Monday, April 14, 2014

My view of women teaching in church - 1st Timothy 2:11-15

This is a second post in my attempt to describe my personal beliefs regarding the role of women in the church. If you are interested you might want to read my first post on women being silent in church.
"A woman must quietly receive instruction with entire submissiveness. But I do not allow a woman to teach or exercise authority over a man, but to remain quiet. For it was Adam who was first created, and then Eve. And it was not Adam who was deceived, but the woman being deceived, fell into transgression. But women will be preserved through the bearing of children if they continue in faith and love and sanctity with self-restraint." (1 Timothy 2:11-15)
It is difficult to properly understand the role of teaching in the early church and the means by which it took place. One thing is for certain, at least in my opinion, is that it was very different then than it is today. In most churches today teaching is done by a single person, often a lead pastor who is the head and pinnacle of authority in the church. While they may "share" their "pulpit" from time to time, teaching in the church is most often allocated primarily to one person. This does not seem to have been the case in the early church. It is unclear to me who exactly was teaching and whether or not such teaching always took place in the context of a corporate meeting. In some churches there were obviously multiple teachers. "at Antioch, in the church that was there, prophets and teachers." (Acts 13:1) Paul also, speaking of the gifts God has placed within the church, always speaks of them in the plural, "And God has appointed in the church, first apostles, second prophets, third teachers, then miracles..." (1 Corinthians 12:28)

There was also among the churches some false teachers; teachers who taught contrary to the message of Christ. Peter even warns us that, as always, there will continue to be false teachers, "But false prophets also arose among the people, just as there will also be false teachers among you, who will secretly introduce destructive heresies, even denying the Master who bought them." (2 Peter 2:1) Jesus even warned a specific church about a specific false teacher in their midst, "But I have this against you, that you tolerate the woman Jezebel, who calls herself a prophetess, and she teaches and leads My bond-servants astray so that they commit acts of immorality and eat things sacrificed to idols." (Revelation 2:20) Finally, even this very letter to Timothy was to encourage him in his job of silencing those who were teaching falsehood and disturbing the faith of some. "As I urged you upon my departure for Macedonia, remain on at Ephesus so that you may instruct certain men not to teach strange doctrines." (1 Timothy 1:3)

It is curious to me how so many teachers operated and even taught falsehood before the elders, and possibly even a bishop, so freely. It is doubtful to me that they all taught on a Sunday morning. Perhaps they also taught in smaller groups or even in homes. We know that even Paul taught, "in the temple and from house to house." (Acts 5:42)

Why do I say all this? It is because teaching then was different from teaching today. When someone teaches under the oversight of elders and other leaders who are able to judge and distinguish the word being taught, then it is very easy to correct error and deception before it infects the flock. Here I see little danger of women, or anyone, teaching in church. However, when teaching is being disseminated throughout the flock in private gatherings then it is harder to judge and oversee everything that is being taught. It also seems to me that Paul's concern with women teaching is combined with his concern with women usurping the authority within the church; women teaching (perhaps in private) in opposition to the elders or without any submission to their oversight and authority.

It also seems to me that there is a great difference between teaching, for an example, a Psalm and teaching on the nature of Christ. We must understand that during the early centuries of the church, much of what we call doctrine was still being defined. We have the advantage of two thousand years of teaching and writing to fall back upon, they had very little. What seems to me to have been Paul's concern was not women sharing from the scriptures but women trying to define "the faith" or redefining the apostolic message; trying to define the fundamental beliefs and doctrines of the Christian church while they were still being debated and solidified.

So what do I believe? I believe that when a woman seeks to instruct the church from outside the oversight and authority of the eldership or, when she usurps the eldership by asserting herself as the one to define both the message and the bounds and limits of our faith, then she has has gone beyond good judgment and wisdom and is rightly censured by the church. However, that being said, there still remains plenty of room within the church for women to preach, teach, and exhort the body of Christ to the glory of God.

David Robison

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