Whoever Aspires to the Office of Bishop

Having properly understood the apostle Paul's statement regarding women being silent in the churches (1 Cor. 14:34), i.e., not interrupting worship by asking questions; as well as reverently learning humbly from their teachers, instead of vying for teaching without having first been a student and lording authority over men (1 Tim. 2:11, 12); we remain faithful to other scripture passages which clearly demonstrate the role of women praying and prophesying -- to foretell, to tell forth, to set forth matters of divine teaching (link) (cf. Acts 2:17, 18; 21:9; Rom. 16:1, 2; 1 Cor. 11:5) -- as we encounter the spiritual teacher Priscilla (Acts 18:2, 3), who, along with her husband, taught men like Apollos (Acts 18:26); as well as the female apostle Junia (Rom. 16:7).

If we are going to consider the apostle's message at 1 Timothy 3:1-13 then we must keep at the forefront of our thinking the role of women even within their first-century contexts. When challenging egalitarianism, complementarians quickly advance to 1 Timothy 2:11, 12 and 1 Timothy 3:1-13 for evidence supporting their theory. In the previous post, we have already examined that complementarians must ignore historical context in order to "keep women silent in the churches," whether one considers 1 Timothy 2:11, 12 or 1 Corinthians 14:34. We betray the Word of God, as well as the Holy Spirit who bestows women with spiritual gifts, by ignoring historical context in both Corinth and Ephesus respectively. (Note, as an aside, that even if certain female ministers today abuse their giftings, this no more indicates that women should not minister than when men do the same. We must avoid all such double standards.)

Hence, when complementarians assume that women are not permitted to the office of Bishop, or of Pastor or Deacon, they do so by ignoring historical context, as well as history itself. Take, for instance, the history of the female prophet Anna, the daugher of Phanuel, who, in her old age, worships at the Temple night and day. She arrives at the Temple just as Mary and Joseph bring Jesus for the performance of the purification rites. (cf. Luke 2:22-35) "At that moment she came, and began to praise God and to speak about the child to all who were looking for the redemption of Jerusalem." (Luke 2:38) She may have "resided in one of the many rooms adjacent to the temple."1 Obviously she is deemed a significant figure in Jerusalem for her short stint of inclusion in the story of Jesus. But what of female priests?

Besides female prophets, clearly mentioned in Scripture, we know of a female Deacon, Phoebe (Rom. 16:1, 2), who is a courier for the apostle Paul. Couriers are granted the task of carrying a letter to a church, reading the letter to the congregation, and then answering any questions and teaching from the text if the occasion should be present. Phoebe, then, is qualified by the apostle for the teaching of the Word even to men. We know the mention of the female apostle Junia (Rom. 16:7). That Junia is deemed as "a noteworthy apostle"2 should not surprise us, given that, even during the time of Jesus, women follow Him, as well as give financially to His ministry (Luke 8:1-3) and sit at His feet as disciples to learn from Him. Jesus does not "put the women in their place," namely, the kitchen, but teaches them so that they might teach others. Scripture declares these women as those "who had followed him from Galilee" (cf. Luke 23:49), the Greek word "followed," συνακολουθοῦσαι, often referring to following Jesus as His disciple (besides His main Twelve, Jesus had many other disciples, cf. Luke 10:1; John 4:1-2; 6:66).

An underhanded and unethical attitude has led some Bible translators and early Church fathers to dismiss Junia as a female apostle and misspell her name for a masculine form. "Efforts by translators to turn this common feminine name into a masculine one (Junias or Junianus) simply cannot be substantiated. Paul mentions several women, including Priscilla, as 'fellow laborers' and asks that Christians be subject to such as these (Phil. 4:2-3; Rom. 16:3-4, 6, 12; 1 Cor. 16:16, 19)."3 Moreover, several "Christian women appear to have presided over churches which met in their homes (Acts 12:12; 16:13-15, 40; Rom. 16:3-5; 1 Cor. 1:11; 16:19; Col. 4:15; 2 John 1:1-13); and women were involved in the first decision made by the early church (Acts 1:14-26)."4


As patriarchal as Christian history is, surprisingly, the field of archaeology aids us in discovering female Bishops and female priests in our Church-historical past. In a Roman basilica is found a mosaic with the portrait of four females, the fourth being Theodora Episcopa, meaning Bishop Theodora: "The masculine form for bishop in Latin is episopus; the feminine form is episcopa. The mosaic's visual evidence and the inscription's grammatical evidence point out unmistakably that Bishop Theodora was a woman."5 Make no mistake concerning the manner in which I will view our primary passage for this brief work: Given the historical fact that female prophets and priests and deacons and bishops were in operation, both in Scripture and in the history of the Church, then Paul's words at 1 Timothy 3:1-13 cannot be used by complementarians as evidence that only men are to be ordained to such positions.

