Friday, July 11, 2008


Most of my ministry life has been lived in what today is called 'complementarianism' with regards to women in life and ministry. This simply means I lived, believed and taught that women were to submit to their husband's leadership in the home and were to do the same in church life. Men ruled. Women submitted. As men we had our place and women had theirs. [Complementary] But ours was at the front of the line. We were to love and provide, to be sure, but always from our place at the front of that line. For years of marriage and ministry I never questioned the biblical basis for this nor did I question the rightness of it in a practical way. How could it be otherwise? The bible said it and that settled it. I was old-school in this you see.

When I faced those situations where it was abused either by a man controlling a wife and robbing her of her person, choices and input [or a pastor robbing people of the same] or a wife refusing to obey a husband by attempting to be herself uniquely by exercising her mind or will on issues I passed it off as them being people who generally messed life up because of strong personality [his] or rebellion. [hers] If they would simply calm down and obey the bible all would be well was my mantra.

There were three basic shifts in my understanding along the way that shook my life and forged a new direction for me that resulted in my now belonging to the new school of thought on this issue. The newness is not that the scriptures or my culture or my convictions about scriptural authority have changed. But my understanding of things as they really are in the purposes of God has changed. What follows is a bit of that journey.

Shift number one was in my own life. I view my marriage as a gift from God as I'm sure most of you do. My marriage partner is a gifted and capable woman who is unique in her person. Her discovery of her giftedness and uniqueness was what caused me to look again at women NOT being able to lead or teach men [or anyone for that matter] as I saw in her one who knew more bible than most preachers [she memorized and quoted over 5oo verses at camp one year] and knew theology [still does] better than most of my bible college buddies.

Our relationship clashed with my old-school thinking as she awakened to her uniqueness and personhood in Christ and I began to see her gifts and abilities as from God for me AND the church. [This was not without it's painful times of struggle for both of us.] It also gave us pause because neither she nor I was willing to violate the scripture because of our experience. So what did this mean for us? The old-school way of thinking wouldn't do. That was a given. But something had to give.

Shift two came as a result of studying the scriptures afresh. Laying aside culture, preconceptions, teachers and theological systems I'd learned, I began searching the text anew for myself. For starters, in 1 Timothy 2:12 I began to see the text is less clear than most complementarians see it and that lack of clarity was NOT there because of our culture imposed on it but because of Paul's language used in the text to address HIS culture. It was understanding his culture that came into play for me as I began to grasp what he was saying.

To take that verse as an absolute universal principle for all women of all times and to impose a standard of silence and no authority over men flew into the face of so many other portions of the text of the New Testament. The Samaritan woman of John 4, Lydia of Acts 16, and Mary of Matthew 28 who seemed to speak the Word of God to all including men seemed contrary to 1 Timothy 2:12 being a principle for all time and places.

The ministry of Jesus seemed to do the same. He taught, commissioned and sent out women as well as men as indicated in the gospels. Add to that others like Phoebe who was a deacon, [there is no Greek word deaconess] Junia whom Paul said was outstanding among the apostles in Romans 16:7 [there are many more that could be given] and I saw there was something about 1 Timothy 2:12 that I needed to examine anew. So I did.

Another passage that gave me pause was the declaration of Peter that the New Covenant era would see our "sons and daughters" and "young men and old men" ministering. This means at least that New Covenant relationships were not based on age, gender or race but on the gifting and empowering of the Holy Spirit. Add to that the Galatians 3:28-29 reference to neither male nor female nor bond nor free and you have a whole different thing in Christianity. I know it refers to salvation but the rest of the book refers to all no longer being slaves but sons [generic] with full rights of sonship with no distinction made to gender or race.

Is New covenant relationships to be based on gender or race or not? If not, then why make it so in the home or the church? Unless Paul said to in 1 Timothy 2:12. Did he? I don't think so.

In short, I now saw Paul referring to "a man and a woman" in 1 Timothy 2:10-12 [language is singular] and I saw the word "authority" as a word that meant disruption and using gender means [sexual]to take control and referring to a specific church situation in Ephesus. In other words, I saw it not as a universal principle for all time in all places but a specific event in that time.

