Engaging with Aimee Byrd’s Recent Book: Selected Points (#1: 1 Tim 2:12)

Posted by R. Fowler White

As Lane acknowledged in his first post on Aimee Byrd’s new book, certain statements in a book stand out to some reviewers as controlling or recurring factors in its argumentation. To other reviewers, more incidental statements get their attention because to their eyes those assertions are as conspicuous as missed paint strokes on the dining room wall. Despite our differences in approach to Byrd’s work, however, Lane and I have a common interest in giving it a respectful, rigorous, and vigorous hearing. For my part, I take it that Aimee Byrd is a serious-minded disciple of Christ, a member-in-good-standing of a Reformed congregation of Christ’s church. In my view, she has posed fair and important questions to which pastors and teachers should give thoughtful answers, and she has made serious pleas to which careful responses are required. From all I can see, she desires and anticipates that her research, interpretations, and theological reasoning will be seriously weighed. For what my thoughts may be worth, I’ll focus on selected points in her presentation.

Before getting to those points, let me orient the reader to my stance by summarizing what I understand to be the overall strength and weakness of Byrd’s three-part book. From where I sit, the book is strongest when, in part 2, she points out errors in certain complementarian teaching and calls for a reemphasis on the proper goal (i.e., Christlikeness) and focus (i.e., the church’s historic confessions) of discipleship, a reemphasis marked by an equal investment in the discipleship of women and men with that goal and focus in mind. On the other hand, however, the book is weakest when, in parts 1 and 3, she identifies the fruit of that discipleship as laywomen and laymen serving in the same capacities in God’s household. In the end, I believe the book’s weakness has made and will make it harder for its strength to be appreciated in certain circles.

With that orientation, let’s begin this interaction with Byrd’s book by noticing that the adage that “a woman may do anything in church that an unordained man may do” is now commonplace in discussions (including Byrd’s) of women and speaking gifts in Reformed circles and elsewhere. This is especially the case when the adage is set over against the concept of “authoritative teaching” in conversations about church ministry. Meanwhile, denominational study committee reports (like those in the OPC and PCA) and new books (like Byrd’s) continue to be published on women and men in church ministry. It seems appropriate, then, to focus again on the activity of men and women in the ministry of teaching in God’s household as it is represented in Scripture. Admittedly, in this series of posts,[i] we will not be able to cover all facets of this topic. We will offer, instead, a succession of posts on selected points as key components for any broader consideration.

Given our focus on teaching, it would be a good preliminary step to clarify what is meant by authoritative and non-authoritative teaching. Basically, the difference is this: “authoritative teaching” is “official teaching,” teaching done while holding the office of elder; “non-authoritative teaching” is “non-official teaching,” teaching done while not holding the office of elder but having the approval of elders. In large measure, the description overlaps with the historic Reformed distinction between teaching in the special office (held by elders ordained to it) and in the general office (granted to all believers). We’ll make use of the special/general distinction later. For now, without disputing the official/non-official distinction, let’s ask, what is its exegetical basis in Scripture? Granted that the verb “teach” and its cognates, used without qualification, mean “instruct according to the apostolic traditions” (e.g., Acts 2:42; 1 Tim 1:3; 4:11; 6:2b-5; 2 Tim 2:2; Rom 16:17; 1 Cor 4:17; Col 1:28; 2:7; 2 Thess 2:15), the exegetical basis of the official/non-official distinction in recent discussion has most frequently involved the claim that in 1 Tim 2:12 Paul refers not to teaching, on the one hand, and exercising authority, on the other; rather, he refers to “teaching from a position or an office of authority” and thus to “teaching authoritatively, teaching officially.” What can we say about this interpretation of 1 Tim 2:12?

First, a brief word about context. The immediate context of 1 Tim 2:12 (i.e., 2:1–3:15) is devoted to regulations for the public activity of men and women as it relates to prayer, apparel, discipleship, and officers in God’s household. Thus, it is clear enough that the activity in view here takes place in the church’s public meetings. Second, as for limiting the instruction in 1 Tim 2:12 to the concept of “authoritative teaching,” there is scant evidence to support the claim that in fact that text refers only to “teaching authoritatively or officially.” That is, the syntactical construction does not tell us that the two infinitives conjoined in 1 Tim 2:12—“to teach or to exercise authority”—express one idea (such that the second infinitive modifies the first, thus expressing the one idea “teach authoritatively”). Instead, the two infinitives are conjoined to express two related but distinct ideas. The point is, the syntax of 1 Tim 2:12 strongly favors the view that Paul has two activities in mind, not one.[ii] Well, so what? What’s the payoff of the “two-activities” interpretation of 1 Tim 2:12 for the coactivity of men and women in teaching the church?

The “two-activities” interpretation constrains us to conclude, in contrast to Byrd’s argument that the reciprocal coactivity of men and women in God’s household is the fruit of discipleship, that the Apostle does not permit men and women to be coactive in teaching the church in its public meetings. In fact, Paul’s references to teaching and governing in 1 Tim 2:12 reappear in the qualifications of men who aspire to the church’s eldership (see 1 Tim 3:1; teaching, 1 Tim 3:2 and 5:17b; governing, 1 Tim 3:5 and 5:17a). Seeing, then, that Paul addresses restrictions on two public activities of women and men in 1 Tim 2:12, there is sufficiently explicit biblical basis to conclude that the Apostle limits the public teaching and governing of God’s household to men who aspire to and qualify for eldership (the bases of this policy in the creation and fall of the first man and woman have been discussed elsewhere). That being the case, this text makes a decisive, even controlling contribution to the discussion that Byrd rightly wants us to have. Believing, however, that her affirmations of male-only ordination are enough to satisfy us on this text or its implications, she chooses not to discuss it. This choice, in my judgment, is a major miscalculation, since it raises doubts about the advisability of publishing a book that does not address the texts that pose, at least ostensibly, the most obvious and serious challenges to her proposals. Even so, she is right to put forward other biblical texts on men and women in teaching for us to consider. We’ll turn to some of those passages in subsequent posts.

[i] This series of posts represents the content of a complete rewriting of an article of mine that appeared in Ordained Servant, a publication of the Committee on Christian Education of the Orthodox Presbyterian Church, Vol. 10, No. 1 (January 2001), pp. 10-13.
[ii] For more on this point, see A. J. Köstenberger, “A Complex Sentence Structure in 1 Timothy 2:12,” in A. J. Köstenberger and T. R. Schreiner, eds., Women in the Church: An Interpretation and Application of 1 Timothy 2:9-15 (3rd. ed.; Baker, 2016), pp. 117-162.

4 Comments

  1. July 21, 2020 at 8:43 am

    […] Engaging with Aimee Byrd’s Recent Book: Selected Points (Part 1), we urged that in 1 Tim 2:12 the Apostle Paul sets out a policy for the churches that limits the […]

  2. July 23, 2020 at 6:45 pm

    […] Part 1 and Part 2 of our interaction with selected themes in Aimee Byrd’s new book, we reviewed 1 Tim […]

  3. July 30, 2020 at 4:09 pm

    […] our discussion of selected points in Aimee Byrd’s recent book in Part 1, Part 2, and Part 3 of our review, we are hopefully clarifying the points on which we can agree and […]

  4. August 4, 2020 at 5:08 pm

    […] Perhaps this is best summarized in a set of affirmations. From the points we’ve studied in Parts 1, 2, 3, and 4, we would believe and […]


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