That we find even a few females in such positions, in Scripture and in the history of the Church, is remarkable given the patriarchal framework of those times. But what we discover is not merely a few women but relatively many. "At a burial site on the Greek island Thera there is an epitaph for an Epiktas named as priest or presbyter (presbytis). Epiktas is a womans' name; she was a woman priest sometime in the third or fourth century."6 In the second-century Gnostic work, the Gospel of Mary, Mary Magdalene "rallies the despondent disciples after the ascension of their Lord."7 We need not canonize this work in order to understand the relevance of a female stoking the fire of the disciples. After all, women are the first persons to the empty tomb of Jesus (cf. Matt. 28:1-10; Mark 16:1-8; Luke 24:1-10; John 20:1-2) and motivate the disciples toward faith in His resurrection (Luke 24:9, 10). In our own day, the continued existence of some churches is owed to the faithfulness of women! Even pastor Timothy, disciple of Paul, can thank his grandmother Lois and his mother Eunice for teaching and discipling him in the faith. (2 Tim. 1:5)

The apostle Paul writes to Timothy instructions on worship: "This saying is sure: whoever aspires to the office of bishop desires a noble task." (1 Tim. 3:1 NRSV) The New Revised Standard Version (cf. also CEB, CJB, Darby, ESV, GW, HCSB, ISV, LEB, Mounce, NAB, NCV, NET, NIV, NLT, OJB, RSV, YLT) correctly translates τις as "whoever," meaning that translations which proffer "any man" as a translation are in error and are not properly translating but are interpreting according to their presuppositions (ASV, Amplified, Douay-Rheims, Geneva Bible, J.B. Phillips, KJV, MEV, NASB, NKJV, WEB). One might suggest that translations like the New American Standard Bible are justified in rendering τις as "any man" given what follows: "Therefore an overseer must be above reproach, the husband of one wife [ἄνδρα μιᾶς γυναῖκος]" (1 Tim. 3:2 ESV, emphasis added). Does the apostle Paul, then, not assume that a bishop will be male in gender? Not necessarily, since the phrase ἄνδρα μιᾶς γυναῖκος is variously understood as indicating "a one-woman man," or "married only once." But let us briefly address and identify this office first.

Whoever aspires to the office of bishop, ἐπισκοπῆς (episkopēs), desires a noble task. This Greek word refers to a visitation of judgment, inspection, an overseer or a supervisor. (link) The word is used in such passages as Luke 19:44; Acts 20:28; Philippians 1:1; 1 Timothy 3:1, 2; Titus 1:7; and 1 Peter 2:12; 5:2, 6. In an ecclesiastical setting, the word is rendered as a hierarchical office, whereby an elected official oversees one or more Christian churches. Christian traditions which carry this meaning include (but are not limited to) the Roman Catholic Church, Greek Orthodox churches, Lutheran churches, Anglican and Episcopal churches, Methodist churches, and Church of God (Cleveland, Tennessee) and Pentecostal Church of God churches. Persons elected to this office oversee the spiritual life and proper function of the churches within their respective denominations in a given area. The early Church fathers assume this definition, and interpretive framework for the vocation, and practice the episcopal model.

Others view this word as referring to the pastor of a local congregation. Dr. Paige Patterson holds the view that, initially, the churches were "essentially autonomous and congregational in polity."8 In light of biblical texts, I think he and other congregationalists are wrong, especially considering the Jewish ruling council of Acts 15, as well as explicit passages insisting that others in authority appointed elders or pastors in all the churches (Acts 6:3; 14:23; Titus 1:5), meaning that congregations did not, in the first-century biblical context, elect their own pastors. Congregationalism finds its origins in sixteenth-century Anabaptist and Mennonite radicals; while the roots of those who espouse episcopalianism are found in the first-century texts of the Christian Bible, as most evidenced in the interpretation as well as to the practice of the early Church fathers. But who may aspire to the office of Bishop?


