Friday, January 19, 2007

Response to Women in Ministry

I was having a conversation with someone the other day about the issue of women preaching. He took the line that he didn't think that women should teach men in church (which is a line I understand and respect). His conclusion from this is that if women were teaching in church (or college chapel) then he should stay away.

That got me thinking...

I guess the verse he'd cite would be 1 Timothy 2:12:

I do not permit a woman to teach or to exercise authority over a man; rather, she is to remain quiet.
1 Timothy 2:12, ESV

My thoughts – this verse is about what women should or shouldn't do rather than about what men should or shouldn't do. It doesn't say

I do not permit a man to be taught by a woman or to let a woman exercise authority over him.

In fact, what we are told is that we should submit ourselves to every authority instituted among people. So if there's a woman in authority or teaching, I really don't see that it's our place to refuse to submit to them, regardless of what we take 1 Timothy 2:12 to mean.

So what is my attitude? I think that women should obey 1 Timothy 2:12, but that's their responsibility. It's a contested verse in some ways (specifically whether it's refering to women and men or wives and husbands), but I expect women involved in “ministry” to be clear in their own minds and to have clear consciences over it.

Paul says that he doesn't allow women to do that. So I'd expect whoever is in charge of churches to be clear in their own minds and to have clear consciences over what they do or don't allow women to do in the church.

But for those who aren't in charge and who aren't women with the choice to teach or not, I'd expect us to listen to whoever preaches and weigh it in accordance with Scripture. I'd expect us to submit to whoever is in authority, provided that that authority is exercised in accordance with Scripture.

NB - there's quite a lot more discussion on this here.


Anonymous said...

I expect your conversant's line on the matter is that if he goes to hear a woman preach, he's colluding in the illicit (according to him) act, and he's implicitly giving support to her preaching.

Anonymous said...

Surely though by the very act of preaching to a man the woman is directly diobeying that which she is preaching, even considering your arguement. This has to affect her authority somewhat.

John said...

My problem with both those views is that I expect women who preach to have thought about the issues and to be clear in their own consciences.

If they are preaching to men and they think that women preaching to men is wrong, then that's obviously a problem.

If they are preaching to men who are offended by it, then it's wrong because it's offending the weaker brother. I think it's wrong for men to be offended by it though, which is what I argue in my post.

If they are women who think that preaching to men is compatible with the Bible, and they are preaching to men who are ok with it, then all they are disobeying is someone's interpretation of Scripture, not Scripture itself.

So ds - I think your example would probably be one person judging someone else's conscience.

And anonymous - you seem to confuse what someone thinks the Bible says with what it actually says. There's a gap between the two, it's called interpretation. And in this case, it's contested.

Anonymous said...

"Paul says that he doesn't allow women to do that."

That's not entirely clear. In other places in his letters Paul does make it clear whether it is him or not, but not here.

Simon said...

If they are women who think that preaching to men is compatible with the Bible, and they are preaching to men who are ok with it, then all they are disobeying is someone's interpretation of Scripture, not Scripture itself.

That sounds like you believe there's such a thing as an uninterpreted Scripture. Where can I find one, please? You're sounding very much like someone can say "I have the truth of Scripture; you just have interpretations of Scripture." If I don't agree with your interpretation of "thou shalt not kill", can I claim I'm not disobeying Scripture but your interpretation of it?

Also, you're basing the bit about what men should and shouldn't do on an argument from silence. There's an amazing amount the Bible doesn't tell us we shouldn't do. That's not necessarily license to do it, however.

John said...


Uninterpreted Scripture can be found in the Bible (original langauges only), but you'd have to interpret it.

I like the way you picked a badly translated bit as your example...

There are some bits of Scripture where there's pretty much unanimous agreement on what they mean. The classic hermeneutic, as I'm sure you're aware is reading the Scripture through the lens of the Church.

I'm not entirely comfortable with that, but haven't yet managed to write down stuff about a hermeneutic of brokenness which I think would work better.

John said...

And no, I'm not basing my argument about what men should do on silence. I'm pointing out the silence in 1 Timothy 2 and applying stuff like 1 Cornithians 10:29-30 to it.

And anonymous - the question isn't whether Paul commanded it or God - I think both should be obeyed.

The question for me is what was commanded.

Cheryl Schatz said...


Good post and some good questions. My question is, does God have one unique law? If 1 Timothy 2:12 is a law that is a universal law that forbids godly Christian women from teaching correct biblical doctrine to men, then this "law" is not like any other of God's law. I list all the reasons at my blog here I have placed a link to "Does God have a unique law?" on the post for January 19, 2007.

What do you think?


John said...

Hmmm - interesting idea.

I think that both those who think that 1 Timothy 2 is talking about any man and any woman and those who think it's talking about husbands and wives would agree that in context it's clearly tracing it back to creation (v13), to the fall (v14) and to the nature of marriage.

And personally, I think Satan is absolutely delighted that so many people get distracted from Jesus by whatever distracts them, even if it's obeying little laws which might be right in themselves.

Anonymous said...

I always get a bit confused when people talk about submitting to the authority of women, or men, when we're talking about teaching in he Church. I figure any teaching in Church should be biblical, and in that, whoever might be leading us in exploring the bible, they're just helping us to submit ourselves, together to the authority of God, to his word, and his Spirit.
I know it's not that simple, and there is a lot of scope for people to misuse their position in teaching, but at least in the context of Church there should be a decent level of accountability, where there are sufficient people listening, with their brains turned on and their spirits tuned in, ready to question anything that is taught that is false.
Another thing that confuses me in this whole debate is that there appears to be no difficulty in Women teaching other women (Titus 2), or young people (I have no idea what the biblical basis for that is), or with Women being active in evangelism. In my experience these are situations with far less accountability, and far more opportunity to subject people to your own authority rather than God's, unchecked.If women are not to have authority over men, are they also not to have authority over boys? - who may eventually become our leaders!
I guess that question assumes that Women are not to have authority over men because they might teach falsely, rather than the difficulties in the nature of the relationship between man and woman itself. In which case, is it more a question of the attitude in the way we relate to one another, whether we be teaching, working together, whatever it may be, rather than in the ministries we are permitted to be involved in?

John said...

I think the question about teaching kids is that parents have authority over their children.

One interesting implication of one of the more extreme views about the meaning of 1 Corinthians 11 is that I, as an adult male, am the head of my mother, which seems to contradict quite a bit of other stuff. (Which is part of the reason I think it's talking about husbands and wives not men and women in general).

Oh yes, women also seem to teach children in Proverbs, so it must be ok.

The question with women teaching adult men being bad seems to be something to do with ontological ordering and headship rather than anything to do with influence or stuff like that.

Anonymous said...

"Ontological order"! that's what I was trying to say, but without the long words! But what is that? Why is that? Doesn't it all come back down to the Genesis 3 fruit incident? In which case, isn't it to do with women being a bad influence on men?

Daniel Hill said...

I agree with ds: suppose one thinks it's immoral for women to preach, then if one knowingly attends a service at which a woman is preaching one would be colluding in the immoral act (unless one is protesting). It's not a matter of judging her conscience: it's a matter of what one's own conscience will allow. I don't think it's coherent to say: I object to this but don't mind lending support by sitting in silence. Take another example: if one objected to the appointment of Gene Robinson as bishop would it be ethical knowingly to attend his consecration? I don't think so. Or suppose one objected to non-Christians preaching, would it be acceptable knowingly to attend a church service with a non-Christian preaching? Again, I don't think so.