Women and The Blue Parakeet (4) Those ‘silence’ passages

So what does Scot McKnight make of the ‘silence’ passages on women in the church like 1 Timothy 2:8-15 and 1 Corinthians 14:34-5?

Here’s a good exercise for getting people thinking and talking about reading and applying the Bible: Read 1 Timothy 2:8-15 and isolate the commands. There are 7:

1.       Men should pray with hands lifted

2.       Men should pray without anger or disputing

3.       Women should dress modestly

4.       Women should not have elaborate hairstyles or wear gold or pearls or expensive clothing

5.       Women should have good deeds

6.       Women should be silent and quiet

7.       Women should not teach or have authority

Feel welcome in the comments to give your answers to how each one applies today! Might spark an interesting discussion.

McKnight’s big idea continues here – let’s read the Bible as narrative of restoration and ‘oneness’ – with God and with each other. Let’s not read these ‘silence’ passages like this one and 1 Corinthians 14:34-5 as the last word but read them in light of the facts of what women did do in the OT and NT; in light of the gift of the Spirit given to all, including teaching and leading (read Acts 2:16-18 for the big new picture of what God is doing); in light of equality and unity men and women have in Christ; in light of the ‘expansion’ of ministry to all, including women, within the new covenant community of the church.

A provocative stance he takes is that to seek to silence women in the church is actually to want to live under the effects of the fall rather than in light of the reconciling and healing work of the Spirit of God.

Corinthian Silence

The debate is well worn here: Is this a prescriptive command for all Christians in all cultures for all time? McKnight says ‘No’ – it has to be a local, specific, and temporary type of ‘silencing’. Women obviously were speaking in Corinth (11:5). Paul isn’t contradicting himself a few lines later. There are lots of theories; McKnight goes for uneducated women disrupting things and being told to keep quiet and ask their husbands at home.

In other words, the principle here is ‘learning before speaking’. This principle applied to women for specific cultural reasons in 1st Century Corinth. The issue is about knowing the Bible and theology and having pastoral gifts and skills – having the basic requirements in place in order to minister and use God-given gifts.

Ephesian Silence (Timothy was in Ephesus when Paul wrote to him)

The same issues apply: A creation ordinance or local problem? A law laid down by the apostle for all Christians for evermore? Or a practical and pastoral response to a specific issue of Greek / Roman culture?

McKnight goes local – the whole context of the passage is the integrity of the gospel in Ephesian culture. Women in the church were acting in a way that threatened the reputation and integrity of the gospel, so it was better if they were quiet until they were better equipped or mature enough in Christ to participate.

In the next and final chapter, Scot fleshes this out a bit more. I’ll post on it tomorrow.

Some of my comments:

Often hierarchicalists accuse those supporting women teachers and leaders of ignoring or evading the bits of the Bible they don’t like. This isn’t the case at all. There are principles and truths that Paul is concerned about in these texts – they just aren’t the ones that hierarchialists have seen in the text.

Something I think Scot could have made more of is that both texts mentioned in this post are extremely difficult to interpret and understand. It is like listening to one side of a phone conversation. You catch what one person is saying but things he says are only fully understood by the person on the other end of the line. So it is with both these texts (and 1 Corinthians 11 about coverings and angels). The Corinthians and Timothy would have known exactly what Paul meant – truth is we can’t be sure. And here’s the point:

I think it is deeply unwise, exegetically weak, pastorally damaging, missionally disastrous and theologically myopic to insist that women are to be excluded from teaching and leading in the church on the basis of a highly contentious reading of notoriously difficult passages of Scripture.

Can’t say I’m on the fence on this one.

Comments, as ever, welcome.

15 thoughts on “Women and The Blue Parakeet (4) Those ‘silence’ passages

  1. I think it is deeply unwise, exegetically weak, pastorally damaging, missionally disastrous and theologically myopic to insist that women are appointed to roles in the church without any supporting evidence from passages in Scripture.

    At least your opponents can claim some backing and prima facie support from Scripture.

    How would you reply to that statement? On what basis can Christians seeking to follow New Testament example and principle appoint women as elders?

    • Message to Dave Shedden: Please go to your nearest accredited university and sign up for an up-to-date Scripture Course. You are horribly out of date with your understanding of Scripture. However, we love you anyway!

  2. Touche Dave! Don’t think you are on the fence on this one either.

    As I’m sure you know, tons of stuff has been written on this the last number of years.For me the the debate has clarified just how inferential the hierarchical / complementarian view is.

    Much is inferred from Paul’s instructions in 1 Timothy 3:1-7 and Titus 1:6-9 about qualifications for overseers [bishops] elders, deacons. Yes he speaks to men but the thrust is on on the character of those who lead. He does not say all elders must be males. That is an assumption. It makes the leap that Paul is writing law for all time and takes no account of the culture in which he was writing. BTW also rarely taken seriously are the commands that the elder must have believing children, can teach etc

    As the posts talked about a huge amount is inferred from very difficult texts like 1 Cor 14:34-5 and 1 Tim 2:8-15 as well as 1 Cor 11:1-16. The idea of fixed gender roles for all time just is not persuasive from these texts.

    My difficulty here is how we (men) turn Scripture into Law – when the texts are not laying down laws.

    Some infer a huge amount from the fact that the 12 apostles were men; and even in some traditions that men ‘represent’ Christ more than women.

    And because much of this is inferential you soon see just how incredibly inconsistently it is applied in church life. Some silence women altogether; some have only men who lead worship, take up the offering, are deacons, who pray publicly, lead bible studies; some encourage women to do all these things but they just can’t preach or be the leader; some have woman who can be missionaries & church planters overseas but can’t lead a bible study at home; some develop the idea of a woman leading but only ‘under the headship’ of a man; women can teach children and women but not men (are the former less important?); the Catholic Church has male only priests; some Anglicans are reluctantly OK with women priests but are defecting to Rome over women bishops; some even say women should not lead men in ANY sphere of life – ie no women in any leadership role in work …and on it goes.

