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Wednesday, May 29, 2013

Can Women Teach? Backing Up

If you've been following this series of posts on women teaching in men in The Church, you will remember that this entire process of reading and interpretation did not start with a desire on my part to change the role of women in the Church.  It started with a single verse:

But women will be saved through childbearing--if they continue in faith, love and holiness with propriety. (1 Timothy 2:15 NIV)

I've learned over the years that it is extremely dangerous to try to interpret a single verse or sentence all by itself.  I shouldn't read the following verse from the same book, for example, and change my drinking habits to increase my health and wellness.

Stop drinking only water, and use a little wine because of your stomach and your frequent illnesses. (1 Timothy 5:23 NIV)

Paul was writing personally to Timothy in this instance, so my interpretive step should reflect an understanding of this.  In the same way, I cannot interpret this verse by itself:

I do not permit a woman to teach or to assume authority over a man; she must be quiet. (1 Timothy 2:12 NIV)

Instead of taking the verse by itself, I need to "back up" and take into account more of the paragraph, chapter, and even the book.  We've already discussed how connecting words (and, but, for, etc.) demand the inclusion of neighboring sentences.  Now, I want to back up to look at the entire chapter and summarize a bit what Paul is saying to Timothy.  (I would recommend reading all of 1 Timothy Chapter 2 in your own Bible to follow along.)  

Here's what I found:
God wants all people to return to Him through Jesus. (1 Timothy 2:3-6)
Paul (and Timothy) are sent to bring people to Him. (1 Timothy 2:7)
Paul asks Timothy to pray that rulers do not get in the way. (1 Timothy 2:1-2)
Paul asks Timothy to instruct people so they do not get in the way. (1 Timothy 2:9-15)

Reading the rest of the book, we find that Paul left Timothy in Ephesus to combat false teaching (including arguing and fighting over foolishness).  He wants the church to conduct itself with all love, in holiness and peace so that the Gospel will continue to spread and all people will be saved.  Going up against cultural norms, especially norms deeply established in the Israelite nation, will slow down or even stop this process.  So, Paul reasons, "I do not allow a woman to teach or have authority over a man (for now) because this problem dates back to Eve.  Eve, however, will be saved through the childbearing if women continue to live in faith, love, and holiness with propriety."

This mission-centered approach to Paul's letter to Timothy, and even in all his writings, helped me better understand some of the more "difficult" passages throughout the New Testament.  Does Paul, for example, really believe that slavery is good?  Do he and the other apostles really believe that the only "real sins" include meat sacrificed to idols and sexual immorality?  Is the law really still in effect or has it gone away?

I know that these may seem like random questions and probably seem to confuse the whole question about women teaching men in the church, but they are not random.  Rather, they are reminders that Scripture holds together as a whole.  There is a unifying picture that ties it all together.  The unity comes from the source, God, and we see the picture by studying Him.  So, tomorrow we will look at this passage in the greater picture of God's Word.