Being Biblical Means Loving the Whole Bible, Not Just Pet Verses

by | Feb 15, 2023 | Theology of Marriage and Sex | 16 comments

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Sheila here!

My husband Keith came on to discuss his frustrations with claims of “being unbiblical” and not reading the Bible “plainly” while also ignoring what the Bible says plainly when it doesn’t suit a personal belief.  

The Bible is seemingly filled with contradtions

Back in university, I remember a conversation Sheila had with one of my friends who is an atheist when he told her that he couldn’t believe in the Bible because it was full of contradictions.

In those days, I was still in my ultra-intense apologetics phase and I would have likely responded by asking him to provide an example, then pulling out the appropriate volume of “Evidence That Demands a Verdict” to show him why he was wrong and that there was no contradiction at all.

Sheila had a different approach. She did not dispute the fact that on a first pass, there are parts of the Bible that seem to contradict each other. She even provided him with an example from the book of Galatians where Paul says these words:

“Carry each other’s burdens, and in this way you will fulfill the law of Christ”
Galatians 6:2

and then just three verses later says:

“for each one should carry their own load”
Galatians 6:5

Rather than defending the Bible against this attack, Sheila granted him that any sensible person seeing those verses side by side would see them as contradictory.

She then went on to explain that part of our growth in the faith is to wrestle with these seeming contradictions until we figure out what God actually meant.

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One of the tools we use to resolve these apparent contradictions in Scripture is to discipline ourselves NOT to pull verses out as stand-alone entities, but to look at every verse in the Bible in the context of the entirety of Scripture.

In this particular example, if we take the verses out of their context and place them side by side, they seem contradictory and Paul appears to be speaking out of both sides of his mouth. On the other hand, if we read the verses within the context of the passage (and the Bible as a whole) we quickly see what Paul was trying to say and it all makes sense.

I think the vast majority of evangelicals would say they agree with the idea that we must approach seemingly contradictory verses with the aim to reconcile Scripture into a coherent whole.

If we believe the Bible is inspired by God, then when it seems to not make sense, then we must keep working at it until it does. And since we believe that all Scripture is God-breathed (not just the parts we like), we can’t resolve tension by selecting what parts we listen to and which ones we ignore.

Picking and choosing which verses we like is anathema in the evangelical church.

The one thing we must NOT say is “Well this verse supports what I already believe, so I am going to ignore that one which doesn’t.”

Why am I making such a big deal out of this?

Because certain people are (yet again!) misrepresenting Sheila as being “unbiblical” since she doesn’t ascribe to their particular interpretation of their favorite passages. It doesn’t matter that she is constantly showing the Scriptural proof for what she says, the fact that she doesn’t preach men should always be in authority over women is all the proof they need to conclude that she doesn’t actually believe the Bible.

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The classic verse people pull out is 1 Timothy 2:12 “
I do not permit a woman to teach or to have authority over a man”.

In debates on line about women in the church I don’t know how many times I have seen a “theobro” bring this out and then think they have created a “mic drop” moment.

Beth Alison Barr wrote a great article in January called “How do I understand 1 Timothy 2:12?” that talks about this very phenomenon.

Now I admit fully that on first read,
1 Timothy 2:12 is tough to understand.

Personally, I think it has to do with a local situation in Ephesus (where Timothy was ministering) and was never meant to be a universal declaration that women must always be under the authority of men and never teach. I am not going to make the specific case for that here for two reasons.

First of all, it has been done very well by others who are more qualified than me, such as Cynthia Westphal, Marg Mowczko and Philip Payne whom Sheila recently had on her podcast.

But more importantly, the true meaning of 1 Timothy 2 is not the point of my argument here. My point is to show that 1 Timothy 2 is not the hermeneutical atomic bomb that proponents of male authority think it is.

In fact, quite the opposite – people who believe it is a universal injunction against women teaching or having authority over men for all time are actually the ones ignoring Scripture!

