Learning to thrive in the new life Jesus offers us – 2 Corinthians 5:16-17

Qualified for every good work (2 Timothy 3:16-17)

Who is qualified for every good work (2 Timothy 3:16-17)?

Many Christians acknowledge that spiritual gifts are given to both men and to women, and that these gifts are vital requirements and qualifications for ministry. Many Christians also acknowledge that Christian leaders need to be respectable people who meet certain moral standards and qualifications (cf. 1 Tim 3:1-6; Tit. 1:6-8). But still further qualifications are required for those who want to be equipped for “every good work”, as Paul put it (i.e. good and noble work without constraints or artificial limits).

2 Timothy 3:16-17 speaks about one such qualification for ministry. Here’s my paraphrase:

All scripture is divinely inspired and invaluable for teaching doctrine, for refuting error, for correcting fault, for training in justice (or righteousness), so that the man or woman of God may be fully qualified,[1] being fully equipped for every good work. 2 Timothy 3:16-17

These verses show that a thorough knowledge of the scriptures is an important qualification for a ministry which includes a variety of “good works”. What struck me, however, is that these verses, like other New Testament verses about ministry, are not gender specific.[2]

The Man or Woman of God—2 Timothy 3:17

While Paul, no doubt, had Timothy in mind when he wrote verses 16 and 17, Paul does not address him directly. Instead, Paul speaks about “the person of God” (ho tou theou anthrōpos) in the third person. This phrase has traditionally been translated into English as “the man of God”, but it can also be translated accurately as “the person of God”. There is no real reason to think that Paul was limiting the principles in 2 Timothy 3:16-17 to Timothy alone, or only to men.

Reliable Men and Women—2 Timothy 2:2

Perhaps Paul also had in mind the people who Timothy was to train for teaching ministries. In the previous chapter Paul had written: “And the things you have heard me say in the presence of many witnesses entrust ‘to reliable people’ (pistois anthrōpois) who will also be qualified[3] to teach others” (2 Tim. 2:2). Being reliable and having a good handle on apostolic teaching are two more qualifications for Christian ministry. These two qualifications apply to both men and women.

It was the knowledge of Jewish sacred literature that had helped Timothy to find salvation in Messiah Jesus. And a knowledge of these scriptures, as well as apostolic teaching, were vital to Timothy’s current ministry. While stationed in Ephesus, Timothy was surrounded by pagan and profane influences outside the church, but also inside the church. So it was vital that he discern between good and bad teaching, between the sacred and profane.

Christians today are bombarded with a multitude of teachings, philosophies, and ideologies. Perhaps more than ever we need ministers in the church who are qualified by their thorough knowledge of the Old and New Testaments, correctly interpreted. Along with spiritual gifts and certain moral qualities, it is this knowledge of Holy Scripture that qualifies and equips a minister for “every good work”.

A Qualified Woman of God in the Ephesus

Not all Christians are convinced that the New Testament teaches that women can be ministry leaders. So what happens today if a woman ticks all the boxes as, in fact, some do? Do we ignore their knowledge of scripture, their spiritual gifts, their exemplary morality, just because they are female? Do we hinder or bar them from the good works they are qualified and equipped for? . . . that they are called to?

Paul did not ignore the women who were qualified for ministry. At the close of his letter, in his final greetings to Timothy, he sends greetings to Prisca and Aquila, and the house of Onesiphorus, in Ephesus (2 Tim. 4:19). Notably, Prisca’s name is listed first.[4]

Prisca, also known as Priscilla, was a close friend of Paul and a ministry colleague (Rom. 16:3-5). She knew the scriptures, as well as apostolic teaching and doctrine (Acts 18:26); she and her husband taught doctrine to Apollos and corrected a fault in his teaching (cf. 2 Tim. 3:16). Prisca had spiritual gifts and discernment; and, no doubt, was a respected person with high morals. Prisca was a woman of God, equipped for every good work, and she and her husband led a house church in Ephesus. Paul did not hinder Prisca or the many other godly women who were ministers in the churches he founded. He valued them and their work.

Paul wrote 2 Timothy, with all its instructions, encouragements and warnings, while Prisca was a leading minister in Ephesus. What a pity there are no surviving letters from Paul written to her.[5]


Endnotes

[1] The Greek word which I’ve translated as “fully qualified” is the adjective artios. BDAG gives the definition of artios as “pertaining to be well fitted for some function, complete, capable, proficient = able to meet all demands”.  (p. 136)
The Greek word which I’ve translated as “fully equipped” is a participle related to artios. (The participle is built on the verb exartizō.)

[2] 1 Corinthians 14:34-35 and 1 Timothy 2:12 are about curbing bad behaviour from certain women. They are not about silencing godly teaching from qualified women.

[3] The Greek word which I’ve translated as “be qualified” is the plural adjective hikanoi. The second definition BDAG gives for this adjective is “pertaining to meeting a standard, fit, appropriate, competent, qualified, able with the connotation worthy, good enough . . .” (p. 472)

[4] Paul also passes on a greeting to Timothy from a woman called Claudia (2 Tim. 4:20).

