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Women Teaching Men – A Short Response

Mary Kassian wrote an article at Desiring God entitled Women Teaching Men — How Far Is Too Far? In it, she addresses recent discussions about what women can do in the church. She gives the guidelines she uses, some of which I found helpful. She also affirms that women asking this question are doing so from a heart of faithfulness to the Scripture, a point I appreciated as well.

May women ever teach from Scripture when men are in the audience? Should men even be reading this article? How far is too far?

It’s a question being asked by scores of women who want to be faithful to the Bible and want to exercise their spiritual gift of teaching in a way that honors God’s pattern of male headship in the church.

My problem with the article comes primarily from the analogy she uses to explore this question.

The discussion surrounding the boundary reminds me of another how-far-is-too-far issue: How physically affectionate should a couple be prior to marriage? Should they hold hands? Kiss? Kiss for five seconds, but not fifteen? Lip kiss but not French kiss? How far is too far?

Well, the Bible doesn’t exactly specify. Trying to put together a list of rules about permitted behaviors would be both misleading and ridiculous. But we’re not left without a rudder. The Bible does provide a clear boundary. Sexual intercourse prior to marriage crosses the line.

Here’s the major problem I have with this analogy. The Bible specifies a lot more about women teaching/prophesying/proclaiming in the church than it does with foreplay before marriage. What if the Bible told a story of Boaz and Ruth french kissing without judgement before they were betrothed? What if Paul affirmed in I Corinthians young men in the church holding hands with women not yet their wife? If the Bible affirmed some form of premarital foreplay, then the line for premarital foreplay would be a reasonable analogy for acceptable forms of women teaching men in the church. But the Bible doesn’t give examples of acceptable foreplay outside of marriage.

In contrast, Scripture does give examples of women affirmed as prophets, apostles, judges, and deacons. When we forget that fact, we run the great risk of declaring as bad (or just projecting some type of taint on it) what God affirms. We must not set up a false dichotomy between affirming and honoring God’s plan for male headship in church/home and women using their gifts of teaching as Scripture allows. In fact, I would argue God’s plan for male headship is harmed, not helped, if co-laborers in the household of faith are encouraged away from using their gifts as fully as Scripture allows.

I went to Bible college with a number of earnest Christian women who used Mary’s encouragement on the issue of premarital foreplay. There was the Virgin Lips Club, the model women on campus who had never kissed a guy and vowed not to until marriage. I lost my virgin lips in high school youth group many moons before, so I wasn’t a member. I had no problems with that club, and I don’t have much problem with my experience either. In general, we all valued God’s command around sexual faithfulness, which was good.

But I submit that the women-teaching-men version of the Virgin Lips Club greatly undermines God’s plan for the Church. If a large portion of the Church is instructed that it is OK to stamp down their spiritual gifts of teaching to stay as far from the line of teaching with authority that I Timothy 2-3 limits to male elders, we are going to lose a boat load of 2×4 studs in the household of faith. In my article on Thomas Jefferson and headship, I argued the case of husbands and elders as kephale headstones in their little houses in the big house of faith. But women come alongside them as necessary supports. The cornerstones can not hold the entire structure of the house. They need 2×4’s and cross beams, and the gifts of women, including the gift of teaching, are necessary, not periphery to the health of the Church.  This is the point complementarians must regularly stress if they want to be truly Biblical.  We are not free to not use women’s gifts. 

15 Responses to Women Teaching Men – A Short Response

  1. Beth Connell May 22, 2016 at 7:05 pm #

    One of the issues I have a problem with: Is it a sin for a woman to continue teaching if a man walks in the room? The answer is usually yes. I beg to differ. The bigger question is to me is the “usurping” of authority. If a woman is given permission by her husband and/or pastor to teach, if a man sits and listens to wisdom from a woman of his own accord then to me there is no sin. The scripture did not say “I do not permit a woman to speak in church period. It contined with to usurp mans authority. How is it sin if it is doen in submission to ones headship? And if a man has a problem with it, it is his obligation to get up and leave the room, thereby keeping his authority from being usurped and the woman from sinning.

  2. Beth Connell May 22, 2016 at 7:06 pm #

    sorry about the grammar, I am not wearing my glasses!

  3. Wendy May 22, 2016 at 7:09 pm #

    Absolutely it's not a sin for a woman to continue teaching if a man walks into the room. That's not what Paul is talking about in I Tim. 2-3 at all.

  4. Randy Boyd May 22, 2016 at 8:00 pm #

    This comment has been removed by the author.

