Monday, June 28, 2010

Women Teaching Men

Last week, I mentioned the Rachel Held Evans sees 1 Timothy 2 as one of her least favorite Bible passages—in particular verses 11-14, so I felt I should discuss the passage more completely. She isn't the only one. This is one of the more controversial passages in the Bible. There isn't much controversy in what it says. Paul very clearly states, "Let the woman learn in silence with all subjection. But I suffer not a woman to teach, nor to usurp authority over the man, but to be in silence." You can go look it up in the Greek if you like, but that's pretty much what it says. The controversy is over what we're supposed to do with what Paul said. There are enough churches with women preachers to tell us that not all churches take this to mean that women should actually be silent at church. The range of ideas spans from this meaning women shouldn't say anything, to women shouldn't teach men at church, to this only applies to wives, to the passage doesn't apply today because our culture is different. Let's go at this fresh and see if we can figure out what it does mean.

First, consider the context. The book of First Timothy was written by Paul to give Timothy guidance in how he should instruct the church at Ephesus. In chapter one, we get the impression that the church wasn't quite as orderly as they should be. Various people were trying to teach when they didn't know what they were talking about. So when we get to chapter two, Paul is giving Timothy practical instructions on how a church service should be conducted. He first talks about prayer and giving of thanks. Then he gets very practical and talks about how women should dress in modest apparel. In other words, she isn't supposed to draw attention to herself by what she wears. Only then do we get to this thing about women learning in silence with subjection and not teaching. Given this context, I think we're forced to say that this has to do with conduct within the local church. There are other passages that deal with the home. This one deals primarily with the church.

Second, just what is Paul saying here? If we take it just like he said it, the women shouldn't be speaking during the service. It isn't her place to teach or to have authority over men in the context of the church service. Many people don't like this, but you can read it for yourself. That's exactly what it says. Does this mean that women aren't to teach at all? Apparently not. Paul wrote in Titus 2 calls for the older women to teach the younger women. In another place Paul praises Timothy's mother and grandmother for how well they taught Timothy.

Third, look at Paul's justification for why he says what he does. Verse 13: For Adam was first formed, then Eve. This may be part of why Rachel Held Evans doesn't like this passage. She isn't so certain that Adam was formed first, but Paul gives that as a reason why the man should be in charge rather than the woman. This upsets some people because they take issue with a woman being put in that position just because she was born a woman. But let's venture off into science fiction for a moment. Suppose you could clone yourself with a machine. At the push of a button an exact copy of you would be created, having your memories and abilities. Given that the two of you are equals, which of you is going to be sleeping in your bed tonight and which of you is going to be on the couch? Without some kind of rule to decide, what we have is a deadlock situation. You believe you should have the bed, but your clone believes he has the same right. We wouldn't think it strange to apply a rule of first existence. The clone ends up on the couch because you existed before he did. This is the same rule that Paul is applying here. In a marriage relationship, the man and the woman are equals, but for a marriage to run smoothly one of them has to have the final word when they are in deadlock situations. What Paul is saying is that God chose the man to have the final word when he created the man first. He could have created them both together, but to show us how the home should work he created the man and then the woman.

You may still have doubts. You wouldn't take issue with saying that Jesus is the head of the church, would you? What about that God the Father has authority over Jesus? The church is called the bride of Christ and certainly we wouldn't want the church to be over Christ, since Christ is God. But what about God the Father and God the Son? The Bible tells us that Jesus didn't think it robbery to be equal with God. If Jesus is equal with God, then why does God the Father have authority over his equal? And yet that's exactly the way the Bible says it is. 1 Corinthians 11:3 tells us that the head of every man is Christ, the head of the woman is the man and the head of Christ is God. There is an order to it. God over Christ over man over woman.

So the only question now is, given his word is clear, what would God have me to do?