Preaching, Half-Truths and Straw Man Arguments

A couple of Sundays ago a Denny Burke preached on 1 Timothy 2:11-15 in a sermon entitled “Women in the Church”. He has a rather interesting understanding of verse 15 (“But women will be saved through childbearing — if they continue in faith, love and holiness with propriety”) and rests his premise in part on his understanding of current cultural issues.

Rather, I should point out that he rests his premise on his misunderstanding of cultural issues.*

Falling Over Figures Of Speech

First, we need to see how he views verse 15. The pastor acknowledges that many people in church history have considered that verse as referring to the birth of Jesus: a woman gave birth to our Savior, and this childbirth is part of salvation. The pastor, though, thinks this teaching is faulty and that Paul really did mean all women – women in every generation over the centuries – are saved through bearing children.

Then he says Paul didn’t mean just childbearing but all the things that childbearing supposedly represents, all the things that (in this pastor’s opinion) women are supposed to do to fulfill their Bible-mandated responsibilities in caring for their homes. The pastor gets there by saying that Paul is employing a figure of speech, as he explains here:

The figure of speech is called a synecdoche, and all that means is that it’s a figure of speech where the part stands for the whole. So if I tell you to come outside with me, I want you to see my new wheels, you know that I’m not asking you to come outside and look at tires, right? Come look at my new wheels means come look at my new car. …

A woman in the home (Wikimedia)

A woman in the home

I think Paul’s doing the same thing here when he’s talking about childbearing. Childbearing is the part that stands for a larger whole, and that larger whole is the point. Childbearing is a part of the woman’s wider role to care for the home.

Most readers of this blog know that I love figures of speech, and they can be found throughout the Bible (including some quite humorous ones). Understanding biblical metaphors and analogies helps us understand the meaning of Scripture itself.

But this pastor is not illuminating Scripture by his synecdoche analysis, but putting it into a straitjacket.

This pastor is forced to argue that childbearing represents more than simply  bearing children because otherwise the verse leaves out childless women, none of whom would share in the salvation spoken of in verse 15. But if the verse really means homemaking then – voila – all women can join in because even childless women can be homemakers.

It is a little bit later that we see why this forced interpretation is so important to his thesis. Regrettably, the pastor has to rely on falsehood to make the point.

He closes his sermon with six applications and in one he says:

Embrace the role God has called you to, and I mean this particularly to the ladies.

Ladies, our culture is trying to indoctrinate you with the error that motherhood and caring for the home is worthless. but don’t you believe that.

Our culture is saying motherhood and caring for the home is worthless? Has he seen the magazines at grocery checkout lines devoted to making a better home, a better meal, better children? Has he never heard of the thousands of Pinterest pages devoted to motherhood and homemaking? Does he not see the tremendous pressure our culture puts on women to be perfect in all things domestic?

Yes there are other aspects of culture that do not value homes and parenthood, but contrary to his gross overstatement our culture is complex and nuanced. When he sets up such a straw man argument as this for a sermon point it’s not only a cheap shot but also displays the weakness of his main premise.

There are more weaknesses to come.

Men Should Always Provide For Women … Unless The Woman Is  Putting the Man Through Seminary

He then says that men too should embrace their roles: their roles are to do everything they can to make sure women are homemakers. The pastor tells men it might even mean forgoing certain pursuits in order to make it possible for their wives to stay home. As he puts it, if this means the family has to “scale back” then do so but don’t pursue a lifestyle that forces women to work outside the home.

His next point shows he doesn’t really mean it.

He says there are different seasons and in some of them the woman might not be home, but out earning an income. Then he gives an example from his own marriage before he and his wife had children.

The pastor and his wife both worked while he was in seminary. A common experience, I’m sure. But didn’t he just finish telling us that men should scale back because it’s so important for the woman to be in the home? Shouldn’t this pastor have instead kept working full time to save up for seminary until he had enough money to both go to school and allow his wife to stay home?

