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I’ve not been blogging much of late, as a summer seminary class has consumed all my writing energy! Here is a recent paper I wrote on the role of women in the church in regards to teaching the Bible. I know some will have no interest in reading a paper, but it is here for anyone interested. A couple disclaimers about my paper:

The paper could only be 5 to 7 pages long – that is brief! They are trying to teach us the art of brevity – being able to step back and consider a complex issue and condense it down to the key points. So, my disclaimer is that this paper is not exhaustive and is not meant to be.  Also, the objective of the paper was specifically about women teaching the Bible – so I focused on passages more directly related to that. I am also very indebted to my bibliography. See my sources at the end. With all that said, may I present my paper:

WHAT WOMEN CAN AND CANNOT DO RELATIVE

TO TEACHING THE BIBLE

This paper will present my position on what women can and cannot do relative to teaching the Bible. First Timothy 2 contains the only explicit prohibition in the entire Bible against women teaching. A unique passage should be looked at in light of the general themes of Scripture. Therefore, besides careful analysis of the 1 Timothy passage, Genesis 1-3 and other references on the spiritual gifts and ministry of women will be considered. The view presented throughout the paper will be that qualified women should be able to teach the Bible without restriction or limitation in regards to the audience or the location/setting.

I Timothy 2:11-15

If at least half the church is universally forbidden or restricted in the ministry of teaching, it seems odd that it would be explicitly addressed in only this passage. An important rule of Bible interpretation is consideration of the original historical/cultural context. This is especially critical with the New Testament epistles. Collins states that “of all the literary genres it is the epistolary genre that is most conditioned by the coordinates of time and space, historical and relational circumstances.” [1] Roughly 50% of 1 Timothy’s content is on the topic of false teaching. There is also no other New Testament letter in which women are so frequently mentioned. Belleville summarizes: “All told, Paul’s attention to false teaching and women occupies 60% of the letter. It would therefore be foolish – not to mention misleading – to neglect considering 1 Timothy 2 against this backdrop.”[2]

The problematic behavior of some women in Ephesus (1 Tim. 5:12-15; 2 Tim. 3:6-7) sheds light on Paul’s instruction that women should learn in silent submission and not be permitted to teach (1 Tim. 2:11-12).  Specific troubling circumstances had to be addressed. Scholars have also noted that the present tense of “I do not permit” in the Greek conveys that this was advice for the current situation in Ephesus and not a universal prohibition.

Verse 11 says to let a woman learn, and it is significant for several reasons. For one, it is the one grammatical imperative in the passage. Secondly, it would have been a real bombshell, as it was counter-cultural for that time period. In Jewish tradition, only sons and husbands were to study the Law. In addition, no women were listed as students in the secular schools of Ephesus at that time.[3] Thirdly, placed in context, since women appear involved with the false teaching in Ephesus, the corrective solution would be for them to learn! Before a woman (or man for that matter) should teach, they need to be grounded in accurate doctrines of the Christian faith. It further states that women should learn in silence and submission. The Greek word translated silence refers to quietness-peace, or the opposite of disruption. This would be the culturally appropriate attitude for any serious student, whether male or female.[4]

Besides not teaching, verse 12 also states that a woman should not have authority over a man. Payne argues extensively that the Greek conjunction used to connect the phrases on teaching and authority is similar to a hendiadys where two expressions convey a single idea. An English equivalent might be the use of ‘n, such as “Don’t eat ‘n run.”  This does not prohibit either eating or running by itself, but rather leaving immediately after eating. Like-wise, verse 12 contains one prohibition, that of a woman taking self-assured teaching authority not recognized by the church.[5]  Other scholars note that the Greek word translated “have authority” is authentein and refers to a usurping or dominating authority. The word used elsewhere in the New Testament for a more positive sense of authority is exousis, yet that is not the word used here. It seems very probable that women were not being prohibited from ever teaching men, but from teaching men in a domineering or dictatorial fashion.

Verses 13 and 14 bring in Adam and Eve and remind us that Eve (not Adam) was deceived. Considering the situation in Ephesus, Eve seems a pertinent example and warning. “Eves” in the Ephesian church were causing havoc as they were deceived by false teaching. In these verses some see the restriction on women teaching (and man’s leadership role) as an authority structure rooted in creation. But is this accurate?

Genesis 1-3

Since Adam was formed before Eve (I Tim. 2:13, Gen. 2:21-22) some see this as God’s established order in creation illustrating the principle of male leadership. Yet, this is imposed on the text and is simply not there. The man and woman were created sequentially in order to demonstrate their need for each other. Genesis 2:18 says that God made a helper suitable for Adam. The Hebrew word for helper is ezer and when used elsewhere in the Old Testament it refers to the assistance that someone of strength offers to someone in need, and even refers to the help God provides his people. Hebrew has other words for helper that would denote subordination, and these are not used. The Hebrew word for suitable is knegdo and means face to face, equal to, or corresponding to. In addition, in Genesis 1:28, the creation mandate is given to man and woman together. God created man and woman as equal partners to work side by side. It is partnership by design, and not hierarchy or one ruling over the other. Beyond this, Bilezikian notes that “the creation of the woman stemmed from ontological necessities rooted in the very nature of the Godhead as a multipersonal being. Femaleness was also an aspect of the imago Dei.[6]

Because Adam was created first, some see this as evidence of the man having special status and privilege (primogeniture). Yet, there is no evidence of primogeniture until a considerable time after creation, and this is retroactively imposed on the creation account. Furthermore, the biblical norm was often not primogeniture, but God blessing or specially using those born later (Isaac, Jacob, Joseph, David). Because God went to Adam first after the Fall, some see this as proof that Adam was in charge of Eve. Yet, God addressed Adam as an individual, and then God went to Eve separately and questioned her as an individual. God did not hold Adam accountable for what they did, but for what he did. Eve did not need a spokesman, and it seems clear that they were treated as separate moral agents.

Furthermore, if Adam was already the authoritative leader in Genesis 1-2, then the judgment on Eve after the Fall of “he will rule over you” would have been pointless, since it would have brought no change in status. The clear implication of conferring rulership to Adam after the Fall is that he was not Eve’s ruler prior to the Fall! While man indeed emerges as ruler in Genesis 3, this is the sad result of their sin and their ensuing judgments. It is certainly not an ideal to be followed or emulated. In Christ, men and women are to move beyond the curse and be an example of relationships that have been redeemed.

Spiritual Gifts and Women

When the Spirit fell at Pentecost, Luke quotes Joel which emphasizes the inclusive nature of the Spirit falling on both men and women. It was an equal opportunity event. First Corinthians 12:11 emphasizes that the Spirit is free to bestow gifts on whomever he wills. In the three chapters of Paul’s epistles where the spiritual gifts are listed, there is never any distinction made between gifts for men and women. If certain gifts were strictly for men or women, it seems this would have been indicated by Paul.

Furthermore, in 1 Corinthians 14:26 and Colossians 3:16, Paul speaks of the believers coming together to teach and counsel each other, share psalms and hymns, and other gifts. Again, the language is inclusive of everyone in the church being involved in these activities. First Corinthians 11:4-5 makes it clear that women were praying and prophesying in the church.

While Galatians 3:28 is not about spiritual gifts, it reminds us of the inclusive nature of the Christian faith and its encompassing of Jew and Gentile, slave and free, men and women. Entry into the church and the giving of spiritual gifts are both without discrimination, yet some people want to limit and restrict the role of women within the church. Bilezikian notes that according to such a premise “unbelievers are encouraged to make their commitment on the basis of non-discriminatory acceptance, only to discover that once they are within the church they are faced with discriminatory distinctions.” [7]

As the early church grew, women worked right along with the men. Jesus had paved the way with his counter-cultural treatment and affirmation of women. Jewish women were generally prohibited from most religious education, yet when Mary took the position of a learner at the feet of Rabbi Jesus, he defended her right to learn. Women were among the first witnesses of the resurrection, and were sent by the risen Lord to proclaim the good news to the men. In a patriarchal society where the testimony of women carried little weight, the irony and affirmation of this was huge.

Creation has been renewed and is being renewed in Christ. Philip’s daughters prophesied. Lydia was the prime mover in getting a church started. Phoebe served as a deacon. Priscilla taught theology to Apollos. Although there is some dispute, many respected scholars believe that Junia was a female apostle (Rom.16:7). In Romans 16, Paul greets nine women. Five of the nine are referred to as co-workers and some are praised for working very hard.

Priscilla and Aquila were a dynamic duo in the early church. Particularly unusual is that Priscilla’s name is usually listed first. Even more interesting is that when this couple is referred to in a general sense (such as Acts 18:2) Aquila is first, but when specific ministry is in view Priscilla’s name is first (such as Acts 18:26; Rom.16). This suggests that Priscilla had the dominant ministry and leadership skills. Priscilla and Aquila (in that order) are greeted by Paul while they are in Ephesus (2 Tim. 4:19) which is revealing because this was the church that received special instruction restricting women as teachers.