I also had to examine 1 Corinthians 11 and began to see it differently. My final opinion is as I've read one person say, " that Paul was telling women to not flaunt their freedom in Christ to dishonor men." That's spot on in my judgement. A fresh look at the word "Kephale" [head] caused me to question the definition of it being "authority." I began to see it as referring to something totally foreign to that meaning for their culture. My purpose here is not giving the results of my research but my journey. Check out the lexicons up to 1950 and you will see what I mean. If you get bogged down in the "head" thing it would be good to remember [as I read someone say] "that certainly the Son has chosen to submit to the Father but don't forget the Father has put everything under the Son's personal Lordship." [Phil. 2:9] That's interdependence instead of competition and control for sure. What a novel idea for the home and church were we to be Christlike as believers.

The final shift in my thinking came as I examined our culture. There was no problem seeing the cultural standard of man/woman relationships being one of a struggle for control. It was there in Paul the Apostle's day and it is in our day. It is the history of the human race. But from where did it come? My conclusion became that the text of Genesis 3 [the fall]introduced a corrupted male/female control issue that was not in the original created order. It resulted from the fall not creation. God wasn't in to creating a "whose the boss" mentality but a "how can I serve you" way of thinking.

Grace is a recovery of God's purpose in all things and I have concluded that, while we live in a fallen world, the redeemed people of God are to manifest a gracious, helping, mutual submitting and leading way of life that only grace can produce in our families and churches. It would be a shock to our culture and religion in general and it takes the Holy Spirit's empowering to accomplish it but that is ours to experience as believers.

I was old-school in this issue but I'm now of the new-school of thought and, by the grace of God, I wish to live that new school thinking out. It's basis is not my experience, culture or theological systems, but the authoritative text of scripture when properly understood in my humble, personal opinion.

Next time the old-school/new-school styles of worship.

Paul Burleson


Bob Cleveland said...


It may be semantics, but I look at this a bit differently. First, I see the evidence that the husbandly responsibility was shouldered by Adam, as Even knew the deal about the forbidden fruit, even though the instructions seem to have been given to Adam before Eve was around.

Second, I believe the husband/head thing does apply, but we have to look at both halves of the instructions. Namely, we're to be the head of the wife AS Christ is the Head of the church, and gave Himself up for her. His love and His headship was absolutely sacrificial, and if I'm to be what He says in that passage, I must similarly be sacrificial in my love and my leadership.

That's a tall order, and sets up the conundrum of how to be responsible for the success of the marriage .. which I think I am .. while still being sacrificial. THAT can obviously ONLY be accomplished if I am totally reliant on God. I sure can't MAKE that happen.

I also view the roles in the church as completely aside from the instructions to husbands & wives. If a women has the gift of teaching, she oughtta teach; to anybody who wants and needs to benefit from her God-given gift.

Paul Burleson said...


I don't think it is simply semantics. I understand what you're saying and where you're coming from. Been there.

But "kephale" didn't have the normal meaning of "authority" in Paul's day and in the Greek language. Paul used other words for "authority." Paul used "heart" for the intellegent control of the body which was the Greek way of thinking. There was simply no knowledge of the "head" controlling as we know it today.

"Their foolish heart was darkened." Rom. 1:12 The law writtrn in their hearts." Rom. 2:15 It is with the heart man believes," Rom. 10:9-10 No heart has conceived God's plans." 1 Corth. 1:9 "May the eyes of your heart be enlightened to know." Eph. 1:18-23

But the meaning of "source" was theirs and were you to use that meaning where the word "kephale" is referenced you would see a flow to scripture to be clear.

