Archive for the ‘Gender’ Category

Some Thoughts on 1 Timothy 2:11-15

April 1, 2009

Every so often I come back around to think on controversial subjects.  I reacquaint myself with the arguments on both sides, reevaluate them, and often end up strengthening my understanding of my own view, although on some occasions I have reversed course (I recently changed my mind about the gifts of prophecy and tongues, for example). 

I have recently had a thought in mind about the key biblical passage on women in ministry, but I have not gotten around to posting it until now.  That passage is 1 Timothy 2:11-15:

Let a woman learn quietly with all submissiveness.  I do not permit a woman to teach or to exercise authority over a man; rather, she is to remain quiet.  For Adam was formed first, then Eve; and Adam was not deceived, but the woman was deceived and became a transgressor.  Yet she will be saved through childbearing–if they continue in faith and love and holiness, with self-control.

There are basically three ways to approach this passage.  With two approaches you can end up with women pastors, and with the other approach you cannot.  The first approach would be the liberal approach, one that does not accept the authority of Scripture.  Most liberal exegetes look at this passage, conclude that the author (not Paul, according to them) restricted authoritative teaching offices to men, and then say, “Now isn’t that silly?”  And they go on ordaining women to the pastorate.  The passage has no bearing on church practice in that case.

The other two approaches accept the authority of the text as God’s Word but differ as to its applicability to today.  Complementarians like myself see the flow of Paul’s argument, particularly the appeal to transcultural realities like creation and the Fall, as sealing the case for the transcultural applicability of this command.  Women are not to be ordained to the pastorate at any time because this transgresses God’s design in creation, a design that, as much as it conflicts with modern sensibilities, is nevertheless for our good and for his glory. 

Egalitarians, on the other hand, argue that Paul’s restriction on women here is an ad hoc prohibition, one designed to curtail the spread of false doctrine that had particularly influenced the women in Ephesus at this time (see Gordon D. Fee, Gospel and Spirit: Issues in New Testament Hermeneutics [Peabody, MA: Hendrickson, 1991], 52-65 for this approach).  Paul’s point, so this approach argues, is not to give a command to the church for all time, but rather it is to give a command that applies to a particular situation and that would not necessarily apply when the situation has changed.  Therefore, given the changed setting of our cultural situation, where the same kind of false teaching is not rampant among women, we need not obey Scripture to the letter in this case.  The ordination of women is perfectly compatible with Paul’s intention in this passage, so the argument goes. 

The thought that has been occurring to me more recently is how ironic it is that those who want to protect the ordination of women have to turn Paul into a sexist in order to do it.  Let me explain. 

If a youth minister arrives at his Wednesday evening youth gathering to find the young people listening to a hip-hop song on the church’s CD player, a song that is full of crude and degrading language, the first thing he will do, if he is a youth minister worth his salt, is have the music turned off.  But let’s say the song happens to be performed by a black hip-hop artist.  What if the youth minister then says to the group, “From now on, there will be no more listening to the music of black people on church property.  I do not permit any of you to play any music performed by a black person at church gatherings.”  Surely we would conclude that the youth minister’s action was tinged with a bit of racism.  After all, he has, on the basis of one bad example, branded a whole class of people with a moral taint solely because they share similar physical characteristics with that one bad example.  He has used a sledge hammer where a scalpel is needed.  The damage he has done is likely worse than that of the original problem itself. 

If egalitarians who respect the authority of Scripture are right, then Paul has done the same thing.  No one is going to argue that all the women in Ephesus and only the women in Ephesus were guilty of being seduced by this false teaching (witness two men who are mentioned by name in 1 Timothy 1:20).  So, if the egalitarians are right, we must conclude that Paul chose to address a problem among some women, as well as among some men, by giving a blanket prohibition against all women teaching and exercising authority.  If that is not sexism, I don’t know what is. 

As they say in rural Kentucky, “That dog won’t hunt.”

(Okay, I have never actually heard anyone in rural Kentucky say that, but it seems quite plausible that somebody does say it.)

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The Beauty of Complementarity

October 12, 2007

Last Saturday I performed a wedding ceremony for the first time.  It was for a young couple that I have had the privilege of getting to know over the past few months.  Back in May I baptized both of them and welcomed them into the fellowship of our church.  The wedding was a very special event for me, not only because it was my first wedding to officiate, but also because it was the wedding of two friends. 

I have a personal policy of guidelines that I use to determine what weddings I will perform and that provides information concerning my views on marriage, family, and gender.  Whenever a couple asks me to perform a wedding, I provide these guidelines to them, ask them to read over them, and then to let me know if they still want me to officiate.  These guidelines clearly explain my views of the roles of men and women, namely, that of male headship in the home.  After reading over the guidelines, the couple still wanted me to do their wedding.  After several sessions of premarital counseling where we discussed issues including the roles of husbands and wives in the home, they still wanted me to do their wedding. 

At the wedding I read three passages of Scripture: Genesis 2:18-25, Revelation 21:9-10, and Ephesians 5:22-33.  I explained that marriage is an institution of God that goes back to the beginning and awaits us at the end.  The marriage of the first man and woman is a pattern of all marriages to come, which points us to the union of Christ and his church.  In this union, husbands play the role of Christ, and wives play the role of the church.  I told the groom that his role was to love his bride as Christ loves the church, namely, in a self-giving, sacrificial way that seeks her good above his own.  I told him that it was his responsibility to lead his family, to provide for his family, and to protect his family.  I told the bride that her role was to submit to her husband’s godly leadership and help him carry it through.  I told her that most of all, her husband needs to know that she respects him.  I told them both that they are equally made in God’s image, but to be equal does not mean to be interchangeable (although I didn’t say it at the wedding, I think one would have to conclude that if men and women are interchangeable, then homosexuality is no different from heterosexuality). 

I gave a robustly complementarian message.  The couple seemed very pleased with how it all went.  After the wedding, a number of people complimented me on the message.  I don’t say this to blow my horn, but simply to make a point (which I will get to in a second).  A few of those who complimented me were men, but the majority of them were women.  In fact, one young woman who complimented me is a member of my church and is engaged to get married.  Her wedding is scheduled for 2009.  She was the most enthusiastic about my message, and she told me that she wants me to say some of the same things about the roles of men and women at her wedding.

It is quite possible (in fact, quite probable) that some people were offended by the message but simply didn’t express that to me.  I will say, however, that I was surprised by how many people–women especially–gave a resounding affirmation to the complementarian theology that I proclaimed.  This in no way proves that complementarian theology is correct (Scripture proves that); it does, however, seem to undermine to some degree the idea that complementarian theology is oppressive to women.  Most women I know would be thrilled to see their husbands take on a Christlike, self-giving, strong, protective leadership role in the home, and they would be happy to submit to that kind of leadership.  While the egalitarian view of the sexes seems to be dominant in mainstream culture, I doubt that it is quite as dominant as most people think.  And within the church, it is still the minority position (and has been throughout the entire 2,000 years of the church’s existence). 

There is certainly a wrong way to preach and teach a complementarian theology.  But when it is preached right, taught right, and lived right, it truly is a beautiful thing.  And many people–far more than you might think–will be glad to embrace something so beautiful.