Women, teaching and authority. What is the proper role for a woman in ministry? Does the Lord actually make a difference in gifting or function of legitimate authority based on gender? Is it wrong for a woman to administer a Christian Facebook group? Have a podcast if men like to listen? To make pointed memes about spiritual things and post them? To write a Christian book aimed at both men and women? To call out guys who are attacking and insulting men and women in the comment section? She might be “teaching” or “usurping someone’s authority!”
See what knots we twist ourselves in? Some complementarians won’t be caught dead reading a book by a woman –ignoring all the times a man was instructed by a woman in scripture, or all the words and songs of women that ARE scripture! Others have no problem with it, ignoring the fact that writing a book, blog, or post is definitely teaching things!
“In the last days I will pour out my Spirit and your sons and daughters will prophesy!”
I suspect the real problem is worrying about “authority.” Well folks, guess what? No teacher, elder, or apostle has any authority over you! Jesus forbid them to exercise authority over anyone! (Mat 20:22-26) You can always reject their teaching (or them) whenever you want. I’m sure everyone reading this has rejected someone’s teaching or “authority” in the past! Any “spiritual authority” they have is dependent on whether the content is Christ! If so, you had better listen even to a donkey! And all prophecy, teaching, apostolic ministry, elder behavior, and angelic appearances are to be judged! Every time! And rejected if necessary! Nobody gets a free pass because of their position, ordination, power, eloquence, fame, respect, miracles, age, or connections. Paul rebuked Peter and Barnabas in public! (They would both be considered much higher on the totem pole than Paul by our standards!)
[This isn’t license to be an angry, judgmental, unteachable jerk, by the way. That isn’t Christ- like either. We aren’t to despise prophecies, and we are all to submit to one another and give weight to those more spiritual and experienced. Common sense is expected. But we know there are lots of messed up ideas being disseminated in Christ’s name.]
There are two major ways to translate the usual verse about women teaching in 1 Timothy: “I am not now permitting a wife to teach or domineer/abuse a husband, but to be peaceful.” Or: “I am not now permitting a woman to teach or domineer/abuse a man, but to be peaceful.” Because of the way Greek is, with no separate word for wife, there isn’t any way to know which is the right way to translate it. If it is about husbands and wives, then it has nothing directly to do with church or speaking in church meetings at all. If not, notice that the word “authority” does not occur in this verse. “Authentien” does not mean authority. It is a nasty off-color word that can mean murder and other nastiness. Things that men are not allowed to do either. So, this has nothing to do with telling women they can’t exercise the kind of authority that men are allowed to exercise. Men are not allowed to be domineering and abusive either! Neither men nor women are allowed to exercise authority “over” others, or “over” the Church. This verse is a rebuke to a domineering woman (or several women) who was teaching false doctrine, probably Artemis cult or proto-gnostic stuff, where women were priests, and probably was teaching that woman were created first, and that the woman and the serpent “enlightened” mankind –a teaching of Gnosticism. And so Paul goes on to refute that idea.
We also don’t know what the word “teach” really means. Just because that word is there doesn’t mean we know exactly how Paul was using it. Teaching in the first century didn’t necessarily mean public lectures and sermons. He might mean more like “discipling” one-on-one or in small groups. Like Jesus and Paul did. So how would this have anything to do with whether a woman can give a public message to a mixed group? This is not necessarily the same thing.
Scripture has to agree with scripture. So nothing Paul says here at the end of his life is going to contradict what he did and said about Priscilla and other female co-workers, about women prophesying, or things said and done by Peter, Joel, Phillip’s daughters, Deborah, Huldah, Anna, Miriam etc. Remember the church met in homes and hung out together daily. Things were fluid and organic. There was no hard and fast rule about what was public and private, or what was a “real” meeting and what wasn’t. We really don’t know for sure what was going on, or what every scripture precisely means. So, there shouldn’t be a problem with erring on the side of equality because of the witness of ALL scripture and church history, where the Lord continually sends women to do great things against all odds, including religious opposition. Anything a woman says or does needs to be judged by the Body exactly as we would judge anyone, no more, and no less. Let there be no nonsense where something truly wonderful and Christ-exalting is judged worthless or evil just because of the gender, skin color, or ordination status of the person.
There are many conservative scholars who write on these things, and organic churches that practice them. Jon Zens is one of our own. Other scholars include Catherine Kroeger, Stanley Grenz, Ruth Tucker, and Eddie and Susan Hyatt. I am indebted to them all.
Comments by Editor
I have traveled overseas for 35+ years to over 70 Nations of the world. I can attest to the fact that without the leadership ministry of women in the Body of Christ, the Church world would be in a mess. Right now the greatest revival in our time is happening in Iran and it is being led primarily by women. This is not “The Lord will use women if a man is not around” as I was taught. This is the Creator of Heaven and Earth showing that he makes no sexual distinctions in His Creation when it comes to ministering to His Body.
Jose L. Bosque