Because there are in fact several verses in the rest of Bible that seem to directly contradict what Paul is saying in 1 Timothy 2:12!

If women are never to teach or have authority over men, how does one explain that Phoebe was a deacon in Cenchreae? (Romans 16:1). How about the fact that there was an apostle who was a woman – Junia? (Romans 16:7)

Do we honestly believe that these women only and exclusively taught and had authority over other women?

That’s quite an assumption! And consider Nympha who had a church that met in her house (Colossians 4:15). If she was not the authority and teacher in that church, who was and why wasn’t he or she mentioned?

Next consider all the many women that Paul talks about as “working hard in the Lord” in Romans chapter 16. What do we think working hard means if not spreading the gospel? And how can spreading the gospel not involve teaching?

Perhaps the clearest example is Acts 18:26 which indisputably documents Priscilla (a woman) teaching Apollos (a man). Yes, she was teaching him with her husband, Aquila, but they were doing it together and 1 Timothy 2:12 does not say “I forbid a woman to teach or have authority over a man – – unless she is with her husband”.

The Greek in Acts 18:26 is s quite clear that THEY taught Apollos not that HE (Aquila) taught Apollos. In no universe can we honestly say “Priscilla did not teach Apollos”, so was she disobeying Paul? Clearly not, as Paul praises her more than once and calls her his “co-worker in Christ Jesus”.

So when I see Paul say something in 1 Timothy 2 that sounds like women can never have positions of authority or teach and I balk at that, it is not because I have a “feminist agenda” and it is certainly that I don’t value Scripture.

On the contrary, it is because I value Scripture – ALL of Scripture, including the verses where women are clearly teaching and exercising authority!

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In stark contrast, consider how the proponents of male authority have handled these verses.

In every case, they try to explain away any verse where women are shown to be in a position of authority in the church. My favourite is probably Phoebe. According to male-only leadership, she was not a deacon, but a “servant”.

Now “servant” is a valid translation of the Greek word “diakonos”, but are we sincerely expected to believe that when it is used in 1 Timothy 3 it means a position of authority in the church, and when it is used to talk about Phoebe in Romans 16, it only means “servant”? And am I supposed to believe that someone saying that is not bringing their bias into the text?

I am amazed how often I have had people say to me that I my interpretation of 1 Timothy of 2 is not a “plain reading of Scripture” and then in the next breath, when I bring up Phoebe they say unironically that the word deacon means one thing when applied to a man but another when applied to a woman. What the heck happened to a plain reading of Scripture?

Besides, the context in Romans 16, clearly shows she was a person in authority. First of all, if Paul was not referring to a position, but simply meant “servant” why add the clarifier “in Cenchraea”? By any honest “plain reading” of Scripture, this clarifier alone would suggest “diakonos” should be understood here as a position of authority, but Paul goes on to say three more things about Phoebe that seal the deal.

First, he asks them to “receive her in the Lord in a manner worthy of His people”. Second, he says to “give her any help she needs”. And finally, he says she has “been a benefactor to many”. 

Again, a plain reading of Scripture clearly shows that this woman was a leader and Paul expected her to be treated that way.

N.T. Wright goes on further to suggest that Phoebe was likely charged with reading the letter to the Roman church and possibly explaining it to them. Philip Payne said something similar in the podcast with Sheila. This is the plain reading of Romans 16:1-2.

So when you see a verse from Paul that implies women should never teach or have authority over men and then see several verses where he commends women in leadership positions, let me suggest that the appropriate response is to be humble enough to recognize that maybe what Paul was saying in 1 Timothy 2 isn’t what you thought.

And when you continue to insist that 1 Timothy 2:12 is straightforward and anyone who wants to take a second look at what Paul might have meant is “unbiblical”, you do not show your devotion – you show your ignorance. 

And most of all, if you demand a “plain reading” of verses that support what you believe, then throw plain reading out the window and go through mental gymnastics to explain away other Scriptures that don’t, then quite simply you are not interested in understanding the Bible, you are only interested in using it as a tool to prove what you have already decided to believe.

