My post Reform are hypocrites over women teaching has attracted quite a lot of readers (145 directly so far, plus those reading from the main page and from RSS etc feeds) but surprisingly little response. Indeed the only actual comments on the post, apart from my own, are three thoughtful comments from TC Keene, who defends Reform on the charge of hypocrisy without actually agreeing with their position.
Perhaps TC has hit the nail on the head in his latest comment, in which he (in another comment he states that he is male) writes (in part):
Reform supporters will be bemused but possibly contemptuous of the remarks concerning Carrie’s leaflet … For some reason that is opaque to me and is clearly equally opaque to others but seems completely natural to Reform supporters that they never question it, written teaching does not fall under the ban on women teaching men. It has never done and it probably has never occurred to most of them that it should.
I replied (again in part):
if Reform really does teach that “written teaching does not fall under the ban on women teaching men”, then why haven’t they included this point in any of their written teaching? Or perhaps they have – in that case, where is that written teaching? Even if this “seems completely natural to Reform supporters”, they know by now that it doesn’t to others. So where are the Reform people coming out and saying this?
So if it is Reform’s position that only oral teaching is true teaching, where does this idea come from? TC suggests that it has roots in pagan Greek philosophy. Maybe. But I was surprised to find that in the New Testament the words didasko “teach”, didaskalos “teacher”, didache and didaskalia “teaching” etc are almost entirely restricted in their application to spoken teaching. I could find only one place in which any of these words are used of the written teaching of the Old Testament Scriptures, in Romans 15:4, and none where they referred to any other written material. Thus for example in 2 Peter 3 the author avoids these words when talking about both his own previous letter (v.1) and the letters of Paul (vv.15-16).
So perhaps Carrie Sandom could have made an exegetical case that the prohibition on a woman teaching (didasko) in 1 Timothy 2:12 applies only to oral teaching and not to distributing written teaching material. However, in her leaflet The role of women in the local church she makes absolutely no attempt to do so. As a result she leaves herself open to the interpretation I have made of her words, according to the regular English meaning of “teach” which includes written as well as oral teaching. If this is not what she meant, she should have said so. And if she, or someone else from Reform, would now like to clarify to me that this was indeed her meaning, I will withdraw my charge of hypocrisy.
However, if the Reform position is that women are forbidden only to teach orally, then that leads to some interesting issues about where the line should be drawn across which women are not allowed to step. Carrie Sandom teaches that there is no “blanket prohibition on women speaking” in a church context. So they can speak, but not to teach, and they can teach, if they don’t speak what they teach. Does sign language for the deaf count as speaking? Is a woman allowed to be an interpreter for a male teacher? Is she allowed to read out written teaching material? What if she reads out what she has written herself? But that’s what most male preachers do!
The whole thing can easily get ridiculous. I am reminded of how in 1988 Margaret Thatcher tried to deny publicity to Irish republicans by banning broadcast of the voice of their leaders like Gerry Adams. The broadcasters promptly got round it by dubbing the voices of actors over pictures of Adams and others speaking – and the republicans ended up with more publicity rather than less.
I am also reminded of how Jesus mocked the distinctions the Pharisees made between different kinds of oaths (Matthew 5:33-37) and condemned them for straining out gnats while swallowing camels (23:23-24). I’m sure Jesus’ message to Reform would have been similar: he would condemn them for focusing on small matters like exactly what women can do while
you have neglected the more important matters of the law – justice, mercy and faithfulness.
Matthew 23:23 (TNIV)