Anyone who desires -- not one who necessarily "feels called" to the office, led by one's fickle emotions, but anyone who desires -- the office of Bishop desires a noble task. One may sense that this desire is from the Lord, and she or he would certainly be correct, but the chosen word here is desires. Such a one must be above reproach, meaning one who lives a life characterized as blameless and holy, as well as "married only once." (1 Tim. 3:2 NRSV) Let us compare English translations on this Greek phrase ἄνδρα μιᾶς γυναῖκος, lit., a man, one, a woman9:

  • the husband of one wife (ASV, Amplified, Darby, Douay-Rheims, ESV, Geneva Bible, GW, GNT, HCSB, ISV, KJV, LEB, MEV, NASB, NCV, NET, NKJV, RSV, WEB, YLT)
  • married only once (NABRE, NRSV)
  • a man of one woman (DLNT, J.B. Phillips, Mounce, OJB)
  • faithful ... to their spouse/his wife/in marriage (CEB, CJB, CEV, NIV, NLT)

There are very practical, ecclesiastical, and theological consequences attached to the translations we adopt here. The phrase "married only once" or "the husband of one wife," if held strictly, would bar anyone from the office of Bishop, or that of Pastor (depending upon one's interpretation), who is divorced and remarried or remarried after the death of one's spouse. In the Roman Catholic tradition, if a person is cause of a divorce, he or she forfeits partaking of the sacraments; whereas, should one believe that "faithful to their spouse" seems proper, then neither death and remarriage nor divorce would necessarily restrict one from seeking the office. But let us address the male pronouns here since they often dissuade the ordination of female ministers.

Naming Bishops and Deacons as male leaders is quite common in the apostle's mind -- doubtful Paul would instruct Timothy regarding men and women in such roles in a text. (Consider a rare instance of the apostle James addressing, specifically, men and women in his letter at James 2:15 NASB. Paul uses this rare, particular address only once, at 1 Corinthians 7:15 NASB.) A natural rendering for Paul, or Peter or other authors, would be within a male context without restricting that context solely to males. As a matter of fact, where does Paul restrict any ecclesiastical office, or spiritual gifting, by explicitly and emphatically stating that only males may apply, and never females? Rather than a mere argument from silence, I think that what we must consider is that, if female ordination to offices such as Bishop, Pastor, or Deacon were forbidden, we should see somewhere in the Christian scriptures explicit proscription. That we do not is telling.

That we find in 1 Timothy 3:1-13 the apostle's rendering of the qualifications for the two offices a male-oriented reference is exactly what we should expect to find without any inference that he is intending to convey the message: "men and men only." Indeed, the apostle addresses women at 1 Timothy 3:11: "Women [γυναῖκας] likewise must be serious, not slanderers, but temperate, faithful in all things." (NRSV) A footnote reads: "Or Their [male deacons] wives, or Women deacons." As noted above, we know, from several passages, of female prophets, female deacons, and at least one female apostle, as well as from Church history instances of female priests and bishops. The Greek word γυναῖκας is plural and refers to women. In this context, Paul could be adding females to the narrative, meaning to both Bishops and Deacons -- that, what applies to the males who aspire to be a Bishop and a Deacon, also applies to the females who aspire to the same.


Should a complementarian argue that a strict reading should be adopted, and a Bishop (or Pastor) and a Deacon must be male due to the explicit reference to "the husband of one wife," Dr. Craig Keener aptly responds: "the statement could not apply to Paul and probably could not apply to Timothy, either."10 In other words, from a complementarian understanding, not only are women restricted from such an office but so are Paul and Timothy! Paul, then, disqualifies himself and the recipient of his letter from the very ministries for which he is granting instruction. What should be an obvious conclusion is that a strict complementarian interpretation cannot be adopted, even here at 1 Timothy 3:1-13, where such expect a solid support.

At 1 Timothy 3:11, explicitly mentioning women in the narrative of Bishops and Deacons (remember that our English Bibles often place subheadings that are not part of the original text: Paul writes this letter in one continuous fashion), the qualities expected of these women
parallel those expected of men [1 Tim. 3:8-9]. They are to lead lives that command respect, no doubt because they speak prudently with control . . ., do not drink in excess and generally are trustworthy in all things [1 Tim. 5:10]. The patterns of behavior that characterize overseers and deacons are also to be obvious in the lives of these women. Furthermore, as in the case of the deacons, these women represent the antithesis of certain other women who had come under the influence of the false teachers [1 Tim. 5:15; cf. 2 Tim. 3:6-7].11
In other words, whatever the apostle states as qualifications for a good Bishop (or Pastor), or a good Deacon, naturally apply to women as well as to men. This is why Paul adds, at 2 Timothy 3:11, "likewise women." If women are forbidden from either the office of Bishop, or that of Deacon, then why mention women at all?12 Can women lead? The question misses the mark: some women can lead and other women cannot lead in the same way that some men can lead and other men cannot lead. The strong female leaders in both the Hebrew and Christian scriptures should inform anyone among us that some women can assume leadership roles. The question is: Does the Holy Spirit gift some women to lead? Yes, as we have learned from Scripture, the Spirit of God gifts some women for leadership roles as prophets, deacons, priests, bishops, and even queens (to the dismay of John Knox). To deny this is to deny Scripture as well as reality.

