John Dickson, Hearing Her Voice: A Case for Women Giving Sermons

Reviewed by Martin A. Shields

John Dickson, a senior minister in an Anglican Church in Sydney, founding Director of the Centre for Public Christianity and also a Senior Research Fellow of the Department of Ancient History, Macquarie University, has caused quite a stir in Sydney Anglican circles with the publication of a brief e-book entitled Hearing Her Voice: A Case for Women Giving Sermons (Zondervan, 2012). The role of women in the church is, at least in conservative evangelical circles, a source of ongoing contention. Many individuals and organisations have invested a great deal in their support for one particular form of complementarianism which opposes preaching by women. Certainly the quick condemnation of Dickson’s book by Mark Thompson and Peter Bolt from Moore Theological College in Sydney in blog posts shortly after its release did nothing to dispel the notion that Dickson was not going to get a fair hearing—particularly when the initial salvo failed to engage with the primary argument in Dickson’s work but nonetheless made their opposition plain.1 The issue of the role of women in the church is, at least in Sydney Anglican circles, such a hot potato subject that there is much pressure for people to conform to the approved position that it is di cult to see how anyone in the diocese can easily break ranks and support Dickson without endangering their standing in that community. The decision of the Katoomba Christian Convention to disinvite Dickson from a speaking role at their Women’s Convention and then subsequently to cancel the Convention altogether re ects something of this situation.2 What is the cause of all the turmoil? Dickson questions the connection between ‘teaching’ as used by Paul in the Pastoral Epistles and the modern sermon. If this ‘teaching’ refers to something distinct from a modern sermon, then the controversial prohibition of 1Tim 2:12 may not automatically exclude women from delivering sermons today. Dickson claims that the appropriate de nition of ‘teach’ in the Pastoral Epistles is “preserving and laying down



See:,, Numerous other reviews have appeared on blogs elsewhere. See:,

and/or consoles members of the church” (§§205–206).)חזֵה‬a description that re ected their dependence upon visions ֹ 3. the term ‘prophet’ is synonymous with ‘dreamer of dreams’ (‫ . the distinctive feature of biblical prophecy is that it is always formed around a spontaneous revelatory component. with a view to showing that the ‘teaching’ referred to in 1Tim 2:12 does not closely resemble the modern sermon which. too much has been made of the supposedly impromptu and Spirit-led character of prophecy. something which. component. exhorting. He appeals to 1Cor 14:3 to de ne prophecy: “the one who prophesies speaks to people for their upbuilding and encouragement and consolation” from which Dickson argues that “[t]his is as close to a de nition of prophecy as we nd in the New Testament. exhorting. —2— . 4. References are to the locations in the Kindle edition of the book although they are approximate. First.Martin more particularly. Veri cation of this is not di cult to nd. held to be revelatory. in the OT. evangelising. and on that basis it could be said that almost all speaking in the NT is prophetic. Deut 13 and Deut 18). and so on” (§193). when Moses o fers directions for assessing a prophet.)חֹלֵ ם חֲל&ם‬Dreams were. etc. A prophet could also be described as a ‘seer’ (‫ רֹאֶ ה‬or ‫ . he suggests. Dickson next examines ‘prophecy’ and ‘exhortation’ to demonstrate that they have a closer a nity with most modern sermons than ‘teaching’. As an example of the latter.4 Dickson’s interpretation is thus somewhat ironic given that he is keen to argue for distinctions between types of speaking in the NT! Paul’s audience in Corinth knew what prophecy was (there was no need for Paul to de ne it). encourages. exhortation in the NT. the criteria include determining if the words of the prophet come true. has more in common with prophecy and. but by what it does. This is despite Dickson’s note that “[i]n evangelical circles. Paul says it is comprehensible speech that builds. Hearing Her Voice the traditions handed on by the apostles” (§64). The faulty logic runs like this: “prophetic utterances are edifying speech. revelatory. and certainly not expository nor merely encouraging. This presumes that the prophet’s prophecy is revelatory and even precognitive (cf. teaching. (and cf. This may be true in broader evangelical circles. He begins by demonstrating that there are distinct types of speaking ministries in the NT: prophecy. therefore all edifying speech is prophetic!” This re ects an understanding of prophecy common within Sydney Anglicanism where there has long been a tendency to equate prophecy with proclamation of Jesus and to downplay the immediate. teaching. but it certainly doesn’t re ect the understanding commonly espoused among Sydney Anglicans. This is to de ne prophecy not by what it is. Shields — Review of John Dickson. Rather. and Paul in his argument in chapter 14 is not seeking to de ne it but to distinguish it from tongue speaking among those eager to have a manifestation of the Spirit.3 The e-book itself is brief and not overly technical although it is apparent that Dickson has spent considerable time working through his thesis. Furthermore. as if these two qualities are what distinguish the activity from preaching. he argues. see this discussion between Kel Richards and Philip Jensen: http://phillipjensen. does not normally take place in modern sermons.

