Friday, September 19, 2008

Women: Ministry and Marriage

THE MINISTRY OF WOMEN IN THE CHURCH: The confusion of Ministry and Marriage

A large amount of the debate about women’s ministry results from the fact that we do not always distinguish things that differ. There are two areas in particular of potential confusion in our thinking about the question of the role of women in the church.

One area of potential confusion in our thinking is that we mix up what Scripture says about the relationship between husband and wife in marriage with the question of the relationships between men and women in the church.

The teaching of Scripture is clear about this, but often we are not: we fail to distinguish things that differ.

Let me spell this out clearly. The basic Scriptural passage is Ephesians 5:21-33E. In this passage we see the Bible’s teaching about male headship: it exists within the marriage relationship: the husband is the head, and the wife is to submit to her husband who is to love her and treat her as he treats himself, as in fact an extension of his own body. This is an outworking (Paul says) of their one-flesh relationship, as Genesis teaches. But the headship of the man and the submission of the woman is only said of marriage - the woman is not told to be in submission to any other male, but only to her own husband.

The biggest place of confusion is regarding 1 Timothy 2:8-15E, which is usually taken as referring to church - though there is nothing in the passage about “in church”, and everything mentioned relates to marriage, home and family.

The problem arises in fact because of a male wish to dominate, which biases our thinking. And because of a factor in the Greek language in which the NT is written. In this passage Paul writes about a gune, a word which can be translated woman but which is also the word for wife, and indeed the only word in the NT for wife. He also uses here the word aner, which can be translated man but which is also the word for husband, and indeed the only word in the NT for husband.

So how do you know when a writer is talking about a wife and a husband, or a woman - any woman - and a man - any man? Or men and women in general. You should look at the context. So let’s look at this whole passage 1 Timothy 2:8-15E.

First comes - verse 8 - the reference to men praying. Looks like in church, doesn’t it? Well, not especially. It says it is referring to “everywhere”. This would certainly include in church, but as head of the household, men were charged with the responsibility of teaching and praying in and with their family. Such family prayers are standard for godly families from ‘way back in Old Testament times. I doubt I need to quote examples.

Next it speaks about when women get dressed. They got dressed at home, not in church.

Next come verses 11 and 12, about a woman learning is quietness and submission, and not usurping the authority of the man - where we have these crucial words gune and aner. Next, Paul attaches this teaching to the relationship of Adam and Eve. But Adam and Eve were husband and wife, not a church: if in verses 11 and 12 Paul was referring to a church assembly, he would need a different illustration and a different basis for what he has said. Finally he refers (verse 15) to a woman giving birth. But women gave birth to their children at home - not in the aisle at church.

There is NO reference in this passage which ties it specifically to what is done at church. Rather, the setting is marriage, home, and family. So, in context, gune and aner in verses 11 and 12 should be seen as referring to husband and wife. What is at issue in these verses is NOT whether women (plural) should preach, or teach men, or pray in church, but whether a wife (singular) should seek to challenge the headship and leadership of her husband (singular) in the marriage relationship.

Now turn to a parallel passage: 1 Peter 3:1-7. You will note many parallels in the points mentioned. Peter uses the same two words gune and aner as Paul does, but the translators here render them as “husband” and “wife”. Why? Good question. I can only assume, from bias. Peter is known as a married man - he would write (they think) about husband and wife. But Paul was not married at the time he wrote 1 Timothy and he would write about the church not marriage (they think), and so they read in a reference to “church” that is not there in what Paul actually wrote, and they ignore the context and translate as “man” and “woman” instead of “husband” and “wife” - and then interpreters take it as forbidding women in general to minister in church, instead of seeing what it is actually saying, that a wife should not take over the headship role in marriage.

Then there is 1 Corinthians 14:33-35. Let me tell you a little more about Greek. There are more than a dozen words in the Greek NT with the meaning of “conveying information”: words for announcing, informing, teaching, preaching, and words for just “saying” in the sense of telling someone something. And then there is a word for “speaking” in the sense of “making noises with your mouth”. It is laleo, and it means to babble or chat or chatter, or converse. Whether you are conveying information is irrelevant.