Here’s what he really means: the Bible says men should work and women should stay home, unless the man is going to seminary and then the woman should go out and get a job to pay for things her husband would otherwise be earning money to pay for.

These inconsistencies show that his take on the passage does not stand up to scrutiny. And as we’ll soon see, his take on the passage ignores single women completely.

Women Means All Women, But Not Really Single Women

Consider what this teaching means for the single woman. The pastor said at one point (in passing) that his sermon applied to both single and married women caring for their homes, but then he proceeded to preach entirely to married women.

And that’s where his teaching falls apart.

Single women today don’t have someone out making money to allow them to stay home and take care of things there. And since these women are single I’m betting this pastor doesn’t want them to engage in childbearing either. So how does he expect them to attain the salvation spoken of in 1 timothy 2:15? He doesn’t say, and that means that contrary to his sermon title this sermon isn’t really for all “Women in the Church” but only married women whose husbands are not seminary students.

Here’s one thing that does come across loud and clear for all women in that pastor’s sermon, though. His teachings don’t ring true.


* The portion pertaining to this verse runs from about 33:00 to 45:00 on this audio link.

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70 Responses to Preaching, Half-Truths and Straw Man Arguments

  1. Ruth says:

    Tim, his teachings don’t ring, they clang, much like a broken bell. Instead of expounding on fact he rambling on inaccuracies that cause endless problems to women, yet seem to leave him clear to be saved by faith whilst women can’t be.
    I’m so glad you bring these things to the light of day and clear reason, so much wandering around in the desert of half truths, when the life-giving water of truth is available to us all…woman at the well…..
    I think this is self serving chatter passed off as a message inspired by God.
    I don’t suppose anyone told God that His Way is no longer clear and true, but open to,wiser interpretation by self appointed experts.
    I can’t believe such a poor thing has seen the light of day, or is the night?

    • Tim says:

      Not just the light of day, but in a Sunday sermon. I hope his listeners were discerning in catching his lapses in reasoned interpretation of Scripture.

  2. Ruth Perry says:

    Reblogged this on The Beautiful Kingdom Warriors and commented:
    A great article along the lines of the homemaking theme from our last post.

    • Laura says:

      Hi Tim! I missed your post on August 11th. Was checking out Ruth Perry’s blog today and saw her re-blog of it. Glad I did. As a married woman without children, things like this are so alienating and frustrating. Thanks for another worthwhile post.

      • Tim says:

        They are completely alienating, Laura. He takes one verse and makes a rule of salvation out of it without considering the rest of the Bible’s teaching on the subject. Nonsense.

    Oh, maybe it’s just the “fruit of your salvation.” I mean, different people can understand women’s roles differently, right? So, if we have different interpretations of different roles for women, then the fruit of your salvation will look different?
    So, how will we know any woman is saved? If we’re supporting the husband through school (which I did) then how clean should our house be? How often should our kids be bathed? Should we homeschool? If we’re *not* supporting our husbands through school (or unemployment, or underearning, or to get out of debt) then does the standard for homemaking and mothering go up? Will scratch-cooking be evidence of salvation? And God forbid the husband lose his job, or get a pay cut! Will that affect *his* “fruit” of salvation?

    Good night, the Phariseeical snowball just keeps rolling.

    • Tim says:

      Snowball is right, Taylor. When you first start one premise (women stay at home for salvation) then the rest piles on top and buries the whole doctrine.

  4. Jeannie says:

    Thanks for this post, Tim — the guy’s teachings just don’t stand up to scrutiny. I liked taylorjoy’s phrase above, “the Phariseeical snowball.” Trying to straitjacket either women or men into a whole lot of man-made rules that really don’t have anything to do with our life as Christians is wrong.

    • Tim says:

      So true, Jeanie. We live our life as Christian because Christ lives in us, not because we have met some pastor’s idea of what a family should or shouldn’t look like.

