Should women teach in the church?
Let a woman learn quietly with all submissiveness. I do not permit a woman to teach or to exercise authority over a man; rather, she is to remain quiet. – 1 Timothy 2:11-12 (ESV)
Let’s just get straight to the point. Some of you are pretty offended by these words. They sound outrageous to modern ears. For many they simply reveal the most shameful gender discrimination from someone who can only be described as a misogynist.
But as with any Bible verse it has a context and it certainly won’t help us if we take this verse out of context of the bigger story of the Bible.
We know that these verses, to be consistent with what we read elsewhere, cannot be declaring women to be second-class citizens or in any way less than men.
We know that God created men and women in his image. In Genesis chapter 1 we read;
So God created man in his own image,
in the image of God he created him;
male and female he created them.
So whatever Paul is saying in the controversial verses of 1 Timothy, Genesis 1 along with some of Paul’s own words eg 1 Cor. 11:11, Gal.3:28 demonstrate that there is something much more sophisticated than a slur on women or a desire to suppress women and relegate their role and place in the church and society.
Women are to learn
It’s remarkably easy for us to gloss over the fact that Paul says in v.11 that women are to learn at all. In many cultures, then and now, women are given little if any opportunity to learn.
Commentators point out that in orthodox Judaism of Paul’s day there was little or no place for women learning and some strands of Islam, by their refusal to offer education to girls alongside boys, demonstrate a same degradation of women even to this day.
Women are to learn but Paul does want them to lean but in quietness. The context is most likely that of a Christian meeting where the congregation is learning together. The word quietness in this context means ‘listening quietly with deference and attentiveness to the one teaching..ie not speaking out of turn and thereby interrupting the lesson.’ It is the language of respect.
We don’t know exactly what was going on in Ephesus, the church context into which Paul is writing. Was it simply that the women were distracted, or had a divided attention, or maybe they didn’t have a particularly teachable spirit? We don’t know. But it suggests a situation in which the teaching of the word was up against distraction or interruption.
There is maybe something to be learned from the story of Mary and Martha (Luke 10:38-42) in which Martha is distracted from listening to Jesus whilst Mary demonstrates the very thing that is pleasing to him, adopting the position of a disciple by humbly listening to his word.
But what about the ‘s’ word!
Whatever else Paul may be saying some of us we can’t get beyond the ‘s’ word submission.
Women according to v.12 are not to teach or have authority over men.
To call upon women to submit seems exploitative and dangerous and contrary to good sense. Does it not rob women of their dignity and value?
Well, firstly, this is not a call for all women to submit to all men. This is rather a call for the women of this church to join the majority of the men in submitting to the leadership of the church.
But even then should women submit to anybody?
The Bible’s answer is that submission is a good thing for at least two reasons.
1) All Christians submit. And every Christian by virtue of their submission to God submits to others as an expression of their commitment to God. A Christian is by definition then someone who submits. We all submit to God, we submit to the ruling authorities, whilst we are children we submit to our parents, we are to submit to our boss at work, and so on.
For different people in different stages of life and in different situations we submit in different ways.
God’s ordering in the church and the family includes the principle of submission. The relationship between a husband and a wife in Ephesians 5 and the relationship between the women of the church and male leadership (see also 1 Cor. 14:33-34) is one in which God calls for an ordering of relationships.
2) Jesus submitted. Submission is a good thing only if you think you might want to be like Jesus. For as one commentator as put it ‘he knew the beauty of submission’.
God the Father and God the Son fully God are both fully God. They are fully equal in status and yet throughout the Bible we find the Son submitting to the Father and never the Father to the Son. So even in the God-head we find the principle of order amongst equals.
We shouldn’t therefore regard it as an insult to submit to our equal if we find Jesus willing to do the very same.
Prince William and Prince Harry
In 1 Timothy 3 Paul says that male leadership is rooted in creation ‘for Adam was formed first, then Eve.’ It is not that Adam is better than Eve but perhaps jsut as the Son comes from teh Father so the woman came from teh man and they are to live out at church and in the family that ordering of relationship.
We know that Prince William will one day be King and not Prince Harry. Is it because William is better? More intelligent? More deserving? No. Just that he came first. And so it is within the church.
So should women ever teach?
Again the broader context of the Bible clearly suggests that women can and will teach as they play a full role in church life.
In Titus 2:3-5 we find that they are to teach younger women and children.
We know from Acts 2:17-18 ‘your sons and daughters will prophesy’ and 1 Cor. 11:4-5 that women prayed in the gathered church and prophesied.
We know that women were deacons in the local church from Romans 16v1.
We also find in the book of Acts that Priscilla (a woman) and Aquilla (her husband) taught Apollos together, Acts 18:26.