    And when you look at the Spirit poured out for all; who gifts all as he wills (and that includes teaching gifts for men and women); who creates a new covenant community of diversity and equality (Gal 3:28); who overcomes the effects of the Fall in Christ; when you look at Jesus and how radically he challenged the patriarchy of his day; when you look at what women could do in the NT and when you look at early church history – you see the overall thrust of God’s grace poured out to men and women both created in God’s image to love and serve him together.

    I don’t doubt the sincerity and integrity of those on the other side of the debate. But why not go with these things that we do know for sure? For this is the heartbeat of the good news of God’s grace. To get into restrictions purely on the basis of gender and into hierarchical relationships between men and women (however much complementarians don’t like that word) is to me to push against the liberating story of the gospel.

    Long post – sorry! Sermon over.

  3. We know for sure that Scripture gives no indication at all that women were elders. So, if you are going to retain an office of elder in your church, and you want to follow the New Testament example and principle, why allow women to be elders?

    From what I remember of the book, SM argues for some kind of redemptive historical progression towards an egalitarian (if only I could spell that word properly!) world where there is no difference between men and women w.r.t. gifts, service, office and roles outside of biological roles.

    My problem with that is this: the story of the Bible nowhere demonstrates or illustrates that progression… so if the biblical narrative actually views men and women in a consistent manner, with no progression towards equality of roles… why are we at liberty to change things post-Reformation, post-Enlightenment?

    SM argues and gives examples of women doing all sorts of things in the OT… leading, prophesing, etc, etc… they do the same things in the NT… so where is the progression and the change? The consistent pattern is that men do appear to be given priestly and/or “ecclesiastical” leadership and responsibilties… i.e. they are “elders”.

    So, yes, I think the problem for your side of the argument is that you want there to be no norms, apart from the “new covenant redemptive” norm that there is no distinction between men and women. The opposite side of the argument is hopelessly inconsistent, as you well illustrate in your reply to my first comment. But that need not take away from my basic point, that in the New Testament men were elders and women were not… it’s about office, not gift or ability or teaching or any other practice.

  4. Wow, I suppose it all boils down to what our personal desire is. It doesn’t seem to matter what scripture says, there are always plenty of bright minds on both sides to construct distracting arguments, and further distract themselves from one plain fact. Whenever Paul gives reason for his statements concerning women, he appeals to either creation, or the fall. I realize that some people would promote themselves to glory while the rest of us weren’t looking, but the fact is that one cannot deny the fact that we live, still, with the effects of the curse. Work, in principle is not of the curse but of creation; regardless, toilsome work is of the curse. Or, if we did not still-by God’s will-experience the effects of the curse in our interactions with one another, why do not women cease to desire headship over their husbands? Hasn’t anyone informed them that the curse is over? Paul cannot be teaching that the curse is to be shunned as though we were somehow not deserving of it ourselves, or else why would the principal of working with one’s hands be so important to him? “If anyone works not, let him not eat.” Why not just live in the woods and pick strawberries and eat leaves?
    What is more interesting than which roles women should play in the church of God, and why we can’t submit humbly to what Paul teaches in this regard, is the question of original sin.
    How many of us experientially know our own culpability in this regard?
    As long as we secretly (or ‘sub-consciously’) know ourselves to be no more than victims of
    an imputation that we do not understand, it won’t matter if we are men or women, we will be servants serving ourselves.

    • Noah is said to have ended the curse on the land.

      Gen 5:29 And he called his name Noah, saying, This same shall comfort us concerning our work and toil of our hands, because of the ground which the LORD hath cursed.

      (Though some see this as the fact that Noah learned how to produce wine from the earth).

  5. My point re: your point…
    I could not agree more!

    Moreover, it’s truly sad that many will never read and consider Phil Payne’s magisterial work, Man and Woman, One in Christ: An Exegetical and Theological Study of Paul’s Letters, which I’ve reviewed here.

  6. Thanks Paul – which as I recall is an in-depth study that takes the same line as McKnight’s approach – the texts are best interpreted as addressing local issues of culture and proprietry concerning behaviour of the genders – not fixing laws regarding gender roles for all time.

    • Um, that’s not an option. Paul appeals to the principles that Moses set forth.

      For example, a woman’s head is to be covered. Why? Angels. They might be tempted away from their sky home (again). But a man’s head is not to be covered. Why? Because he is the “God’s image and pride and joy.” How is that a local issue?

  7. apart from peering at scripture through the lens of conjecture, what defense is there for the assertion that Paul dealt with what he regarded as an issue of propriety in culture?
    when we use anything but God’s word to interpret God’s word, we do not find ourselves in any small
    Furthermore, what do you all think will happen? Will faithful women step forward and lead well?
    You cannot tolerate an error in practice for very long before doctrine follows suit.
    It will not be long before God Himself is openly shown to be contrary to your taste.

    For all those who would know and follow what the scripture says, but do not desire to do so out of
    carnality, and misogyny, Chrysostom writes well on women and serving. He has a clear message for men, that when women exceed men in spirituality and wisdom, it is to shame the men who have fallen into a carnal state (no one who is familiar with biblical theology will dispute this).
    In contrast, our age seems to not show women who exceed the men in very much but pride, zeal, and willingness to pay the price of taking on responsibility for the payoff of power and honour.

    To you who are brothers, remember our God is a God of order, and not confusion.

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