«      »

Is It Wrong for Women to be Church Leaders?

By Max Aplin

If you look up 1 Timothy 2:12 in nearly any English translation of the Bible, you will read something very similar to what the English Standard Version has: ‘I do not permit a woman to teach or to exercise authority over a man; rather she is to remain quiet.’

If, however, you turn to this verse in the recently published and widely acclaimed International Standard Version, it reads: ‘Moreover, in the area of teaching, I am not allowing a woman to instigate conflict toward a man. Instead, she is to remain calm.’

I was involved in academic and semi-academic work involving New Testament Greek for over twenty years (although never in a teaching capacity). During that time I spent countless hours studying passages of the Greek New Testament and reading scholars’ interpretations. For me personally, the ISV translation of 1 Tim 2:12 is one of the most astonishing treatments of New Testament Greek I have ever seen. It literally left me with my mouth wide open in amazement when I read it.

I don’t want to spend time discussing the Greek in detail here, since most readers will not be familiar with its rules. I can recommend William D. Mounce’s commentary on the Pastoral Epistles in the Word Biblical Commentary series for a sound treatment of this verse. It is true that there is scope for discussion about some aspects of the Greek of this text. But there should be no question whatever that the infinitive didaskein has the same grammatical relationship to epitrepo that the infinitive authentein has, meaning that the verse certainly says, ‘I do not permit a woman to teach’. There is no doubt either that, taken in the wider context of vv. 11-14, this verse also forbids women to be in authority over men in a church setting. It does not say what the ISV tries to make it say.

In short, the ISV translators of this verse have taken an enormously unnatural interpretation of the Greek. I know I run a serious risk of sounding arrogant saying this, since I am obviously not a native speaker of Koine/Hellenistic/New Testament Greek, but I am confident that not one in a million Greek speakers in the first century would have taken the Greek of this verse in the way that the translators of the ISV have taken it. The translation is that bad.

I think I know what has gone on here. The translators of this part of the ISV have been massively influenced by modern Western culture, and they have allowed that to determine their translation. The usual translations of 1 Tim 2:12 forbid women from teaching in church or holding leadership positions, and this way of doing things is totally at odds with mainstream Western culture. The translators seem to have been so convinced that modern Western culture is right on this issue that they have contrived a way to get the Bible to agree with that culture.

If my understanding of the psychology behind what has gone on here is right, the translators have got their priorities exactly the wrong way round. One of the main reasons that God has given us Scripture is so that the influences of the cultures surrounding us are corrected by what He has to say. The relationship between the Bible and the Christian should always be a one-way relationship. It should influence us, but we should never allow ourselves to influence it by mistranslation or misinterpretation. It seems that the translators of 1 Tim 2:12 in the ISV have seriously failed to live up to this principle.

Like all cultures, modern Western culture gets some things right and some things wrong. This culture is very strong on equality between men and women. Christians can voice a loud ‘Amen’ to that. It is also very strong on criticising men in positions of authority for using that authority to mistreat women. Again, Christians are totally on side.

However, Western culture is completely wrong to say that the fact that women are equal to men must mean that there is no place for men being in authority over women as a matter of principle. Crucially, even the Trinity itself shows us how being under authority does not mean inferiority in value or worth. John’s Gospel tells us that Jesus Christ is God the Son incarnate (see, e.g., 20:28). Yet even the incarnate Son is portrayed in this Gospel as subordinate to the Father (see, e.g., 14:28). The fact that God the Father has authority over God the Son in no way means that the Father is greater in value or any more God than the Son. And the fact that God the Son is under the authority of the Father in no way means that the Son is less in value or any less God than the Father.

Given that being over authority and under authority does not mean greater or lesser value even within the Trinity itself, the same could easily potentially be true of men and women. And passages like 1 Tim 2:11-14 make it clear that in church leadership men do indeed have a God-given authority over women that women do not have over men. Here is this passage in full:

11 A Woman should learn in quietness and full submission. 12 And I do not allow a woman to teach or to exercise authority over a man, but she should be quiet. 13 For Adam was formed first, then Eve. 14 And Adam was not deceived, but the woman was deceived and came into sin.