The Ancient Synagogue: The First Thousand Years (2nd Ed. 2011) 53–74 in support of the idea that modern preaching may have some similarities to NT prophecy. 1Tim 4:13. 197..Martin A. but it is clear that Dickson’s suggestion has some support. Levine. Sages: A Socio-Historical Study of Religious Specialists in Ancient Israel (Valley Forge: Trinity. Wayne A. —3— . "The Rhetorical Form of the Hellenistic Jewish and Early Christian Sermon: A Response to Lawrence Wills. 1997) vol. 13:1–3.” in Manfred Görg and Bernhard Lang (ed. Dallas: Word. Yet although they are identi ed as prophets. Jer 23:16). the words of Agabus are clearly based on immediate information received directly by the prophet (either in some verbal form or through a vision. Showing the Spirit: A Theological Exposition of 1 Corinthians 12–14 (Homebush West: Lancer. Aune. Dickson refers to David Peterson’s article “Prophetic Preaching in the Book of Acts” in Serving God’s Words (IVP. The words are not simply an insightful exposition of an OT text or some impromptu words of encouragement!5 While Dickson is wrong here. Aune. 2003) 219.6 It should further be noted that Heb 13:22 also lends support to this idea. 15:31–32. There are a number of di culties verifying this and determining the precise nature of such a ‘sermon’. 1Sam 9:9. Shields — Review of John Dickson. “Prophetie im Alten Orient. 1983) 338. 56–58). a message that includes substantial exposition of OT Scripture. Prophets and Prophecy in the Ancient Near East (Writings from the Ancient World 12." HTR 77/3–4 (1984). The remainder of Peterson’s case follows this methodology. lxx. a case he builds from Rom 12:4–8. Marshall. 1982) 139–143. Lester Grabbe o fers the following de nition: “… the common denominator… is that the prophet is a mediator who claims to receive messages direct from a divinity. David E. 2005) 157. cf. Lawrence Wills.). Clifton Black II. Others who understand the revelatory aspect as fundamental to prophecy include D. however. 1988) 91–100. Peterson makes other connections which beg the question. Diviners. Although Dickson doesn’t note it. Lee I. given that scholars often categorise Hebrews as a homily which describes itself as “a message of exhortation” (ὁ λόγος τῆς παρακλήσεως). David E. Dickson argues that ‘exhorting’ (παρακᾰλέω/παράκλησις) is closer to contemporary preaching than διδάσκω/διδαχή. 7. such as describing Peter’s Pentecost address as “prophetic-type speech” despite Luke never using that language to describe it (p. Acts 13:15." HTR 81/1 (1988) 1–18.: University of America Press.g. 3. 59). 1991) vol 1. cf. speeches which are not so described in Acts. their speech is not identi ed as prophecy (and it is not valid to say that everything a prophet says is a prophecy). Hearing Her Voice (e. Prophecy in Early Christianity and the Ancient Mediterranean World (Grand Rapids: Eerdmans. Hebrews. Indeed.C. cf. Neues Bibel-Lexikon (3 volumes. 1. Acts 11:28. See also Martti Nissinen. de ning as in some sense prophetic. 1995) 107. "Homily" in Aune. and for which he nds some support from I. 21:10–11). William Lane. Acts 15:32. The Westminster Dictionary of the New Testament and Early Christian Literature and Rhetoric (Louisville: Westminster John Knox. "The Form of the Sermon in Hellenistic Judaism and Early Christianity. While there are not many examples of actual prophecy. Hebrews (2 vols. SBL: Atlanta. Carson. Prophets. a number of scholars have suggested that λόγος παρακλήσεως is an expression which refers to the “sermon” given in the synagogue following the Bible reading and that this was also used in early Christianity.7 It is di cult to fault the logic 5. New Haven: Yale University Press. The Gift of Prophecy in 1 Corinthians (Washington D. However. H. A. see Heb 6:2. and communicates these messages to recipients.” see Lester Grabbe. C. Manfred Weippert. Peterson’s primary evidence for this is found in only one passage. does not appear exclusively to use the narrow sense of the word ‘teach’. 2003). it is not ultimately a signi cant problem for his thesis because it does not exhaust the various speaking ministries described in the NT. which identi es Judas and Silas as prophets (pp. 6. by various means. This observation is reinforced in the NT. 280. WBC 47. Priests. Grudem. Patmos.

