Why not let a woman preach?

Garrett Mostowski
Friday, April 12, 2019
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Why not? For many, it’s because “the Bible says so.”  

Often the spiritual authorities saying this are men, and they are referring to Paul’s words in 1 Timothy 2:12, “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.”  

If you’ve ever bought or sold a property, you might have heard a real estate agent say value is determined by location, location, and, you guessed it, location. Well, when well-trained ministers or Bible teachers approach a passage of scripture, they say the interpretation of the passage must be determined by context, context, context. My professors used to say it all the time. What’s the setting of the entire book? The chapter’s theme? What’s the genre of the text? What’s our best guess as to why it was written? And so on.  

In the case of 1 Timothy, Paul is writing a personal letter to a young man he mentored, who likely sought out Paul for advice on how to deal with all the heresy being spread by the false teachers in Ephesus. How do we know this? Context.  

1 Timothy 1:3-7 (NRSV) says, “I urge you [Timothy], as I did when I was on my way to Macedonia, to remain in Ephesus so that you may instruct certain people not to teach any different doctrine, and not to occupy themselves with myths and endless genealogies that promote speculations rather than the divine training that is known by faith. But the aim of such instruction is love that comes from a pure heart, a good conscience, and sincere faith.  Some people have deviated from these and turned to meaningless talk, desiring to be teachers of the law, without understanding either what they are saying …”

Paul’s concern in the letter is to encourage Timothy to continue in his kingdombuilding work of correcting false teachers in the Ephesian church. We know this from the text above, which means we can say with some confidence that Paul is not writing to establish a permanent, all-time restriction on women teaching or preaching in the church. It was likely a specific problem in that specific church.  

Many of the churches who claim that the Bible says women shouldn’t preach or be pastors will often still allow women to teach children, adolescents, and teenagers. But why do they let these women teach at all when, according to the Bible, women shouldn’t teach? Why do they let women speak at all when the Bible clearly says, not only in 1 Timothy 2:12 but, in 1 Corinthians 14:34 that women should be silent in churches? Why do they let women sing? The Bible says so … doesn’t it?  

To take this a little further if a church and its members were to truly follow a standard of “The Bible says so, they would have to require their members to stop eating bacon (Leviticus 11:4). They could not wear polyester or other fabric blends in any of their clothing (Leviticus 19:19). They could not eat seafood (Leviticus 10:11). How many of those churches are willing to do that? And why are they so inconsistent in the way they view the Bible?

Those who follow the standard of “The Bible says so,” will often claim to believe that the Bible is their ultimate authority. It what they seek out to gain wisdom and understanding of the world around them. And this is a good thing. It shows a reverence for our sacred text. But often this can be taken way too far.  

The fact is that not even Paul found his ultimate authority from the Bible. He didn’t have a Bible. He didn’t even place ultimate authority in the Old Testament scrolls that he grew up studying. Paul almost directly contradicts the authority of the Old Testament when he says in Romans 14:14, “I know and am persuaded in the Lord Jesus that nothing is unclean in itself.” Paul’s scripture was full of lists that God gave to the Israelites outlining what was clean and unclean, and yet, Paul is saying like Jesus, like the apostle Peter said in Acts, “Nothing is unclean.”  

How can Paul say this? How can other churches allow women to preach? How can I, as a Minister of the Word, be married to a woman who is also a Minister of the Word? What’s going on? Are we pagans? Heathens??

Lord, I hope not. But, I guess, we might be. We are all required to work out our faith in fear and trembling.  

So, if Paul didn’t find ultimate authority in the scriptures, where did he find it? How did he gain wisdom and understanding in order to navigate the world around him? In the life and ministry of Jesus.  

So do I. So does my wife. And the reality is that, during His ministry, Jesus reached out to rejected women. Like Paul, in spite of the laws regarding uncleanness, Jesus allowed a woman suffering from twelve-years of menstruation to touch him. And he commended her faith (Mark 5:25–34). Jesus let a sinful woman anoint and kiss his feet (Luke 7:36–50). Jesus challenged the teachers and preachers of his time by saying: “I tell you the truth, the tax collectors and prostitutes are entering the kingdom of God ahead of you” (Matthew 21:31). He also granted salvation to women who had been shown to be adulteresses (John 4:4–42 and John 8:1–11). Those are not insignificant moments.  

After his resurrection, Jesus didn’t appear to the kings and rulers of his time, he didn’t even first appear to his male disciples. He revealed himself to Mary Magdalene, a woman possessed by demons. And what did Mary do?  

She went off and preached this good news to Jesus’ disciples.

I don’t know about you, but I’m really glad she wasn’t silent. I’m really glad she spoke up, and to that end, I hope more and more women continue to do so.  

No matter what you believe, as Christians, we believe that we are called to work alongside the Spirit of God to build the kingdom of heaven here on earth, in our cities and communities. And we all know that the kingdom of God is not a matter of who is allowed to have what job and who is allowed to speak or when they are allowed to speak, or even arguments about what a disciple of Jesus, like Paul, said in a letter to one of his friends, the kingdom of God is, as the apostle Paul says, a matter “of righteousness and peace and joy in the Holy Spirit … so then, let us pursue what makes for peace and mutual upbuilding,” (Romans 14:17,19).  

To me, the best way to make peace and mutually upbuild everyone in our community, the best way to begin to help God’s Spirit in kingdom-building work is to allow everyone — no matter their sex — speak and use the gifts and messages that God has given them.  

If you are worried about allowing a woman to preach or speak in your church or community, if you are afraid that God will look down upon this act and find these women guilty of being false prophets or wolves in sheep’s clothing, I would encourage you to trust Jesus when he says, “You will know them by their fruits. Are grapes gathered from thorns, or figs from thistles?” (Matthew 7:16). You will know and see where the Spirit is at work, and I truly believe that God is big enough to work through anybody, regardless of what body parts they have been given.

So, I ask again, why not let a woman preach?  

( Garrett Mostowski is pastor of the First Presbyterian Church of Miles City.)