  5. So childbearing doesn’t actually mean childbearing? I wish that pastors like this one would admit that the Bible isn’t as clear on some things as they want tent it to be.

    • Nooooooooo! Don’t tell me I can’t take every single word at its literal face-value! Then I might have to think!!!!!!!!

    • My husband and I had a discussion about this recently, and we were bemoaning the fact that people will either label you “liberal” or “literal”, with nothing in between, depending on how you read certain passages. My thoughtful, analytical husband was quiet for a moment, then said, “We don’t need a literal, or liberal reading; we need a *literate* reading.”
      ❤ Yeah. Love him.

    • Tim says:

      Exactly, Justin. Some passages are hard and this type of enforced simplification just to meet an agenda (women stay home … unless you’re putting your husbands through school) doesn’t help the listeners of his sermon to grow in their knowledge of the word of God. Instead, as Peter wrote of Paul’s teachings: “His letters contain some things that are hard to understand, which ignorant and unstable people distort, as they do the other Scriptures, to their own destruction.” (2 Peter 3:16.)

      • That’s a heck of an agenda to draw, considering complementarians aren’t united on what this verse means. I suspect it’s more about importing an interpretation into Scripture as opposed to drawing one out (even though people don’t realize they’re doing it).

  6. nmcdonal says:

    I don’t think this passage makes anyone happy. I’ve never read the Mary interpretation…I’ve heard egalitarian professors say it was a later textual variant (there’s not any proof that), but never the virgin birth interpretation. Could you explain how the virgin birth interpretation works? Are “women” still taken as plural? Why is the virgin birth only specific to women? Who in church history has taken that position?

    • Tim says:

      Denny Burk didn’t cite his sources for that in the linked sermon, but he’s not the first person I’ve heard say that some people posit the virgin birth as the point of that verse.

  7. EricaM says:

    I’ve yet to hear any discussion on this Scripture, but it doesn’t surprise me that someone would go straight for the “that means you gotta clean things, ladies!” interpretation. And you’re right about our culture-it does expect perfection from women, not only in homemaking but in *everything*. It’s nice to keep things fairly orderly, but expecting one person to devote their life to ensuring the house looks pristine (especially with kids around!) is ridiculous. (I wonder if he would have looked askance at Lydia tent-making or if it was “okay” since her husband was involved too?)

    Besides, guys need to learn basic cleaning skills too. Lest they pour dish soap into the dishwasher like my brother did that one time. Wacky fun!

    • Tim says:

      My dad insisted that all us kids learn how to wash dishes, sew on a button, mow the lawn, cook a meal, etc. There was no women’s work and men’s work. It was all just work that needed doing.

  8. karen d says:

    Tim, this piece made me laugh all the way through … mincemeat comes to mind. This is particular: “Here’s what he really means: the Bible says men should work and women should stay home, unless the man is going to seminary and then the woman should go out and get a job to pay for things her husband would otherwise be earning money to pay for.” I’m going out on a limb and saying, “Here’s what he really means: God made women to orbit men — their lives only count for anything inasmuch as they make support a man so he can have the life he wants. Even single women can bend over backwards to support the men in their life. This is how they can please God, and women are the only ones on the planet who need to earn their salvation. As always, I am an excellent example of The Way Life Should Be! I wanted to go to seminary to be important and pontificate about The Way Life Should Be, so my wife paid our bills for a while. Now I want to be The Man in my house, be in charge, make all the decisions, feel powerful and important there too, so my wife needs to let me do that. Because Paul.”

    Burk used to make me angry. Now he just makes me laugh. Poor guy needs to live in the real world for a bit — his pastoral ministry would benefit greatly.

  9. Laura Droege says:

    This is a really bizarre teaching, and what’s scary is that so many people will take his word for it without examining the whole of The Word. Too many people don’t know how to read the Bible in a literate, thoughtful manner. As Christians, it’s our responsibility to do that. But many, many people sit on church pews and swallow whatever the preacher says without thinking about the implications.