This passage tells us that women should not teach in churches or be in church leadership positions, and any translations or interpretations that deny this should be firmly rejected. I have already mentioned the ISV translation of v. 12. Similarly, there are those who claim that in these verses Paul is just referring to a situation in which women were misinterpreting the Genesis account, and that he is not using Genesis to back up his claim that women should not teach or lead. This too is a contrived way of avoiding the sense of the text, and should not be accepted.

It is not legitimate to argue that women being subject to men in church leadership is merely something that was culturally appropriate for the recipients of 1 Timothy or even that it was appropriate only for all Christians in the first century. The way that Paul appeals to the creation story shows that we are dealing here with a principle of the created order.

Similarly, 1 Corinthians 14:34-35 points in the same direction. These verses read:

34 . . . women should be silent in the churches, since it is not fitting for them to speak, but they should subordinate themselves, just as the Law also says. 35 If they want to learn something, let them ask their own husbands at home, for it is shameful for a woman to speak in church.

The phrase ‘just as the Law also says’ shows that Paul is not thinking of a principle that was dependent on cultural conditions in Corinth, but that he is thinking that women’s subordination and silence in church gatherings is based on a principle that goes back to ages past. This principle is clearly presented as one that applies to the whole church age.

We can note that women are referred to in the same letter as praying and prophesying in church gatherings (11:5). And in light of the teaching of ch. 14 on prophecy, it seems that 11:5 is referring to women praying and prophesying out loud. The silence of 14:34-35 therefore mustn’t be taken too literally. Nevertheless, this passage does strongly suggest that women do not have authority to teach in churches – at least, to teach adults – and that they should not be leaders.

So, the New Testament tells us that women should not be teachers in churches or church leaders, and this is a principle which is based on God’s created order and which applies to the whole church age. That’s that, then, is it? Women should never be teachers or church leaders, should they?

Actually, things are not quite so simple. Importantly, it is going too far to treat 1 Tim 2:11-14 and 1 Cor 14:34-35 as cast iron rules that need to be followed no matter what. Instead, these passages should be treated as principles that may potentially allow of some exceptions in special cases.

Scripture often gives a general principle with the unspoken assumption that there may be exceptions to that principle. For example, in Mark 10:2-12 Jesus teaches that anyone who divorces his wife and marries another commits adultery. That might seem to conflict with Matthew 5:31-32 and 19:9, which allow for divorce and remarriage in the case of sexual immorality. However, it would be wrong to conclude that there is a conflict between Matthew and Mark here. Instead, we should see Mark as providing a general principle whose exceptions have been left unexpressed. Matthew then goes into a bit more detail, specifying some exceptions to the principle in Mark. Modern Western Christians often get confused in issues like this because they are unaware that the Semitic culture of the biblical writers allowed for unexpressed exceptions to things more than we are used to in the modern West.

It is unwarranted, then, to conclude from 1 Timothy 2 and 1 Corinthians 14 alone that there must never, ever under any circumstances be women leaders of churches or that women must never, ever under any circumstances teach adults in churches.

In fact, there are some good reasons for believing that God does at times approve of exceptions to the principle of 1 Timothy 2 and 1 Corinthians 14.

To begin with, there are other passages in the New Testament that need to be allowed their due weight. We must resist at all costs the temptation to simplify things by ignoring or explaining away biblical texts that seem to fit awkwardly with others. The Bible contains more tensions and paradoxes than we are used to in the modern West, and we must never try to force Scripture into a Western mindset.

Acts 18 is relevant here. In v. 2 we are introduced to Aquila and his wife Priscilla, some Jewish Christians (or at least Jews who will be Christians by the time of v. 18). They are referred to again in v. 18, but this time Priscilla is mentioned before her husband. Then they are referred to yet again in v. 26, where we are told that they took Apollos aside and helped him to understand Christianity better. In v. 26 Greek manuscripts differ, but the original text very probably mentioned Priscilla before Aquila, as textual critics widely agree.

In the Greek alphabet, Aquila begins with an alpha, the first letter in that alphabet, while Priscilla begins with a pi, which is further on in the alphabet. So, in mentioning Priscilla before her husband Aquila, not only is Luke going against the cultural norm of mentioning the husband first, but he is actually going against alphabetical order to do so.

Clearly, we don’t have much information to go on here, and certainties are not possible, but the impression we get is that Priscilla probably played the major role in explaining the gospel to Apollos, and that Aquila’s role was more secondary.