There were many prominent women in Jesus’ own ministry. They were his disciples and we’re told that ‘these women were helping to support them out of their own means.’
In God’s plan the first to witness the resurrection and to meet the risen Lord Jesus were women.
Peter and the other apostles took their wives with them in ministry, 1 Cor. 9:5.
But there is no evidence at all for women in either the Old Testament or the New Testament holding a teaching office.
Jesus chose to appoint men and only men to the role of Apostles and nowhere do we find Paul or the other apostles appointing women to overall leadership in the local church.
Women are not to lead the church through the preaching of God’s word and nor are most of the men.
Paul isn’t saying that all men are to teach all women, nor that all women are to submit to all men.
No all women and the vast majority of men are to submit to the (male) eldership of the church.
The kind of teaching that Paul limits to a few men here is a teaching with authority
Philip Graham Ryken writes ‘Women and men may teach on a wide variety of biblical historical, and practical subjects.’
Women can write great blogs and books. They can write Bible commentaries and teach at Bible Colleges.
But where teaching is an expression of leadership ie where it is an indicator of authority it is there that God’s order within the church is to be recognised.
How does that work out at my own church
Women exercise a teaching role that stops short of a preaching with authority role.
So women regularly teach on a variety of issues eg parenting, marriage enrichment and so on.
They teach practical seminars, lead services, administer the Lord’s supper.
The Bible does not sit comfortably in any community in the world. At some point sooner or later the bible will critique the culture in which we live. In our western world the role of women is one of those clash of culture points. It is at times like this that we need to continue to humbly listen to scripture and be ready to face the challenge of the world as we witness to the God of the Bible.
May the very situations in which we submit for the sake of God to his word and his will point us all to the Christ who chose to submit even to death and death on a cross.
What the feature on Bell reveals (alongside the cover article focusing on Bell’s book in the previous edition) is the fact that if it’s a tricky business for Christians to grapple with Bell’s new look at the reality or not of hell what we can be pretty sure of is that it’s not just challenging for the church but damaging to our witness to the world.
Here is how Time summarises (inaccurately admitedly) the debate in the book.
‘Is Hell real?..He [Bell] thinks we can’t know, because the biblical discussion of salvation (as with so much else) is contradictory. Some passages say only those who explicitly acknowledge Jesus as Lord will find eternal peace. Others claim that, in Jesus’ own words, “the gates of Hell shall not prevail’ and Jesus’ sacrifice means universal salvation.’
Now I don’t think Bell would want to use the word contradictory to describe Bible texts. He would no doubt prefer to describe texts that teach on heaven and hell as ‘in tension’ and should be left to sit alongside each other in such a way that cannot be resolved by us in this life.
But the damage is done when the world looks in and sees what appears to be an evangelical pastor prefering to talk of salvation as a mystery and the Bible as a book which does not speak clearly about heaven and hell. He goes so far as to say in interview with Time ‘I don’t take a position of certainty because of course, I don’t know how it all turns out.’
That Time includes an evangelical pastor in their top 100 most influential people in the world ought to be good news. The tragedy is that they include Bell because he is an evangelical who prefers to ask questions about final realities and to do so in a public way in the publishling of his book and tour.
The consequence of Bell’s position is, as the Time feature reveals, to leave non-Christians confused as to the message of the church and confused as to whether it’s possible to really know anything from the Bible which appears to be a book of contradictions. After all if a mega-church pastor revels in the ‘contradictions’ of the Bible and finds himself with more questions than answers why should a non-Christian looking in from the outside believe they should arrive at any answers.
Here’s a great article from the New Statesman that introduces us to 30 leading thinkers including eminent scientists and philosophers and asks for their reasons for faith in God.
In a follow-up article the author Andrew Zak Williams assesses their reasons for belief.
The figures are truly dire. While non-Christian faiths have grown stronger and the evangelical Christian churches flourish, the story in the Church of England has been one of almost continuous decline since the war.
So concludes The Independent newspaper in an article today.
It’s hardly surprising when a newspaper features another article on the tragic decline in church attendance in the UK. This time it’s the turn of The Independent to question whether there is a future for the church. The author of the article is certainly no friend of evangelicals (inside or outside the C of E) and prefers to use the disparaging language of ‘sects’ and ‘fundamentalism’ when referring to Christians who hold to the faith and beliefs of the 39 articles of the Church of England. The author recognises that evangelical Christianity is growing at a time when liberal, ‘doubting’, Christianity is emptying churches but chooses not to focus on that fact nor does he devote any time to the many evangelical parishes in the Church of England where the building is full on a Sunday.
Some of the stats are certainly questionable. The report claims that only 1.7 million, or 3 percent of the population, attend church once a month. In reality the figure is much higher. A 2007 study has the figure at 15 percent.
