Many of you are probably painfully aware of the current misuse of I Timothy 2:12, “A woman shall not teach a man.” There are a group of rather domineering personalities wielding this verse like club against our sisters, and their hypocrisy in criticizing domineering women by domineering over others themselves is blameworthy.
Many of you, like me, have been subjected to self-proclaimed “shepherds” who think its their job to “manage” other Christian’s as a collection of “stupid, wayward sheep.” Much of the visible church, by an idolatrous cult of leadership, has adopted a Machiavellian method of ruling-it-over others paradigm. The “shepherds” hook on the sheep is the revival of the gnostic dualistic concept of good and evil as opposing substances such that evil has as much sway as good. The existence of “sinful nature,” which is a post-Reformation assertion of sin as an “addition,” is conveniently used to shallowly judge unwanted questions and challenges by “sinners saved by grace” who are “tainted in all they do.” This is another topic deserving further elaboration, but suffice it to say this is linked to early heresies based on Platonism and specifically Porphyry’s writings. The early Church (Athanasius, Tatian, Augustine, etc) debunked this blasphemy long ago, demonstrating clearly that sin is the effacement of nature, not a nature itself, lest it be co-eternal with God, who cannot be its author while sin cannot be His equal.
The bitter experience of wrongful subjection belongs to men and women alike, and is well described in Ezekiel 34, where God gives His judgement against the hired hands (“shepherds”) who harrass and dominate his flock.
I simply want to try to provide a little salve from Scripture to help dispel the lies that dominating “shepherds” and “elders” often use, such as I Tim 2:12, and the poorly chosen word “overseer,” that relic of lawless American oppression through slavery (see Angelina Grimke’s Appeal to Christian Women of the South), which appears frequently as a mis-translation of “ἐπισκοπέω” (“episkopeo” from which we derive episcopol, i.e. “elder”) in the New Testament Epistles.
First, let’s investigate dominion. Genesis 1 and Psalm 8 clearly testify that dominion is given to both men and women over land, sea, air, and all the vegetation and animals that inhabit them. It never mentions dominion of men over women or men, or women over women or men. Christ specifically denies the dominion of mankind over mankind in Matthew 20 and 23, teaching that we are all brothers and sisters, a teaching Paul reinforces to Timothy in calling him to respect and cherish as family older and younger men and women in the Church.
This teaching has been woefully neglected by those who try to describe male headship in marriage. Headship is not dominion, subjection, nor subordination (“numbering under”) of women. Men and women are “numbered” together. Taking some liberty with the book entitled “Numbers,” note that Zelophohad’s daughters (and also Caleb’s daughter elsewhere) are specifically entitled to dominion-ownership of the land with the men, a right explicitly given to women in Israel (chap 36).
Note also God’s intense reaction to struggling for forbidden dominion in Numbers 12, wherein Moses’ humility is on “display” in keeping with Peter’s teaching in I Peter 5. Moses’ only contribution to the conversation is to cry out on behalf of his elder sister. Implicit in the struggle is an incongruous enmity between two women whose love for Moses as brother and husband, respectively, moved each to intercede for his life in her appointed time. They are sisters not only by marriage, but by their mutual “hunger and thirst for righteousness.” The situation was, as Moses rightly saw it, more lamentable than irritating–very much like that of Euodia and Synctyche (Philippians 4:3).
Headship and submission are not difficult to describe when we eliminate subordination, dominion, and subjection, and one-way submission. First, both men and women are called to a primary relationship of mutual submission as brother and sister in Christ: “submit to one another out of love for Christ.” Women are not called in Scripture to submit to men. Only a wife is called to submit to her husband, and that in a particular way which does not preclude the general call of both husband and wife to mutually submit as brother and sister. What is this particular way? The Scripture answers both in the negative and positive.
Negatively, a wife is called not to despise her husband. Michal, Delilah, and the prophet Micah’s wife are all salient examples of what not to do. The woman folly and the contentious wife are the archetypal negatives these three women portray. Solomon was an astute observer, and would have likely had many opportunities to endure Michal’s scorn, and the scorn of a few of his own wives. Paul’s requirement for deacons and elders to be selected based on one wife, and that a loving wife who avoids contentiousness likely derives from Solomon’s wisdom.
