Today is our last discussion on Scot McKnight’s excellent book, The Blue Parakeet. (On Monday we will begin The Great Emergence by Phyllis Tyckle.) In the final chapters of the book, McKnight continues his case study on women in church ministries with an intriguing question.
He includes an exercise he has used in a classroom setting in which he isolated the commands from 1 Timothy 2:8-15 and then asked his students to discern whether they thought we should or should not practice them today.
He invites readers to ask themselves, which of these are for today?
1. Males should pray with their hands lifted up(2:8)
2. Males should pray without anger or disputing (2:8)
3. Women should dress modestly (2:9)
4. Women should not have elaborate hairstyles or wear gold pearls and expensive clothing (2:9)
5. Women should have good deeds (2:10)
6. Women should be silent and quiet (2:11,12)
7. Women should not teach or have authority (2:12)
What do you think? If #7 applies, why not #1? If #3 applies, why not #4?
Genesis 3:16: Prescription vs. Prediction
McKnight then addresses how sometimes people use Genesis 3:16 to support the notion that men are to rule over their wives. McKnight writes, “there is a troubling irony in this approach, and it concerns whether we Christians are to live under the conditions of the fall or under the conditions of the new creation...Sadly, some think Genesis 3:16 is a prescription for the relationship of women and men for all time. Instead of a prescription, these two lines are a prediction of the fallen desire of fallen women and fallen men in a fallen condition in a fallen world. Fallen women yearn to dominate the man, and fallen men yearn to dominate women.” (p. 189)
I would add that perhaps the reason the passage predicts that men will in fact dominate is simply because men are physically stronger. Throughout history, men have dominated over women for this reason.
So is this God’s ideal?
New Creation and Mutuality
McKnight contends that “the story of the Bible is the story of new creation in Christ...Newly created followers of Christ can find a better way in mutuality.” (p. 189)
By ignoring the strong leadership roles that women like Deborah and Phoebe and Priscilla played in the Bible (what McKnight calls WDWD passages) because of what Paul said to specific churches about silencing means reverting to our fallen state rather than our new creation state.
McKnight uses strong language here:
“When men seek to control women by silencing them permanently in the church, we stand face-to-face with a contradiction of the very thing the new creation is designed to accomplish: undo the fall. What we see in this desire to silence women is the desire to rule over women, a desire that pertains to the fall, not to the new creation. What the Spirit does when the Spirit is present is to release and liberate humans from their fallen condition so that God’s will can be completely done. The Spirit creates mutuality. Always.” (p. 190)
Ladies Filled with the Spirit
McKnight reminds readers that, rather than limiting women’s roles, the arrival of the Spirit at Pentecost signaled an expansion of women’s roles. In Acts 2, the Apostle Peter said on the occasion of Pentecost:
“This is what was spoken by the prophet Joel—
In the last days, God says, I will pour my Spirit on all people. Your sons and daughters will prophesy, your young men will see visions, your old men will dream dreams. Even on my servants, both men and women, I will pour out my Spirit in those days and they will prophesy.”
The Corinthian Ladies
In light of the WDWD passages the Pentecost passage, and the many other passages that reference women prophesying ,(Acts 2:17-18; 21:9; I Cor. 11:5), McKnight says we should be surprised by what we find in 1 Corinthians 14, where Paul says, “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.”
McKnight believes that the focus of this passage is on asking questions, and that the women to which Paul referred were not yet educated theologically or biblically as well as the men. The silencing, then, is only a temporary silencing. (This was, after all, a letter with specific instructions for a specific group of people.)
The Ladies from Ephesus
McKnight applies the same reasoning to the 1 Timothy 2:11-12 in which Paul writes, “a woman should learn in quietness and full submission. I do not permit a woman to teach or to assume authority over a man; she must be quiet.”
Again, the context is learning. Writes McKnight, “Paul does not say that women are always to sit in the learning posture and never to be teachers; he does not say they are forever to remain silent, for that would contradict the WDWD passages and practices of the early churches.”
In other words, first you learn, then you can speak.
The Verses I Don’t Like
Then the Apostle Paul starts talking about how women sinned first and how they can redeem themselves through childbearing. I don’t much care for these verses and would prefer to ignore them, but that would make for an uninteresting blog I suppose.
McKnight admits that these are difficult verses but suggests that Paul may have been responding to a sort of sexual revolution that was occurring in many of the major cities in the Roman empire, one in which women were dressing immodestly, being promiscuous and maybe even trying to reverse gender roles so that men were subordinate to women.
Also, McKnight contends that Paul had a specific group of women in mind when he wrote these words. A group of young widows (spoken of in 1 Timothy 5:11-12) had some major behavioral issues. They had a reputation for being promiscuous busybodies, and Paul was concerned about the reputation of the gospel.
Writes McKnight, “we are thus led to the conclusion that when Paul asks women to be silent in 1 Timothy 2, he is not talking about ordinary Christian women; rather, he has a specific group of women in mind. HIs concern is with some untrained, morally loose, young widows, who, because they are theologically unformed, are teaching unorthodox ideas.” (p. 202)
Now I think I’m mad at those ladies instead of Paul. : ) They've managed to make life hard for a lot of Christian women for a lot of years!
“The plot of the Bible, the story of the Bible, and the behaviors of women in that Plot and Story reveal to me that an increasing expansion of women in church ministries. Some of the restrictions were based on respectability and culture. If those restrictions have changed, then I see no reason to limit the ministries of women to the sensibilities and cultures of that time. God spoke in those days in those ways, and I believe he is speaking in our days in our ways.” (p. 204)
He reminds readers that the main reason Paul gave many of these commands was so that the gospel did not get a bad reputation. Women covered their heads because, in that culture, it would have been considered offensive for them not to. How, then should we apply these passages in a culture where it is offensive to limit the rights of women?
McKnight appeals to Paul’s words in 1 Corinthians 9:19-23 about the importance of becoming all things to all people for the sake of the gospel and asks, “Do you think Paul would have put women ‘behind the pulpit’ if it would have been advantageous for the sake of the gospel?”
I can’t imagine anyone saying no to that.