It’s clear that the sympathies of the author lie with a vague liberal Christianity when he writes
‘Having an established religion on the side not just of moderation, but tentativeness, gives this strand some extra strength. But it’s not the way faith is going at the moment.’
What he doesn’t seem to understand is that what he calls ‘moderation’ and precisely what the public recognise as a gospel devoid of any real substance and a spirituality that mirrors the world. If that is what people are seeking then they also recognise that there are plenty of other places able to offer it without the need to ever set foot through the doors of a church building. In the end Liberal Christianity kills everything it has ever touched.
A great short video designed to show that how we say things often matters as much as what we say.
A remarkable article in this week’s New Stateman magazine (thanks for the link, Lucy).
In which Brand attacks evangelical atheism, discusses his own faith and considers the design inherent in the universe. Well worth a look at the article in full but here’s a great quote.
There was a time when the universe did not exist, this we know. We also know that energy cannot be created or destroyed, only transformed. This means that something, not nothing, existed before the universe. We do not know what but there is wonder and intelligence enough to suggest that design may have been a component.
A few weeks ago I posted a copy of a letter I sent to the BBC regarding it’s decision to commission a three-part series entitled ‘The Bible’s buried secrets.’ Here is the BBC’s reply with my comments on their reply in italics.
Dear Mr Powell
Thanks for contacting us regarding ‘Bible’s Buried Secrets’ broadcast on BBC Two.
I understand that you felt this programme was biased against Christianity (No, I didn’t say that. I said that the BBC is biased against Christianity. My letter was a complaint that the BBC is very willing to broadcast programmes critical of the Bible and that the BBC seems willing to broadcast quite sensationalist claims about all sorts of errors in the Bible but would never broadcast programmes critical of the Qur’an), and feel there should be other similar programmes exploring other religions beliefs (that bit is right).
Whilst I appreciate your concerns, Christian programming is, and remains, the cornerstone of the BBC’s religious output (not sure how that actually addresses my concern). In addition to exploring and celebrating all the other major faiths in the UK, the BBC delivers a range of content that reflects, celebrates and debates Christiaintiy across TV and radio.
It’s simply not correct to say there are no programmes on Islam or that the BBC would not address issues about Islam. (Oh dear. It really would help everyone concerned if you had read my letter and interacted with my arguments than answer points I’m not raising.) Since the events of 9/11 there have been numerous programmes about fundamentalist Islamic terrorism, extreme beliefs of some Muslims and issues about Sharia Law. (Again that’s not my point ).
On the subject of the Qur’an (at last!) Channel 4 did address academic studies that question the conventional reading of the authenticity of the Qur’an (Well not exactly. The documentary, entitled The Quran broadcast in July 2008 was a genuinely good piece of broadcasting, but a very different one from the BBC’s on the Bible. The channel 4 documentary didn’t address the issue of the authenticity of the Qur’an as you suggest it did. Rather its focus was the issue of diverse interpretations of the book. At no point did it criticise the Qur’an or suggest in any way that it might be merely a human book full of errors in the way that the BBC’s Bible’s Buried Secrets did for the Bible.)
This programme was only transmitted two years ago and no new academic work exists to warrant another film at present (You’ve got to be joking! In my original letter I gave examples of Islamic scholars questioning the origins of the Qur’an that have not been touched by any documentary maker, ever, in the UK. So why not make the programme that no broadcaster dare make ‘The Qur’an’s buried secrets’ on how a growing number of scholars are arguing that the origins of the text of the Qur’an was from pre-existing, pre-Islamic writings.)
So there we have it. The BBC is willing to broadcast programmes about Islamic extremism, channel 4 is willing to broadcast a programme on how the Qur’an is interpreted, but if this response is anything to go by the BBC still thinks it’s a good idea to give the Bible a good kicking but not the Qur’an. I wonder why?
A few years back Greenpeace produced a leaflet that went as follows:
Planet earth is 4,600 million years old. If we condense this inconceivable time-span into an understandable concept we can liken the earth to a person of 46 years of age.
Nothing is know about the first seven years of this person’s life and whilst only scattered information exists about the middle span we know that only at the age of 42 did the earth begin to flower. Dinosaurs and the great reptiles did not appear, until one year ago, when the planet was 45. Mammals arrived only 8 months ago and in the middle of last week. Man-like apes evolved into ape-like men and at the weekend the last ice-age enveloped the earth.
Modern man has been around for four hours. During the last hour man discovered agriculture, the industrial revolution began a minute ago and during those 60 seconds of biological time modern man has made a rubbish tip of paradise
He has multiplied his numbers to plague like proportions, caused the extinction of 500 species of animals, ransacked the planet for fuels and now stands like a brutish infant gloating over his meteoric rise to ascendancy on the brink of war to end all wars.
