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A Review | Women in the Church: An Interpretation and Application of 1 Timothy 2:9-15

March 1, 2016

A Review of Andreas Köstenberger and Thomas R. Schreiner, eds.
Women in the Church: An Interpretation and Application of 1 Timothy 2:9-15
Third Edition
Wheaton: Crossway, 2016. 432pp. $18.99.


On the writing of books on gender there is no end. Book after book passes through bookstores, into personal libraries, and back into used bookstores in karmic circularity; first editions become seconds, seconds become thirds—and does anyone really want thirds?

In this third edition of Women in the Church: An Interpretation & Application of 1 Timothy 2:9-15, Köstenberger & Schreiner are hoping to introduce a “substantially new” edition of Women in the Church because they “believe that as those committed to historic Christianity, we cannot afford to take our cue from the rapidly changing culture.” Indeed, “being a Bible-believing Christian in this world—or taking one’s cues from Scripture alone—means swimming upstream and being countercultural.” (21)

What one finds, then, is not merely old chapters with new typesetting but a substantial revision indeed. Whereas the second edition clocks in right around 180 pages, readers of the third edition will traverse 350 pages (including an appendix) of densely argued, textual evidence for the contributors’ complementarian rendering of a most difficult passage. Virtually every chapter has been updated and expanded to include recent scholarship. In addition, there are also important new contributions addressing contemporary, hot-button issues.

Summary of Contents

On a structural level, this book helpfully moves from “behind the text” reconstruction (chapter 1), to textual and syntactical issues related to interpretation (chapters 2 and 3), engagement with reception history and recent scholarship (4 and 5) and then current issues and application (6 and 7). In that way, the book has a hermeneutical movement from “behind the text” to “in front of the text” discussion, helping to highlight the interpretive issues at each level.

The table of contents for the third edition of Women in the Church closely corresponds to the second edition, the main difference being the addition of chapter by Denny Burk on the history of rendering αὐθεντεῖν (authentein) in Bible translation, as well as a round-table discussion applying complementarian teaching. The following is a brief summary of the unique contribution of each chapter.

S. M. Baugh explores the first-century background of Ephesus and seeks to highlight the Sitz im Laban to help unpack the context of 1 Timothy. In chapter 2, Al Wolters argues for the meaning of αὐθεντέω (authenteo) as neither pejorative (i.e., “domineer”) or ingressive (i.e., “assume authority”), but rather, either positive or neutral. In addition, Wolters surveys the usage of αὐθεντέω (authenteo) in Christian literature after the apostolic period and finds that the word is often used toward the divine persons, clearly in a positive manner. Wolters’ chapter covers a massive amount of data and will need to be reckoned with by those who dispute his conclusions. In fact, the editors believe that the inclusion of this chapter alone “warrants the production of a third edition.” (20) Köstenberger’s chapter builds on his previous work for the rendering of 1 Tim. 2:9-15 by exploring other uses of the conjunction οὐδέ (oude) and arguing that Paul must either be arguing for a positive or a negative function for both teaching (διδάσκω, didasko) and exercising authority (αὐθεντέω, authenteo).

Schreiner has substantially re-worked his chapter, engaging with arguments that have developed since recent editions. Schreiner’s ultimate point is that Paul, rooting male-female roles in the creation order, seeks to exhort men and women to live in light of those roles in their churches. Robert Yarbrough’s chapter is also substantially reworked engaging critically with recent scholarship, and dealing with certain hermeneutical “defeaters” levied against the complementarian position. He also spends time highlighting certain figures writing from a complementarian perspective in recent years.

In chapter 6, Denny Burk discusses the history of translation for αὐθεντεῖν (authentein) wherein he considers Linda Belleville’s assertion that the predominant rendering in history is primarily pejorative—an assertion that Burk shows to be specious. Burk also discusses the NIV translation committee’s failure in their rendering αὐθεντεῖν (authentein) as having an ingressive sense. Because of the decisive work of scholars like Köstenberger and Wolters, this rendering does more harm than good. Burk concludes his chapter with a plea for the committee to reconsider. In the last chapter, “Application: Roundtable Discussion,” the editors join a panel of women and men (including Rosaria Butterfield, Gloria Furman, Mary Kassian, Darrin Patrick, Tony Merida, and more) to discuss various implications for the application of 1 Timothy 2:9-15, with a view toward application in the local church.

There is so much good, helpful material to chew on. The editors have given a thoroughly updated edition that considers new scholarly evidence; re-worked, tightened arguments; and a view to help readers with contemporary issues. Because of these benefits—and not to mention the reception of this volume for a new generation of readers—the publication of this book is welcomed and warranted. Every chapter, building upon the previous chapters, helps the reader to see unequivocally what Paul meant for the conduct of the earliest apostolic communities. Köstenberger and Schreiner have cultivated a tremendous resource that brings light to darkness—clarity to confusion—on an issue of the utmost importance for ecclesial order and the testimony of the gospel.

Judicious Complementarianism

The Apostle Paul charges Timothy to guard the good deposit entrusted to him and follow the sound words of Paul’s gospel. This calling has likewise been entrusted to those of us who seek to lead others in executing this task as well. While God’s word can often be difficult to understand—as the text under consideration surely displays!—it is still good and brings delight to those who have been united to Christ by the Spirit. Pastors and elders are called to defend this divine address not just in its form, but also the direction in which this address seeks to shape the triune God’s churches. Christians ought not blush at texts that can frankly feel strange to Western eyes; rather, they ought to delight in the word that communicates the reality that God was in Christ reconciling himself to the world. This grace doesn’t merely change hearts, it restores the natural order and helps men and women see the distinctive role given them in order to witness the glory of God cover the face of the earth as the waters cover the sea. This volume will help men and women to articulate and defend just that.

Nevertheless, egalitarian sisters and brothers will no doubt disagree with the conclusions reached in this volume. Yet, one walks away from reading this volume with a sense of sympathy for opposing views. The authors offer judicious argumentation and sober exegesis. There’s not even a remote sense that these authors are schismatics, arguing for a parochial patriarchalism. Rather, they display love for their egalitarian interlocutors through faithful representation of their arguments, while also leveling their disagreements—which are no doubt resolute—with charity.

It is the hope of this reviewer that discourse surrounding this often explosive and controversial issue within evangelical theology will continue to exhibit such grace in disagreement. May all come, with open Bible, to reason with one another and seek a spiritual unity under God’s word that seeks to honor the text wherever it may lead.

Scott Corbin is a student at the Southern Baptist Theological Seminary. He and his wife Jessi live in Louisville, KY with their son.

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