I also like Laurie Fausulato's statement where she says....."As we look at Ephesians 5, one thing that stands out are the parallels between Christ/husband as head and the church/wife as the body. Since the husband is to mirror Christ as head, let’s see what the passage says that Christ does, or is, as head. Starting in verse 23 we see that when Paul comments on Christ as head of the church, his parallel is (using the same grammatical construction) that He is the Savior of the body. If we don’t come reading the Hebrew or English meaning of the word ‘head’ into the Greek word, but let the text speak, we can see that not only is this metaphor clearly stated, but is carried throughout the passage when dealing with the husband’s role. Verse 25 tells the husband to love his wife the way Christ loved the church -- He gave himself up for her. Verses 28-30 tell the husband to love his wife as he loves and takes care of his own body, just as Christ loves and takes care of the church -- his body. If these verses were not enough to show the relationship of unity and the role of self-sacrifice the husband is to follow in emulating Christ, verses 31-33 emphasize the example of unity that is to he followed in marriage (“be united,” “the two will become one flesh,” and “love his wife as he loves himself”). It is interesting to note that some versions read in verse 30, “For we are members of His body, of His flesh and of His bones.” This is the same thing Adam said about Eve, and is now said about Christ and the church; and the same pronouncement of unity is made about both: For this reason a man shall leave his father and mother and be united to his wife, and the two shall become one flesh. This is the conclusion God draws from this head-body relationship. Any mention of ‘authority’ is absent. It is not only puzzling, then, but disturbing to see that most people holding the traditional view feel the need to use this passage to give the husband a duty which God is not giving to him as He tells him his duties."

Bob..I just see it differently than I used to But I still love Jesus. :) Thanks for stopping by.

Lin said...

Thanks for this post. And I am glad you referenced Kephale. We have to ask ourselves why Paul used this word and not a normal Greek word for authority or leader as is used elsewhere in scripture.

I agree with you that it is metaphorical. I also believe it is about love and unity. Not hierarchies.

I also find it odd that Paul had to tell wives, who were considered property, to submit to their husbands. Could he be hinting that they had FREEDOM to do so as a fellow Christian in gracious love and not as legal property? No where do we see Paul saying the husband is the authority. He does not use that Greek language. yet, the language of the what the husband is to do..sacrifice for her and love her as Christ loved the church is to submit to her. How else could that be done?

And, as always, we must not forget verse 21 where we are all in the body to submit to one another.
Somehow, I do not think husbands are exempted from this if they have believing wives. :o)

I hope you are recuperating ok. I am so glad you are posting!

Anonymous said...

The word helpmeet doesn't seem to mean subordinate in nature as scripture describes God as our helpmeet.

Freedom is a great thing, especially for women. Just as children who grow into adults long to move from the home in order to live their own life, women too long to have freedom to be all that God created them to be. A good husband will not try and stop that, but in fact aid in that, as the wife aids the husband in the same way. It's a beautiful thing.

I don't want a boss, I want a mate. Thankfully that is what I have, and it was this way before we became Christians.

Paul Burleson said...


Good thoughts. I've always believed there was a reason Paul used a different word for submit [hupotasso] when speaking of wives submitting to husbands than he did when speaking of children submitting [obey] to parents. That word was used of Jesus submitting to the Father and refers to an equal choosing to serve rather than having to serve.

Jesus chose the will of the Father but said if He had chosen He could have called legions of angels to stop it all. I suppose we can believe Him in this. [joke] His sumission was an internal choice rather than an heirarchial thing. The same is true for women and, you're right, it is to be reciprocal with men and women. Eph. 5:21


You bring up an interesting point. The fact that you wanted it that way BEFORE you became a christian may lend some anecdotal evidence that the idea that the whole struggle is foreign to the human condition before the fall. The female human longing can only really be accomplished by God's grace as the longing for true love [which all human beings have christian or not] can only be accomplished with the love of God. Good thoughts

Anonymous said...

Thanks for sharing your awakening.

Don Johnson

Paul Burleson said...


To be honest, it did take a slap in the face [metaphorically] for me to start the journey. But that's a story in itself.

Thanks for stopping by.

Anonymous said...

Most good things happen with a slap or some other similar jolt that forces us out of our "convictions." :)

THANK YOU, Paul, for not being quiet about this. My own jolt came to me, a thoroughly convinced "hidden woman," in a way that sounds similar to your wife's experience. The last adjective I'd use to describe it was "easy." That it was not.

Btw, I put a snippet of your post up on my was too good not to share.


Paul Burleson said...


The surprise was when the "hidden woman" was set free to be who she really is by God's grace the new woman was a gift that keeps on giving. Aren't we all to be that to each other!!

Thanks for commenting.

believer333 said...

Thank you for taking a difficult stand to speak the truth on a difficult time of enlightenment.

Bless you!

Paul Burleson said...


