I believe that it is good and right for women to teach in church.
I hold this view not because I don’t value what the Bible says, but precisely because I value it so dearly. My high view of the authority of the Bible compels me to do more than honor Scripture with my interpretation. I must press for both an interpretation and an application that honor it.
Why bring this up? Because of a recent web-post by a prominent preacher who has long been vocal about how unbiblical it is for women to preach in church. He was asked, “Would a pastor who uses a biblical commentary written by a woman be placing himself under the instruction of a woman?” His answer demonstrates the strain of of his position:
It might be, he may feel it that way, and if he does, he probably shouldn’t read it. It doesn’t have to be experienced that way…
I distinguish between personal, direct, exercises of authority that involve man and woman. Being it’s personal she’s right there, she’s woman, I’m man, and I’m being directly pressed on by a woman in this way… Those two words, personal and direct.
Here would be an example of what I mean. A drill sergeant that gets in the face of his soldiers… I don’t think a woman ought to be doing that to a man. It’s direct, it’s forceful, authoritative, it’s compromising something about the way a woman and man were designed by God to relate.
The opposite would be where she is a city planner. She’s sitting in an office at a desk, drawing which streets should be one-way and which street should be two-way, and thus she’s going to control which way men drive all day long. That’s a lot of authority, and it’s totally impersonal and indirect, and therefore has no dimension of maleness or femaleness about it.
I would put a woman writing a book way more in that category of city planner than of a drill sergent.
(Listen to the entire interview on the speaker’s website here)
This pastor’s entire application has little to do with what Paul said about teaching and authority (1 Timothy 2:12). His interpretation has less to do Paul’s injunction against women teaching men than his own personal views about how God hardwired men and women. He refuses to consider cultural implications in his interpretation, even as he cannot avoid cultural considerations in his application. Thus he chains his interpretation to the context of the Sunday morning pulpit even as he strains his application to accommodate the rest of his Evangelical worldview.
He operates (as we all do) in a world where Christian women write books, lead ministries, and teach and sit on boards of seminaries and Bible colleges. And yet virtually no one cites verses like 1 Timothy 2:12 to say they should not.
His application (with its far-reaching consequences) has less to do with the issue of teaching and authority, and instead focuses on something else entirely: physical proximity. His interpretation isn’t that a woman can’t teach a man, but that a woman can teach a man (or exercise authority over him) unless she is standing in front of him.
In the words of Tina Fey (not that we’d let her say it from a pulpit): “What the what?!”
When our applications grow increasingly contorted, we must ask ourselves if our interpretations run the risk of belittling the very Scripture we seek to honor.
It is not enough for our interpretation to honor Scripture; our application must as well.