Our elders have been working on a statement explaining the roles God has given to women in the ministries of our church. (The short answer is, “Many!”) That statement is still in the works, but our recent invitation to have Elyse Fitzpatrick share during weekend services has led some to ask whether we believe a woman can preach and teach in the mixed-gender gathering of the church. While we are working on the more comprehensive statement, we thought it prudent to take a moment to address that particular question.
Introduction of the Issue
In 1 Timothy 2:12 the Apostle Paul commands that a woman is forbidden to “teach or to exercise authority over a man” in the church. Some suggest that Paul only had one situation in one church in mind, where the women were unruly. But the reasoning Paul uses—that man was created first, then Eve, and that she was deceived first while he overtly rebelled first—excludes such a possibility. Paul bases his rule for Timothy’s church in the created order, which means it applies to all churches.
The grammar Paul uses indicates that he has in mind two things he wishes to forbid, teaching and authority (We find Andreas Köstenberger’s grammatical analysis compelling here). In other words, Paul was not only saying that a woman could not rule as an elder, but that there is a certain kind of teaching she must not do in the assembled church.
But it is clear, however, that women are given the gift and responsibility to teach in God’s kingdom. Certainly, as Paul commands in Titus, they are to teach other women (Titus 2:3–5). Throughout the Bible, however, we see women instructing and exhorting mixed audiences also, both publicly and privately. In the Old Testament, Deborah dispensed wisdom to Israel by her tree (Judges 4:4), and both Miriam’s and Deborah’s songs were given publicly to instruct and edify Israel (Exodus 15; Judges 5). In the New Testament, Priscilla, together with her husband, tutored Apollos (Acts 18:26). Women prophesied publicly in the New Testament church (Acts 2:11, 17; 1 Corinthians 11:5; 14:26), and the whole congregation, men included, learned from those prophecies (1 Cor 14:31; Romans 15:14). Furthermore, Paul commands the congregation to admonish and teach one another, and these “one another” commands are given without gender distinction (Col 3:16; Eph 5:19–20; 1 Cor 14:28).