Thursday, July 23, 2015

I Do Not Permit a Woman to Teach or Have Authority

I am not a Scripture scholar, although I have studied theology at the graduate level. So what I'm about to say is not the result of textual analysis or research, but rather the result of meditation and living with Jesus, and that sudden moment of "aha!" that gives me a new insight I never once thought about before. Call it a hunch, if you will.

Among the passages of Scripture that really rankle people is 1 Timothy 2, where Paul has his bit to say about women in the church. For example:

I do not permit a woman to teach or to have authority over a man. She must be quiet. For Adam was formed first, then Eve. Further, Adam was not deceived, but the woman was deceived and transgressed. (verses 12-14)
 I've heard any number of teachings trying to bring this Scripture to bear on modern life. There is of course the literalist approach which takes Paul at face value and does not permit women to speak the Word of God in a public church setting. I grew up in a church which taught this way, though we were nothing like fundamentalists (just Lutheran). However, in that same church body I also heard the interpretation which weighted the first word of verse 12 as having all the importance: "I." This approach said it was just Paul's issue, not something that universally applied even at his time.

Yes, it is a bit weird to posit that St. Paul was a jerk who randomly imposed his will and that Scripture preserves that, but once you lose your moorings from a Magisterial understanding of Scripture, anything is possible.

The Ignatius study Bible proposes that this passage (and a similar injunction to silence in 1 Corinthians) means that women are barred from preaching in the context of ordained ministry. Well, ok. There are other arguments about why women do not receive ordination, and I think the strongest one is that to be a father, you need to be a man. But I'll leave that to the side for now.

It sounds to modern ears that St. Paul is barring women from something. Or rather, that God is barring women from something. Yes, we could deconstruct Christianity in terms of power and politics like those do who do not know the power of God, but that way of death has run its course. If we start from the reality of the life-changing encounter with Jesus Christ which has already revolutionized the soul of St. Paul and go from there to the fact that the Holy Spirit was forming a people all drawn from darkness and sin into a completely new life in the new covenant in Jesus Christ, and working through Paul as an apostle, I think we need to look again at what else might be going on here.

Let's just refocus for a moment away from "woman" in that passage, and look at the word "man."

Who has to be taught? For whom is authority structured?

Those who need it, and especially the ignorant and the unruly. Children, basically.

In other places in Scripture, believers are told they have no need of anyone to teach them, because the spirit of God Himself teaches them (cf 1 Jn. 2:27). It also has words to say for those who should be mature, but aren't (1 Cor. 3:2, Heb. 5:12). The authority that Paul most frequently speaks of is a fatherly authority, one who lays down his life and teaches by example how to live. Fathers are mature. Children are not.

Just what if what Paul is really saying here is, "Men, grow up. I'm not letting women do your heavy lifting."

Because look at what he goes on to say: Adam was formed first, but Eve was deceived. Scott Hahn has popularized the approach to the Genesis account of the fall that says Adam's key failure was stepping up to the devil and laying down his life, or being ready to, in order to stop the avalanche of sin. But instead, he simply remained still and silent, and let Eve take the hit. St. Paul reminds us of all that.

What if St. Paul is really saying that while women, holding the preeminent place of honor in the Church in the person of the Blessed Virgin Mary, have certain natural capacities that lend themselves to a strong interior life might have the capacity to teach and hold authority, he wants men to step up and take the spiritual responsibility in their circumstances, unlike Adam. This is the way they would authentically imitate Christ, the new Adam. This way, the reality of the new life of the new covenant would be made manifest to the world.

What if it wasn't about "putting women in their place" all along....

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