Tuesday, October 30, 2012

On When a Boy Becomes a Man

Some friends and I got into a discussion about 1 Timothy 2:12. On the surface, it seems pretty clear, “But I suffer not a woman to teach, nor to usurp authority over the man, but to be in silence.” And yet, I’ve rarely found two people who agree completely about what it means. For that matter, I’ve sometimes questioned my own understanding. As the saying goes, I won’t know what I believe until I’ve blogged about it, so I’m blogging about it.

Is It Still Relevant?

First, I will not entertain the notion that the verse no longer applies, either because the social climate is different today or because Paul was talking about one particular church. There are people who have tried to make that argument, but I tend to think they just don’t like what the Bible says. So, going into this, my assumption is that there is at least one woman living today who should not be teaching at least one man who is currently living.

Is It Just a Husband and Wife Thing?

One of the arguments I’ve heard is that this verse only applies to a wife teaching or usurping authority over her husband. Part of the reasoning that the words translated as woman and man are sometimes translated as wife and husband. I find this interpretation to be incorrect because it would require that 1 Timothy 2:8-10 also apply the same meaning to the words. It would read something like, “I will therefore that [husbands] pray every where, lifting up holy hands, without wrath and doubting. In like manner also, that [wives] adorn themselves in modest apparel, with shamefacedness and sobriety; not with broided hair, or gold, or pearls, or costly array; but (which becometh [wives] professing godliness) with good works.” It would also require us to ignore the purpose of the book of 1 Timothy, which was to encourage Timothy (and now us) to hold fast in teaching sound doctrine. And right after this passage, Paul goes into the qualifications of a pastor. Everything indicates that Paul’s statement has a broader reach than just to the relationship of the wife to the husband, but how broad?

Does It Apply To Any Female Teaching Any Male?

Taken to the extreme we could say that Paul is saying that no woman should teach any male of any age. The words for woman and for man in the verse sometimes are interchangeable with our words female and male, extending from conception to death. While that would simplify things, I don’t believe that was what Paul was saying because there is a precedence in the Bible of females teaching males. In 2 Timothy 1:15, we have these words, “When I call to remembrance the unfeigned faith that is in thee, which dwelt first in thy grandmother Lois, and they mother Eunice; and I am persuaded that in thee also.” Timothy himself was taught matters of faith by two women and Paul praised them for it. And we have also the case of Acts 18:24-28, in which we see the great preacher Apollos being taught by a woman when Aquila and Priscilla taught he what had happen after the baptism of John. So, Paul isn’t forbidding women to teach in all situations, just in the one that matches the context in which 1 Timothy was written.

Is This Limited To The Church? What About College Classes?

I’m convinced that Paul was talking about how to do church in particular and what he says about women here doesn’t apply outside of that setting. As I mentioned before, he praised women for teaching men outside of the church, but he would not suffer them to teach men in this verse.

Is This About Women Teaching Doctrine?

When we look at the complete context, it is fairly easy to make the case that Paul was talking against women teaching doctrine in the church. First, once you get past the introduction in 1 Timothy 1, you see that Paul’s big concern is the teaching of “sound doctrine” and people straying from that teaching. The last verse of chapter one is talking about delivering two people to Satan because of blasphemy. Chapter two begins with a “therefore.” So the stuff in chapter one is the reason Paul is calling for men to pray for all men (including the politicians we don’t like) “lifting up holy hands, without wrath and doubting.”

It is at this point that he likens women dressing in modest apparel to men praying without wrath and doubting. The silence he speaks of for women is translated as quietness in other places and so he may be referring to their modest appearal and shamefacedness. It appears to be a continuation of the same thought when he says he won’t suffer a woman to teach or usurp authority over the man.

This is the area of this subject where I struggle the most. I know of women who are highly intelligent and well versed in doctrine. I know of women who are excellent teachers. The thing I keep asking is why Paul says it is wrong for women like that to teach men.