    Or (worse), they apply the principles in the worst possible ways. (“Hey, wife, you’ve got to quit your job ASAP because the preacher said so! What? You like your job and we need the money and you’re a U.S. ambassador and are in the middle of negotiations with terrorists? Too bad. Give your two week notice today, hon.”)

    Or (possibly even worse), they judge other people for not applying the principles. (“That guy can’t be a real Christian. He lets his wife work outside the home! And he helps with the housework and the kids and the laundry. That heathen!”)

    • Tim says:

      Thanks, Laura. Your take on where this leads squares with my experience, too. I’ve actually read people who say that when a husband does housework the home is defiled. Sheesh.

  10. Aw, c’mon, Tim. Obviously women should stay home with Daddy until Mr. Right comes and Daddy can give her away to him. And if a woman gets to the age that she has no Dad and no Mr. Right … well, let’s just burn them at the stake as witches. Can’t have any independent, powerful women around, now can we?

    But… but… what about a woman who’s husband’s health incapacitates him from working? Drat!

    • Tim says:

      He actually discusses those situations, saying that in that case the woman can work outside the home. But if the husband is capable of working, he says the woman’s place is in the home. How that squares up with his wife putting him through seminary is still a mystery.

      And while he says this verse applies to all women, he never explains how it applies to non-married women. His agenda appears to be to teach married women to be subordinate to husbands, not to teach all people how to grow in Christ.

      • How easily we get legalistic when we take our focus off of growing in Christ.

        I find myself being legalistic with my children: “Do this. Don’t do that. Do it this way!” Recently I received the reply, “You tell me not to be annoyed, but you don’t give me any tips for not being annoyed.” Ouch.

        • Tim says:

          You’ll certainly become a better preacherparent with kids like that!

        • I think she began her lawyer training when she learned to talk! Children are a blessing from the Lord; they teach me to say, “I was wrong. I am sorry. Please forgive me.” They teach me to lead by example and not solely by decree. Have I ever mentioned that I’m pretty sure God looked down at me and thought, “That woman really needs to grow up. Let’s give her some children!” For certainly God has matured me in many ways through motherhood. My salvation was already secure before giving birth, but He has certainly been honing my character through parenthood. He might even give us a glimpse of what it’s like for Him to be our Father:

        • Tim says:

          I love your insights in that link, Ellen. Pure gold. For a post about poop, that is.

  11. nomoreperfect says:

    “I *think* Paul’s doing the same thing here when he’s talking about childbearing.” (emphasis mine)

    That word “think” says it all, doesn’t it? When we think about issues, we bring in our various backgrounds, experiences, etc. So, knowing what we know of how Burke thinks of women, then naturally his “thinking” on this will be skewed towards his viewpoint, no matter how ridiculously far he needs to stretch to make it. That is not “Biblical”, it is “Burkical.”

    • Tim says:

      When we say “I think” it can be a valuable tool for letting people know we are interpreting and not proclaiming. But when it leads to agenda driven illogical results we also see that “I think” is really code for “I want it to be this way.”

      • nomoreperfect says:

        I agree, which is why it is dangerous in this instance to use in a sermon without the qualifier “now you may come to a different conclusion. . . and that is okay.”

  12. Alexandra says:

    The only thing I could think while I was reading this article was, “what?”
    “Wait, what.”
    “Seriously, whaaaat?”

    I suppose women who are unable to physically have children will never know the bliss of Heaven.

  13. Oh geez. I suppose if I died tonight and saw Jesus, He wouldn’t care that I confessed Him as God and tried to follow Him. He’d just care that I put my efforts into graduate school as opposed to cooking, and that I don’t know if I want children.
    Okay, sarcasm ended.
    In all seriousness: isn’t the pastor adding to the gospel here? And didn’t someone, somewhere in the Bible have pretty strong words to say about that? That’s kind of concerning. I don’t doubt his sincere intentions, but doesn’t excuse muddling Jesus (or sexism).

