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.
I had the privilege of preaching from 1 Timothy 2 on Sunday evening. It was a humbling experience because it reminded me of how little time I, and the church I serve, give to prayer and in particular prayer for the world.
Philip Graham Ryken’s Reformed Expository Commentary on 1Timothy had some challenging things to say on Paul’s charge to pray for the nations and their leaders. Here is Ryken on prayer;
Pastoral prayers ought to be large, expansive, and wide-ranging. They should include the great issues of the day and the vast nations of the world. Intercession should be made for renewal, revival, and reformation in the church. Prayer should be offered for missionaries, evangelists, and church planters. The sufferings of the persecuted church and the desperation of unsaved humanity should be brought weekly before the throne of grace.
The God who rules the world wants his peopel to pray for the world. Therefore, every church should locate itself at the center of something God is doing in the whole world.
What is of special importance in Paul’s instruction to Timothy is that the church should pray for world leaders who are NOT Christians.
The early church took this responsibility seriously. Consider how Clement of Rome prayed for the rulers and governors of the earth in the early second century: “Grant to them, Lord, health, peace, harmony and stability, that they may blamelessly adminster the government which you have given them….Lord, direct their plans according to what is good and plasing in your sight, so that by dievoutly administering in peace and gentleness the authority which you have given them they may experience your mercy.’
These world leaders, at the time of Paul’s writing to Timothy were without exception non-Christians and often hostile to Christianity. Calvin notes of the leaders at the time of Paul’s writing that they were all ‘enemies of the Gospel, persecutors of the poor Christians, murderers and wicked men.’
So by praying for the nations and the leaders of the nations we fulfil Christ’s command of Matthew 5:44
‘I tell you: Love your enemies and pray for those who persecute you, that you may be sons of your Father in heaven.’
And when we do pray in this way? We remember that ‘this is good and pleases God our Saviour. Who wants all men to be saved.’ v.3-4.
So why not recommit to prayer for the nations. Prayer in church services, in your small groups, with your family and in your own personal prayer life. Operation World is an obvious resource and now a new resouce called ‘The World Prayer Map’ provides an interactive map of the world with detailed prayer points.
That God should be pleased when we pray is reason enough to pray. That the nations need our prayers is further reason still.
The God who rules the world wants you to pray for the nations of the world.
When churches think of evangelism they usually mean running outreach events in the church, guest-services, mission weeks and explorer courses. These approaches are effective in reaching out to some people.
But are we really reaching outside the church if we think our job is done when our evangelism strategy means we put on an event in our building?
In the ambitiously titled Breaking the missional code Ed Stetzer and David Putman argue that we need new approaches to reach increasing numbers of people for whom traditional church is simply a non-starter. Our authors in this book are urging churches to act ‘among their local communities as missionaries would in a foreign land.’
How do we develop a program for evangelism that reaches our entire communities
Quite simply it begins by recognising that there are different types of non-Christians we are seeking to reach. In the book they identify four types as set out in the diagram below.
Those who are churched are either those who are currently attending our meetings (the churched/reached) or those who perhaps have a church going backgroun (the churched/unreached) and therefore could be more easily persuaded than others to come along to an event.
For the churched our structures and traditional methods probably still work. For them running church events are probably an effective strategy.
What about the other fifty percent?
The unchurched could be defined as those for whom our present structures and present approaches are never likely to work.
For them attending a church can be as intimidating, sobering, and irrelevant as it would be for many of us evangelicals to walk into a bar or club on Saturday morning at 1.00am.
We need new ideas and approaches that reach outside the church to reach the unchurched.
Why is it so hard to make the unchurched a prioirty
1. Challenge. Quite simply it takes more work in every way to reach out to people who are very different from ourselves. Like cross-cultural mission it takes more thought, more time, more prayer, more money and so on. When a busy pastor leading a busy church full of busy church activities is asked to consider more innovative and radical forms of outreach that is asking a church to step up another gear.
2. Comfort. It’s less messy, less risky, requires less skill to run something for people like us. We don’t find it easy to go outside the church with the gospel.
3. Sacrifice. For many churches reaching out in this way would have to be at the expense of other church activities because there is not the time or people-power to do both.
4. Examples. There simply aren’t many churches doing it well. At least not yet. It’s hard to be amongst the first who have to be most innovative and creative.
Stetzer and Putman are honest enough to admit that churhces that make this work a priority ‘are paying a high price. They are discovering that churches that focus on the unchurched/unreached often create a degree of discomfort among some churched/reached.’
It takes a change of mindset to get churches to consistently and with urgency ask ‘what about the other fifty percent?’ how can we reach them. That change comes through the gospel. It comes when we, like the apostle Paul, begin to say ‘I have become all things to all men so that by all possible means I might save some. I do this for the sake of the gospel‘
In a future post I want to take a look at what it might mean for a church to reach outside the church.
In an interview in the Guardian yesterday Stephen Hawking confirmed his belief that ‘There is no heaven or afterlife for broken down computers; that is a fairy story for people afraid of the dark‘
Hawking also argues that ‘Science predicts that many different kinds of universe will be spontaneously created out of nothing‘ a claim that is widely disputed within the scientific community.
For a Christian response to the idea of an uncaused universe see William Lane Craig’s Cosmological argument
An Oxford University Philosopher and atheist has written an open letter suggesting that Richard Dawkins might be running scared for refusing to debate Dr. William Lane Craig, arguably the greatest Christian apologist and debater of our time.
Dawkins has consistently refused to debate Craig even though Craig has debated just about every atheist debater out there. Why when Dawkins will debate lesser men without any hesitation does he continue to avoid Craig? It certainly looks as if he is trying to dodge a debate!
In his letter Dr Daniel Came from Worcester College writes,
“The absence of a debate with the foremost apologist for Christian theism is a glaring omission on your CV and is of course apt to be interpreted as cowardice on your part.
“I notice that, by contrast, you are happy to discuss theological matters with television and radio presenters and other intellectual heavyweights like Pastor Ted Haggard of the National Association of Evangelicals and Pastor Keenan Roberts of the Colorado Hell House.”
For the full story see the Telegraph report.
For a great expose on Dawkins His Grace has some very interesting insights.
Speakers included Mark Driscoll, Steve Timmis, Neil Powell and Jonathan Bell.
The audio is now available to download and enjoy.
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