To then accuse Sheila of not being “biblical” is the height of hypocrisy.

As your brother in Christ, I humbly suggest that you stop trying to get the speck out of Sheila’s eye and instead go work on the log in your own.

What verses did you think were contradictory until you looked at the Scripture’s entire context? Let’s discuss in the comments!

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Keith Gregoire

Author at Bare Marriage

Keith has been married to Sheila for over 30 years! They met while he was in pre-med at Queen's University in Kingston, Ontario. He has served as Chief of Pediatrics in the Quinte Region, and has been the chair of undergraduate pediatric medical education at Queen's University, and participated in the Royal College examination board for new pediatricians. He is the co-author with Sheila of The Good Guy's Guide to Great Sex, and a new marriage book they're working on. An avid birder, he loves traveling with Sheila all over North America in their RV.

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  1. Nessie

    ‘Next consider all the many women that Paul talks about as “working hard in the Lord” in Romans chapter 16. What do we think working hard means if not spreading the gospel? And how can spreading the gospel not involve teaching?’

    I was taught that meant women were working hard at feeding and taking care of the men so they could preach and teach… but when you compare that to Jesus’ praise of Mary for learning directly at his feet as opposed to Martha who was not so highly praised despite doing what the men in my past have taught me women should be doing, well… it doesn’t add up. Sure seems like Jesus was glad Mary was learning directly from him and hoping that she would in turn lead others to Christ. Otherwise, why didn’t He send her to help Martha?? (Same preacher also talked about how mad and irritated Jesus was with Martha in this scripture… cognitive dissonance much??) So… be a Mary… until the man wants food, sex, etc., then be Martha and serve away!

    Most of them also believe children are to be seen and not heard, children are full of inherent sin, etc. … but Jesus said to let them come to Him and not to hinder them for the Kingdom belongs to such as these!

    To anyone who teaches this way: you are chasing people away from Christ and His love with your carelessness of God’s Word! You are hindering the objective of going and making disciples of all nations. He didn’t come to love only men and merely tolerate women.

  2. Nathan

    As Keith said, others have already covered this, but I’ve heard that two verses at least…

    I do not permit a woman to teach…

    Women, remain silent in church…

    Were narrowly aimed at specific groups of women, not all women as a whole.

    And of course, “wives submit to your husband” is part of a larger discussion wherein both are commanded to submit to each other, and “the husband is the head of the wife” is a slight misinterpretation of the Greek word for “head”.

  3. Mara R

    When I pointed out Matthew 20 to guys arguing for male supremacy:

    25 But Jesus called them to Himself and said, “You know that the rulers of the Gentiles lord it over them, and their great men exercise authority over them. 26 It is not this way among you, but whoever wishes to become great among you shall be your servant, 27 and whoever wishes to be first among you shall be your slave;

    You should have seen how quickly they explained my argument away by saying that this only applied to the disciples in particular and men in general. Women and wives were excluded from these words of Jesus and placed in subordination. I couldn’t tell if they were really that blind to their own hypocrisy or if they knew it but just didn’t think it was that big of a deal.

    To this day, I still don’t get such blatant hypocrisy.

    • Jo R

      My suspicion is that “the Bible” is held to be only written TO men, so all the “one anothers” only apply to interactions between men.

      Since women are possibly (or, really, probably) not even made in the image of God, then it doesn’t matter a bit how men treat women.

      These men would never make either statement explicitly, but that’s the fruit that’s produced.

    • Tim

      That’s such a bizarre interpretation!

  4. M

    I have been a Christ-follower almost my entire life. I’ve been learning how to present the gospel in a clear and concise way since I was 14, taught how to lead a Bible club, been on Cru projects, expected to share the gospel with men, women and children. I have a bachelor’s degree in music and know how to conduct a choir and lead music. As a Christian I am expected to “preach” the gospel, “teach” them what the Bible says , and “lead” a person to Christ. Never have I been told I can’t do these things with a man. Quite the opposite, I am to share with anyone. But what I can’t do in some churches? Preach in church in front of others, teach a co-ed Bible study, or lead a worship team. Because I am a woman. As an article once put it, “it’s not about competency, it’s about complementarity”. Basically, when a non-Christian man becomes a Christian, he magically moves up the leadership chain. I can lead him to Christ but not lead his Bible study. This feels insanely backwards and hypocritical.