although this is not strictly accurate.” See Murray J.” In the second chapter Dickson moves to explain precisely what διδάσκω means in 1Tim 2:12 in order to determine what is being prohibited. B&H Publishing Group. ἐξουσιάζω) may justify the case that the ‘authority’ on view here is not simply any form of authority but some particular form. however. This. and 1 Timothy 4:13. He notes that διδάσκω is used in di ferent ways in the NT and that it does include a broad and non-speci c meaning in passages such as Col 3:16. Dickson writes (without expansion) that “[i]t is no doubt the same sort of ‘teaching’ he mentions in Romans 12:6–8. most of the conclusions Dickson reaches are sound—although it is possible to exaggerate the dependence on oral tradition (there was also a strong scribal tradition in second-temple Judaism which pre- 8. Too easily modern readers forget that translations domesticate texts with the result that we make assumptions about the meaning of words and forget that we’re dealing with words written in a foreign language to an audience in a far-o f time and culture. Hearing Her Voice in this portion of Dickson’s argument. This. is a relatively minor quibble and the overall strategy is valid and. Harris. and ‘reading’.8 Dickson identi es these terms as an instance of hendiadys (endnote 10). What is more. Shields — Review of John Dickson. 9. Mounce argues for two prohibitions.10 Thus Dickson is partially correct given that the context does provide some constraint over the referent for ‘teaching’ in the verse. I think. Dickson turns to historical considerations external to the text in order to further elucidate the referent for ‘teaching’ in the Pastoral Epistles. because the reference is to a speci c word ministry and because this verse speci cally associates the ‘teaching’ with ‘authority’. ‘prophesying’.” Note the de nition of hendiadys from Murray J.9 Thus I suspect the better understanding of the verse is that Paul is imposing two distinct. that Ephesians did the rounds of a number of churches). The question is. Colossians and Philemon (Exegetical Guide to the Greek New Testament. for example. where he distinguishes the activity from ‘exhorting’. cannot apply in 1Tim 2:12. I’m not sure how Dickson is certain that the Thessalonian and Corinthian churches had not shared copies of Paul’s letters (many scholars believe. for example. 10. 1 Corinthians 12:28–29. —4— . although probably not unrelated. Even if Dickson is wrong at this point—and I don’t think he is— the implicit association modern readers make between ‘teaching’ and sermons deserves to be questioned rather than simply assumed to be valid. Harris: “[e]xpression of a single idea through two separate words coordinated by καί (Col 1:19). is the information accurate? It is notoriously di cult to be able to precisely reconstruct historical contexts for biblical texts (although far easier for NT scholars than for OT scholars). 2010) 262.Martin A. prohibitions. clearly not the case here. This is the inherent problem with all appeals to a “plain reading. that Paul is proscribing “teaching and [other] authority” or it may qualify teaching as a form of teaching which is implicitly authoritative and so not subject to judgment. William D. as it is with all appeals to external data. Hendiadys normally occurs where the terms are separated only by a conjunction. So. however. for example. argues Dickson. the use of an unusual term for ‘authority’ (αὐθεντέω rather than. although I suspect there are not entirely unrelated—it could be. for instance.

