Book Review: Hearing Her Voice

John Dickson, Senior Minister in the Anglican Diocese of Sydney and Honorary Fellow of the Department of Ancient History, wrote a wonderful e-book Hearing Her Voice: A Case for Women Giving Sermons. As of the writing of this book review, this ebook is available for free at Amazon. His central contention is that I Timothy 2:11-12 has been misunderstood by interpreters, and his main argument is that the prohibition against women teaching in the Church has little to do with their ability to preach a Sunday sermon in the modern context. He opines that I Timothy 2:11-12 does not require a wholesale shift from a complementarian to an egalitarian view of women in church leadership but a right understanding of scripture.


Dickson suggests that Paul often distinguishes between teaching, prophesying, exhorting, evangelizing and reading scripture. He surveys a number of Pauline texts to show that these are distinct public speaking activities within the Church, and they are not to be conflated into one category (public speaking or preaching). Thus, there is a role for women in the Church to speak publicly, but they are not to teach. Then he makes the simplest of moves; he asks us to contemplate what teaching meant to the original author and audience rather than filling that term with our contemporary understanding.

He convincingly argues that the term teaching refers to the act of handing down the Jesus tradition/teaching through authorized men, prior to the formalization of the NT canon. The Church had a loose sense of a NT canon by the middle to late second century AD, but it would not formalize an authorized list until the end of the fourth century. So during the time after Jesus’ death in roughly 30 AD up through roughly 150 AD, the Church lived and died by the tradition handed down through authorized bishops. If you had a dispute regarding a matter of praxis and wanted to turn to Jesus’ teaching you had to consult a bishop who was steeped in the Jesus tradition or teaching, much the same way Jewish rabbis at this time would instruct their students to memorize their teaching. This act of apostolic handling and passing on of tradition is what Dickson argues is the meaning of teaching in I Timothy 2:11-12.

As a Protestant, he believes that this type of teaching is permanently deposited into the NT canon, and no person alive today teaches the Church as Paul meant in I Timothy. As such, modern preaching is more like prophesying or exhortation based upon the Jesus tradition deposited in the NT. As such, even if your church prevents women from holding the office of elder in the church based upon I Timothy 3:1, there is no reason why a women could not exhort the congregation from the pulpit using scripture, the deposit of authorized teachings from Jesus.

Having said all of that, I was left wondering if he intends to argue that all of Paul’s use of the term teach or teaching should be understood as such. For example, in I Timothy 3:1 elders must be able to teach. Does Dickson believe that an elder must posses the qualities of a teacher or does he believe that an elder must have rightly received the deposit of faith through authorized persons? If he believes the latter then how are we to exegetically tell the difference between these two interpretive possibilities. I am sure he has thought through this issue, but he did not address it in his brief ebook.

In spite of the book’s brevity, his argument is simple, satisfying and sublime. His writing is clear and non-academic. He concludes the book with a section of helpful, group discussion questions that could be used as part of a class or home study group. This quick read is more than worthy of your time.

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15 Responses to Book Review: Hearing Her Voice

  1. stlhook says:

    Just because something can be done does not follow that something should be done. Yes, I am complimentarian and happily a woman who regularly teaches women. Should I be dissatisfied that God has restricted me to half the population of the earth? Perhaps I should also be dissatisfied with other restrictions He has placed on me and find different ways to interpret those words in scripture as well.

    • I’m a bit confused with your argument. At first it seems you buy Dickson’s argument in your opening statement, but then you seem to suggest that we should prohibit women anyway without giving a reason.

      You then shift gears a bit. You asked if we should reject God’s boundaries, limits or fences upon our lives. Given that I, and I believe Dickson, accept God’s word as authoritative I would not advocate for that approach, but your question…well…it begs the question. Does God prohibit women from speaking from the pulpit? Dickson puts forth a serious and compelling argument that I could barely do justice given blog post limitations, but it does necessitate thoughtful engagement.

