Consumerism, Oikos, and the Role of Women in the Church (Part 4)
June 11, 2024

Part 1
Part 2
Part 3

We evangelicals do not often understand the roles of men and women in ministry. Because our consumerist culture has gutted the notion of family as it was historically understood, all Biblical passages about women in church ministry (a familial organism) are almost incomprehensible to the modern reader. We’re trying, here, to remedy that and now we need to turn to those passages beginning with 1 Corinthians 11:2–16, which seems to be complementarians and egalitarians’ least favorite passage on the subject.

1 Corinthians 11:2-16

“The head of every man is Christ; the head of woman is the man; and the head of Christ is God.”1 Wayne Grudem and other scholars have conclusively settled the debate that head (κεφαλὴ) means authority.2 The woman, in church, is under authority in a way that is different from a man under Christ’s authority and she should demonstrate her submission in some tangible, culturally meaningful way–in Corinth’s context, by a head covering. The head covering is cultural and so means only what a culture sees it as meaning. The reason for the head covering is not cultural but universal and absolute. This theological statement destroys the egalitarian claim that the New Testament’s instructions for women in the church are merely contextual, temporary accommodations to first century culture.

However, if 1 Corinthians 11:2–16 describes the normative church’s assembly, it shows women speaking – “praying and prophesying” – thus challenging many complementarians’ claims. The egalitarian objects to the hierarchy, indeed, the naked patriarchy, of the passage. The functional complementarian objects to the admission of women speaking in church. Both do it for the same reason: they are looking at the passage through the lens of an individualistic, consumeristic culture where the church is a service provider, not through the lens of the church as God’s family.

The fact Paul speaks of “prophesying,” which is public, and the wider context—1 Corinthians 11–14 on instructions for Christian worship—show that Paul is addressing behavior in the gathered church. So, “every woman who prays or prophesies” (1 Cor. 11:5) reveals that in Paul’s churches, women were speaking publicly (thus 1 Cor. 14:33–37 addresses another form of public speaking, likely judging prophesies). Here, he gives women instructions for “praying and prophesying.” It’s to be done under authority.

Last year, the online publication Christ Over All claimed that complementarians who allow women to speak in church “under the authority of the elders” are “functional egalitarians,”3 implying that the function of elders is merely to speak and, so, if women are doing that then they are functioning as elders.

Because functional complementarians read passages like 1 Corinthians 11:2–16 outside the familial lens of Scripture, it is seen merely as the regulation of a function oddly out of sync with, if not contradictory to, 1 Timothy 2:12. But 1 Corinthians 11:3 does not merely stipulate how a function is to be performed but the proper order of a relationship. Hence, “man is the head of woman,” while women are “praying and prophesying” (1 Cor. 11:5). Whatever “prophesy” here means, it is some kind of public speaking in church, that kind recommended over speaking in tongues in gatherings in chapter 14. Women were doing it. Paul does not prevent them but regulates how they should do it: in a way that honors “her head.”

Teaching is teaching is teaching”?

If I visited a Christian home for a chicken dinner and the father of the house sat down at the head of the table and declared, “I’m the patriarch here, the head of the family,” I’d think, “So far so good,” with an affirming smile. But if he then said, “So, women and girls are not allowed to talk at the table,” my smile would disappear and I would think, “Wait, what?” Seeing my confusion he explains, “Talking is teaching and women can’t do that at family gatherings.” I’d think, “That doesn’t follow at all and I hope the chicken is better than his logic.”

1 Corinthians 11:2–16 reveals that some speaking in church is done from a position of authority and other speaking is done from under authority. Women’s speaking is always under authority, which is signified in Paul’s culture by a head covering.