    • Tim says:

      I think this is definitely adding to the gospel, Elizabeth. It’s like I put in a reply above, this pastor is doing what Peter warned about when it comes to learning from Paul: “His letters contain some things that are hard to understand, which ignorant and unstable people distort, as they do the other Scriptures, to their own destruction.” (2 Peter 3:16.)

  14. Maureen says:

    Awesome. The death and resurrection of the the Son of God was not enough for salvation.
    We must add to that childbearing, working hard and …. what was that … raising the kids in a clean home?

    • Tim says:

      And if you don’t have kids, apparently dedicating yourself to housekeeping is still mandatory under his take on that verse.

      • Maureen says:

        my Single-but-not-for-long-adult-daughter took care of that by hiring a housekeeper. She could do that because she makes a good salary for department development. But I’ll let her know as soon as she’s married that she now has to bear children to correct this problem.

    • Ruth says:

      Oh dear, I’m undone! My house is not dirty, but far from perfectly tidy, and I’m teaching part time without my man being in seminary, and my male family members do housework!
      Oh, wait, I’ve had kids…saved by the babies….what twaddle he writes. Having just read the ‘sermon’ again, I felt a wonderful sense of empowerment that God has me where I believe He wants me to be.
      I have posted before about my weird but satisfying life with my family, and this fellow makes think about how glad i am to be in this, my home, as I go around doing things that I know would get up his nose, and on his wick.
      But seriously, a very sad, deluded, but in the end, dangerous man of uncertain beliefs.

  15. Rev. Carlene Appel says:

    Oh I’m sooo glad that the only approval I’ve ever needed and the only approval that counts for anything at all came from the One who called me in the first place to preach (oh my!!!) go to seminary (hunhhhhh!!!!) get ordained (“Elizabeth! I’m comin’ to join ya honey!) pastor a church (egads!!!) and pastor in hospital AND for 7 years now hospice (Achhh–the guy’s sermon is caving in!!!!). GOD, He’s sooo radical—Gotta love him!!!! ;-D

    • Tim says:

      Our radical God is truly loveable as well as worthy to be praised as our Almighty Lord, Carlene!

      (Love the Sanford and Son allusion too.)

  16. Ruth says:

    Home sick today, wandered through my untidy house thinking…oh my what a mess….until I got to the couch and realized I am a bigger mess than the house. So, on the couch I am, doing nothing wifely, and nursing a dreadful headache. Thank goodness for your blog Tim. Inspiration, fascination and food for thought. Thankyou, always a good place to be. 🙂

  17. celestebella says:

    What does the verse really mean?

  18. Don Johnson says:

    Burkical, not Biblical, what a hoot!

    It seems clear to me that this is a great example of Denny wearing blue colored glasses and seeing things that are just not there. He knows the model he wants to (force) fit the text to conform to, so he makes it fit, like a Procrustean bed.

    • Tim says:

      The text really doesn’t fit, so he stretches here and chops off there and pretends it still looks the same as when he started, only clearer.

  19. I enjoyed this post. I wanted to give a little input as to what happens to single women in these groups. I used to be a part of the stay-at-home daughter movement. It’s similar to being a stay at home wife only you are not married. It is theology similar to what this man promotes that makes rejecting a career and many times even rejecting higher education seem idealistic for many women.

    Lots of comps. would reject stay-at-home daughterhood but if you follow their logic all the way through that is where it leads.

    • Tim says:

      Good point, Ashley. Thanks for adding your unique insight on where this type of teaching leads. It’s a legalistic system, even if they plead grace.

  20. Deborah says:

    His rationale is despicable. I don’t know if he realizes it or not, but the implications of his statements and irresponsible exegesis are that women have no worth or value if they’re not on their backs (a prerequisite for all childbearing). Makes me sick.