As for the positive, a wife “submits” (“sends [herself] under” her husband because she is “ezer” (“helper”), a person who lifts her husband up (like Atlas does the world). Thus strength is inextricably linked with beauty for the “noble woman” (“Sarah”) of Proverbs 31. As a body lifts up the head willingly, so the woman bears up her husband willingly, willingly supporting God’s call for him. This corresponds to the concept of “willingly” on display in passages such as Judges 5:2,9 and 8:25, I Chron 29, Ezra 7, Prov 31:13, and its highest expression in Psalm 149 and Revelation 19-20, where the Bride of Christ willingly and flawlessly excercises God’s will just as Christ does in His humanity (truly “one flesh”). Rebekah’s relationship to Isaac is a great example. She decisively and graciously ends the “she’s my sister” routine by taking the initiative: playfully seducing her husband in public instead of berating him in private. This reveals an important truth about the wife’s submission: her husband (nor any man) will generally not know how she is supposed to submit, because her calling is unique and effective only as she gains the understanding of who her husband is, what God’s calling is for him, and how she can winsomely influence him toward the good works God has prepared for him.
I contend, based on the positive examples like Sarah and Rebekah, that headship/submission is a mutually responsive relationship based on initiative and wisdom, rather than based on command and compliance. Women “respect their husbands” in the Lord, while “husbands love their wives.” (Eph 5). Whether husbands ‘deserve’ it or not, they desperately need the loving, supportive counsel and strength of that handmaiden of Lady Wisdom who is joined to them by God! Women, on the other hand, need the man to be strong in Wisdom by exercising prudence and acting justly (Prov 1:3). The reciprocity of body and head implies a responsiveness of mutual coordinated effort, cherishing, and protection, which is commensurate with a together-call to exercise just-loving dominion over the rest of creation.
In contrast, the curse in Eden is descriptive, not prescriptive. We are meant to understand the futility of disunity by the absurd attempt of the body’s “desire” to rule over the head the the head’s harsh ruling over the body. Picture the absurdity of a person who is screaming at his own body. Your inclination would rightly be to intervene. Now picture the body screaming at the head. Your inclination would rightly be to run far away 🙂 That is the absurdity communicated by Genesis 3:16. As for the assertion Paul makes about the woman’s weak judgement in the garden, it must be put into context not only with Paul’s discussion of mutual dependence in I Corinthians 11, as well as the chiasmic reversal of the woman’s sin seen in Christ addressing Mary Magdalene in a garden, a scene reminiscent of the fall precipitated by the Adversary’s deception of the woman.
As for authority in teaching, I Tim 2:12 is not a “lone star” verse, but part of a constellation of truths which form a greater whole: Jeremiah (31) tells us a man shall not teach a man, Exodus 15 demonstrates that women share with men in corporate teaching, II Kings 22 shows us that God uses women to teach even those who have the highest assigned obligation to know and teach God’s word, Matthew 23 tells us there is but one teacher and father, Matthew 28:18 specifically tells us all authority is given to Christ but not to the Church, and I Jn 2:27 underlines the fact that we, as students (disciples) directly receive our teaching from the Holy Spirit, who is the “Helper” who recalls Christ’s words (the entirety of Scripture) to our minds (Jn 14:26). This, with Acts 6:4, underlines the primacy of Scripture.
Therefore, no man or woman HAS authority by position or in him/herself, nor should they seek positional titles. We are only IN authority insomuch as we abide in Christ and His words (the entire Scripture). As Peter himself reinforces in his epistles, even the recognition of those who maturely abide in the Word requires an abiding in the Word by the recognizer. We “know them by their fruit” because we investigate thoroughly (the Hebrew word for “judge” connotes thorough iquiry) by means of the Scripture, and affirm Christ’s words and authority in others as they abide in Him by speaking truly and acting justly. This best expression of this mutual instruction is found in the antiphonal instruction at Mounts Ebal and Gerazim, the antiphonal structure of Psalms 136 and 145, and Paul’s instruction in Ephesians 5 and Colossians 3.
Just in case some doubt the argument, please note that it is not a new or strange argument. I am standing on the shoulders of my brother Augustine of Hippo, who made a similar argument regarding authority and baptism in his Tractate V on the Gospel of John.