I admit to the difficulty of the journey at times but, I have to say, the results in relationships with family, friends, church members and beyond have made it worth any difficulty there might be.

Anonymous said...

This is Joy Chambers and a friend sent me your post. She had been reading your son's post when we told her that we knew you. I appreciate what you have written concerning women. Recently when I read Rob Bell's Velvet Elvis, he referred to the "emergent church" as more of an "emerging church" I like to think of changes in how we think, as "emerging thinking." It has to happen because we are alive and growing in our knowledge of Him and His Word. We are emerging in our understanding...I guess that is what happened to you. I also want to say, since we knew you back when you were what you called, "old school," that we were very impacted by your lives. Even if that was your thinking, you and your wife's hearts were what we picked up from you - your hearts were to know Him and share whatever you knew about Him, at that time. What more could we have asked? We were not negatively impacted by your "old school" thinking, because God honored your hearts - and your hearts touched ours - that was what made the difference. So I guess we will all keep on
"emerging" until the day of Christ Jesus - then our theology won't matter any more! Love to you both - Bob and Joy

Paul Burleson said...

Saturday, July 12, 2008

Paul Burleson said...

Joy, what a pleasant surprise to hear from you. Mary just mentioned you and Bob this morning because of seeing a connection to you on facebook through a friend.

Aren't we glad God does use and speak through us at any point along the journey. Talk about blessing to guys were that tenfold.

I admit to a desire to gather all those like you and Bob in a reunion retreat settings and share the journey of Grace God has brought us on. Mary and my convictions concerning the nature and authority of scripture are stronger than ever [though I don't any longer speak for her :)] but our understanding of the text has deepened. My concern isn't whether it's baptist or traditional or whatever but that it's scriptural from my understanding.

I do believe some of the issues I have come to see differently are not major or worth dividing over but, I have to say, this issue of women in the Kingdom is big in my judgement.

Thanks for stopping by and stay in touch.

Anonymous said...


This is a courageous post and one written with much grace and humility. Thank you for sharing your journey, your insight, and your wisdom.

Strider said...

Thanks so much for this good post and others that have led up to this over the last year. I have been down this same road- my wife is much smarter than- and it has been difficult to find myself in a position that is in conflict with most SB's. By writing this post you have proven that we can hold to this kind of view and not be a liberal heretic which most guys I know would accuse someone with your position of being. But let's face it with your many years of faithful service in SB life no one will accuse you of being a liberal to your face. I will stand with you.

Paul Burleson said...


I appreciate your comment more than you know.

This is the very reason we had better be able to fellowship around the reality of the Lord Jesus as our ground of unity. The sufficiency of the scriptures as our guide can be our confidence also but the need to recognize all believers are to be Berean and able to search those sciptures under the leadership of the Spirit without demanding agreement on non-salvific matters remains. For me, this doesn't mean these non-salvific issues are not important, just not the ground of our fellowship as believers.

I believe the 'women as equal' issue is terribly important and will rob half the Kingdom/Church of their heritage in Christ if we're not careful. [Besides failing to follow the meaning of our scriptures when they are properly understood which is serious.]

This certainly demands a few things to pull it off with true Grace. One is a dependence on the Holy Spirit for understanding as we study. Two is a willingness to allow the reality of the Lord Jesus only to be our ground of unity. Three is a recognition that no one of us has all understanding and so judging others as sinful or heretical who disagree on non-salvific points of truth is not helpful. Four is to hold our views firmly but graciously when good people are on both sides since we DO learn from others and we are brothers in Christ to all believers.

I read you blog OFTEN but comment less often. It IS good stuff from the field. Keep up the work. I pray for you and yours.

Paul Burleson said...


I responded to your comment on the original Old school/New school post but failed to do so here. Thanks for your words.

As I said at the former mentioned comment I had no idea that Paul was Paul Littleton. [As is this one.] I clicked on the name and nothing came up so I assumed you were a new Paul who, as I said there, was joining Paul littleton and Paul Burleson as intellegent and rabid fans of OU football. But I wind up finding out that Paul is the Paul [Littleton] with whom I've shared several hamburgers at OU home games over the past several football seasons. All of which, I might add, we won big. See you August 30 in Norman for the kickoff of a national championship season. Go Sooners.

