by Andrew Bartlett and Terran Williams
On a subject this important, we are disappointed with Mike Winger’s long-awaited video on 1 Timothy 2 (Part 12 in his Women in Ministry series). His effort is prodigious but misguided. Its length is not proportional to its quality.
We are deeply concerned that so many rely on Mike’s study for their theology of women. In the two weeks since it has been posted, over 250,000 have viewed his video. Three concerns about Mike’s offering spring to mind.
Misreading others – and the Bible
Because brother Mike often misreads, he often misunderstands and (no doubt unintentionally) misrepresents what he has read. Sometimes he does this so comprehensively that he represents scholars as saying the opposite of their actual view. He sets up straw men and knocks them down.
In our published critiques at terranwilliams.com, we pointed out how he did this kind of thing in his videos (for example, in Part 4 to Lynn Cohick, Linda Belleville, Wayne Meeks, Tom Wright and Craig Keener; in Part 5, to Tom Wright and Craig Keener; in Part 8 to Ron Pierce, Elizabeth Kay and Lynn Cohick; in Part 9 to Lynn Cohick and Peter Davids; in Part 10 to Philip Payne; and in Part 11 to Gordon Fee and Philip Payne).
We wrote to him about this in March 2023 and urged him to issue public corrections, in fairness to the scholars he has misrepresented and mistakenly criticized. As far as we know, he has not done so.
We also drew attention to elementary errors in his reading of Scripture. For example, when he taught in his Part 4 video about the qualifications for elders in 1 Timothy 3, he insisted that in verses 6 and 7 the text indicates ‘he’, which is masculine, therefore elders must be men. But the word ‘he’, though included in some English versions, is not in Paul’s Greek text.
That was just one mistake among many. We documented mistakes of the following kinds in his Part 4 video concerning the ministry of women in the New Testament:
- too-superficial examination of the Bible text being interpreted,
- inadequate attention to literary and historical context,
- insufficient familiarity with New Testament Greek,
- unskilled use of Greek lexicons,
- inadequate research,
- omitting to consider important opposing arguments,
- mis-reading and misjudging what other scholars have said and written,
- flawed logic or flawed reasoning from the text,
- misapprehending the chronology of events in the New Testament, and
- unevidenced or mistaken assertions about the historical realities of life in New Testament times.
It appears that in his Part 12 video on 1 Timothy 2 Mike has continued on the same course as before, without learning from his mistakes. We have not yet had time to listen to his 11½ hours, but we can see at once from his written notes that he has misread, misunderstood and misrepresented what Andrew Bartlett has written about 1 Timothy 2.
Some things in Paul’s letters are hard to understand (2 Peter 3:16). If Mike is unsuccessful in reading and understanding accurately the writings of fellow believers, who are close to him in time and culture, and who are writing in his native English language, we wonder how his audience can rely on him to interpret correctly what the apostle Paul wrote in a different time, a different culture, and a different language.
Authenteō – a key question unanswered
One of the key debates concerning 1 Timothy 2 is what Paul meant by the very rare word authenteō in verse 12. This word is not used anywhere else in the Bible. It is extremely rare in Greek in and around Paul’s time and across all the centuries before Paul’s time. It is what Paul is not permitting a woman to do to a man. Is Paul referring to the regular exercise of legitimate authority by an elder or is he referring to some kind of action that would not be godly behavior?
For Mike’s complementarian view to be correct, Paul has to be referring to the regular exercise of legitimate authority, which (so the theory goes) would be fine if done by a qualified man but should not be done by any woman.
A key question is: why did Paul use this very rare word here in this letter?
We will explain why that question is so important.
Paul was a skilled communicator.
If you want to communicate effectively, and be understood, you don’t use a word that is extremely rare in your language, without explaining it, unless there is some special circumstance which means that you know it will ring a bell with your audience.
If Paul were talking about who should exercise authority in the church, why didn’t he use one of the regular Greek words for authority or leadership, like he does everywhere else that he mentions authority or leadership? The Louw-Nida Greek-English Lexicon for the New Testament identifies 13 words in the semantic domain “exercise authority” and 48 words in the semantic domain “rule, govern”, but authenteō is not among them. (Just to be clear, we are not suggesting that Louw-Nida is better than other lexicons; our purpose is to illustrate the oddity of using authenteō.)