Women are not the delicate and fragile fairer sex intimidated at every turn. They are not designed by God for inferiority. Whatever defects we view in patriarchal societies in the Hebrew or Greek cultures in Scripture, those belong to the fall, and not to the redemption purchased by Christ. The Spirit empowers women for ministry as well as men. J. Lee Grady argues that we need to
understand that the Bible does not lock women into the stereotypical mold of silent wimps. God does not set limits on the volume level of a woman's voice. In the Book of Proverbs, godly wisdom is portrayed as a fearless woman who stands in the middle of the city and "cries out" with a loud voice. [Prov. 8:1-11.] She declares: "To you, O men, I call, and my voice is to the sons of men" (v. 4). Not only does she preach authoritatively, but she preaches to men. This allegorical woman is not leading a women's Bible study in her home. She is evangelizing men in the central square of a major city. Yet how many leaders of major denominations in the United States would tell this woman preacher to sit down and shut up?13
If given much thought today, what is difficult to understand is how women in this country have had the right to vote for only about 96 years. As progressive as The Episcopal Church may seem, not until the 1970s did Episcopalians begin discussing at length the role of women as priests.14 Not until 2006 did The Episcopal Church elect a woman, the Most Rev. Dr. Katharine Jefferts Schori, to be Presiding Bishop -- some suggest that she is the first female archbishop in apostolic Christian history. (We also, incidentally, just elected our first African-American Presiding Bishop, the godly and highly-respected Michael Bruce Curry.) To an egalitarian, women's rights and equality for women (and other minors) seems like a Gospel-oriented given, so that many of us think that we, as a Western culture, have taken so very long to get to this point; and there are still many who believe we are wrong, that God would have women relegated to subservients, leaving the rest of us a bit shell-shocked. I write posts like this to effect change.


1 Thomas R. Schreiner, "Luke," in The Baker Illustrated Bible Commentary, eds. Gary M. Burge and Andrew E. Hill (Grand Rapids: Baker, 2012), 1067.

2 Richard Clark Kroeger and Catherine Clark Kroeger, I Suffer Not a Woman: Rethinking 1 Timothy 2:11-15 in Light of Ancient Evidence (Grand Rapids: Baker, 1992), 91. See also Craig S. Keener, Paul, Women, and Wives: Marriage and Women's Ministry in the Letters of Paul (Grand Rapids: Baker Academic, 2004), 241-42.

3 Ibid., 91-92.

4 Ibid., 92.

5 Karen Jo Torjesen, When Women Were Priests: Women's Leadership in the Early Church and the Scandal of Their Subordination in the Rise of Christianity (New York: HarperSanFrancisco, 1993), 10.

6 Ibid.

7 Ibid.

8 Paige Patterson, "Single-Elder Congregationalism," in Who Runs the Church? 4 Views on Church Government, ed. Steve B. Cowan (Grand Rapids: Zondervan, 2004), 134.

9 See Philip H. Towner, 1-2 Timothy and Titus: The IVP New Testament Commentary Series, ed. Grant R. Osborne (Downers Grove: IVP Academic, 1994), 84-85.

10 Keener, 110.

11 Towner, 92.

12 If one answers, "Because the wives of male deacons affect his position as deacon," another could rightly challenge that notion by asking, "But what of married male deacons whose wives are unbelievers, as in the case mentioned at 1 Corinthians 7:12, 13, 14, 15, 16? Would such an instance disqualify him from being considered a Deacon? If so, where in Scripture is this taught?"

13 J. Lee Grady, 10 Lies the Church Tells Women: How the Bible Has Been Misused to Keep Women in Spiritual Bondage (Lake Mary: Charisma House, 2006), 54.

14 Robert Prichard, A History of the Episcopal Church (Harrisburg: Morehouse Publishing, 1999), 256-57. See also David Hein and Gardiner H. Shattuck, Jr., The Episcopalians (Westport: Praeger Publishers, 2004), 94-95.


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My name is William Birch and I grew up in the Southern Baptist tradition but converted, if you will, to Anglicanism in 2012. I am gay, affirming, and take very seriously matters of social justice, religion and politics in the church and the state.