The Apostle Paul’s admonitions against women in teaching and preaching positions in the church are rather infamous.
For those unaware, while much of 1 Timothy 2 would be concerning for modern society, in v12 Paul specifically states “I do not permit a woman to teach or to hold authority over a man; she must be quiet.”
Now, see my last post, regarding Frank Viola’s example of Marvin Snurdley, for a great illustration of why we should take this with likely a boulder of salt.
But what if Paul had a grain of truth for us there? Sure, he could have phrased it better for modern sensibilities, but the dude has been dead for nearly two millenia, so I’ll give him a pass there.
But let’s think about it. Shaunti Feldhahn has made a career over the last 15 yrs or so with the ground breaking research she did for her books For Women Only and For Men Only. I personally once allowed a coworker to borrow my copies of those two books when he spent a week on my couch while in a rough spot with his wife, and they saved his marriage – at least at that point. (It has been nearly a decade since I heard from him.)
Part of that research was finding out and explaining to women just how visual men are and just how much we think about sex. To say that most women who read that book are shocked would not be a minor understatement, to say the least.
I can even point to a couple of examples from my own early teenage years, 8th grade in particular.
In 8th grade, my English teacher was absolutely stunning. Sure, I had teachers before and since that were good looking, but this lady… let’s just say she put my 13yo hormones in overdrive, even though she rarely showed much skin at all. (Long skirts with sleeved tops of some form, usually, but even these were very flattering to her form, at times. One white cashmere sweater in particular, when she put the strap of her purse across her chest…. moving on now.)
My Social Studies teacher that year was one I had been around for years at that point, and would be in similar circles for years later. She was at my elementary school teaching 4th grade right next to the 4th grade class I was in, and I would have her as a teacher in both middle school and high school. In addition, her husband was at the time a preacher at whose church I would occasionally go to Vacation Bible School. The man is currently a sitting State Representative in my home State, representing at least part of my home town.
Anyway, this teacher and I never really got along, for reasons that are not relevant to this post. But one day when I was in 8th grade, I saw something. Apparently her top was a little too small that day, and as a result, the fabric opened slightly in the middle along the button line. I do not remember the circumstances, but I remember seeing between those buttons that day. I could describe exactly what I saw, but people in my hometown already know exactly who this woman is, and I’ll not embarass her any further here.
But tying these two instances to Shaunti’s research and Paul’s admonitions:
I don’t remember the lessons of those two teachers *at all*. I likely retain the information, but do not remember it was they that first presented it to me. But I remember those two particular images, nearly 20 years later. And those were just one day of middle school English and Social Studies lessons.
Now think of just how crucial and truly life altering good, solid Christian teaching can be – or, for the more pessimistic, how damaging bad, weak Christian teaching can be.
With pubescent boys and even grown men so distracted by sex, does Paul have a degree of a point in his admonishment that women not teach or hold authority over men?
I believe that yes, he does. Perhaps he could have been more nuanced in making his point, but I do believe that at least two a certain extent, his point was valid.
I point to Shanti’s research and my own experiences – which at least in that example I believe to be common – as my reasoning. Even when a woman dresses to appease even the most stringent of modesty culture purists, she can still be a stumbling block to men who will be distracted by her body and pay her words no heed. Let me be clear: I am in no way blaming the woman in question for this. I am simply pointing out that at least some men will have this difficulty.
Of course, this is also where a degree of nuance is needed: for gay or bisexual men, even a male teacher or preacher could be exactly the same stumbling block that a female teacher or preacher could be for straight men. Would Paul thus argue that men should not teach men?
Here, I’ll simply point back to
Marvin Snurdley and say that Paul’s teachings do not neccessarily apply for all people for all times in all situations.
Ultimately, Paul has a degree of a point. Does it apply to us today? To some degree, yes. But not neccessarily completely, and certainly not in as totalitarian a position as some groups have taken it over the years.