Friday, April 9, 2010

Some Thoughts on Women & Teaching (Part 1)

I've recently had the privilege of engaging in fruitful discussion with some friends on the subject of women teaching the Bible. The impetus for the discussion involved exposure to some situations where women seemed to be teaching the Bible. So the question inevitably arose; "how are we to view this in light of what God has said in His word?" The others involved and I believe every word of the Bible is given by inspiration of God, and is therefore inerrant and authoritative over all areas of life (2 Tim. 3:16ff). The first important issue then was to discern what the Bible taught on this topic.

To my knowledge the most relevant passage in all of scripture on the issue of women teaching the Bible is in 1 Timothy 2:11-14:

"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. For Adam was formed first, then Eve; and Adam was not deceived, but the woman was deceived and became a transgressor." - 1 Timothy 2:11-14 (ESV, emphasis mine)

God speaking through Paul here seems to be pretty clear. There are two things prohibited for women: teaching and exercising authority over men. The preceding verses (particularly v. 8) and really the context of the whole letter, suggest the context in view is the assembled church. So I don't take Paul here to be prohibiting women teaching 10th grade history etc. He also makes the audience in this case to include men, so I don't think Paul is prohibiting women teaching other women (in fact in Titus 2:3-4 commands women to do so). I also don't think Paul is saying that women can never instruct or correct men in contexts outside of the assembled church (see the example of Priscilla in Acts 18:26). What he means by "exercising authority" is another issue that I won't be really addressing except as it relates to teaching.

To summarize Paul's prohibition then with respect to teaching: women are not to give formal instruction to the assembled church (a mixed group of men and women).

I know there are plenty of objections to this position, but the 3 most common I've heard in discussing this with others are: 1. Women are more educated and able now, so hasn't the context changed? 2. Many women sincerely feel called to the pastorate, who are we to oppose the calling of the Spirit? 3. Paul says "I do not permit," not that "God does not permit," so is this command really authoritative?

These are great questions! I've wrestled through them myself, and after doing so I remain convinced that Scripture, and therefore God, does not permit women to give formal instruction to the assembled church. I'll attempt to explain why in Part 2.

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