If anyone fails to plug in on the point of this comment I just realized you would not have read that Paul's comment on a couple of posts back. But the chance to mention the greatest college football tradition in history could not be passed up. :)

Anonymous said...

well, Paul, I have finally found something we disagree it is not about women. On that we are in complete agreement.

It is being a Sooner fan. I happen to be a Texas Aggie so I am compelled to disagree on that. You are most welcome to stay with our family in College Station when TAMU defeats OU this year.

Thanks for the concise, clear Biblically based post. We men really need to be supportive of women in this area.

Paul Burleson said...


I will probably be at the game. It may be one of the few road games I get to attend. If so, I would be delighted to share a hamburger with you and yours afterwards. In fact, we could bet.. er..wager.. er..offer that the loser pay. On second thought, to allow the losing host fan to be out the expense isn't fair. I'll pay for the privilage of eating with a fan of the vanquished aggies that day.

Anonymous said...

Paul...great post. If you say yes to my next two questions I would like to share my testimony and how God used women ministers. Are you close to Yukon? I will be there Thursday or Friday for a few days. Can I buy you a lunch or dinner? It would be my delight! At least you would get one free hamburger this year as I am sure Texas and Texas A&M will whoop OU this year!! Did you catch this blog... Let me know if we might enjoy some fellowship.
Plus I want to catch up on the Antioch Network.
Ron Fisher

Paul Burleson said...


I will be available for a burger after friday. Call me. The number is on my web-site by clicking on 'contact me.' Your imagination is running wild about the horns and aggies however. :)

Joe Blackmon said...

I completely disagree with your post. However, I am thankful for it. Everytime I read something like this it encourages me to get my nose in the Book and spend a few minutes more than I had planned so that I can work to better understand God's word and the truth that it brings to bear on life. Thank you.

Paul Burleson said...


Thank you! I love it when people disagree agreeably. You've certainly done that.

If you come to some understanding that you think would impact me please feel free to comment on it here. I'm open to what others discover about this subject and I have a ways to go in my understanding of most issues. Come again. We need each other in the Body.

Sandra said...

Paul, I respectfully disagree with your conclusions. I believe you are manipulating Scripture to support your experience. The Bible is perspicuous, easily understood. It should not take hermeneutical gymnastics to interpret. Women are not excluded from ministry (you gave lots of good examples of ministry), just from being ministers. That is why there are no examples of women in this leadership role in the Bible.

Paul Burleson said...


Thanks for commenting. If I am being manipulative of scriptures to get to my conclusions I trust it is an unconscious thing and I will also trust the Holy Spirit to point that out to me because I believe manipulation is not generally a healthy thing for anyone when done.

I must say however..I would not want to hold to a position about what should or should not be done in the Church based on silence or absence.

It is generally argued that Jesus called 12 Apostles and they were all men. So some say the leadership of the church should be men since no women were chosen as Apostles. But I disagree that all the apostles were men anyway. I hold that Junia may well have been spoken of as an Apostle. "Junia" was taken as feminine until around 1200 A.D. when it was changed to masculine without justification. [You know I'm sure there were several more than the original 12 Jesus Himself being called the "great Apostle."]

Also remember that Pheobe was certainly called a deacon when it was says.."being a deacon of the ekklesia of Cenchrea".

But my point is there were no gentiles named in those original 12Apostles either. Nor slaves for that matter. Yet the Church is made up of gentiles and slaves as well as women and the scriptures tell us ALL are gifted and are to minister those gifts for All. I'm assuming no restriction would be put on gentiles or slaves for being leaders in the N.T. Church BECAUSE they were not seen among the original 12 Apostles.

The reason the restriction is placed on women as leaders is because, as I tried to show, of a misreading of the text in 1 Timothey 2. Women are spoken of as being gifted and are commanded, as is every believer, to excercise their gifts for the whole body.

