Last week, a Q&A with US complementarian Wayne Grudem went viral on twitter. Wayne is Research Professor of Bible and Theology at Phoenix Seminary, former president of the Council on Biblical Manhood and Womanhood and author of Countering the Claims of Evangelical Feminism (2010). Asked about his views on female church leaders and speakers, Wayne replied: ‘I still think that a woman who serves as a pastor, preaching to both men and women, is disobeying the word of God. There are always negative consequences to that…It hasn’t been the path to blessing… if a woman does this, she is opening herself up to the danger of the withdrawal of God’s hand of protection and blessing on her life.’ Wayne continued to argue that women pastors risked causing gender confusion in their families and even cited the example of a female pastor who was now standing trial for murder as proof of God’s punishment for her disobedience to the scripture.
These views would be laughable except for the fact that Wayne Grudem is not alone and these ideas are used to suppress, exclude, limit and confine half of God’s people from exercising their gifting across the world today.
As Carolyn Curtis James wrote in Half the Church (2011): ‘When half the church holds back – whether by choice or because we have no choice – everybody loses and our mission suffers setbacks. Tragically, we are squandering the opportunity to display to an embattled world a gospel that causes both men and women to flourish…’
Complementarians often use Paul’s letters as evidence that God did not intend women to preach or teach. They specifically quote passages like 1 Timothy 2:11-15 and 1 Corinthians 14: 26-40 which cite:
Women should remain silent in the churches. They are not allowed to speak, but must be in submission, as the law says. If they want to enquire about something, they should ask their own husbands at home; for it is disgraceful for a woman to speak in the church (NIV).
A woman should learn in quietness and full submission. I do not permit a woman to teach or to assume authority over a man; she must be quiet (NIV).
What did Paul mean in these verses? Does a more nuanced understanding emerge when they are not taken out of biblical and cultural context?
An egalitarian reading of 1 Corinthians 14: 26-40
Here’s some important things to note:
- In this passage, Paul uses the same word for silence to infer a temporary rather than universal silence.
- In v 35, the Greek word for ‘speak’ is a derogatory word used to denote sound without meaning.
Is this evidence that Paul was trying to stop women chattering inappropriately or does it apply to all teaching and preaching?
An egalitarian reading of 1 Timothy 2: 11-15
This is perhaps the most controversial piece of Scripture and it is repeatedly used to justify women’s exclusion from leadership in church. Here are some important things to note:
- As we don’t have the original letter from Timothy which Paul was responding to, we don’t know the exact concerns with the church in Ephesus. We do know that at this time, Ephesus was a morally corrupt place entrenched in Diana worship and heretical theology.
- From the grammatical structure of the passage, it appears that Paul was sharing wisdom about women, men and one particular woman. Is Paul addressing a particular situation where one woman is preaching heresy and needs to be silenced – just as in his other letters, he removes unsuitable men like Hymenaeus and Alexander from teaching?
- This is substantiated by Paul’s other writings. In 1 Corinthians 11 he outlines how women should pray and prophesy in church and in 2 Timothy 2:2, Paul commands Timothy to entrust what he has learned to other godly people so they may teach others – he does not distinguish between men or women. Paul was also a frequent champion of godly women like Junia, Euodia, Syntyche and Priscilla who he encouraged to exercise their gifting.
So is Paul saying that women should not take inappropriate authority over others rather than banning them from all positions to authority?
We’re looking forward to exploring these questions with our amazing contributors this week – Jude Trenier, Krish Kandiah, Rev Jane Day, Mel Caldicott and Bethany Moffett. Let us explore, discuss and reflect together in love and grace. As always we would love to hear from you about your own experiences. You can comment on this website below the article, share on facebook and discuss on twitter @sophianetwork using #genderinNT. We’re looking forward to learning and growing together.
Dr Claire Rush is the Participation & Advocacy Co-ordinator for Girls' Brigade Ministries, International Vice-President of GB International (elect), and a trustee of Sophia Network. Claire writes here and you can follow her on twitter @drclairerush.
'Women & Teaching: what did Paul mean?' is the topic for Week III of our Gender in the New Testament series. What do you think? Share your thoughts by commenting on this blog, discussing on Facebook or tweeting @sophianetwork using #genderinNT. Let's join in the discussion together.
(Image courtesy of Paige Larson Photography).