It is true that the situation envisaged in Acts 18 is a private meeting, not a church gathering. Nevertheless, this passage seems to stand as a warning against taking the prohibition of women teaching in 1 Timothy 2 and 1 Corinthians 14 too rigidly.

Second, there is Romans 16:7 to consider, where Paul instructs the Roman Christians to greet two specific believers. His instruction is best translated, ‘Greet Andronicus and Junia, my compatriots and fellow prisoners, who are of note among the apostles.’

This verse probably refers to a woman apostle. There are, however, three areas of uncertainty.

First, there is the issue of what Greek word was in the original. Iounian, which is an accusative case word in the text, could potentially refer either to the woman’s name Junia (Greek nominative Iounia) or the man’s name Junias (Greek nominative Iounias), considered to be a contraction of the man’s name Junianus. Accordingly, some have argued that it should be translated Junias and that it is referring to a male apostle.

The problem with this view is that there is no evidence that anyone called Junianus was ever referred to as Junias; the name Junias is not found in any other ancient literature. By contrast, Junia is well attested as a woman’s name. It seems much more probable, therefore, that this verse is referring to a woman, Junia.

Second, the clause I have translated as ‘who are of note among the apostles’ could potentially be translated as ‘who are of note in the eyes of the apostles’. If this interpretation is accepted, it would mean that Junia was not herself an apostle, just that the apostles thought highly of her.

However, if this latter interpretation is correct, a rather unusual structure has been used to give this meaning. There is a more natural way of saying this in the Greek. On the other hand, if ‘who are of note among the apostles’ was the intended meaning, the most natural form of the Greek has been used.

On balance, it seems significantly more likely that ‘who are of note among the apostles’ is the correct interpretation.

Third, there is the meaning of the Greek word apostolos to consider. This word is found in Rom 16:7 and is the word that is commonly used to refer to an apostle. However, in 2 Cor 8:23 and Phil 2:25 Paul uses apostolos in a much weaker sense to refer to people who were merely envoys of churches, but not apostles. Some have argued, therefore, that in Rom 16:7 Paul is using apostolos in this weak sense, and that Junia was not an apostle, but simply a Christian envoy of some sort.

This seems very unlikely. The vast majority of the time that apostolos is used in the New Testament, including when Paul uses the word, it refers to apostles. And in 2 Cor 8:23 and Phil 2:25 the context makes it clear that the word is being used in an unusual way. There is no indication in the context of Rom 16:7 that the word is being used unusually. We do much better, therefore, to take the word in its usual sense.

These three areas of uncertainty do add up, and the second one carries some real weight. Nevertheless, on balance it seems more probable than not that in this verse Paul is referring to a woman who was an apostle in the full sense of someone who saw the risen Jesus and received a commission from Him for ministry at that time. I don’t know how often this interpretation was accepted in the early centuries of the church, but I do know that the fourth-fifth century Christian, John Chrysostom, a native Greek speaker, took the verse in this way, and commented how remarkable it was that a woman should be called an apostle.

It is true that we know of no other female apostles but do know of numerous male apostles. Nevertheless, in the time of the judges almost all the judges were men, yet God chose Deborah as an exception (Judg 4-5). It seems perfectly possible that God could have chosen a female apostle as an exception to the rule. Perhaps he even chose more than one, since there were some apostles whose names have not been preserved.

If there was an apostle called Junia, she may well have had at least some authority over both male and female Christians, and in that case she would have been an exception to the principle outlined in 1 Timothy 2 and 1 Corinthians 14.

Quite apart from biblical texts, every reasonable Christian would surely agree that there are at least some exceptional circumstances in which women should take leadership roles in churches. Take the following scenario, for example:

In a country where there are very few Christians, there are fifteen people in a church, and no other Christians are known for miles around. Of these fifteen, five are children, and of the ten adults, seven are women. There are more female than male believers worldwide, so this scenario is entirely plausible.

Let’s suppose that of the three men, one is not very committed. He doesn’t play much of a part and is not very reliable, only rarely turning up to services etc. It would surely be wrong to insist that he becomes the leader, something that he would probably refuse to do anyway.

Let’s suppose also that the two other men are devout and serious about following Jesus, but that they are both recent converts, whereas a few of the women have been believers for many years and are very committed. Again, it would surely be wrong to insist that one of these new male converts becomes a leader. That would be to get priorities all wrong.

