The Ev. Lutheran Church accepts the whole written Word of God (as God’s Word),
deems nothing in it superfluous or of little worth but everything needful and important . . .
The Ev. Lutheran Church distinguishes sharply
between what God’s Word commands and what it leaves free . . .
The Ev. Lutheran Church has thus all the essential marks of the true visible Church of God on earth
as they are found in no other known communion,
and therefore it needs no reformation in doctrine.
—C. F. W. Walther
With those bold words, a founding father of the Lutheran Church—Missouri Synod (LCMS) set the course for the newborn synod. Does she still show herself to be a synod of the church that “accepts the whole written Word of God,” considering nothing in it to be unimportant (Matthew 5:18-19), and therefore needing “no reformation in doctrine?” A controversial passage will serve as a test case.
The Apostle Paul wrote 1 Timothy 2:11-15, an insignificant and outdated passage by today’s standards:
Let a woman learn quietly with all submissiveness. I do not permit a woman to teach or to exercise authority over a man; rather, she is to remain quiet. For Adam was formed first, then Eve; and Adam was not deceived, but the woman was deceived and became a transgressor. Yet she will be saved through childbearing—if they continue in faith and love and holiness, with self-control.
On the basis of that Scripture, the LCMS originally taught:
1a. Women are to make use of their distinctive gifts rather than to teach in the church service since in doing so they would “exercise authority over a man.”
1b. Such an exercise of authority is forbidden because it is contrary to the fact that Eve was formed after Adam.
1c. Thus, Paul prohibited all exercises of authority contrary to the created order, even those unrelated to the performance of pastoral functions.
As a result, women did not hold office or even vote in church meetings.
That teaching began to change as the roles of North American women evolved in the 1960s. Both the LCMS and the Lutheran Church—Canada (LCC) now reinterpret 1 Timothy 2:11-15 as follows:
2a. Women are to make use of their distinctive gifts rather than to “exercise authority over a man” in the form of performing pastoral functions.
2b. Such an exercise of authority in the form of performing pastoral functions is forbidden because it is contrary to the fact that Eve was formed after Adam.
2c. Other exercises of women’s authority over men are not contrary to the fact that Eve was formed after Adam.
Accordingly, women as non-elder officers such as congregation presidents may now exercise authority over men since those offices do not involve performing any functions of the pastoral office.
While the adoption of the new doctrine is completely understandable in terms of pressures to conform more and more to modern culture, the logical reasoning behind 2b and 2c is not clear. How could Paul forbid women from performing pastoral functions on the grounds of the created order but not forbid other exercises of authority over men on the same grounds? That could be clarified by explaining why the fact that Eve was formed after Adam should prohibit exercises of women’s authority over men in the form of performing pastoral functions but not in any other forms. Unfortunately, if such an explanation exists, it is not readily available, not even in the relevant committee reports. None of the commentaries in the bibliography even mentions the novel LCMS/LCC approach to interpreting 1 Timothy 2:11-15.
In fact, that approach appears to be not so much a careful exposition of what the passage says but more of a pragmatic compromise between the traditional approach (1a-1c) and the progressive approaches of those who favor the ordination of women as pastors. For example, Towner implies that the text can be best understood by imagining a situation in which some women in the church at Ephesus tried to dominate based on a misreading of Genesis 2-3—a situation does not pertain today. That speculation, while creative, is implausible in light of Paul’s exhortation to silent learning not just in Ephesus but also in Corinth (1 Corinthians 14:34-35). Similarly, Keener argued that Paul’s exhortations do not apply to women who are much better educated than those of the first century. However, Paul did not ground his exhortations on the women’s level of education but rather on the order of creation (1 Timothy 2:13) as recorded in “the law” (1 Corinthians 14:34). In view of 1 Timothy 2:13 and 1 Corinthians 11:8-10, Paul’s appeal to “the law” was a reference to Genesis 2:15, 22 (Ciampa and Rosner; Johnson; Knight; cf. Matthew 5:18-19). If those progressive opinions had more credibility, they might support the new LCMS/LCC doctrine by indicating that 1 Timothy 2 is unclear on the points that seem to establish the traditional view.
If, as is much more certain, the traditional doctrine is the clear teaching of 1 Timothy 2:11-15 after all, two options remain: rejection or acceptance of the authority of the passage. Each has its own difficulties. Rejecting the authority of that Scripture would call into question the authority of other Scriptures. More radical theologians resort to this approach, with Johnson looking for flaws in Paul’s logic and with Collins denying that Paul wrote the epistle. Accepting the authority of 1 Timothy 2:11-15 would mean rejecting deeply cherished attitudes of modern society. Biblical scholars taking that stand include Knight and Yarbrough.
The LCMS and LCC still tolerate their former interpretation of 1 Timothy 2:11-15. Each congregation is allowed to teach that doctrine and to enforce it in its constitution even though it is contrary to the newly adopted doctrine of those synods. Unlike the LCMS and the LCC, the Wisconsin Evangelical Lutheran Synod and the Evangelical Lutheran Synod remain in agreement with the traditional understanding of the passage and do not condone different teachings:
Changes leading to the current LCMS/LCC doctrine:
Expositions closer to the original LCMS doctrine:
Commentaries and related works:
Ciampa, Roy E., and Brian S. Rosner. The First Letter to the Corinthians. Grand Rapids, Mich. Nottingham, England: William B. Eerdmans Publishing Co. Apollos, 2010.
Collins, Raymond F., and Daniel J. Harrington. First Corinthians. Collegeville, Minn: Liturgical Press, 2006.
Collins, Raymond F. 1 & 2 Timothy and Titus : a Commentary. Louisville: Westminster John Knox Press, 2002.
Johnson, Luke T. The First and Second Letters to Timothy: a New Translation with Introduction and Commentary. New Haven London: Yale University Press, 2008.
Keener, Craig S. Paul, Women & Wives: Marriage and Women’s Ministry in the Letters of Paul. Peabody, Mass: Hendrickson Publishers, 1992.
Knight, George W. The Pastoral Epistles : a Commentary on the Greek Text. Grand Rapids, Mich. Carlisle, England: W.B. Eerdmans Paternoster Press, 1992.
Towner, Philip H. The Letters to Timothy and Titus. Grand Rapids, Mich: William B. Eerdmans Pub. Co, 2006.
Yarbrough, Robert W., “Progressive and Historic: The Hermeneutics of 1 Timothy 2:9-15,” in: Köstenberger, Andreas J., and Thomas R. Schreiner, editors. Women in the Church: an Analysis and Application of 1 Timothy 2:9-15. Grand Rapids, MI: Baker Academic, 2005.