When Jesus healed a dumb man, and he spoke, what he said when he spoke was irrelevant - it was the fact that he spoke that mattered. And the word used for the dumb man speaking is: laleo. Every time, without exception.

When Paul refers to women speaking in 1 Corinthians 14:33-35, what is the word that he uses? One of the dozen or more that mean to announce, or inform, or teach, or preach, etc.? Or laleo, the one word which means to chat or chatter, or converse? If any of you know Greek, look it up for yourselves, and see. But I will tell you anyway: he uses laleo.

What else should we do in clarifying the meaning of a passage? That’s right - we take a careful look at the context.

First, what is it that Paul tells these women to do instead of laleo-ing? (See verse 35.) It is to ask their own husbands at home. This is the right alternative to whatever it is that they are doing. But asking your husband something at home is not an alternative to teaching or preaching in church, if that is what you are doing. It is an alternative, though, to asking the woman next to you in church - or your husband on the other side of the building - if that is what you are doing.

Secondly, regarding context, look at what Paul is dealing with in this section of 1 Corinthians. Look at the beginning of our passage, verse 33: “God is not a God of disorder but of peace.” Now look at the final verse of the chapter, verse 40: “But everything should be done in a fitting and orderly way.”

What Paul says he is talking about, is: appropriate behaviour in the Assembly. He is saying: “No chattering amongst yourselves, ladies” - even if something is being said or done that they do not understand. If they want to enquire about something, they should ask their own husbands at home.

Paul is not in this passage discussing ministering in church. He IS discussing chattering and conversing, and thus disturbing the peace and good order of the Assembly.

Incidently, those of you who can read Greek should check and see that the words in 1 Corinthians 14 here for “husband” and “wife” are gune and aner, the very words we were discussing for 1 Timothy 2.

But what does Paul say about women speaking in church, in the sense of participating and ministering? We see in 1 Corinthians 11:5 he recognizes the role of a women in praying and prophesying (or preaching). Then in 1 Corinthians 12 he shows how God’s gifts of ministry are distributed by the Spirit to all members of the people of God, without regard to gender. This was made totally explicit by Peter in Acts 2, in announcing the fulfilment of Joel’s prophecy. The criterion for preaching, teaching, and ministering generally, is not whether you are male or female, but whether - male or female - you have been given such and such a gift by the Lord. If you have, then it is the role and responsibility of the church to give you the opportunity of training and then using that gift.

The crucial verse in this regard for Paul’s teaching is 2 Timothy 2:2. Do you know this verse? I am astonished at how many men engage in a consideration of Paul’s teaching about women’s ministry and ignore the most important verse of them all, as if it simply wasn’t there.

Let us read it: “The things you have heard me say in the presence of many witnesses entrust to reliable men who will also be qualified to teach others.” That settles it: Paul gives Timothy instructions as to how Christian teaching is to be passed on. It is to be taught to reliable men, who in turn will teach it to others. No room here for women teachers, is there? - just men.

But there’s a problem: that’s NOT what Paul wrote. If this was his thinking, if this was his teaching, if this was his meaning - that only men were to pass on the Christian teaching - then all he had to do here was use the word aner, which would have made it clear that this was a male-only thing. But the fact is, that he did not say aner. He uses instead the word anthropoi, which means “human beings”, both men and women. [READ the NRSV.] Note: faithful people, reliable people. Timothy is to teach reliable people, both men and women, who in turn will teach others, both men and women. NOT women teaching only women, and men teaching everybody. But both men and women being taught, and then teaching others.

I have examined all these passage in detail in my book The Ministry of Women in the Church.

The criterion, as Paul has made clear in 1 Corinthians and his epistles to Timothy, is not whether you are male or female, but whether you have been given by the Lord the gift of leading in worship, or teaching or preaching or whatever. If so, we as the church of God are to help you foster and develop that gift, and then provide opportunities for you to use it.

The other area of possible confusion is ministry versus authority, which I discussed in my previous post.

[Click for "Ministry of Women" table of contents, overview or order info.]
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