Jonathan Leeman, in a 2023 article applying complementarianism, recognizes that some see a distinction between two classes of teachers: “the teaching of an elder and the teaching of a non-elder” or, referencing Andrew Wilson, “Big-T vs. little-t.”4 In Presbyterian and other Reformed churches, this distinction is marked by ordination. Leeman has made a useful observation, noting that ordination demarcates two kinds of people in the church: those who may have authority and those who don’t but who may speak under the authority of those who have it. The problem: he rejects that distinction. He claims, “when a person steps into the pulpit or Sunday School lectern and opens a Bible, teaching is teaching is teaching.” That is, there is no relationship between the student and the teacher. There is only his or her function of teaching. Only the function of teaching has authority, not the person. And there is no differentiation of kinds of teaching or teachers. Thus, he claims, 1 Timothy 2:12 prohibits women from any kind of teaching in the church and, as above, any kind of instruction is teaching. Since there are no kinds of teaching, women doing any of it in the church is, he says, “illicit.” How he squares this with 1 Corinthians 11:2–16 where women are “praying and prophesying” in the church is unanswered. In a 4,800 word long-form essay, he does not once mention that passage. Instead, he leans heavily on 1 Timothy 2:12.

1 Timothy 2:12

Whether “to teach or to exercise authority” are two distinct actions, or the terms are a “hendiadys”—a figure of speech in which a single idea is expressed by two terms that mutually define each other— is not crucial. When we investigate the meaning of “to teach” in the NT we find that the distinction between it and “exercise authority” is not stark.5 To teach, in 1 Tim. 2:12, was to inherently carry authority. We don’t see that because in a modern, consumeristic culture, we think we know what it means “to teach.” We have all been assigned teachers who communicated information to us. Our relationship to these teachers was formal and temporary. But is our modern form of teaching what Paul had in mind?

In the gospels, the term “teacher” is used 48 times, many of them titles of polite address. A “teacher” was not just someone who merely performed the function of teaching, impersonally conveying information to students he had no relationship with. A teacher was a “master,” a person of authority in a relationship, a fatherly figure. A prospective disciple calls Jesus “teacher” and pledges to follow him wherever he goes (Matt. 8:19, Luke 9:57). “Teacher” is used in parallel with “master” and “Lord,” (Matt. 10:24, John 13:13). In Matthew 23:8, Jesus says, “But you are not to be called rabbi [master], for you have one teacher, and you are all brothers,” (note the familial implications). He also said, “A disciple [not just a student] is not above his teacher, but everyone when he is fully trained will be like his teacher,” (Luke 6:40). A teacher is someone who has disciples, not just hearers. The goal of a disciple is to imitate the teacher, not just learn information from him or her. One earthly minded man asked Jesus, “Teacher, tell my brother to divide the inheritance with me,”(Luke 12:13). Clearly, he expected more from a “teacher” than a lecture on proper inheritance rights. He expected a command that could compel his brother. Even the Pharisees understood that Jesus’ role as a “teacher” gave him authority to rebuke his disciples (Luke 19:39). Finally, John overtly defines the word “teacher” (διδάσκαλος) as “Rabbi” (master) twice (John 1:38, 20:16).

So, the teacher was not an impersonal communicator of information, perhaps randomly assigned by a school board or even by a large church’s education department with we, the students, having no relationship to the teacher. We opted for the class, not committed to the teacher. But in the NT, the teacher was a person of authority to whom one chooses to heed and, to some degree, submit. We opt for him and study what he chooses to teach.

Chinese language makes this point as well. It distinguishes between the lǎoshī (老师), a teacher who merely conveys information, and the shīfù (师父), the master. Shīfù contains within it the word father (父), thus implying the other disciples of the shīfù are brothers and sisters. The teacher, in the church, is a shīfù. We lack this distinction in English, so we’re inclined to assume “teaching is teaching is teaching.” Given our consumer culture and our experience with education, we assume the teacher is a functionary—a conveyor of information—not a head in a familial relationship. The assumptions of the NT are different, more Chinese than Western. Thus, the prohibition in 1 Timothy 2:12 is not against women conveying information or praying or prophesying but of them being in an authoritative relationship over men. It regulates kinds of relationships, not functions. In theory, a woman such as Priscilla could speak in church, but her speaking would not be understood as possessing spiritual authority to men—though it could to younger women. She could be a teacher to the women, not to the men.

