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Woman Teaching

I Permit No Woman to Teach

Woman Teaching

I permit no woman to teach or to have authority over a man; she is to keep silent.

1 Tim 2:12

The above text is used by many parts of Christianity to bolster their practice of keeping women out of preaching, teaching, or ordination (with variations that allow this teaching in some places by women to women only). I only recently came across the interpretation of this text that the author of 1 Timothy is not referring to women generally but to some single, individual woman in the community to which this letter was originally sent.

I have read the argument by Marg Mowczko, but I am unconvinced. In this approach, the author of 1 Timothy continues writing about this specific, anonymous woman:

the woman was deceived and became a transgressor. Yet she will be saved through childbearing, provided they continue in faith and love and holiness, with modesty.
1 Timothy 2.13-15

One should be suspicious about this interpretation – there is no allusion in the letter to such a specific, anonymous woman prior to these verses. There is no reputable contemporary translation which supports Marg Mowczko’s approach and interpretation.

Be that as it may, I want to press Marg Mowczko’s approach deeper. The underlying presuppositions beneath the approach may be missed. What Marg Mowczko is doing is treating every word, phrase, and sentence in the Bible as being so inspired by Almighty God to be eternally binding and applicable – including in our current context. Her underlying approach is neither necessary nor helpful.

I want to press past the not unimportant point that majority contemporary scholarship would not accept that Paul is the author of 1 Timothy. Marg Mowczko’s approach cannot allow for this (she mentions Paul as author about 30 times), because to admit that the text of this letter is incorrect at one point (in attributing the letter to St Paul, 1 Tim 1:1-2) means that her convoluted, revisionist interpretation of making 1 Tim 2:12 fit to her egalitarian agenda becomes unnecessary.

Marg Mowczko’ approach is her response to those who, similarly, treat every word, phrase, and sentence in the Bible as being so inspired by Almighty God to be eternally binding and applicable. I would question this approach to the Bible (and, hence it is not unimportant that we can accept that this letter, which claims to have Paul as the author, was not actually written by him).

In other words, to put it plainly: the Bible is wrong when it states that we could, in our contemporary context, affirm that Paul wrote 1 Timothy. Similarly, the teaching that women keep silent in church is no longer applicable, appropriate, or binding in our contemporary context.

Further, if the understanding is that Almighty God has so inspired 1 Tim 2:12 that it is binding on us all in 2019, then it is clear, from the inability to agree about the application of 1 Tim 2:12 in 2019, that Almighty God has made a very poor job of this particular piece of inspiration.

It is no use, as is so often done, to argue that in 1 Tim 2:12, God is perfectly clear and that it is simply we, as sinful, imperfect human beings, we are reading God’s perfect clarity imperfectly. If God, in His almighty inspiration, cannot take into account our sinfulness and imperfection, then the Bible simply isn’t fit for purpose, and Almighty God has made a very poor job of this.

There is another way forward. This other way is to take the Bible seriously enough that one reads it with the best possible contemporary scholarship available and, hence, that one acknowledges that these are ancient documents often with genres, approaches, and attitudes that are unacceptable in our contemporary context. This way does not seek to twist the text to fit our context, but treats them with honesty and integrity in their own right.

These texts, now bound together into what looks to most people to be a single book (the Bible – and note, of course, that there are even different versions of what texts are in and what are out), these texts, covering a good thousand year period, set up a trajectory – and we are where we are as a result of that trajectory. That trajectory now means that ascribing an author, who didn’t produce something, to a document (in the manner perfectly accepted in the first couple of Christian centuries) would now be regarded as dishonest. And that trajectory has now (increasingly) resulted in giving women a fuller place in the life and ordained ministry of the church.

What do you think?

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11 thoughts on “I Permit No Woman to Teach”

  1. I agree that her interpretation stretches a long bow and I agree that we should read this text, as we should read all Biblical texts, as a kind of fossil- a marker on the long evolutionary trajectory which leads to, and onward from, today.

    The question remains though, of why back then, the author of the epistle wrote that. I think the answer is simple. In the first Century men were educated. Women were not. And particularly in Jewish context, or one which was closely associated with a Jewish context, men were almost universally taught the Torah and Mishnah while women were almost universally not. So you could re read 1 Timothy as saying that he will not permit anyone not formally trained in Biblical interpretation to teach in the church. I sentiment I would wholeheartedly agree with. Of course from our perspective, when women have equal opportunity for Biblical learning to men, the statement seems outrageous. And rightfully so. But I dont think the writers problem was gender per se so much as the limitationsnplacednon gender in his context. Now that those limitations have vanished, so should any issues we have with women teaching in church.

