A former student of mine and now teaching in Florida at Trinity College, Les Keylock, sent me this little “article” about whether or not we are biblical when it comes to women on Sunday morning. Les will no doubt check in today, so let’s start a conversation with Les about women in ministry.
WOMEN AND THE SUNDAY MORNING SERVICE
Leslie Robert Keylock, Ph.D.
Trinity College of Florida
If you look at the platform of the average evangelical church on Sunday morning, you would think that God had created only one sex! Even in large evangelical churches that have a number of people on the platform, they are all male. Why is this? And does such a fact reflect the practice of the New Testament church?
Those who defend such a current practice will often refer to one biblical verse above all in their apologia. In 1 Timothy 2:12, at least in most translations, Paul tells us that he does not permit women to “teach or have authority over men.” Several assumptions are drawn from these words, at least some of them questionable. It is assumed that what Paul is talking about is identical with what the “preacher” does on Sunday morning, namely, teaching. It is assumed that to be a preacher is to be a teacher, though in the Greek New Testament preaching is usually directed to those who are not Christians. It is assumed that the Greek word that is translated “have authority over” means to be a pastor (despite the lack of authority of the pastor in some of our churches!). It is sometimes assumed that the word “teach” governs the word “men,” so that the verse says women should not teach men, so that when boys turn into men, women should not be teaching them any longer, though such a conclusion is hard to defend from the Greek text, where the word “men” is widely separated from the word “teach.”
On the basis of the fundamental principle of Bible interpretation that Scripture should interpret Scripture (sometimes called technically the principle of the “analogy of faith”), however, all these assumptions need to be tested.
First of all, 1 Timothy 2:12 must not be interpreted in such a way that it contradicts Acts 18:26, where a woman clearly teaches a man. When Paul, Priscilla, and Aquila leave Corinth and arrive in Ephesus, they find a Jew from Alexandria named Apollos, who is brilliantly debating with Jews who do not accept the idea that Jesus is the Messiah, though he “knew only the baptism of John” (Acts 18:25). Priscilla and Aquila take him home with them “and explained to him more correctly the Way of God” (Acts 18:26). There are, therefore, times in the New Testament when a woman does in fact teach a man. This verse is sometimes used to defend the idea that women can be professors in Christian college and seminary Bible and theology departments, though many evangelical colleges and seminaries do not, in fact, have even one woman in those departments, and those that do usually have only one.
Second, 1 Timothy 2:12 must not be interpreted in such a way that it contradicts 1 Corinthians 11:5. Paul is in that passage speaking of public worship and he speaks of a woman who “prays or proclaims God’s message in public worship.” Yet the number of times I have heard a woman pray during a Sunday morning worship service can probably be counted on the fingers of one hand, and I believe that most evangelical churches in the country today never allow a woman to pray during the Sunday morning service, despite Paul’s clear words that indicate that women did pray in public worship in the church in Corinth, probably as frequently as men did.
What about a woman “speaking God’s message in public worship”? Other translations make what can be said to be a too sharp distinction between preaching, teaching, and prophesying, so that some conclude that prophesying was a practice of the early church that is no longer needed. Without getting into a detailed discussion of the word “prophecy,” what it means, and whether it has “ceased,” we need to remember that in its roots prophecy is “speaking for” God, and that in the early church women had a role in public worship that included prophesying or speaking God’s word. With women not praying in public worship very often, and most evangelical churches interpreting prophecy in such a way that it is no longer practiced, it has to be said that a New Testament service of public worship would certainly have looked quite different from a service of public worship in most evangelical churches today, particularly in terms of the gender of those who lead it. In other words, women in the New Testament worship service would have been far more prominent than they are today in the average evangelical church. In this area at least, most of our evangelical churches today are not truly biblical.
Finally, 1 Timothy 2:12 should not be interpreted in such a way that it violates another basic rule of Bible interpretation, and that is that we should not build a doctrine on one verse of Scripture. In the case of 1 Timothy 2:12 that is particularly important because the word translated “have authority over” is what scholars call a hapax legomenon. The word used in that verse for “have authority over,” in other words, occurs only once in the whole New Testament. In classical literature it can mean “have authority over,” but it can also be translated “domineer over.” Moreover, often when Paul joins two infinitives with “and” or “or,” he shows the influence of Hebrew poetic style and means the second infinitive to qualify how he understands the first infinitive. “To teach” therefore would be qualified by and close in meaning to the second infinitive. A case can be made for the conclusion that what Paul is saying to Timothy at this point in his letter is that in Ephesus, where the elders appear to have ceased to be completely orthodox and have stopped attending Timothy’s teaching sessions, women who have been influenced by them were in attendance and were interrupting Timothy as he was speaking. Paul does not feel comfortable with those women “teaching” in such a way that they domineer over men. That seems to be what Paul is criticizing. To translate the second verb as “have authority over” does not fit the Jewish practice of parallelism nearly as well. What would it mean to say that women should not teach in such a way that they have authority over men?
Whether we see prophecy as something that has ceased or interpret it as speaking for God in public worship, and whether or not we feel women can be pastors, could we who claim to be biblical not get back to a more biblical Sunday morning service, one in which women have a more prominent role in the leadership of public worship, at least in the areas of prayer and speaking God’s word?
Les (Dr. Leslie Robert Keylock, Chair
Synoptic Gospels Section
Evangelical Theological Society;
Trinity College of Florida
Trinity FL 34655)