Titus 2:3–4 encourages older women to have these authoritative, teaching relationships with younger women. Mature women are told to be καλοδιδασκάλους, “teachers of what is good.” That is, they are to have authoritative teaching relationships with other women in the church. The context, as in 1 Timothy 2–3, is relationships in the church family, the oikos. In Titus 2:3–4, those relationships include mature “women training younger women as mothers would their daughters in the natural household.”6 In the church-as-family, mature women relate authoritatively to other women. Thus, the ministry of women is encouraged. Women can pastor women. However, 1 Tim. 2:12 restricts women from having those kinds of authoritative, discipling relationships with men. This is because the “teaching” of 1 Tim. 2:12, in contrast to the “praying and prophesying” of 1 Cor. 11:5, is inherently relational and authoritative.

Here is exactly why we misunderstand the role of women in ministry: we misunderstand the role of men in ministry. We do not allow our men to be the NT’s fatherly teachers, what the Chinese would call shīfù. We only know of teachers as impersonal communicators (lǎoshī) and so we assume women cannot (for some reason) do that communicating. We think our pastors are functionaries of an organization; like we opt for a class and get a teacher, we think we opt for a church and get a preacher. Our culture of consumerism gives us no category for authoritative relationships, for a familial view of ministry. David Wells reports, “Our relationships are often as impersonal and disconnected as the transactions in a shopping mall.”7 But the Biblical role of elder and teacher depends on authoritative relationships.

A consumer culture reduces leadership in church to functionaries, cogs in the machine of the institution to which one has gone to get some service. So, with authoritative relationships gutted, the choices are two: first, either “teaching is teaching is teaching” and, so, women can’t do any of it in church; or, second, the prohibitions against women teaching in the church seem arbitrary, (even Leeman says women can instruct outside the church like Priscilla did with Apollos), and thus the pressure increases to find some kinds of exegetical gymnastics to relegate 1 Timothy 2:12 to irrelevance and become fully “egalitarian.”

We do not understand what women are prohibited from doing in 1 Timothy 2:12 because now we do not allow men to do it either. In our consumer culture in which pastors are service providers, we do not understand that they are called to be “teachers,” authoritative disciplers, men ruling the oikos well (1 Tim. 5:17); elders who “exhort and rebuke with all authority” and are not to be disregarded (Titus 2:15) since they are fatherly; “leaders” (ἡγουμένοις) whom we “obey” and “submit” to (Heb. 13:17). Until we understand the role of men in ministry, we will never understand the role of women in ministry.

John B. Carpenter, Ph.D., is pastor of Covenant Reformed Baptist Church, in Danville, VA. and the author of Seven Pillars of a Biblical Church (Wipf and Stock, 2022) and the Covenant Caswell substack.


  1. My translation. ↩︎
  2. Wayne Grudem, “Does κεφαλὴ (“Head”) Mean “Source” Or “Authority Over” in Greek Literature? A Survey of 2,336 Examples,” Trinity Journal NS 6.1 (Spring 1985): 38–59. “The Meaning of kephalē (“Head”): A Response to Recent Studies,” Trinity Journal 11NS (Spring 1990), 3–72. “The Meaning of kephalē, (“head”): An Analysis of New Evidence, Real and Alleged,” JETS 44/1 (March, 2001), 25–65. His work is supported by Joseph A. Fitzmyer, “Kephalē in 1 Corinthians 11:3,” Interpretation 47 (1993), 52–59; Thomas Scheiner, review of Philip Payne, Man and Woman, One in Christ, Journal of Biblical Manhood and Womanhood 15 (Spring 2010), 36–38; Andreas J. & Margaret E. Köstenberger, God’s Design for Man and Woman (Wheaton, IL: Crossway, 2014), 170–171. ↩︎
  3. Christ Over All,Criteria for When a Woman Can Teach Among Christians,” March 22, 2023; accessed September 22, 2023.) ↩︎
  4. Jonathan Leeman, “Criteria for When a Woman Can Teach Among Christians” (Christ Over All, March 22, 2023; accessed September 22, 2023.) ↩︎
  5. Kevin DeYoung notes that Paul “prohibits women from doing two different, but related things, in the church: teaching over men and exercising authority over men” (Men and Women in the Church: A Short, Biblical, Practical Introduction [Wheaton, IL: Crossway, 2021],83.) It’s not clear how related he understands those two things to be. ↩︎
  6. Köstenberger, God’s Design for Man and Woman, 267. ↩︎
  7. David Wells, God in the Wasteland (Grand Rapids: Eerdmans, 1995), 219. ↩︎
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