    1. Thanks, Kelvin. Yes, I think your digging deeper into the “why?” is a helpful way forward – however we do that. I thing the conclusion you come to is correct: there is nothing intrinsically in female DNA that means they are more likely to be deceived. Blessings.

  2. Great article Bosco
    You brother, are one of my channel markers my theology.
    Now, if you could put my mind at ease about divorce……? next article? lol

    Still in the jungles of west africa
    Still in His grip

    1. See David Instone-Brewer’s books and website on Divorce and Remarriage. He is a 2nd temple scholar (how many can claim that?) that works are Tyndale House in the UK and so is very credible.

      1. Thanks, David. David Instone-Brewer’s approach is certainly interesting. It sits within the wider Marg Mowczko-type approach that I have described. I am not fully convinced, and think that my trajectory approach is more honest. Blessings.

  3. Intriguing perspective. However, in regards to, “It is no use, as is so often done, to argue that in 1 Tim 2:12, God is perfectly clear and that it is simply we, as sinful, imperfect human beings, we are reading God’s perfect clarity imperfectly.”

    Did not Christ say, “If anyone’s will is to do God’s will, he will know whether the teaching is from God,” indicating the role bias plays in rightly interpreting holy writ?

    This is not to deny that some passages are hard to understand.

    You rightly see Marg Mowczko’s bias in handling the Word of God. Cannot you see your own?

    1. Thanks, Doug.

      1) I would think that majority contemporary scholarship would answer ‘no’ to your question: the historical Jesus did not actually say, “If anyone’s will is to do God’s will, he will know whether the teaching is from God”.

      2) I do not think that your quote of John 7:17 indicates the role bias plays in rightly interpreting holy writ. Even looking at the slightly wider context makes that clear:

      Then Jesus answered them, ‘My teaching is not mine but his who sent me. Anyone who resolves to do the will of God will know whether the teaching is from God or whether I am speaking on my own.

      (John 7:16-17)

      3) Yes, I am biased in handling the Word of God. And further: I may be wrong.


  4. On your claim, the question is how can one believer convince another about anything? If you belong to a tradition, then it may be the case that your tradition tells you that they can tell you what God wants and often a part of that claim is that they can infallibly interpret Scripture, Catholics and the Orthodox make this claim, as do some others. But those in the Protestant tradition claim there is no such Magisterium (infallible teaching authority). What are they going to do? It turns out they are going to over 400 years splinter into about 20,000-30,000 groups, depending on how one counts a group, each one claiming that they are the ones to interpret Scripture accurately. So it is understandable if one just gives up on that idea of trying to interpret Scripture correctly and fake it as best one can, the “liberal” wing of believers do just that. The “conservative” wing have big concerns with doing that. The basic point is that something that may look almost trivial to address for a liberal may be anything but for a conservative.

    1. Thanks, Donald. In my experience, it is unusual for “one believer to convince another about anything”. Even Roman Catholics, with the strongest Christian tradition of infallibility cannot agree. The case in point, to follow this post, is women used not to be allowed in the sanctuary, now they will give homilies, lead parishes, and hold significant positions of responsibility even in the Vatican. There is ongoing RC debate whether women be ordained – some even having gone ahead and done so. Blessings.

  5. You know what I think Bosco!
    I feel more strongly than ever that if Christianity is to be relevant in 2019 it must be relevant to 2019.

    Women *are* leaders in the modern world, and wherever they are not it seems apparent civilization falters, human right abuse occurs with tolerance and acceptance.

    I don’t know why 1 Tim 2:12 would be taken as a direct and perfect instruction for all time, rather than an attempt to make Judaism relevant 2000 years ago or an attempt to work out the new faith of Christianity.

    1 Timothy 3 says leaders must not be recent converts, whilst 1 Timothy 4 says don’t let anyone look down on you because you are young. 1 Timothy 6 says slaveowners are devoted to their slaves, yet slavery is also referred to as a ‘yoke’. In 1 Timothy the writer is both commanding forgiveness of sinners and handing out condemnation. I read that and see a double standard in being shown great mercy yet handing others to the devil!

    But it is human nature, and will be present in our discussions and reasoning, if we are prepared to see it in ourself as in others.

    There is a direct and perfect instruction in the same scripture too: ‘The goal of this command is love, which comes from a pure heart and a good conscience and a sincere faith.’

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