Sunday, April 11, 2010

Some Thoughts on Women and Teaching (Part 2)

In Part 1 of my thoughts on women and teaching I basically outlined what I believe the Bible has to say about the specific issue of women teaching the Bible. Based on 1 Timothy 2:11-14, I concluded that God prohibits women from teaching the Bible to the assembled church. I would now like to attempt a response to the three most common objections I've encountered as I've discussed this issue with others:

1. Objection: In the time of Paul's writing 1 Timothy, women were not well educated, so obviously they were not permitted to teach. However, today women are well educated. Since the context has changed, the command no longer applies.

My response: It is true that if a Biblical command is context specific, we must consider how or if it applies to our context. However, I think this objection presupposes something that is not only not found in the text, but is specifically refuted by the text. The presupposition is that the reason for Paul's prohibition of female teaching is the lack of education for women at the time. But Paul gives us his reason, and that is not it:

"I do not permit a woman to teach or to exercise authority over a man; rather, she is to remain quiet. For Adam was formed first, then EVe; and Adam was not deceived, but the woman was deceived and became a transgressor." - 1 Tim. 2:12-14 (ESV, emphasis mine)

Paul appeals to the order of creation and the events of the fall. Without going into the details of why Paul thinks these are good reasons to prevent women from teaching, suffice it to say that he does. It is therefore the truth of these premises that determines whether the command applies, not the level of education among women. As long as the premises are true, the command applies. No matter how educated a woman is today, man was still created first and it was still the woman who was deceived. Insofar as these premises are still true, women should still not be permitted to teach the Bible to the assembled church.

2. Objection: Many women honestly feel the Holy Spirit leading them into pastoral ministry or even to share a message on occassion that would involve teaching. How can you tell them not to when the Holy Spirit is telling them to?

My response: I certainly would not want to quench the Spirit, and I do believe He leads His children. However, between our own sin and the presence of satan, we often muff up the Spirit's leading. We see this tension in 1 Thessalonians 5:19-21:

"Do not quench the Spirit. Do not despise prophecies, but test everything; hold fast what is good."

The work of the Spirit and prophecies are both things given of God. If that's the case, why would we need to test them? It is because the way in which we interpret such things is often flawed. So we shouldn't just assume that because we feel the Spirit is leading us one way that He actually is. We should test it. What are we then to test it against but the inerrant written word of God? (cf. Acts 17:11), for nothing in scripture was given by anyone's interpretation, but men spoke from God as they were carried along by the Holy Spirit (2 Peter 1:20-21). When I test this sensed leading of the Spirit by the written word in 1 Tim. 2:11-14, I find it to fail the test. The Spirit would not lead His children into an action that He expressly forbade when He inspired the words of scripture.

3. Objection: Paul says "I do not permit," not "God does not permit," so this command does not carry divine authority.

My response: The simple answer is that all scripture is God breathed, and Paul's writings in the NT canon are scripture (2 Peter 3:16). Therefore, all of what Paul says in his NT letters are God's word, and authoritative over our lives. That's the simple answer. But I'll also note that I think this represents a misunderstanding of Divine inspiration. When Christians say the Bible is divinely inspired, we don't mean to suggest that Paul woke up in the morning, talked to God, and then just wrote down what God said (so that some things are the stuff God actually told him, but then when it's just his opinion he writes "I do not permit."). Paul spoke words from his own mind but the Holy Spirit "carried him along" to ensure that he said what God wanted him to say (2 Peter 1:21). In that sense, everything Paul writes is in the context of "I permit," or "I do not permit." But because he was carried along by the Holy Spirit in writing those things, what Paul permits in scripture God permits, and what Paul does not permit in scripture God does not permit. At this point the conclusion is obvious: if in scripture Paul does not permit women to teach the assembled church, neither does God.

I hope these brief responses have helped to show that God has in fact revelead in scripture that He does not permit women to teach men in the assembled church, no matter what the time period, and that He will not lead them by His spirit otherwise. I know in academia there are more objections to the position I've outlined, but since I don't really interact with them in the average conversation with my fellow college students, I'll simply reference you to the extremely helpful book edited by John Piper and Wayne Grudem, Recovering Biblical Manhood and Womanhood, specifically the chapter by Douglas Moo on 1 Tim. 2:11-14.

Now that the principle of God's prohibition on female teaching has been laid out, the question of application still remains. What exactly constitutes "teaching" in the sense that Paul is using it here? Does that mean women can't speak at church? What about at other meetings like those of parachurch groups? Does that mean they can't talk about the Bible at all? Where is that line drawn? I hope to take up this issue in Part 3.

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