Women had significant positions of ministry in the Old Testament as well. McKnight, using modern analogies, refers to Deborah as the president, the pope, and Rambo all bundled in one female body! Judges 4:4 states that she was leading (judging) Israel. McKnight points out that the Hebrew word shapat, although translated judge, combines the ideas of “national leadership,” “judicial decisions,” and “political military savior.” [8] Some remark that God only permitted women to lead when times were dark or Israel lacked male leadership. However, this would not be the case for Miriam or Huldah. Miriam worked along with Moses. Huldah was a prophet during the reign of good King Josiah and during the tenure of the prophets Jeremiah, Zephaniah, Nahum, and Habakkuk. When the long-lost Torah was found in the temple and King Josiah needed discernment, he chose to go to Huldah. Huldah was not chosen because no men were available, as respected male prophets were indeed on the scene in Israel.

This brief survey of spiritual gifting and women in ministry should demonstrate that at least some of these women exercised leadership, authority or were involved in teaching. They were also not exercising these gifts sequestered off from men (with only other women or children). Many were in partnership with men, and used their gifts while in the presence of men. This would be consistent with an interpretation of 1 Timothy 2:12 which is only limiting women from teaching with an inappropriate domineering or usurping attitude towards men.

Summary/Conclusion

Obscure or difficult biblical passages must be interpreted in their original historical context and in light of the teachings of Scripture as a whole. This is standard fare, yet some have difficulty applying this to the handful of passages that appear to restrict women in the church. I believe this is because patriarchal tendencies are deeply woven into the fallen nature of our world. A passage such as 1 Timothy 2 must be considered in light of themes rooted in creation, the example of Christ, general New Testament teachings on spiritual gifts, and actual scriptural examples of women in ministry. The theme of Scripture is the redemption of humankind and the reversal of the effects of the Fall through the work of Jesus Christ. The church should be a model of the new order of things as men and women serve in partnership based on their spiritual gifting and without restriction due to gender. Women along with men should be able to fully utilize a gift of teaching that has been freely bestowed on them by the Spirit.

** If this post interested you, here is the first of a 3 part series specifically on Paul’s statements on women: Harmonizing the “conflicting” verses of Paul on women.


[1] Philip B. Payne, Man and Woman, One in Christ (Grand Rapids: Zondervan, 2009), 291.

[2] Ronald W. Pierce, and others, eds. Discovering Biblical Equality (Downers Grove: IVP Academic, 2005), 207.

[3] Philip B. Payne, Man and Woman, One in Christ (Grand Rapids: Zondervan, 2009), 314.

[4] Craig S. Keener, Paul, Women & Wives (Peabody: Hendrickson Publishers, 2004), 107-108.

[5] Philip B. Payne, Man and Woman, One in Christ (Grand Rapids: Zondervan, 2009), 344-345,395-396.

[6] Gilbert Bilezikian, Beyond Sex Roles (Grand Rapids: Baker Academic, 2006), 206.

[7] Ibid., 224.

[8]  Scot McKnight, The Blue Parakeet (Grand Rapids: Zondervan, 2008), 169.

BIBLIOGRAPHY

Bilezikian, Gilbert. Beyond Sex Roles, What the Bible says about a Woman’s Place in Church and Family. Grand Rapids: Baker Academic, 2006.

George, Janet. Still Side by Side, a Concise Explanation of Biblical Equality. Minneapolis: Christians for Biblical Equality, 2009.

Johnson, Alan F., ed. How I Changed my Mind about Women in Leadership, Compelling Stories from Prominent Evangelicals. Grand Rapids: Zondervan, 2010.

Kaiser, Walter C., Jr. Correcting Caricatures: The Biblical Teaching on Women.  http://www.walterckaiserjr.com/women.html

Keener, Craig S. Paul, Women & Wives – Marriage and Women’s Ministry in the Letters of Paul. Peabody, Massachusetts: Hendrickson Publishers, 2004.

McKnight, Scot. The Blue Parakeet, Rethinking how you Read the Bible. Grand Rapids: Zondervan, 2008.

Payne, Philip B. Man and Woman, One in Christ, an Exegetical and Theological Study of Paul’s Letters. Grand Rapids: Zondervan, 2009.

Pierce, Ronald W., Rebecca Merrill Groothuis, and Gordon Fee, eds. Discovering Biblical Equality, Complementarity without Hierarchy. Downers Grove, Illinois: IVP Academic, 2005.

Scorgie, Glen G. The Journey Back to Eden, Restoring the Creator’s Design for Women and Men. Grand Rapids: Zondervan, 2005.

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