Wednesday, February 17, 2016

Should Women be Teachers or Lead Churches?

There are Christians who are happy to allow women to speak in church, to pray or even to prophesy and preach. Why not?

'In the last days it will be, God declares, that I will pour out my Spirit upon all flesh, 

and your sons and your daughters shall prophesy, and your young men shall see visions, and your old men shall dream dreams. Acts 2:17 (NRSV) 

On the other hand, there are many who will not go so far as to allow women to become pastors, elders or to have a teaching office. Why is this? 

Of course tradition is a big factor but there is also confusion over a very strong instruction by Paul in his first letter to Timothy.

Let a woman learn in silence with full submission. I permit no woman to teach or to have authority over a man; she is to keep silent. 1 Timothy 2:11-12 (NRSV) 

Most women were not educated and if they were Gentiles, they had little or no knowledge of Scripture, so they must learn in silence and submission before they could be qualified to participate in the use of spiritual gifts. 

The key point to note here is that this is the only verse in the New Testament which forbids women from teaching or leading. 

When a directive occurs only once in the whole Bible, we must ask why it was considered relevant in that particular situation. Any universal commandment of God is always repeated in different contexts.

Many times in the Bible God gave a command to someone only once but few of us would think that this command would apply to everyone for all time.

  • Jesus told a rich young ruler to give away all his possessions. Many other people have done this and many have been blessed for it but it is not a universal law.
  • When God told a prophet to marry a prostitute, should we think this would apply to others? Of course not.
  • When Moses told the Hebrews to give him their gold and jewellery to build the tabernacle, many Christians think this is a universal law against women wearing gold or diamonds. What nonsense!
  • God told Moses to strike a rock to get water but no one today hits rocks to get water.

Why did Paul tell Timothy to restrict the teaching activities of at least some women?

Timothy was the Apostolic overseer in the important city of Ephesus. Ephesus was an unusual city dominated by a matriarchal cult centred around the worship a fertility goddess, known in Greek as Artemis and in Latin as Diana.
I permit no woman to teach or to have authority over a man; she is to keep silent. 1 Timothy 2:11-12 (NRSV) 

The Greek expression translated here is AUTHENTEIN ANDROS.

The English translation is “have authority over a man”. 
However, the translation “have authority” is doubtful. The same word is used in many Greek texts to mean “usurp authority”.

The goddess of Ephesus dominated the culture and no doubt encouraged a spirit of domineering matriarchy. 

Before his conversion Paul had been a domineering control freak. It is not hard to find texts in Paul’s writings indicating his abhorrence of bossy control and bullying by anyone in the church.

The culture in most of the Roman Empire at that time and in later centuries was the opposite of matriarchal domination. Males were assumed to be superior and were expected to rule over women. 

The church fathers in the second and following centuries wrongly interpreted this verse in the light of their own cultural bias and this bias persists in church tradition to this day.

What Paul really meant to say was that he would not allow dominant matriarchal women to control or dominate males because of the influence of their pagan past.

From this one verse in one of Paul’s letters, it would be quite unreasonable to conclude that women should never teach men or be promoted to Christian leadership.

If there are any other texts which seem to prevent women from exercising leadership or occupying a teaching office, please feel free to respectfully point these out, so we can discuss this matter in a civilised way.

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