So, in a situation like this we see that exceptional circumstances mean that women should take on leadership and teaching responsibilities. But this raises an important question. What other exceptional circumstances might there be in which women should be leaders and teachers in churches? I will admit that this is a question I am still wrestling with, and I don’t claim to have all the answers. But I do have some thoughts.

First, in circumstances where God wants men to be leaders but the men are failing to take that role, it makes perfect sense to think that God would then move into plan B and raise up women leaders.

Let me give an example of the sort of thing I mean. I am – to my surprise, it has to be said – a member of the Church of Scotland, and I am part of a local congregation in the town where I live. The Church of Scotland on the whole is in a dire spiritual state. Most congregations are as dry as dust and are taught heresy in some areas of doctrine and/or morals. (There is a large minority of evangelical congregations, like my own church, that are serious about following Jesus and the authority of Scripture.)

In the Church of Scotland there is a serious shortage of pastors. People are simply not applying for these positions. Many churches therefore have to make do as best they can with retired pastors and elders filling in. Furthermore, most of the people who do become pastors are not fit to be pastors.

I personally know devout Christian women, who are fully orthodox in doctrine and morals, and who believe strongly that God has called them to be pastors in the Church of Scotland. Given the terrible state of affairs, where flocks are taught heresy or have no pastor at all, I don’t find it difficult to believe that in this exceptional situation, when not enough devout men are stepping up to the plate, God has to some extent set aside the principles of 1 Timothy 2 and 1 Corinthians 14 and is raising up women, even though that is not ideal.

Even in denominations of the church that are not heretical and where there is not a shortage of pastors, however, there are faithful Christian women who become pastors. This is something that I admit I haven’t yet understood. On the one hand, I find myself unable to say that these women must be wrong to be in these roles. Many of them clearly have close relationships with God, and it seems very strange to me that they would make massively wrong choices in their lives without realising it. On the other hand, I don’t know why God would set aside the principle of 1 Timothy 2 and 1 Corinthians 14 unless it were absolutely necessary. So I am unable to say that these women must be right to have become pastors.

If they are right, one possible solution that occurs to me concerns Western culture. In the first century Greco-Roman world, religions that had women leaders were typically held in disrepute. It was generally believed that men should lead religious groups. So, God’s standard plan of having male church leaders did not often reduce the appeal of the gospel in non-Christians’ eyes.

In modern, Western culture, however, insisting on male leadership in a religious group is something that does put many people off that group. In our culture, God’s standard plan of having male leaders therefore has the danger of putting people off the gospel.

So, is it possible that this counts as an exceptional situation in which God might raise up women leaders? Is it possible that, because our culture has misunderstood the roles of men and women, God in His mercy is raising up some women leaders as a way of better reaching out with the gospel to this culture?

I freely admit that I am not very impressed with this argument. Usually, at least, Scripture encourages us Christians to get on with doing our thing despite the culture around us, not to give ground in the face of that culture. Nevertheless, I mention this solution just as an idea that I haven’t ruled out.

Much more could be said about this topic but I will stop at this point. In sum, I have tried to emphasise two points. Firstly, although men and women are equal before God, His standard pattern, his plan A if you will, is for men and not women to be church leaders.

Secondly, we live in a world where ideals sometimes cannot be realised. It is a mistake to be closed to God moving into plan B at times by raising up church leaders who are women. The New Testament itself may well suggest some female leading and teaching. Furthermore, at least some exceptional circumstances arise when having women church leaders is surely beneficial. How often such exceptions meet with God’s approval is a difficult issue. But Christians must not ignore 1 Timothy 2 and 1 Corinthians 14. Every time a woman becomes a church leader, there had better be a very good reason for choosing to step outside the standard pattern revealed in Scripture.

I have been a Christian for over 25 years. I have a Ph.D. in New Testament from the University of Edinburgh. I am a UK national and I currently live in the south of Scotland.

Article Source: http://www.faithwriters.comCHRISTIAN WRITER

Leave a Reply

You must be logged in to post a comment.

  • Stay Up to Date with TheHolyStory News!
    Get Your TheHolyStory News here!
    * indicates required
  • Categories
  • Search the Net from here!
    Custom Search
WP Flex by WP Queen
Wordpress theme developed by Simpler Computing and others - Wordpress and WPMU Plugins, custom code and more.