      Anyway, if you don’t find his argument ultimately persuasive thats fine, but using an ad hominem attacks and offering no reason for your objections to his argument are hardly fitting for the intelligent and well read women know you to be. It also does not fit the spirit of Christian charity when engaging our presumed brother in Christ, Mr. Dickson.

      So where do you find his argument lacking?

  2. It seems you make and break Dickson’s argument in our own analysis. If one has a predetermined outcome for which he wants to make an argument, points can always be invented. But what is the difference between conjecture and explicit. Do we overthrow that which is explicit explicit simply because we can make an argument?

    • Thanks for reading and chiming in Nicklas. I’m not sure if I am following what your are saying, but let me trying to respond and see where it gets us.

      Your closing questions seem to pit the “explicit” reading of the text, by which I assume you mean the traditional, conservative way of interpreting the text, against an “argument” or alternative interpretation of the text. Your question presumes that the “explicit” reading is not itself an interpreted and, at least initially, contested reading. What I mean to say is that there is no such thing as uninterpreted readings of scripture. Any English translation of scripture you read has had countless interpreted and contested decisions made for you in the process of translation. Also, any time you as a modern reader come to the modern, English translations you are also making, undoubtedly unaware, interpretive moves in your head as you read along. For example, when you read John 6 do you take Jesus’ words about eating his flesh and drinking his blood literally or metaphorically? Depending upon the context from which you read the passage, Catholic or Protestant, will deeply impact the interpretation of the passage, and that process will happen without you taking much, if any, notice of the interpretive moves you are making in your mind.

      All that to say is the traditional reading is making an argument for how we should understand the word teaching. This argument has taken place “behind the text” among scholar and “in front of the text” in your mind as a reader because you have been taught this perspective from the pulpit. So now an alternative argument has been presented by Dickson, and you are quite aware of the interpretive moves being made because my writing has put those issues before your eyes.

      It seems to me then that the question is whether Dickson’s argument better explains Paul’s use of the word teaching over and against the traditional argument. Like I said in my post I have follow up questions I’d like Dickson to explain, and I doubt, being the scholar he is, has not already anticipated questions like I have posed. I also assume he would have a reasonable, although not necessarily persuasive, response.

  3. territippins says:

    My question is, how is it possible to speak publically ( a sermon ?) but not teach those that listen? Paul also says that when one prophesieth he speaks unto men to edification, and exhortation and comfort (1 Cor. 14:3). Verse 31 of the same chapter tells us that, all may prophesy one by one that all may LEARN, and all may be comforted. It would seem to me that he prefers that teaching stay strictly in the hands of the ‘professionals’, (ultra orthodox men?) I think it is imperative that we remember that past biblical traditions had limitations which saw in part and understood in part. They also taught social injustice as part of the divine order of things. To rebel against that order was to rebel against God himself. Another part of the good news for women is thier voice (once considered filthy and shameful should now be proclaimers of the good news of the gospel, not just passive recipients of Gods good intentions. The basic fact is that women have a story to share (just like thier brothers) and I really don’t believe that at the table of God (while the brothers are allowed to express and share) that the sisters (though allowed the bread) will have to keep silent. It is sad that the church continues to fight it’s ‘holy war’ against the sisters when they are not the enemey.

  4. lamehousewife says:

    I would say that it depends on the context of “teach” since Timothy’s grandmother and mother are cited in 2 Timothy for having the faith first, which likely means they passed on the faith they received to him…through teaching.
    From what I can tell from the verse you pointed to, Paul is talking about how to have an orderly prayer life without disruptions and disputes during that prayer time since it sounds like they have had some problems with false doctrines and flagrant displays of disagreements and out of control behaviors. Indeed, I would say Paul begins by suggesting how to be respectful to women by suggesting to Timothy to tell a woman in private–if they have misunderstood a teaching or have manifested an erroneous behavior. Rather than pulling them in front of a whole congregation to say something like, “You shouldn’t being wearing that dipping V-neck in front of all these young boys! Sinner! Don’t you know what you are doing?”, he says, “No. Pull her aside in confidence and explain to her why that might not be so appropriate.” In effect, Paul is teaching them how to be gentle, orderly, and unified at the same time, helping men and women learn how to be respectful to one another as Christ taught. This was a new concept for men. Before Christ, women were on public display as scapegoats for all lust-like behaviors, but now men need to learn a new way of treating women since they are equally responsible for the problems and manifestations of lust and other sinful behaviors.
    So, now the question, can women teach? If a mother is not teaching her children the faith, it is likely children are not learning it, at least not very well. If women didn’t teach in schools, it is likely there would be far fewer people to teach. But women, like men, are susceptible to teaching their own pet theories and to becoming too proud so would need fraternal correction just like the men…in private.
    Women, unfortunately today, deny some of their greatest gifts because they do not think they have dignity unless they become a man and do things exactly like him, but that is just my opinion.
    The first part is my attempt to use the lens of the catechesis of human love from John Paul II. I am open to any needed correction:) God bless, and thank you for another thought-provoking post!

  5. dbhenreckson says:

    So if Pastor Judy preaches on a controversial biblical issue totally contrary to what her husband believes and permits his household from promoting, then I suppose Pastor Judy, in her ordained ecclesiastical position as elder / teacher, should openly disobey her husband. Now you’ve got a whole new list of verses in scripture with which you must play gymnastics. Trinitarians should not be ashamed of the concept of equal, but different in purpose. Christ (i.e. God) was submissive to the Father; therefore…

    • dbhenreckson,

      Thanks for reading and commenting. Question. Even assuming a complementarian position in the Church and home, why must a woman believe and teach other women and children in accordance with the interpretation of scripture that her husband holds?

  6. Jennifer G says:

    Thanks for posting this. As a woman, I persoanally believe that the highest offices of leadership within the church should be occupied by men. However, I have often wondered where you cross the line with women “teaching” men. I used to teach evangelism classes with both men and women present. Did I sin? If I’m in a coed Bible study and I make a point and a man happens to learn something from what I said, did I teach that man? I will have to read this book.

    BTW, I appreciate these posts that challenge us to think outside of the typical evangelical mindset. Have you guys thought about forming a live discussion group?

    • Thanks for reading and commenting. I enjoy outside of the box stuff. We all (left, right, Christian, Atheist, Evangelical, Roman Catholic) tend to live well within our own tribal walls, and we rarely allow ourselves to encounter the “other” in genuine dialogue. We prefer easy caricatures that let us off the hook, easily dismissing the “other” and make us feel safe and secure inside our tribal walls.

      I usually hold loosely to some of the opinions I write, even if I write them in strong terms. It is a habit of argumentation and a desire to put forth the best case of the “other” even if I don’t totally buy it. It forces the largely Evangelical crowd here to encounter something other than the safe caricature.

      We did a book discussion class once, mostly with students. We tend to prefer students because they are far more interested in the world than adults who think that they know the world because they mastered it in college and the world, so they think, has not changed since then. I digress. We’ve talked over a number of venues to discussing ideas with people; but no idea has taken hold. Im also not sure if there’s an audience for real thinking. We do live in America; we prefer to vegetate in front of the TV to Survivor or Jersey Shore.


  7. territippins says:


    The teaching of ESS (Eternal Subordination of the Son) which I believe to be wrong, has been applied to male and female relationships in an effort to subjugate women at every level (esp. ministries with visible leadership). Egalitarians do believe that there are gender differences. But, we do not believe that these differences demand subjugation of a woman’s gift to thier husbands whims, preferences or beliefs. Afterall, the husband is not the gift giver, if you will. By making Jesus eternally subordinate to God the Father, (for eternity, not just in the incarnation) we diminish His power and authority as God. Eternal Subordinationists are really teaching two varieties of salvation. One for men/boys with renewal and empowerment, and authority all hanging together, and another for women/girls, with renewal and empowerment severed from authority. Could you please tell me what observable ‘God given’ characteristics (list some please) that make males better leaders? Just wonderin……..