  5. Amanda D May 22, 2016 at 8:02 pm #

    This comment has been removed by the author.

  6. Ariel Bovat May 22, 2016 at 8:04 pm #

    I had a major issue with her analogy as well. So much so, I was completely distracted with my distaste for her analogy that I could not concentrate nor glean what she was trying to say otherwise. Needless to say, I didn't even finish the article. Thank you for sharing your issues with it as well and thankful I was not just being overly critical.

  7. Amanda D May 23, 2016 at 2:03 am #

    Wendy, once again I am thankful for your wise and thoughtful teaching? Will you be following this post up with similar ones? I'd love to hear your thoughts on non-ordained women preaching on Sunday morning. Or any suggested resources you'd have.

  8. Wenatchee the Hatchet May 23, 2016 at 4:57 pm #

    The analogy of purity pledges might be weirdly apt since some studies indicate that a large ratio of people who take purity pledges break them and then report going on to be sexually active in ways unlike those who never made the pledge. By analogy, there are complementarians who have defined things in such a way that a lot of people who read the prophecy of Joel about daughters prophesying and see that women prophesied in the NT might conclude that certain prohibitions were not original to the epistles but were later patriarchal redactions. Long ago I was told that the Pharisees began to formulate laws to keep people from breaking God's law, beyond simply urging people to not break God's law. That can often seem to be where complementarians have gone so it's not altogether surprising if people react adversely to a Kassian style case even from within a complementarian perspective.

    And then there's this problem of just how authoritatively some women in the Bible addressed men. Wondering about how the Kassian stance addresses Deborah as judge (and prophet in rabbinic tradition). When Joab enlisted the wise woman of Tekoa to confront David about his mishandling of the situation with Absalom and Tamar there's no indication David considered the woman “out of line” for authoritatively rebuking him as king. Joab suspended his plan to besiege a city beause a recognized wise woman made a deal with him. Huldah was consulted rather than other possible prophets about the veracity of the book of the Law. The trouble with the Kassian position is that while it upholds the formality that women should not teach in authority over men in general, it doesn't seem to adequately address the fact that the canonical narratives suggest that a few women here and there were granted the legitimacy of authority to speak to rulers with a level of authority that would seem impossible on the basis of Kassian's proscriptions. I think the more sensible approach is to distinguish between public instruction and prophetic counsel. Too many people have conflated these two when the criptures don't, in fact, seem to see these two roles as equivocal.

  9. Elsie London May 24, 2016 at 2:36 am #

    I appreciated this article, Wendy. Whereas the implication in sexual purity is to seek out purity instead of seeing how close you can get to the line without sinning, I don't think it's appropriate for us as women to do all we can to avoid teaching/influencing a man as if doing so is a form of purity.

  10. Persis May 24, 2016 at 1:06 pm #

    I can't help but see the influence of Susan Foh's interpretation of Gen. 3:16 in Kassian's post. If Foh is correct about the ontology of women, then we should do everything we can to avoid any possible appearance of usurping any form of authority from men. Therefore one is afraid to get too close to the line a la the purity movement. But if Foh is wrong, what have we done to half the church? As you and others have written, there are biblically valid ways where women can contribute theologically to the church and still affirm male elders.

  11. Wendy May 24, 2016 at 5:19 pm #

    I agree, Persis, about seeing Foh's influence in Mary's response.

  12. Sara May 24, 2016 at 5:37 pm #

    it seems to me, with purity, with the issue of women in leadership, with a lot of things, the moment that you start asking “what's the line I cannot cross?” it's a good clue that you're asking the wrong question. Approaching it from the wrong angle. The Pharisees were very concerned with where the lines were, and Jesus had no patience with it. He consistently pointed people toward the more difficult and abstract question of “How do I love God and my neighbor in this? What is my heart attitude?”

    The problem of thinking in terms of lines is that it not only defines what is “too far,” it implicitly defines what is “far enough.” And that is contrary to growth into the image of an infinite God.

  13. Kim Shay May 25, 2016 at 2:32 am #

    I found her analogy problematic as well. Glad someone else did.

  14. The Music Student June 7, 2016 at 3:17 pm #

    Oh, I'm so glad someone wrote on this. Kassian's analogy really bothered me. It seemed to shut down any further discussion.

  15. John Hicks June 17, 2016 at 11:37 pm #

    Wendy has written on Foh's interpretation here: http://www.theologyforwomen.org/2012/04/somewhat-scholarly-analysis-of-genesis.html