[5] There is some speculation that the New Testament letter to the Hebrews was written by Prisca.


Related Articles

At Home with Priscilla and Aquila
Did Priscilla Teach Apollos? 
Can a woman be a pastor? Yes or no?
The Means of Ministry: Gifts, Grace, Faith . . . Gender?
Paul’s Qualifications for Ministry (1 Timothy 3:1-6)
Equality and Unity in Ministry (1 Corinthians 12)

Posted January 31st, 2016 . Categories/Tags: Equality and Gender Issues, Equality in Ministry, , , , ,

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9 comments on “Qualified for every good work (2 Timothy 3:16-17)

  1. Emmy says:

    Thank you for a very interesting article, Marg. Being a month into my first serious attempt at reading the whole Bible in one year, I found a lot of encouragement in what you wrote about 2 Tim 3:16-17.

    Also, being a bit of a language geek, I enjoy comparing different Bible translations, and I’m particularly intrigued the differences in nuance between my native Swedish and English. Since you mention in your article that the original Greek isn’t gender specific, I thought you might be interested to know how the two main Swedish Bible translations handle 2 Tim 3:16-17. One uses the phrase “den som tillhör Gud”, which means “the person who belongs to God”. The other translation uses the word “gudsmänniskan”, that is, “the person (lit. ‘human’) of God”. The word is constructed in the same way as “the man of God” (Swe. “gudsmannen”) found in for example 1 Kings 13:14.

    Grace and peace.

    • Marg says:

      Thank you so much for telling me how the verses are translated in Swedish. Could it be that some of the main English translations favour tradition over accuracy?

      The English NRSV is more gender inclusive than several other English translations: “All scripture is inspired by God and is useful for teaching, for reproof, for correction, and for training in righteousness, so that everyone who belongs to God may be proficient, equipped for every good work” (2 Tim. 3:16-17). And “. . . . what you have heard from me through many witnesses entrust to faithful people who will be able to teach others as well” (2 Tim 2:2).

      The NIV 2011 and a few newer translations are also fair in their translations of these verses when compared with the NKJV, ESV, HCSB, Berean Literal Bible, and most older English translations.

      • Emmy says:

        I think your hypothesis of tradition over accuracy is probably valid, sadly. Just out of curiosity, I dug out some older Swedish Bible translations (published 1873 and 1917, respectively) and both use the gender neutral “människa” (= person, human) in both 2 Tim 2:2 and 2 Tim 3:17. Like many languages, Swedish sometimes uses a grammatical gender, mainly in Writing, which is usually masculine. Generally, this means applying a male pronoun in the singular when giving general examples or instructions, even though the situation could be practically applied to either men or women. There is, however, one curious exception and that’s when referring to humanity, or specifically the word “människa”. This can make for some interesting reading, linguistically speaking. The first example that comes to mind is Matthew 16:24,26 (my painfully literal translation): “If someone wants to follow me, he is to deny himself and take his cross and follow me […] For how does it help a human if she gains the whole world but loses her soul?”

        Also, thank you for recommending the NRSV. It’s not a translation I’m very familiar with, but I Think I’ll look into it. I like the NIV 2011’s consistent use of the singular “they”.

  2. […] An opening question might be: Does the person have an obvious, vibrant Christian faith – yes or no? Or, Does the person have a thorough and sound knowledge of Scripture – yes or no? Or, Does the person have a clear call to vocational ministry – yes or no? Gradually the focus of the questions would get narrower and more specialised to fit with the unique situation and needs of a congregation. […]

  3. […] Qualified for Every Good Work (2 Timothy 3:16-17) […]

  4. Bob Simpson says:

    Marg, thank you for this article. Can you add a comment or footnote about the meanings and translations of the words anthrōpos and anthrōpois?

    • Marg says:

      Hi Bob,

      Anthrōpos is a noun which means “human being”. It is singular, masculine, and in the nominative (or, subject) case.

      Anthrōpois is the plural of anthrōpos. It is also masculine but in the dative case. Datives often function as indirect objects in sentences. Anthrōpois can be translated as “to/for/by people”, hence pistois anthrōpois means “to reliable/faithful people” in 2 Timothy 2:2.

      Even though both nouns for “person/s” are grammatically masculine in 2 Tim. 2:2 and 2 Tim. 3:17, it does not follow that these verses are only referring to men. Grammatical gender often has no bearing on the actual sex of the person/s being spoken about.

      For example, John 3:16 is written with a masculine adjective, article and participle, which can be translated as “everyone who is believing/trusting”. This verse applies to everyone, both men and women.

      Another example about grammatical gender: I was reading about Jesus’ baptism yesterday, and it mentions “a voice from the heavens saying . . .” (Matt. 3:3) The Greek word for “voice” and the participle for “saying” are feminine. Nevertheless God has no actual gender, and neither has his voice.

  5. […] The things which you have heard from me in the presence of many witnesses, entrust these to faithful men who will be able to teach others also. 2 Timothy 2:2 (NIV 1984) (More about this verse here.) […]

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