    • Territippins … Allow me to begin by simply saying that I recognize the merits of both complimentarian arguments and egalitarian arguments. And truth be told, I find the issue far more complex than both sides are typically willing to admit. So please don’t read this as a complimentarian pushing back on you. At present, I honestly would struggle to place myself firmly in either category.

      Having said that, I think you may be painting with a brush that is a bit too large for the canvas. While subordination can lead to subjugation, you have created a false equivalency. The two terms are not morally equivalent; and the former does not necessarily lead to the later. Take my children for instance. They are subordinate to my wife and I, but they are not subjugated victims. Likewise, in the workplace, I am subordinate to my boss, but I am not subjugated.

      If I’m reading you correctly, I can hear your frustration born out of experience; and I don’t want to minimize that. I simply want to encourage all of us on both sides of the issue to take care with our words, as words have power to either enlighten or distort a debate.

      Blessings to you and yours.

  8. territippins says:

    I appreciate your kind words Scott. I hope I did not sound angry in my comments as that was not my intention at all. I am firmly in the egalitarian court, and I say that with no shame at all. I asked a question above and I hope someone can give some answers, as some people do argue for women’s eternal subordination based on the ESS teaching. The equal but different concept is quite popular. But so far no one can explain what ‘special’ quality God gives to men that He doesn’t give to women where spiritual leadership is concerned. It is just a shame that some feel that being re-created in Christ, reigning with Him, and recieving gifts and callings still doesn’t equip women to preach or teach His Word.

    You say I paint with a broad brush. I would also say that male leadership or male headship (don’t like to use that word) is also given quite a lot of latitude. Each husband like each church makes boundries for women based on thier own preferences (there is really no oversight or accountablity). I am not the brightest crayon in the box but I have good vision and good hearing. I have seen the impact of hyperpatriarchal teaching on womens every day lives. That my brother, has not been a pretty picture.

    • Ryan says:

      Thanks for coming back to engage the conversation. Let me try to sort through some of the issues you’ve laid on the table. First, ontological subordinationism is a heresy of the highest order. The Son in his being or essence is not, cannot be subordinate or less than what the Father is in his being or essence. This version of subordinationism (OS) attempts to describe the ontological or immanent trinity. However, orthodoxy would confess there is a subordination in the economic trinity (the way God is known and experienced through revelation). Jesus does yield to the Father’s will in the course of salvation history, but the Son retains equality in essence with the Father. So economic subordinationism is within the orthodox realm.

      As such, it is a helpful analogy in understanding the complementarian view between men and women, agree with the position or not. Men and women are of the same essence (human), however we serve different functions or roles; and this should be a rather uncontroversial assertion whether you are egalitarian or complementarian. For example, women give birth men do not. We differ in our biological roles while retaining the essence of makes us human (imago dei). As far as I can tell, I don’t think the ground you should establish yourself upon to engage the complementarian is the ground of subordinationism, after all it is just an analogy they use, but they ground is scripture. The question is whether scripture gives sufficient and clear warrant to distinguish between men and women regarding their roles/functions within the Church. Personally, I am still processing this issue (so this is not a statement of final certitude), but I don’t think scripture is sufficiently clear in giving us the warrant to make that claim.

  9. mabel says:

    Scot, your children will not forever be subordinate to you and your wife. One day, you 2 may be subordinate to them. Roles change. Comps teach that they don’t. Women are worse than children. They can never get out of their “God ordained roles”. Who can argue with God? (sarcasm) If your boss takes guitar lessons from you, would he not follow your instructions? You see, roles change. But the Biblical Manhood and Womanhood movement tells us gender roles NEVER changes. They have corrupted the word role, and many subscribe mindlessly to that corruption.

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