I hope that isn't manipulation but study of the text. In fact, I really like how Alexander Strauch, author of Biblical Eldership, correctly notes:

“There were prophets, teachers, apostles, pastors, evangelists, leaders, elders, and deacons within the early church, but these terms were not used as formal titles. For example, all Christians are saints, but there is no “Saint John.” All are priests, but there is no “Priest Philip.” Some are elders, but there is no “Elder Paul.” Some are pastors, but there is no “Pastor James.” Some are deacons, but there is no “Deacon Peter.” Some are apostles, but is no “Apostle Andrew.” Rather than gaining honor though titles and position, New Testament believers received honor primarily for their service and work (Acts 15:26; Romans 16:1, 2, 4, 12; 1 Corinthians 8:18; 2 Corinthians 8:18; Philippians 2:29, 30; Colossians 1:7; 4:12, 13; 1 Thessalonians 5:12; 1 Timothy 3:1). [And those passages speak of the whole Church.. converted Jews/Gentiles/men/women/slaves.] The early Christians referred to each other by personal names—Timothy, Paul, Titus, etc.—or referred to an individual’s spiritual character and work: “…Stephen, a man full of faith and of the Holy Spirit…” (Acts 6:5); Barnabas, “…a good man, and full of the Holy Spirit and of faith…” (Acts 11:24); “…Philip the evangelist…” (Acts 21:8); “Greet Prisca and Aquila, my fellow-workers in Christ Jesus” (Romans 16:3); “Greet Mary, who has worked hard for you” (Romans 16:6); etc. The array of ecclesiastical titles accompanying the names of Christian leaders today is completely missing from the New Testament, and would have appalled the apostles and early believers.”

[He could have added Junia and Pheobe]

Again Sandra, thanks for commenting and keep studying. If you believe your insights would help me, feel free to offer them. I'm ever learning and you could well be a good teacher for me. And as you can tell from my theological position on women..I really mean that.

Rev R Marszalek said...

Thank you so much Paul for your work and your honesty here. I have found this hugely helpful. I began a blog in June, prompted by a sermon preached on 1 Tim 2 in my parish. I have explored the issues and been in touch with Cheryl Schatz at 'Strive to enter' - she was very helpful. I post frequently to an evangelical site that is conservative so that I can understand how people come to hold the opposite view too. I find it fascinating. Your tone is always gentle with those with whom you disagree and I will keep up with your blog from now on so that I might be encouraged too in arguing for the full ministry of women in the church with an equally gentle tone. I blog at Re vis.e Re form where I am trying to work through how the Church has at times inflicted pain on those whom they feel God calls them to marginalise. This means I am considering some very tricky topics particularly pertinent at the moment as I follow York Synod's decision to ordain women to the episcopate and the ministry of Bishops like Gene Robinson who has been banned from attending the Lambeth conference. I have been fascinated by GAFCON and FOCA and all of the things being discussed in England at the moment and I will point my readers to your site as a resource. I'm hoping that the Conservative evangelicals in Britain will consider the views they hold afresh in the light of the Synod's decision to ordain women to the episcopate and I'm hoping they might find their way to your site from mine.

God Bless and thank you
Rachel at

Paul Burleson said...


Thanks for stopping by. I hope what is said here will help in any work God has assigned you. I can tell you from experience that Cheryl is one of the best resources you will ever find.

My best to you and return commenting often, please.

Anonymous said...

"Paul used "heart" for the intelligent control of the body which was the Greek way of thinking. There was simply no knowledge of the "head" controlling as we know it today."

This is absolutely crucial in deciphering the meaning of the text. Today, in English, in at least most of the U.S. to my knowledge, "head" is interchangeable with "boss" or "supervisor" or "leader". This understanding, as you allude to, is because the brain is now viewed as a sort of "control center" for the rest of the body.

But unless the head was viewed in that manner by those who wrote Scripture, the current idea that the husband being the "head" indicates his holding a unilateral leadership position within the marriage cannot follow.

Could you direct me to a resource where I can find out about the relevant ancient Greeks' views of the body (head, heart--did they know of the brain)? You do present examples in Scripture, and I thank you. I am curious about other examples. (Please note that while I am a lay scholar of language, I unfortunately am well versed in English, only.)

An aside: The problem that I find here is that once I start talking about the meaning of certain words in the culture of the time or that sort of thing, I get either blank looks or some less polite response. There does not seem to be much recognition that these studies, these conversations, are relevant if we are to truly understand Scripture. We are not from the time of the original writers, and so there is much that we may miss or misconstrue, that readers of the time would have grasped.