Monday, February 18, 2008

Women! Teaching in Your Church! Call the Authorities!

When I was 17, and not very smart, I dated a girl from a Methodist church for awhile.

The "not very smart" thing had nothing to do with the girl I was dating. I just wasn't very smart. Most 17 year-old guys aren't. I'll get to that in a minute.

Anyway, some Methodist churches had women as pastors. Growing up, I had always learned that this was a big no-no in churches. So some debate ensued between this girl and I. Pretty soon I even brought her pastor into the discussion, as well as some others in my church.

Yeah, like I said. I wasn't very smart. These are not necessarily the type of discussions that go over well in a teenage romance. Nothing was resolved, and obviously it did nothing to enhance my relationship with the girl.

Fast-forward 15 years to present day. I'm still in a church that frowns upon the notion of women being in teaching positions over men. It's not talked about, of course, because Big Churches don't like to put those kinds of topics front and center, for fear of offending the masses. But the leadership of the church will have to bring it up on occasion -- for instance, if a woman wants to teach a mixed-gender Sunday School class, or lead a small group, or maybe, I don't know, lead worship on a Sunday morning.

Yes, it's fifteen years later, and I'm so much more grown up. I'm an adult. Fifteen years of additional Biblical wisdom, teaching, and counsel. Obviously I should be an expert on the issue by now.

And I have no idea where I stand. The older I get, the less sure I become of the things that I once thought I knew.

    I Timothy 2:11-15:

    A woman should learn in quietness and full submission. I do not permit a woman to teach or to have authority over a man; she must be silent. For Adam was formed first, then Eve. And Adam was not the one deceived; it was the woman who was deceived and became a sinner. But women will be saved through childbearing—if they continue in faith, love and holiness with propriety.
This is nothing if not straightforward. There doesn't seem to be a lot of wiggle room, and that's why so many mainstream churches -- such as mine -- adhere to it. But, as I said, they don't want to OFFEND anyone. It's not like most churches have a "We are men, and all women must be silent and barefoot and in the kitchen!" mentality. It's just... No one seems to be sure what else to do about it.

So we push it to the side and hope that too many people won't rock the boat.

Churches -- and when I say "churches," my knowledge is limited to the three or four I've attended in the last fifteen years -- apply the "women teaching" passages a number or ways. The mentality seems to be thus:

  • Women can't "teach" adult men in a group setting.
  • Women can teach boys, generally up until those boys are somewhere around junior high age.
  • Women can be on paid staff of churches on certain terms, as long as, again, they aren't teaching adult men. And for some odd reason, many churches (read: mine) don't like to give out titles like "Minister" or "Pastor" to the women on paid staff.
Leading worship is another topic altogether, because some mainstream churches will allow women to do this, and some won't. In my current church, I'm fairly certain that they'd never hire a woman to be the "Music Minister."

So how do people debate this whole "women-teaching" topic?

Here is one side you might find interesting. Starting on page 179, check out the chapter entitled "What Does It Mean Not To Teach or Have Authority Over Men?" This logical and well-researched argument holds that the restrictions from I Timothy 2 are permanent and authoritative for the church, in all times and places and circumstances.

And a seemingly opposing view, which is also well-written and well-researched, is here. The discussion on the I Timothy passage begins about halfway down the page.

A number of counterarguments have been made, from the culture of the first century church, to the original audience and how the Greek was used and translated. Logical, understandable arguments, that have me shaking my head and saying, "Yeah, I can see that course of reasoning." But in the back of my mind, I'm thinking, "We're still having to try awfully hard to disprove something that is written out in black and white."

Here's what I wonder: Why does Paul make these statements? Why does he, in one instance, say that in Christ there is no male nor female, yet here he gives such huge restrictions upon women? What about the different spiritual gifts that Paul talks about elsewhere? Can't women have those gifts? And what's with the "women will be saved through childbearing" in verse 15? Doesn't that contradict numerous other passages about how we will be "saved"?

Much has been written about this topic (and I'll admit I only skimmed the articles I linked above). I still don't know where I stand on the issue. The I Timothy passage seems straightforward to me -- even regrettably so -- and I'm not sure I could come up with a good, Biblical argument that perfectly refutes those verses.

Yet in the larger context of things, it just doesn't always make SENSE in my mind. In the vast majority of scripture, we tend to equate the words of the author with the words of God. But this is one of those passages where it seems to come from a very HUMAN vantage point. Granted, my understanding of God is very small, and very finite. But I still have a hard time grasping why God would tell us that.

Of course, this is the reason that Teh Interwebs was invented: So that we could debate and argue about it here.


Anonymous said...

•1) In this paragraph, is this only Paul’s personnel opinion? (Is this timeless?)
•2) Is this only for wives? (vs. 11 says, this should be dealt with in the homes)
•3) Is this only for women who interrupt? (dominate)
•4) What are the responsibilities Biblically for men and women? (b/c this text can say the only thing women do is have kids)
•5) How does this paragraph square up with this letter and the rest of the Bible?
Think about Romans 16, people he worked with and supported his ministry. Vs. 7 - Junias was always a female name in the first century. Woman named as an apostle.
Luke 8:1-3 – Joanna and Junias, may be the same two people
Phillip the evangelist had 4 preaching daughters – Acts 21
The greatest witness to Christians are men who pray globally and women who praise in unity

Anonymous said...

Uh-oh. Someone's done gone and let a GIRRL in here!

Well, I'm agin' it!

Joe B said...

This is a dizzying subject. On the one hand there are buckets of evidence that not only were women allowed to speak in church, they were allowed to speak by Paul. In fact, the scriptural and archeological evidence is strong that women also served as deacons and elders. GASP!

The only vexing thing for me is that Paul actually gives a reason why women should not teach which points to a general female unfitness: "And Adam was not deceived, but the woman being deceived was in the transgression." (1 tim 2:14)

This, for me, raises the strongest challenge in the whole bible to our understanding of the nature of scripture and of apostolic authority. When you have to do all kinds of cognitive acrobatics in order to explain how something is really consistent, even though it appears inconsistent, it's time to back up and examine whether you are asking the right questions to begin with. This is one of the few scriptural problems that makes me want to suspend the rules of logic!

Joe B said...

A great little book on the subject, if you can find a copy, is "Who Says Women Can't Teach?" by Charles Trombley. I'll bet you can guess his conclusion. But it is actually very well researched and intellectually acute and honest. Published by Logos, 1985.

scott said...

So, Joe, which questions SHOULD we be asking? Do we suspend our "rules" for this one? The New Testament examples of women in leadership are always given in response to this argument, so I wonder how the two ideas meld together -- or if they even CAN meld together. Were those women not teaching men?

The questions that Anonymous asks are worth asking... but #1 is more of a slippery slope. Anywhere personal opinion is offered in the Bible, it's pretty blatantly labelled as such (and "personal opinion" in the Bible is pretty rare, isn't it?). If we are free to label many of Paul's writings as "personal opinion," that seems to give people the ability to throw out most of the New Testament.

Joe B said...

How should I know what questions to ask? I'm as stumped as anyone!

You know, I want the bible to be utterly airtight, and I always operate on the belief that it is.

But we must remember that the reality and integrity of God does not rest upon the Bible. The virtue of the Bible rests upon the reality and integrity of God.

In short, the Word is powerful because of who said it, and because of what it says. The Bible dod not speak God into existence, after all. Question #1 may be a slippery slope, but Jesus Christ is a firm foundation.

Tony Myles said...

An interesting discussion was once had on this... I was a part of it and transcribed it - read it here.

As you'll note, the discussion is often not as valuable as knowing why you're having the discussion to begin with.

Joe B said...

We're pleased to have Tony Myles among us. Welcome, pontificatus maximus.

I'll confess I'm straining to make that connection between the winsome TJ-TM discussion and this one, except that in either case, theology is fun.

So slap me good and make me see it. Make me SEE!

Then I'll throw down a dose of postmodern perspectivalism that'll have Brian McLaren crying "Heresy!"

Bethany said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
Bethany said...

Finally Feminist by John Stackhouse is a great book on this topic. He acknowledges the other side's arguments - which is rare.

Regardless of whether Eve fell first, wasn't Christ's work to undo the damage of the fall?

Isn't it significant that Paul's writings have also been used to defend slavery? His goal was not to radically overthrow social norms, whether they were correct or not.

Are the verses descriptive or prescriptive? I've heard the word "permit" in 1 Timothy is conditional, like we get "permit"s to build houses, it was specific to their situation. And authority - isn't the role of a pastor that of a servant?

and, well... as a person who cares about where the church is headed, if I felt compelled to say something, something I'm not hearing from pastors or elders, something that desperately needs to be said, would one of you tell me to sit down? Am I limited to teaching children? Because I don't like making crafts, and I find it hard to believe that an interpretation could trump a calling.

Joe B said...

Indeed, anonymous Bethie. Which is exactly what makes so many of us look again and try to square it up. These words of Paul do not make much sense even forensically, let alone in practice.

So we look for a simple key that reconciles the "gramma" with the "pneuma".

"We serve in the new way of the pneuma, not in the old way of the gramma." (Ro 7:6)

"Those who are led by the pnuema of God, they are the sons of God." (Ro 8:14)

"It is the pneuma who gives life; the flesh profits nothing; the words that I have spoken to you are pneuma and are zoe." (Jn 6:63)

Bethany said...

I'm not anonymous, I'm Bethany!

scott said...

What I find slightly odd about so many modern-day churches is that they just find a happy medium... Women are allowed to TALK, of course, they just can't teach adult men. So, it's not like they have to be quiet (that would be archaic!). They just, you know, can't teach or have "authority" over men. Whatever that means.

Some of the commentaries I see seem to relate the "authority" part to the role of men and women in the family -- the man being the head of the household. But, some commentaries also talk about Roman laws of the day -- women could not do things that belong to man as his particular function. Such as hold public office, be judges, act in cases, or even ask questions in public assemblies. So, much of that issue seems to be particular to that time period.

But then Paul has to go on and confuse the whole issue with the "Adam was first formed, then Eve" discussion. Some of the same commentaries write some very silly things about how, by nature of being formed first, men should have pre-eminence and be able to live a more public life than women. And that argument seems like quite a stretch to me.

Oh, and hi, Bethany. She that is not anonymous.

Joe B said...

Are too, are too! Na-na-nana-na!

Anonymous said...

This is Anonymous, here. i'd like to come clea, guys. I am actualy not a random blog-surfer, I am actually your own beloved Bethany. That's right, yours truly. I...I just had to come clean.

Whew, I feel SO much better!

Anonymous said...

This is the OTHER Anonymous. The whisker-chinned, troglodite Male one. A Republican of Republican's, circumcised the 8th day.

I say it is not proper for Bethany to post comments here, since she is a (whisper) woman. Indeed, I think I can already feel myself succumbing to her womanly wiles.

Instead I think she should be allowed to comment only under a masculine pseudonym, sort of like a "doctrinal burka" to keep us all from stumbling. Perhaps the pen name Anonymus, as it has a nice, masculine, biblical sound.

scott said...

Speaking of which, this discussion would be a lot more interesting if more women were speaking up. I've always been curious about many women's opinions of this doctrine and text.

They could man-ize their names on the blog, of course. Kendrus, Peejus, Sharlus...

Mr. E said...

I also grew up the strict churches that women could only teach males up to abt. Jr. High age. They could also teach other groups of women and be on church staff, but not in a leadership role. Women could also co-teach a Bible study but they would have to "submit" to what their husband or male group leader said.

There were many women listed as being very active church members or possibly church leaders in the Bible.

I think that women in the church, just like women in marriage, would gladly submit some of their authority in regards to a male who is fullfilling his Godly role as a leader of the Church. But since many men have been neglecting their duties as leaders, some women have taken it upon themselves to step up.

Although I'm not totally oppossed to women in pastor or preacher roles, because of my upbringing, it still makes me feel a little uncomfortable. My wife does have an Aunt who is a pastor of her church (The Diciples of Christ.)

Joe B said...

Welcome to the coffeehouse, Mr E. May I offer you an espresso? (Or maybe a strawberry mocha frappucino, seeing as how you are from TX)

Bethany said...

ok - just a quick thought, but I don't know that these passages are ones we can apply moderately. Paul doesn't leave an option for a "women can do everything but be the main pastor." Either we explain away the whole passage as a culture/church specific command, or we can do what the text says. It seems to me like all or nothing. A Biblical argument cannot be made from a moderate 'women can do many things but not all' stance because the passage must either be obeyed today, or it doesn't apply.

Joe B said...

Yes, it may seems so, Bethie-Dee. Except that it is abundantly clear from Paul's own writings that women DID speak, and act, and participate, even within his own sphere of authority. And this is what we refer to as an interpretive problem. We can solve the problem by saying that these women were not women at all, but men with girls' names. Simple. Effective. Conservative. And dumb. But the alternative is either a contextual interpretation (within an opaque context), or a fallible scripture. It is no wonder that most Christians have opted for a separate peace: they just ignore the issue for lack of a clear conclusion. I tend to think that's actually a pretty good plan.
Am I whacked?

Bethany said...

no, you're not whacked. I would say that too, but I have a lot resting on the outcome of this debate.

Because we know women in the Bible did hold authority and there were prophetesses, we essentially have to conclude these passages are church-specific and can (if we do enough research) be explained away.

So now, looking at the rest of the Bible can any case at all be made for women not having an exactly equal opportunity to lead in the church?

Joe B said...

This reminds me of one of my favorite verses of scripture:
"Cretan are always liars, evil brutes, and lazy gluttons" (Titus 1:12). Here is a definitive statement that NObody will embrace as Truth, Not even Paul, nor the Cretan whom Paul was quoting.

This kind of thing does not threaten biblical inerrancy at all. But it does challenge what we mean when we talk about it.

Macca said...

Context, Context, Context. Put Paul in 1st-Century Judaism/Christianity. Paul said, "'I' do not permit...." This is his opinion, not an intended laying down of theology. I think that this lent to his cultural setting, which was oppressive to women.

I think it unlikely that Paul intended his readers to imitate him on this subject, but that is my opinion.

Mr. E said...

No strawberry fruity frappachinos here man! I'm strickly a carmal mocha Latte or Frappachino guy. But mainly I'm just a plain old coffe man.

Interesting discussions you have here. I like it. I need to visit more often.

Now my wife on the other hand trys all those new Starbucks flavors. Echh.

penguinsandladybugs said... interesting topic which I have enjoyed reading. Being a woman, and having grown up in a conservative church, I have struggled with this issue over the years. And my conclusion is much like the author's in that the older I get the more I don't know, which is different from the crud (I know I can use that word b/c I heard a preacher-man use it ) that was drilled into my head and I supposedly "knew" (at the age of 16 and 17). At any rate, I think these discussions are fun, as long as they are fun. Make sense? God has given us the Holy Spirit to move and speak within us as to how we read and interpret Scripture. He also made everything right at the cross, so us arguing to "make things right" only muddies the water (in my humble opinion). There are many hot topics like this one, which I choose to lean on grace and allow God to use all the people in my life (male and female) to minister to me. I don't see this particular issue as a salvation issue, so I consider it to be one of those things God put in our lives to exercise our brain muscles. It is good to struggle with these issues, I think. It is divisive to harp on this issue and use this issue to hurt others, which would include holding back those whom God calls.