Women Teaching Men

otherShould women be allowed to teach men or be in authority over men in church? This was the topic of debate in two essays we read for this week– one author Doug Moo (the complementarian/ hierarchicalist) claiming it NOT OK, and Linda Belleville (the egalitarian/feminist) claiming it IS OK. Some of us felt like the Belleville article was perhaps the best one we’ve read so far. (It is online at our women’s study group site**)

The pasage in question is I Timothy 2:11-15 where Paul says

“I also want women to dress modestly, with decency and propriety, not with braided hair or gold or pearls or expensive clothes, but with good deeds, appropriate for women who profess to worship God. A woman should learn in quitness and full submission. I do not permit a woman to teach or to have authority oer a man; she must be silent. For Adam was formed first, then Eve. And Adam was not the one deceived; it was th ewoman who was deceived and became a sinner. But women will be kept safe through childbirth, if they continue in faith, love and holiness with propriety.”

The Moo article against women teaching said women may of course teach, but just not men. And they must not exercise authority over men. Moo points out that I Thessalonians speaks a lot against ‘false teachings’ going on in the church in Ephesus, and Moo says “The false teachers were encouraging women to discard what we might call traditional female roles in favor of a more egalitarian approach to the role relatinships of men and women.”

Belleville, the egailtarian, agrees that THessalonians is written about false teaching, but sees the false teaching not to be that women are equal to men, but that they are superior to men and should domineer over the men. She believes “The women at Ephesus (perhaps encouraged by the false teachers)) were trying to gain an advantage over the men in the congregation by teaching in a dictatotial fashion. The men in response became angry and disputed what the women were doing. … This interpretation fits the broader context of I TImothy 2:8-15 where Paul aims to correct inappropriate behavior on the part of both men and women. It also fits the gramatical flow of I Tim 2:11-12: ‘Let a woman learn in a quiet and submissive fashion. I do not, however, permit her to teach with the intent to dominate a man. She must be gentle in her demeanor.’ Paul would then be prohibiting teaching that tries to get the upper hand–not teaching per se.” (223)

Belleville thinks Ephesian women “were influenced by the cult of Artemis, in which the female was exalted and considered superior to the male. Its importance to the citizens of Ephesus in Paul’s day is evident from Luke’s record of the two-hour long chant, “Great is Artemis of the Ephesians” (Acts 19:28-37). IT was believed that Artemis (and brother Apollo) was th echild of Zeus and Leto. Instead of seeking fellowship among her own kind, she spurned the attentions of the male gods and sought instead the company of a human male consort. This made Artemis and all her female adherents superior to men. This was played out at the feast of the Lord of Streets, when the priestess of Artemis pusued a man, pretending she was Artemis herself pursuing Leimon.” (219) So the women identified with a Goddess who lowered herself to consort with mere mortal men. Ephesus was, in that sense, a unique culture and one which perhaps nurtured in women a tendency to domineer over men.

But the passage of Paul speaks to this sort of attitude says Belleville: “An Artemis influence would help explain Paul’s correctives in I Timothy 2:13-14. WHile some may have believed that Artemis appeared first and then her male consort, the true story was just the opposite. For Adam was formed first, then Eve (I Tim 2:13). And Eve was deceived to boot (I Tim 2:14)– hardly a basis on which to claim superiority. It would asl shed light on Paul’s statement that Christian “women will be kept safe through childbirth” (I Tim 2:15) presumably by faith in Christ. Thus they need not look to Artemis as the protector of women, as did other Ephesian women who turned to her for safe travel through the childbearing process.” (219-20)

SO again, while Moo sees Paul to be preaching against egalitarianism, Belleville sees Paul to be preaching against a female domineering over men which was perhaps a natural result of the cult of artemis preoccupations in ephesus among women.

Moo thinks that Paul is arguing for male authority over woman on the basis of man being created first. We’ve discussed this in previous weeks, but Belleville sees this to be merely a temporal sequence restatement, not a basis for ontological status or authority.

In discussing the statement of women not having authority over men, Moo says this is straightforward and clearly to be seen as “having dominion over” not as ‘lording it over’. (219) Belleville, in a very detailed analysis of contemporary usage of the word “authentein” argues that the word which has in NIV been translated as “to exercise authority over” was traditinally (from the 2nd century until WWII) rendered (and should be translated as) “to dominate”. On this more literal translation then, Paul says that he does not allow women to dominate or domineer over the men (I think here of the stereotypical Jewish mother domineering over her son) but if we read this as Belleville says we should, then the focus in on women not being domineering over men– not that men have authority over women. SO the result is then that Paul is trying to maintain a pattern of healthy cooperation, without gender domination or unfair power relationships.

One point of Moo’s which struck me as especially interesting was that he said women can of course vote in a congregational church, and should not be prohibited from doing so even though “the congregation as a whole can be said to be the final authority”. So although women cannot have authority over men, in a congregational church where there are more women than men, the women could effectively control a. who the elders are b. who the pastor is and c. any decisions made by the congregation. But they would not be allowed to teach men or hold authority over men otherwise. We decided in our group study that this may not be as much of a problem as it appears on first glance if the women, as complementarians, submit to their husbands in voting matters, effectively giving their husband an additional vote.

It is essential to submit to Scripture, and both of these authors attempted to do that. The additional interesting empirical non-scriptural  consideration for me personally when this issue arises is the simple fact that we have absolutely no problem in any other facet of society with women teaching or having some authority over men.  (We do have a problem with women domineering over men or visa versa) In the university it is no problem. In consulting or work training, it is no problem. Women exercise authority over men as doctors, judges, bosses, police officers, etc etc in all aspects of our culture, and there is no issue with this. Of course in Pauls day this would not have been the case. But to say today that women may exercise authority over men everywhere except in the church seems to be a somewhat peculiar view. I have said this before, but it seems that churches who hold such a view would be more consistent holding to this if they also prohibited their female church members from holding positions of authority over men as doctors, judges, bosses, policewomen, etc. That would seem more consistent to me, but I am willing to think otherwise if someone had some convincing reasons…

As always, may God have mercy on us all.  –Andy Gustafson

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One response to “Women Teaching Men

  1. Nicole Devereaux

    Thanks for this, Andy. I have been wrestling & praying over the issue of women as elders in the church for about 6 yrs now. Taking my time – he he he. I will read the Belleville article – I’ve had a hard time finding egalitarian articles that I thought were reason-based and not emotionally charged.

    To your point about women holding positions of authority in society – I actually do not see this as any contradiction to women being in submission in the church. The Bible is the guide for the kingdom of God, not secular society. Just as I wouldn’t expect non-Christians to abide by biblical standards for sexual purity, I don’t expect guidelines for the church to be enforced in culture.

    More importantly, in the church, it is God who gives authority to his leaders and then holds them to account for the way they handle that authority. A doctor has authority in that she is in a position over her patient but she answers to the medical board for her role as a doctor. She has no spiritual authority over her patients. THAT is the big difference to me – first, that we cannot hold our secular society to the standards of God’s kingdom and second, that secular society has no spiritual authority so why should it matter what roles anyone has?

    If I interpret the Word to say that, as a part of God’s church, he calls qualified men only to the role of elder, the position of spiritual authority in the church, then I would expect the church to uphold that principle. But how does that principle have anything to do with being a judge in secular society? Incidentally, even if our society was a Christian society, I still think women could be judges or doctors or politicians – because there is still no spiritual authority in any of those roles, and 1 Tim 2 (I think) deals with spiritual authority in the church. A slave in the early church could theoretically hold a position of leadership in the church, where he would have spiritual authority over his master in the church – but then go home and be under his secular authority as his master.


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