If, as Mike says, Paul is referring in v12 to “church leadership, in particular, eldership functions”, then why does Paul not employ one of his own words for an elder’s function which he uses later in the same letter (proistēmi = “to preside, lead” in 5:17; or epimeleomai = “to care for” in 3:5), or the word for the elders’ responsibility to “shepherd” a church (poimainō), which we find in his speech to the Ephesian elders (Acts 20:28; see also John 21:16; 1 Peter 5:2), or even the word which the writer of Hebrews uses for the function of church leadership (hēgeomai) (Hebrews 13:7, 17, 24; see also Acts 15:22)?
Why does Paul use, instead, this very unusual word authenteō? It cries out for an explanation.
If we can understand why Paul used it, that should help us to understand it correctly.
Andrew’s book, Men and Women in Christ, devotes a section to that question, under the heading “Why does Paul use the rare word authenteō?”
In Mike’s video on 1 Timothy 2, Mike talks about the meaning of authenteō for about 4½ hours, corresponding to about 50 pages of his 122 pages of notes. The main title of his video is “ALL The Debates Over 1 Tim 2:11-15”. He claims it’s “a thorough examination”. He spends a long time on peripheral matters, such as the meanings of some other words, which Paul does not use, which are related to authenteō. Mike says how confident he is about his conclusion (0hr4m). He has Andrew’s book. But he nowhere addresses the basic question: why did Paul use this very rare word, instead of an ordinary word for authority or for an elder’s function? Mike has no answer for this question. He proceeds as if this question did not even exist.
Mike starts his Part 12 video by saying that he has spent a year of his life on making it. He promises to expose poor scholarship (0hr4m). To spend a year on trying to understand 1 Timothy 2, without paying attention to one of the basic questions that needs to be answered, suggests to us that Mike’s efforts have not been well directed.
Missing canonical context
Context is king, says Mike in his teaching notes. We agree.
One should look at the literary and historical context to get the sense of a passage. One should also read each passage in its entire canonical context. If it is found that one interpretation of a passage is at odds with the rest of Scripture, one should be open to other ways of interpreting it.
In this video, Mike makes a bold claim about his earlier videos in the same series. He says he has shown that the complementarian view is consistently taught throughout Scripture. Male-only authority should exist in churches even if 1 Timothy 2 somehow disappeared from the Bible.
But we have demonstrated in our responses that women in the early church taught and exercised spiritual authority over men—and did so, by Paul’s commissioning or commendation.
See, for example, these articles:
- Part 4: Women Leaders in the NT: part A (www.bit.ly/3JDVRiB)
- Part 4: Women Leaders in the NT: part B (www.bit.ly/3X08GXx)
- Part 5: Women Apostles (www.bit.ly/3mMssJV)
Mike has not engaged with any of our critiques.
Through the errors that we have explained in our responses, Mike misses the godly women in the NT who did precisely the actions he thinks all women should be prohibited from doing. By missing the biblical evidence for this, his interpretation of 1 Timothy 2 goes awry, too.
Much, much more can be said. We will respond to Mike’s Part 12 video more fully when we are able to. We hope to release a response in several parts. One of them will engage with Mike’s 4½ hours of teaching on whether authenteō means “to have/exercise authority”, which Mike says may be “the center of the whole debate on this passage”.
It is just so sad that Mike has spent a year of his life on making his Part 12 video, but has done so without the skills needed to do it well.
Mike has a potentially fruitful spiritual gift and ministry. He has a large platform. His readiness to critique others has given him that platform. But he is in a perilous position. He needs to learn quickly how to receive and benefit from others’ critique of his work.
Please pray for Mike. Please pray also for men and women who may miss the full joys of Christian life and ministry because of Mike’s mistaken teaching.
Meanwhile, if you are looking for a detailed video assessing some parts of Mike’s video, you could try this YouTube video, commencing from 7m:10s. We don’t know the author, and we think he goes a bit over the top in his criticisms of Mike, but his analysis is of good quality and easy to listen to.
Andrew Bartlett is based in the UK. He is the author of Men and Women in Christ: Fresh Light from the Biblical Texts (2019). He has been studying Scripture for nearly 60 years. In his day job as an international arbitrator and judge, he specializes in dispassionate analysis of texts, evidence and arguments. He has a degree in theology and has served in lay leadership in several churches.
Terran Williams is a South African pastor-teacher, with a ministry of planting and nurturing churches. He is the author of How God Sees Women: The End of Patriarchy (2022) and a number of other books.