Titus 1:9 which he expands to include some other examples from Paul’s letters (Rom 6:17. the teaching”). the teaching. Teaching terms outside the NT re ect a broad range of meanings and it is thus possible that there are more options than the two identi ed. Nonetheless. While Dickson is probably correct to say that “[t]his would be an odd way to express the relationship between Scripture and teaching if Paul believed that teaching was in fact the exposition of Scripture” (§491. and it may be that all three activities (reading. §490).Martin A. both of which then form the foundation of the exhortation. Perhaps the most di cult of these for Dickson is 1Tim 4:13 where we nd the words πρόσεχε τῇ ἀναγνώσει. Marshall comments regarding the term διδασκαλία in the Pastorals is a technical term for “the approved. 12. but claims there are good reasons not to think of ‘teaching’ here as exposition: in context. 16:17.12 This analysis leads him to conclude that “there 11. Hearing Her Voice served important writings. Dickson typically identi es two options for ‘teaching’: exposition or laying down the apostolic foundation. I think the ambiguities inherent in this verse mean that it’s di cult to be conclusive about the nal signi cance. Dickson next looks at 2Tim 3:16 which again links Scripture and teaching. exhortation arising from those Scriptures. appear to designate the word —5— . it goes beyond the text to then conclude that teaching must be equated with laying down the apostolic record. the exhortation. beginning with passages which appear to refer to the exposition of Scripture (Acts 8. Dickson notes that I. not that teaching amounts to exposition of Scripture. τῇ διδασκαλίᾳ (“give attention to the reading. Second. Shields — Review of John Dickson. however. He makes a solid case for his understanding of teaching in a number of passages including 2Tim 1:13–14. It is conceivable (at least to me) that other forms of instruction could be aided by the God-breathed Scriptures. 1Tim 4:13. If that is the case. emphasis his). In the third chapter. Dickson focuses his attention on the use of teaching language in the Pastoral Epistles. exhortation. Dickson argues that the presence of the article implies these are distinct activities: the reading of the Old Testament Scriptures. and teaching (verbally lay down the apostolic deposit entrusted to Timothy. τῇ παρακλήσει. It is di cult to see that this notion of ‘teaching’ is required in this context. it could be argued that Dickson’s case would be strengthened had the word order been altered to “give attention to the reading. 2:2. Col 2:7). the exhortation” since the reading of the OT Scripture parallels the “teaching” (using Dickson’s de nition) of the apostolic deposit. Paul is not encouraging Timothy to read Scripture publicly and then teach it publicly but rather to study Scripture personally to prepare for the various public ministry activities listed (§490). Indeed. 2Tim 3:16).11 In section 3.2. and teaching) are to be applied to the (Old Testament) Scripture. Paul says Scripture is useful for teaching. H. Marshall doesn’t. apostolic doctrine” (§562). but it is unlikely that the earliest Christians had the resources available to the Jewish scribal communities). Dickson examines uses of teaching language in the NT. He argues that where these are clear examples of exposition they are not described as ‘teaching’. ‘teaching’ here is not explicitly a reference to the laying down of the apostolic deposit.

is not equivalent to exegeting and applying.Martin A. This conclusion is hard to refute—for these passages. The term itself occurs elsewhere in Paul’s writings without this meaning (e. The specialised meaning of these terms is evident in later Christian writings as well. for teaching boys to read. and simply relaying the written information quali es as “teaching” in this narrow sense. This. 14. 15. however. speaking about ‘technical’ language with respect to ‘teaching’ overstates the case. and εὐα έλιον). in Alcibiades at least 7 times including. Eph 4:14) This impression is strengthened by Dickson’s comment in §648 where he argues that modern sermons are not examples of ‘teaching’ as he de nes it.g. but instead Timothy is simply to “relay to the churches in his care the instructions Paul has just given…” (§596).14 It should be noted. The verb διδάσκω appears thousands of times in ancient Greek literature. Consequently. From literature roughly contemporary with Paul’s writings. The verb can also be found in Aristides at least 5 times).3 (§571) examines references to teaching related to written information such as 1Tim 4:11.15 To this end. If only Paul had written something like γυναικὶ δὲ διδάσκειν τὴν διδαχὴν οὐκ ἐπιτρέπω οὐδὲ αὐθεντεῖν ἀνδρός —6— .g. Yet outside the NT words such as διδάσκω and διδασκαλία remain in common usage without the special sense Dickson identi es in Paul’s writings. In addition to the references he cites are other instances which also re ect a far broader semantic eld for the terms such as Matt 5:19. There is no sign of signi cant semantic shift away from the broad range evident in classical usage toward a narrow sense in the Greek texts I consulted. Section 3. Hearing Her Voice is no way to avoid the conclusion that ‘teaching’ throughout these passages refers to laying down for congregations the material the apostles had passed on (mostly by word-ofmouth)” (§575). except when the NT is quoted. It clearly does not convey this meaning in 1Tim 4:1 and it only conveys this meaning in passages where this meaning is clearly inferred from the context. then it is di cult to see why simply reading the Bible in the modern world doesn’t bear some similarity to the “teaching” Paul enjoins upon Timothy based upon material in the epistle!13 Dickson does concede that there are a few instances of ‘teaching’ language which do not correspond closely to his understanding (endnote 24). Acts 15:1 (both διδάσκω). This. however. and a number of other debatable occurrences. Of course most of the references to teaching in the NT relate to teaching about Jesus. a “technical term” and I think the use of this description is problematic (see further discussion above). however. Shields — Review of John Dickson. Dickson’s argument has primarily 13. that this alone does not signi cantly damage Dickson’s case if it can be shown that the context of 1Tim 2:12 requires that διδάσκω has the narrow meaning appropriate in other places in the Pastorals. it appears numerous times in Plutarch’s works (e. argues Dickson. does not mean that the semantic range of the terminology is shifted so that its unmarked meaning denotes the laying down of the apostolic deposit. If this is the case. in chapter 7. There certainly are terms in the NT which have undergone a semantic shift such that they truly have become ‘technical terms’ (the obvious ones are γραφή which always refers to Scripture in the NT. and so the data is somewhat skewed. 6:2b where Paul instructs Timothy to teach the material preserved in his epistle.