  21. Thanks for this post, Tim! To your fine arguments I would add that the Bible calls both men and women to go through childbirth — each one of us brings forth Jesus in our lives, as Paul says when he calls the Galatians “my little children, for whom I am again in the anguish of childbirth until Christ is formed in you!” (Galatians 4:19). Paul describes himself as going through childbirth, and the Galatians are, too — Christ is being formed in them! We are all mothers. It doesn’t make us womanly, it makes us bearers of Christ to the world around us.

    • Tim says:

      That is a wonderful insight, Lisa. Paul was not afraid to apply figures of speech that put himself and all God’s people in the role of the woman in a metaphor like going through childbirth.

  22. Marg says:

    Some of these inconsistencies (e.g. Men Should Always Provide For Women … Unless The Women Is Putting the Man Though Seminary) would be hilarious if it wasn’t for the fact that these illogical rules hurt men and women and marriages, and stifle the mission of the church.

    I spent some time in the library of one of our biggest Bible colleges at the end of last year, and read everything I could get my hands on that addressed 1 Timothy 2:15. It was at that time I came across the “synecdoche” interpretation.

    “Paul employed the term ‘childbirth’ as a synecdoche for that part of the woman’s work describes the whole. Paul’s words are a reminder that a woman’s deepest satisfaction comes from her accomplishments in a Christian home. Paul was teaching that women prove the reality of their salvation when they become model wives and mothers whose good deeds include marriage and raising children (1 Tim. 5:11, 14).”
    Thomas D. Lea and Hayne P. Griffin, 1, 2 Timothy, Titus (The American Commentary, Volume 32) (Nashville: Broadman Press, 1992)102.

    What a load of rubbish!

  23. I have published on the Mormon church’s attempts to deal with women’s roles ( Mormon leaders spent a lot of time trying to justify traditional gender norms (with providing father, stay-at-home mother, and several children) from the scriptures. They couldn’t do it, so had to write their own “Proclamation on the Family,” which lays it all out in precise detail. This gentleman is having the same trouble that the Mormons did. The Bible simply does not prescribe traditional sex roles.

    Re: 1 Tim 2: I am with Empower International (, which works a lot in Africa. We Americans are pretty far from the context of traditional religions, but African Christians confront traditional cultural beliefs and the local gods everyday. The people to whom Paul wrote were immersed in such traditional religions, no doubt came from such religions themselves, and further, lived in Ephesus, the capital of worship of Artemis, the goddess of childbirth. Childbirth was a horribly dangerous event, killing and crippling a frighteningly large percentage of those undergoing it. Even Christian women in such contexts are/were tempted to make a sacrifice to the local god on the eve of childbirth. My interpretation of 1 Tim 2: Paul was discussing with Timothy how to deal with a member of the congregation who was teaching some odd or syncretistic doctrine relating to childbearing (1 Tim 2 reads, “I am not permitting the woman to teach…..” not “I am not permitting women”). We will probably never know exactly what the argument was about, but I think that Paul was urging Timothy to assure the woman (again, the pronoun is singular: “she will be saved”) that she did not need to go back to the old religion, with its curses and charms.

  24. I mostly clicked on this because I’m a woman working full time to put her husband through seminary. 🙂

  25. Connie Reagan says:

    I was taught that verse refers to the paganism the women were saved out of, where they used to believe it was Artemis (I think, I get my pagan idols confused sometimes) that supposedly kept pagan women safe thru childbirth.

    In other words, look at the context of the scripture to the people Paul was talking to….

    • Tim says:

      It had everything to do with the Artemis temple’s false teaching on their notion of salvation and serving their goddess. The cult’s influence reached Crete quite strongly from what I’ve read, which is why Paul gave similar cautions and instructions to Timothy and Titus.

  26. Women tend to live longer than men statistically and we widows are given special attention in Scripture especially if they do not have family in later years. But really the church needs to be there for all its members, especially if there are no relatives around. See 1 Timothy 4:16. Every situation is different and calls for us to love one another as Christ has loved us.

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