One thing at a time
A couple years ago, I was talking with a young man about the idea of women in ministry.
Basically, he said, it didn’t matter to him. The issue didn’t affect his life, and he wasn’t likely to encounter any female pastors. At the time, he was learning much about other things in the Bible. So why think about it?
And there’s some truth to that. He was learning a lot of other stuff at the time.
When you try and learn too much at once… you don’t learn any of it well.
When you try and do too much… you don’t do any of it well.
That’s why it’s better to make one New Years’ resolution, not twelve. To write three things in my day planner for today – not ten. Read and apply the principles in one book. Not just power through reading a dozen in a month.
Now it’s personal
But I didn’t have that luxury. For me, it wasn’t abstract.
It was the difference between living a vocation in obedience to God… and living in rebellion.
If this isn’t the Lord’s will? And I’m just doing this to make myself happy? If it’s really not in Scripture that women can be in leadership and pastor?
That’s something I have to accept.
Because if I decide to go against God? Run counter to his will in ministry life. I run in my own strength only, and God opposes my efforts. Well-intentioned though they may be.
And even if I was incredibly talented? Operating only in my own strength and out of God’s will? That is NOT where I want to be.
I only want this if God wants it.
Otherwise I’m getting out ASAP. Quitting Bible college. Working in something else.
There’s a story about a man named Saul in Acts 26. He’s been doing things completely counter to the will of God.
Christians are in his sights. He’s killing people who follow Jesus. For real, he’s chasing down Christians for persecution, taking them back for trial. When we first meet him he’s standing back giving approval as a man named Stephen is stoned to death.
And Saul? He’s an incredibly religious guy! Trained under top scholars and priests! He thinks he’s doing things right. But he’s stubbornly persisting in his own path and actively destroying what God is working to do.
Then he has an encounter with Jesus. Who appears to him and says “Saul, Saul, why do you persecute me? It is hard for you to kick against the goads.”
Which is a reference back to the farm life: when you’ve got an oxen going in one direction, they would use a “goad” (a pointed stick to prod a stubborn animal forward). If an ox responded and moved forward, it was pretty seamless. No big deal. But if an ox resisted? They can try and kick backwards, but they learn pretty fast that kicking against the goad is useless and just hurts more.
And it’s self-inflicted pain. Useless resistance.
That’s not where I wanted to be.
Shut up and sit down
Around this time, some well-known American pastors were free with their advice for women pastors:
Repent. Shut up. Sit down. Then go do something you’re allowed to do with your life.
I still hear this advice repeated by their well-meaning followers. Sincere young folks. They’re truly concerned that I don’t spend my life rebelling against God’s instructions and plan.
And while I disagree, I totally, totally get it. (Though it does chap me a little when they think I haven’t thought about this).
Hey, if they were right? I didn’t want to be there either! Because it doesn’t matter if the truth of the Bible is repeated by great people or ornery ones… it stands alone.
So I wanted to make sure – so sure – I wasn’t setting myself up for a life of unnecessary pain. This road would be hard enough even if it was God’s will.
I didn’t want to live in rebellion. Opposed by God.
In self-inflicted pain.
I didn’t want to be kicking back against the goads.
Outliers or clarifiers?
So what it came down to was this:
There’s lots of passages in the Bible about women who lead. Who are used by God. Who speak, judge, prophesy, teach. That’s not in dispute.
But when we get to a couple “tricky” passages, they seem to restrict the role of women further. To not speak in church.
Or to not speak in authority over men.
So what’s going on? Are these “outliers” that don’t fit and need an explanation?
Or are these “clarifiers” that make the truth clear? That give us a path to go back and interpret all the other passages?
The top two
There’s two big ones in that vein. The first would be
1 Corinthians 14:34-35
“Women should remain silent in the churches. They are not allowed to speak, but must be in submission, as the law says. If they want to inquire about something, they should ask their own husbands at home; for it is disgraceful for a woman to speak in the church”
Sounds pretty harsh on the surface, right?
But where does this occur? When?
This is part of a letter. And in the same letter, he’s just laid out the instructions on “How everyone should pray and prophesy properly in this church” section.
Including how women should (appropriately) pray and prophesy in the church service. Which are certainly forms of speaking in church!
He’s talked about spiritual gifts, and the attitude of love and helpfulness.
So this letter already has OK’d women speaking in church… for the right purposes. If it’s prayer or prophesy. Participation and contribution that uses your gifts. Women praying and prophesying is specifically mentioned in 1 Corinthians 11. (Now, that’s not specifically preaching, teaching, or leading…. But it’s certainly talking!)
So here this later verse about not speaking? Seems weird, right?
Seems like an outlier. (One clue is looking at the line right after it — if they want to inquire about something, ask at home. I could write ten more pages on this, but I’ll stop here.)
Now just about everyone agrees on this interpretation. Even if you think women shouldn’t pastor? You probably look at 1 Corinthians 14 and go “yeah, that’s an outlier. That doesn’t match up with the rest of that letter!”
Even if you don’t think women should be in leadership, that’s not what this passage is discussing.
That’s not a responsible interpretation.
The 1 Timothy bomb
The second is 1 Timothy 2:12. The bomb. The big one.
“I do not permit a woman to teach or to assume authority over a man; she must be quiet.”
And this single verse? Was it an outlier? Or a clarifier?
Was something else going on in this passage? Do other parts of the letters to Timothy clue us in? Or other info about the church in Ephesus (where this letter was sent)?
Was this a clarifier? Do we look back from this and go. “oh yeah, women really aren’t supposed to teach or have authority over men” and interpret accordingly?
Or was it an outlier? Did it not fit the pattern of what the rest of the Bible teaches about women and teaching and authority?
And if so… was there a compelling way to correctly interpret this verse? Without ignoring it or rejecting it?
Without kicking against the goads?
Or should I just accept it and get out and move on with my life?
That’s where I was at when I attended Tyndale.
There’s a principle that we never build major doctrine based on one verse. Like we never build an essay without multiple points. Multiple witnesses for a conviction. Multiple reiterations of the same point.
And at this point, I was comfortable enough to accept it as an outlier.
But I still really, really wanted an explanation!
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22. Strength to strength