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Wednesday, May 22, 2013

Can Women Teach? The Question

Most Biblical scholars recognize that the controversial question about women's roles in the church is not, "Can women teach?"  The question has parameters around it, usually stemming from the following statement in Paul's letter to Timothy:

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

The statement seems straightforward enough.  A woman is simply not allowed to teach or have authority over a man.  The passage gets even more uncomfortable for women when the the verse before it is included:

A woman should learn in quietness and full submission. (1 Timothy 2:11 NIV)

Put the two verses together and the picture is very clear.  Women of God should learn from men, but no ask questions or even speak.  Right?

I remember listening to a sermon one Sunday where the pastor told us about a woman who came to church services with us (a rather large church) and wouldn't talk to anyone.  After awhile, she was approached and asked if everything was alright.  She explained (to the woman who asked) that she was being quiet like Scripture said she should.  The pastor then said, "We took some time to explain to her that it's OK to talk to people at church - even men."  I remember thinking, "How did you explain that to her?  If Scripture says she should be quiet, why aren't we teaching her the truth?"  This began some of my questions that led to an understanding of the term, "context".

Paul is instructing Timothy (two church planters, by the way) on the way worship services should be conducted when everyone gathers together.  So, for example, a good interpretive step would say that this applies to worship services but not to men and women in a business environment.  

Some would say that Paul is speaking, saying "I" at the beginning of his statement.  So, they would say it doesn't apply to everyone - just him.  This would be shaky ground interpretively, though, because Paul is instructing Timothy here on how Timothy should conduct things in the church, too.  Plus, as we will see tomorrow, Paul gives a reason for doing things this way and he says that things have been this way ever since Adam and Eve.

Make sense?  Even if the specifics don't click just yet, the bottom line is this.  The statement is made within a greater context.  For this reason we cannot take it just at face value.  We should be recognizing clues that implore us to dig in further.

Strangely enough, this was not the statement that caused my further investigation.

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Years after I had gone down into the waters of baptism, I finally reached a time when God paved the way for me to go back to school.  I began my Seminary work in Theological Studies.  I was enjoying a little slice of heaven. (I know - insight into my strange psyche.)

Not long after beginning my studies, a woman from our church approached me and asked, "Did I hear that you are a Seminar student now?"  
"That's right," I replied with a little pride in my voice.  
"Can I ask you a Bible question?" 
"Sure!  What have you got?"
"Well, we were studying this passage in our Sunday School class and I was afraid to ask about it in class." 

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

Then she said, "I can't have children.  Does that mean I can't be saved?"

I was dumbfounded.  I had no clue what it meant.  I didn't even know where to begin!  I tried to respond with grace and the little knowledge I had at the time.  I also took a moment to swallow a healthy dose of pride before answering.

"I'm sorry.  I'm only in my first semester and I have quite a ways to go through the program.  All I can say is that I cannot imagine that your salvation is somehow tied to your ability to bear children.  That goes against everything I've learned about God's Grace and Plan of Salvation.  I wish I could tell you more."

She thanked me, graciously, and went on her way.

That day, I began a list of questions I would investigate during my Seminary studies.  This was put at the top of the list. "Are women saved through childbearing? How? (1 Timothy 2:15)"  That was the real question I wanted answered.