Dickson’s case would. does his interpretation not mean women should not be reading the Bible in public?). however. 16.16 This last idea is the subject of his fourth chapter. and that later in 1 Timothy this speci c type of teaching is explicitly referred to. When it comes to 1Tim 2:12. Nonetheless. Dickson also argues that a modern sermon is dissimilar to the narrow sense of ‘teaching’ he identi es in the Pastoral Epistles on the basis that “[m]odern expositors comment on the teaching. In the end. these objections do not ultimately invalidate his overall argument. a speci c ministry which does not correspond to the giving of sermons in the modern church. Many egalitarians will take issue with his interpretation at this point. Dickson concludes that Paul’s proscription excludes women from the authoritative laying down of the apostolic deposit. exhort us to heed the teaching. Dickson’s understanding of the passage largely follows standard complementarian interpretation (which itself has a number of problems) and is explained in endnote 26. for example. He has made it clear that the prohibition against women teaching in 1Tim 2:12 should not be allowed to exclude women from ever speaking in a public assembly. then Dickson’s argument would have been far stronger! Nonetheless. He bolsters this with historical contextual considerations relating to preservation of oral instruction. Dickson presents an argument that deserves considered attention. and apply the teaching to modern life… No doubt these ministries carry some ‘authority’ and should be performed by trustworthy people. that it cannot broadly apply to all forms of speaking in church (in light of 1Cor 11:4–5). —7— . There are areas where his arguments could be clari ed (why. the truthfulness of any speech in the church was judged by those entrusted with the apostolic deposit. Overall. To illustrate the point. and that modern sermons should not automatically be labelled ‘teaching’ in the sense Paul uses in 1Tim 2:12. Today such judgments are made on the basis of the written record of Scripture. Mounce (for example) agrees that διδάσκω in this verse relates to a speci c type of teaching (pp. it will take time for the rami cations of Dickson’s reading to penetrate into conservative evangelical thinking. without whom there was no reliable access to the apostolic deposit” (§680). While his understanding of prophecy is inadequate and his classi cation of ‘teaching’ language in the Pastoral Epistles as ‘technical’ language is not compelling. it is to be hoped that readers at least give his book the careful attention it deserves.Martin A. however. he notes that in the early church. 125–126). Until that happens. Shields — Review of John Dickson. but it is not the same authority that was invested in the rst-century teacher. Hearing Her Voice been that the term is constrained by its association with ‘authority’ in this verse. he is probably correct to conclude that modern sermons are closer to παρακᾰλέω than to διδάσκω and that there are no good biblical reasons not to hear more from women in the pulpit than we do. then. be strengthened with the inclusion of more exegetical detail on 1Tim 2 to show why this speci c notion of teaching is appropriate.