Well, even if I can’t completely make sense of it, Paul explains his reason. 1 Timothy 2:13 says, “For Adam was formed first, and then Eve.” Simply put, it is a matter of the way God created the world. He didn’t form Adam and Eve together, which he could have done. He didn’t form Eve first, which he could have done. Instead, he formed Adam first, showing us how he intend the order of authority to be.

But it isn’t just authority. Paul continued to say, “And Adam was not deceived, but the woman being deceived was in the transgression.” What Paul seems to be saying is that there is something about the nature of a woman that makes her a more susceptible target when Satan wants to push false doctrine.

We don’t have to take this to be a bad thing. Women tend to desire to appease those around them more. In other words, they are easier to get along with than men. Men tend to put more emphasis on logic and are more likely to take a firm stand on a doctrinal issue.

Why Then Are Women Allowed to Teach Women, but Not Men?

If it is about a woman not leading the church astray by what she teaches, then it seems like she could lead it astray by teaching women and children just as easily as she can by teaching men. That seems to put the emphasis on authority and less on doctrine. A woman teaching doesn’t necessarily equate to false doctrine in terms of what she is teaching, but a teaching position is a place of authority. Given that God wants men to be the leaders in the church, a woman having a position of authority over them ruins the picture God is trying to paint.

Where Should We Draw The Line?

If it is okay for women to teach male children, there must be a line at which we say that there is a point at which that boy should be taught be a man and not a woman. I suppose the simpliest answer is to say that that line is when a boy becomes a man. That answer is simple until you try to determine when a boy becomes a man. The United States government says it is when he is 18. The insurance industry leans more toward 25. A boy reaches sexual maturity somewhere around the age of 12. Some people suggest around the age of 30, since that’s when Jesus began his personal ministry. I suppose, we could even say 80, since that’s when Moses took on his role of leader.

While it’s not the job of the United States government to define our doctrine, I think the fact that they have set adulthood at 18 is significant. While parents are slow to admit that their children have grown up, when a young man reaches the age of 18, he looks at himself as an adult, whether his elders do or not. We might think he isn’t a man until he is 22, but if we put such a man in a class taught be a woman, the thing he will learn most clearly is that we see nothing wrong with a woman teaching a class with men in it.

I think back to the first time I signed up for college classes. I was still in high school at the time and less than 18. My mother went with me because when my sister had gone to college there were things that school had asked the parents to sign, even though she was over 18. The lady I had gone to see about enrolling came out of her office to get me. My mother stood up to go too, but the lady said very nicely, “You can wait here.” That was when that first apron string broke. And all through college, though I kept them informed of what I was doing, I never asked permission. So, 18 seems like a good place to draw the line to me.

My great-aunt, however, drew the line at a much younger age. She would teach male children, but she didn’t believe it was appropriate for her to be teaching teenage boys. In some ways, I can see where that might be a good approach. There are preachers who were pastoring a church when they were teenagers. We might argue that teenage boys aren’t as mature now as they used to be. Maybe, but is that the fault of the teenage boys or the fault of those of us who have lowered our expectations? Jesus was confounding the religious leaders when he was even younger. I don’t think we can expect every teenage boy to pastor a church or teach a class. For that matter, I don’t think we can expect that every adult man will be able to pastor a church or teach a class. But one of my concerns is that young men aren’t taking on the role of leadership because we’re not telling them that they’ve reached the point where it is time for them to do so.

As I recall, when I was a teenager, church leadership wasn’t something I sought to do but rather something that was forced upon me. I had a few positions that I didn’t want, but Dad wouldn’t let me back out. It wasn’t until after I had taught several classes, led the singing a few times, and conducted a few business meetings that I realized that I enjoyed doing it. I look back at those parts I hated giving at the youth meetings, and I wish I had the opportunity to give them again.

In Conclusion

While the Bible isn’t as clear on the subject as I would like, I believe God expects us to pay attention to what Paul wrote about it. Perhaps the reason God didn’t tell us at what age we should call a boy a man is because it isn’t constant, but when a boy is old enough to have a family and when he is old enough to take on responsibility for his own survival, it is probably time for us to start calling him a man, if not even sooner than that.