    • Sheila Wray Gregoire

      Exactly, M!

    • Amy A

      “I can lead him to Christ but not lead his Bible study”
      Man I never thought it like that

  5. Bennett Cheryl

    I’m so grateful for this article. I’m using it as my bible study for a few days. It’s helping me to get past the years of religion I grew up in and to come to terms with what I feel God calling me to do, versus this ONE verse in the bible that is holding me back. I can’t thank you enough. I also appreciate the people who have commented. I wanted to add two verses I found in my studies.

    Luke 2:36-38 ” And there was a prophetess, Anna, the daughter of Phanuel, of the tribe of Asher. She was advanced in years, having lived with her husband seven years from when she was a virgin, and then as a widow until she was eighty-four. She did not depart from the temple, worshiping with fasting and prayer night and day. And coming up at that hour she began to give thanks to God and to speak of him to all who were waiting for the redemption of Jerusalem. ” So I take it that she was speaking of him to ALL in the temple. That sounds like a woman teaching men, women, and children to me. The Greek word all means some of all types. So that would include men.

    Luke 11:31-32 “The queen of the South will rise up at the judgment with the men of this generation and condemn them, for she came from the ends of the earth to hear the wisdom of Solomon, and behold, something greater than Solomon is here. The men of Nineveh will rise up at the judgment with this generation and condemn it, for they repented at the preaching of Jonah, and behold, something greater than Jonah is here. ” This is Jesus talking about a woman executing judgment over men. So is it ok for a woman to judge a man but not to teach him? I don’t think so.

    • Sheila Wray Gregoire

      I’m so glad that you found this helpful, Cheryl! I love it.

  6. Luke

    “If we believe the Bible is inspired by God, then when it seems to not make sense, then we must keep working at it until it does”

    What in scripture makes us think that we can understand God? I feel like this drive to have everything make sense is one of the larger failings of the modern church. Faith by definition doesn’t make sense. The idea that we can perfectly understand an omniscient God, and have everything he put in the Bible make sense to us seems flawed.

    • Sheila Wray Gregoire

      Luke, if we think Paul is saying, “women can’t teach men,” but then in another place women praises a woman who teaches a man, the proper response is not to say, “I guess I’ll never understand faith, so I’ll just go along with what my pastor is telling me and keep holding women down!” The proper response is to say, “could it be that I’m interpreting something wrong?”

      This matters. Don’t obscure the issue, please.

      • Luke

        Sorry, with regards to the that issue I agree with you 100%.

        The wrong answer is to disregard a scripture you don’t understand. So you either have to readjust your understanding, (like you are saying)

        Or be humble enough to realize that you are not as smart as God and just because it doesn’t make sense to you doesn’t mean He cant make sense of it!

  7. Anon

    What about first Timothy chapter 3 verse one, now an overseer must be the husband of one wife? Doesn’t that illiminate female pastors? How can females be husbands?

    • Sheila Wray Gregoire

      There are many, many commentators who have written on it. Basically, it was a saying, an idiom, and most believe that you can’t limit women just based on that, because the same phrase was applied to women as well. It was more like a way of saying, “be faithful.” Again, the best place to go is to look up passages at Marg Mowczko’s site.

      Also, please note that the same restriction is given to deacons, but we know there were female deacons–like Phoebe.

    • Jen

      Just a lil thought to this. Why would they say anything about a wife needing to be the wife of one husband? Women could NOT marry more than one man, while men could have multiple wives. there would be no point in saying it because no women were marrying multiple husbands. It would be stating the obvious. However Saying the men must only have 1 wife, that was something new.


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