A human life in this timespan lasts a mere 18 seconds. Let’s not waste anymore precious time.
I wonder what you would say as a Christian if a Greenpeace spokesperson knocked on your door and pushed that leaflet into your hand. As you sat down together over a herbal tea I guess that whilst you would disagree on much you would want to agree on that one statement of theirs:
‘Modern man has made a rubbish tip of paradise’. We would agree that human beings really are to blame for spoiling a good world.
Human beings cannot escape the fact that together we have exploited the creation – harmed and abused it – plundered its resources, and so on. But as we munched on our carrot cake together we would want to help our Greenpeace activist to think a little bit further – for we would want them to see that at the heart of the environmental crisis is actually a spiritual crisis.
1. Environmental crisis or spiritual crisis?
For the message of the Bible is that behind our treatment of this world lies a bigger issue – our treatment of God. This world has been made by God and belongs to God.
‘The earth is the Lord’s and everything in it.’ – Psalm 24v1
‘For every animal of the forest is mine, and the cattle on a thousand hills. I know every bird in the mountains, and the creatures of the field are mine’. – Psalm 50:10-11
If you’ve ever hired a car, maybe on holiday or something like that you know about the inspection. To ensure that you return the car in the condition you received it before you drive off you walk around the car with the clip-board inspecting it – looking for bumps, dents and scratches.
But imagine that when you come to hire a car your luck is really in – you are the first driver of a brand-new hire car – there it sits in pristine, mint condition, and you sign off the paper work.
You enjoy your holiday and a week later you return it – but as you hand the keys back you have to confess it’s not quite the car it was. You have to admit to being a bit reckless in the way you’ve driven it, a bit careless in how you parked it because the fact is that it is almost unrecognisable as the same car you drove away.
Now the damage done to the car is a real shame, and you’ve certainly spoilt the pleasure for future users by your selfish behaviour, hopefully you’ve not damaged the car beyond repair for future users. But the man at the Easycar counter will probably have a more immediate concern because the real offense is not against the car itself it is against the owner of the car. Easycar will seek some kind of recompense.
And that is the problem behind the problem. That is why the environmental crisis is really a spiritual crisis. Human beings made in the image of God were given responsibility to rule over the creation. To bring glory and honour to God by making this good world fit for purpose – to display the goodness of God as we work it under his rule.
In Genesis 2 Adam is told to work the earth and take care of it. He is to develop the world by working it and conserve the world by taking care of it. And we have failed in our duty.
So as we look at what we are doing to our world we need to remember that our problem is not so much our CO2 emissions as our S-I-N emissions. When we damage our world by harming our environment we are sinning against God.
The BIG inconvenient truth is not that we are destroying the planet but that we are demonstrating our rebellion against God and our resistance to his rule.
As we grapple with questions of climate change and what on earth is really going on we need the creator to help us interpret the creation.
Jesus said to the crowd: “When you see a cloud rising in the west, immediately you say, ‘It’s going to rain,’ and it does. And when the south wind blows, you say, ‘It’s going to be hot,’ and it is. Hypocrites! You know how to interpret the appearance of the earth and the sky. How is it that you don’t know how to interpret this present time? – Luke 12:54-56
Today across the world millions of pounds is being spent predicting weather patterns and evermore complex models are being written to try to forecast further into the future but Jesus’ warning is that it is possible to interpret the appearance of the earth and the sky and yet not know how to interpret the present time. In the Palestine of Jesus day they knew that a westerly wind meant rain was coming – as moisture from the Mediterranean sea carried by the clouds would fall on the land as rain. But southerly winds meant something different – heat from the desert was on the way and temperatures would rise. Yet without God’s word to interpret God’s world they could make no sense of Jesus.
But Jesus point is that it is possible to understand the world around you and yet miss the bigger picture – the fuller forecast. That’s why the church equipped with God’s word need to speak into the issues of our day. One church leader put it this way, – the church is ‘to understand the events of earth and seek to address them with the message of heaven’
James Lovelock and the revenge of Gaia
Lovelock is the author of The revenge of Gaia a book Andrew Marr described as ‘probably the most important book for decades’. John Gray in the Independent described it as ‘the most important book ever to be published on the environmental crisis’
Central to the book is the warning that our relationship with the world is a delicate, two-way or symbiotic relationship between humanity and the world.
It is a relationship that can work for good or ill. When we care for creation – the creation cares for us. Its systems are ideal for human flourishing and when we work with the world we are blessed by the world but when we abuse the creation we find that those very self-same systems act against us and so to speak creation pays us back in kind. But when we chop down a Continue reading »
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