Friday, May 19, 2006

Should we just 'Adam and Eve it'?

One of the benefits of being at bible college is the opportunity it gives to think hard about some thorny issues. I'm talking about the kind of issues that are (in some respects at least) 'secondary' (e.g. although I would baptise babies I would happily fellowship with someone who doesn't) but nevertheless important because

a. They're part of what God has given us graciously in his loving self-revelation in the bible.

b. Therefore they must be (ultimately) for our good and our spiritual health and the health of our churches (otherwise why would God have bothered telling us anything about them?).

Last night for example, I was at a lecture held at college looking at the issue 'can women preach to men?' where a guy called Graham Cole was arguing for a 'yes' (some people may be surprised to hear that such views are given an airing at a 'fundamentalist-faschist-narrow-minded-calvinistic' institution like Oak Hill, but let me tell you, not only are they given an airing but they are backed by several members of the faculty, and women do preach in college chapel services!). It was a great opportunity to hear from someone committed to scripture and yet taking a different view to the one I've always taken. I went prepared to be persuaded, though clear in my own head why I've always held to more of a 'no' position.

Graham Cole presented his case very tightly, with more than a little passion and much skill. However, I'm sorry to say that he failed to persuade me. Although his case makes sense logically not all of the steps in his argument are (in my opinion) true.

Of crucial importance was his interpretation of 1Timothy 2:11-15 which is perhaps the clearest apparent prohibition of women publicly preaching to a mixed congregation. Cole's argument was that in 1Timothy Paul was addressing a specific situation in the church at Ephesus where people were getting misled by false teaching (which is true) and therefore he is re-establishing the authority of his own apostleship and his teaching in the church by restricting who can teach. So, when Paul refers to the Genesis story (2:13-14) to back up his prohibition he is making an analogy to Eve being misled by listening to the serpent instead of listening to Adam who had been given God's word. The point (in this view) is not so much that 'women can't teach men because there's a basic difference between them by nature or in the way God has ordered his world' but 'those who have received God's word should teach it and others should listen'. So, women could've taught freely in the church in general, it's just that not so in the church in Ephesus because they were listening to false teaching and as a result Paul was needing to restrict the teaching role to those to whom God's word had been first given (himself especially and through him Timothy) and those they would appoint as trustworthy (the elders Timothy is to appoint in ch3).

The problem however is that Cole failed to explain why all the people Paul does permit to teach publicly to a mixed congregation are men. Why forbid all women to teach any men? And if the teaching/leadership office is open to women in exactly the same way as to men, why not get Timothy to appoint faithful elders and 'elderesses' in chapter 3, those men and women who were godly and gifted and reliable who hadn't been duped by the false teachers?

More crucially however, was his suggestion that Paul was using the creation story of Genesis 1-3 purely as an appropriate analogy rather than to say something specific about the nature of men and women and God's created chosen order. In my opinion, this view hinges on there not being any theological significance in God creating Adam first and not Eve, such that when Paul says 'Adam was formed first, then Eve' he's talking about the mere facts of the story to say that those who receive God's word first (which in the Genesis story just happened to be the man because he was made first) should teach it and others should listen (which just happened to be Eve). In other words, God could've created Adam second but it just so happened he didn't, and we can't read anything theological (about the nature of how God does things and orders things) or anthropological (about the way God has made humans and wants his people to be ordered) into it. This seems a highly unlikely and minimalistic reading of Genesis and Paul and I'm unconvinced by it for the following reasons;

a. Genesis 1-3 is a carefully ordered narrative, and just about all the other details do have theological significance. It seems unimaginable that just about everything else in the story is meant to tell us something about the nature of what it means to be human and about how God relates to humans etc. etc. and yet the fact that Adam is created first and received God's word first is incidental and tells us nothing about the nature or order of how God want things to be.

b. 1 Timothy 2:11-15 reads more naturally as taking the Genesis account as normative for male-female order in God's people (not just illustrative of falling foul to false teaching). He uses the specific example of Adam and Eve in Genesis 2-3 to back up a general statement about men and women in vs. 12. This, I would argue, better explains the general language of 1 Timothy 2 and also the male-dominated pattern of leadership in the rest of the letter (and indeed the rest of the scripture).

So, practically, I'm afraid I still think women shouldn't teach or have authority over men, which means that the regular, authoritative preaching of God's word to his gathered people should be given to those men who have been given to the church as pastor-teachers and appointed by the church to serve in this way (whether full-time paid or not). If this is what God has said we should do then it must be better than doing it our own way and it must ultimately be for our good.

However, much more thought needs to be given to the biblical gift of prophecy, since it is abundantly clear that this is different from what the bible calls teaching and yet it is a gift that women can exercise in the context of church meetings (1 Corinthians 11:4-5). It seems that perhaps the problems over women's minsitry wouldn't arise so much if our church services and our church life wasn't so minister/clergy dominated and instead teaching-leaders exercised their ministries in an Ephesians 4:11-16 kind of way - equipping everyone else to be able to use their gifts to build the church. We need the authoritative and regular teaching of God's word by pastors so that the whole church is able to speak the truth in love as we grow up to be mature Christ-like christian communities.


Michelle said...

Hey, this is great. Great to see some people who still believe that women shouldn't teach men! I was beginning to despair... I live in a city where churches without a woman preaching are few and far between. I like your ideas, your thoughts on the whole issue, the only thing I would disagree with is that I don't think this issue is on the same level as infant baptism (since I can find biblical evidence for both views). It is not a salvation issue, but it is still part of God's truth that is clear in the Bible and worth fighting for - I see it more similar to the homosexual debate than a debate about baptism.

Pete said...

Thanks Michelle (do I/should I know you?). I agree that it is worth fighting for, but then I think that baptism of infants is too - likewise I don't think either are (necessarily) worth breaking fellowship over.

However, I guess the difference is that believing in women preaching is often (but not always, I know plenty of examples to the contrary) a symptom of a more general approach to the bible that may well be worth breaking fellowship over. What I mean is that when the appointment of women 'elders' etc. is indicative that a church/denomination etc. has put the bible to one side then the issue is far more serious.
What I guess I was trying to get at by my statement that christians can disagree over this one and still be friends is that there are many times when a belief that it's ok for a woman to preach to a man is not evidence that someone has thrown the bible out of the window. I might think they've got the bible wrong, but I can't necessarily accuse them of rejecting the bible outright. This was certainly the case for the person whose talk prompted my blog.

Sandy Grant said...

Hello. My name is Sandy Grant. I am an Anglican Minister in Wollongong, NSW, Australia, part of the Diocese of Sydney. A paper by Graham Cole, which sounds very similar to the one you mention here, was also delivered by him at Ridley College, Melbourne. It is now being discussed in Sydney circles, because the ordination of women to the presbyterate is being raised (yet again) for debate at our Synod.

I have written a paper in reply to Graham's paper (which formed his lecture). You can find it at the very helpful website of my friend and colleague, Lionel Windsor. (Biblical Greek and Hebrew students will benefit from Lionel's language learning tools!)

Go to and look under "What's New". Or click "Bible resources", look under "Topics and doctrinal issues".

You can read it on-line or download a pdf version. My paper also has a link to the original paper by Dr Cole.

Pete said...

Thanks Sandy, for the details of your article. I've had a quick read and it seems you answer Graham's points very ably. Some similar points were raised when Graham originally gave his paper here at Oak Hill. In particular some were troubled by the implications for the Trinity in his views. That said, I think there were some who were persuaded by his overall view.

I have linked to your paper in my most recent post. I hope you don't mind. I think it will be helpful for people here to read.