Binney & Steele on Women Preachers

Craig L. Adams —  December 6, 2010

I see that Derek’s latest post is on NT Wright’s remarks on women’s roles in the Church. And, I thought a little reminder of the historic Wesleyan / Holiness position on this issue might be of interest to some people.

I know it’s a paradigm shift for a lot of people, but early Methodists and the leaders of the 19th Century revival movement, while strongly committed to the Scriptures as the infallible Word of God, were not only abolitionists (in the days when slavery was a live issue) but also encouraged the idea of women in ministry — and this, long, long before the contemporary feminist movement. To demonstrate this, I offer the following abstract from Binney’s Theological Compend written by Amos Binney and Daniel Steele and published in 1839. This text is in the public domain. Anyone who doubts that Binney was an inerrantist may check out his views on Scripture here: Divine Revelation.


This is not limited to the duties of the family or household, since she is often by nature and grace pre-eminently adapted for a wider service. Hence women were employed as prophets, that is, in the sense of public religious teachers, including the higher ministerial duties, as appears from the rank next after apostles . 1 Cor 12:28; Eph 4:11. Compare Acts 2:17-18; 21:9; Rom 16:1-2. So in the Old Testament. Exodus 15:20; Judges 4:4; 2 Kings 22:14; Num 11:29.

Compare also Psalm 68:11, where the true rendering is, of the women preachers there was a great host; which accords with the wish of Moses, Numbers 11:29, and of Paul, I Cor 14:5. (181. Who should govern in the decisions of the Church? What is the duty of the minority? What benefit will result? What is said of woman’s sphere? Of their service as prophets or teachers? Did Paul condemn the practice?)

Some have understood Paul as prohibiting women teaching. I Cor 14:34-35; 1 Tim 2: 11-12. But he evidently refers to such only as prayed and prophesied unvailed, as appears 1 Cor 11:5-13. Paul in this had respect simply to the usage of society, as was his custom in matters of indifference. I Cor 9:19-23. To say that his prohibition applies alike to all times and conditions of society, is to say that the prudential regulations of a degraded heathen people, eighteen hundred years ago, are universally binding, and that Christianity in this respect has wrought no change in the world it came to reform. Paul surely had a different estimate of woman service. Rom 16:1-7, 12-15. His first public discourse in Europe was at a meeting of women, and his first convert and host was a woman. Acts 16:9-15.

There is indisputable scriptural and historical proof that subordinate official position was accorded to women in the apostolic Church:- 1. The correct translation of Rom 16:1-2, shows that Phebe was a deacon of the Church and a patron of many-the original of patron being radically the same as is rendered, he that ruleth, in chap. 12:8. (182. What is said of his estimate of women? Was official position accorded to her? What is said of Phebe? What exposition of Rom. 16:1-2?) of Deacons not only minister to the sick and needy, but from Phil. 1:1, and I Tim. 3:2, 8, we infer that they preached and discharged other spiritual functions subordinate to the elders or bishops, who correspond to the pastors of modern times.

2. The rules of conduct laid down for women in I Tim 3:11, and Titus 2:3, have been referred to the deaconesses by a series of eminent commentators from Chrysostom to Alford.

3. Dr. Schaff and other scholars interpret the words, “let not a widow be taken into the number,” I Tim 5:9. Let not a widow be elected and ordained under threescore years old.

4. From Titus 2:3-4, we learn that women were employed as teachers in the direct personal application of Christian truth.

5. Pliny, a few years later, speaks of the order of deaconesses as exercising, in relation to their own sex, functions analogous to those of the deacons.

The history of the early Christian Church confirms this statement, and adds, also, that women baptized. (183. What exposition of I Tim 3:11; 5:9? Of Titus 2:3? What is said of the history of the early Church?) Signal honors are recorded of woman’s devotion to Christ and his cause. Matt 26:6-13; Mark 12:41-44; Luke 10:38-42. She was first to preach the actual advent of the promised Messiah, both to the Jews and to the Samaritans. Luke 2:36-38; John 4:28, etc.; and first to preach the risen Savior to his doubting apostles. Matt 28:7-9, 17.

“Not she, with traitorous kiss, her Savior stung; — Luke 22:47-48.

Not she denied him with unholy tongue; — Matt 26:69-75.

She, while apostles shrank, could danger brave: —Matt 26:56

Last at the cross, and earliest at his grave.” — Matt 27:55-56 28:1.

— Amos Binney & Daniel Steele, Binney’s Theological Compend (1839).

So, it seems to me that people within the Wesleyan movement have listened to scripture in a different way than those in other traditions. It was not a difference in their explicit doctrine of Scripture, but in the ways in which Scripture spoke to them. (And, that is to say: it’s hermeneutics, not exegesis per se.)

[Cross posted at: Commonplace Holiness.]

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Craig L. Adams


I used to be a United Methodist pastor. I served several small United Methodist churches from 1975 to 2010. My interests include Bible, Wesleyan Theology, science, jazz, mystery novels and Mac computers. You can find out more about me at my web site: