Can women teach men? As a vocal critic of Merie’s unbiblical leadership in the formative years of the Stanton churches, my opinion might surprise some. I have not been critical of her teaching as a female–only of the actual things she taught. I do think it’s fair to point out the hypocrisy of how Stanton teaches that women should be absolutely silent “in the church,” yet when the closing prayer for the “worship service” is done, all bets are off. They can teach in whatever capacity they want, because it’s outside the times 10:00 to noon, or whenever their churches meet.
I do believe women can teach men within very broad Biblical boundaries, which I’ll offer my thoughts on here. But women being “silent” during Sunday morning “worship” is yet another Pharisaic loophole—an exercise in cherrypicking verses to arrive at a predetermined conclusion.
Let me be clear. I believe the legalistic doctrines and oppressive tactics Merie used would have been just as wrong had they been implemented by a male. It was the content of the teaching that I find Biblically offensive, not the sex of the person who taught it.
I will admit up front that I have a cultural bias against women preaching from the pulpit, yet I am hesitant to try to take that and force the Scriptures to justify it. Honesty demands that I acknowledge the difficulty of reconciling various Scriptures that address the subject. Nevertheless, I know this: I have to start with what the Scriptures actually say, not what my biases want them to say. So thus, I must let my opinions flow from that point of reference.
First, I will point out that we have examples of women praying and prophesying (proclaiming or teaching) in the public assembly, and in very the same letter that Paul later instructs women to keep silent in the churches. That is extremely important, and is our first clue that maybe something is getting lost in the translation in the more restrictive passages.
Merie reconciled these verses one way: women are to be silent for the lawfully determined period of timed called “Worship Service.” Before and after that fixed period of time, women can teach men in whatever capacity their talents afford.
I reconcile these verses quite differently. I’ve noticed that the prohibition against women teaching seems to occurs only in the context of talking about married women usurping the authority of their husbands or otherwise disrespecting or humiliating them in public. This is what I want to pay more attention to as we try to unpack what Paul is saying.
The following passages of Scripture are the ones brought up by Bible writers—primarily Paul—to support the idea of women being silent or being prohibited from teaching men. I will show in each of these cases that the subject under discussion was definitely women in a marriage relationships, and definitely not all women in general.
This passage is very clearly defining the marriage relationship, not the relationship of all women to all men. We can be sure of this because the writer says “Therefore” shall a man leave his father and mother and cleave unto his wife, and they shall be one flesh.” Sexual companionship is exclusively for husband and wife. So any New Testament verses that use this passage as their justification have to be referencing the marriage relationship.
Eve’s curse was also specific to the marriage relationship. We can be sure of this because: (a) the command she broke came through her husband; and (b) her punishment was that her husband would rule over her and she would experience pain in childbearing. There is no part of the “curse” that applies to unmarried women. Also important, the “curse” is stating a fact—the way things are—not stating the way God wanted them to be. Godly men should not “rule” over their wives as kings, but relate to them as godly and compassionate leaders of the family.
The context of this passage about head coverings is clearly a wife’s respectfulness toward her own husband in the first century culture, not every woman’s respectfulness toward every man. We know this because: (a) the entire discussion is based on the headship of the man, which the same author taught in Ephesians 5 was specific to the husband/wife relationship; (b) Paul uses as a reason for his conclusions the idea that the woman was created for the man, a clear reference to Genesis 2, which is only about the husband/wife relationship; and (c) Paul further uses as a reason for his conclusions the idea that the woman is the glory of the man. A woman is not the pride and joy, or “glory,” of anyone but her husband.
The context of this passage is clearly about a wife’s respect for her husband. We can be certain of this because: (a) Paul says that they are to be under submission “as the law says.” NOTHING in the law suggests the submission of ALL women to ALL men. This is only parallel to the marriage relationship, as it is part of Genesis 3 (“and he will rule over you”), Ephesians 5, Titus 2, 1 Peter 3, and elsewhere; (b) Paul specifically says the women being addressed should “ask their husbands at home.” It couldn’t be any clearer that Paul is talking about women who were pushing the boundaries of a healthy marriage relationship.
The context here is definitely a wife’s submission to her husband. We can be certain of this because: (a) he again refers to “full submission;” (b) he prohibits a woman “usurping” authority over a man, and authority can’t be usurped where none has been given. Men have “authority,” in this sense (not in any absolute sense), over their own wives, not over other women; (c) he invokes Genesis 2 when he says that the woman was created for the man, which is the basis for the sexual companionship of a husband and wife; and (d) he further invokes the Genesis 3 “curse,” which was only given to married women.
So what do we do with these facts?
First, I don’t claim to have the perfect answer, Biblically, politically, or otherwise. The answers I would give arise out of my own studies and life experiences, but I recognize that others have different, sometimes valid, points of view. I’m blessed with a wife that has chosen to bless me with honor and respect out of her own choice, and tries to defer to my leadership of the family. Others’ views aren’t formed with that experience as a backdrop. So I’m not saying everyone’s right, I’m saying everyone’s imperfect and we’re all doing our best to understand this subject as honestly and sincerely as we can.
Second, I don’t believe the Scriptures were intended to be a legal document, legislating rules and regulations on aspects of life. I have learned to accept that there are some aspects of this question, and others, that remain unanswered, and God has his own reasons for that. If we are going to live by the maxim of speaking where the Bible speaks—and I’ve done that by speaking the truths of Scripture above—then we also need to be silent where the Bible is silent.
The hard truth for traditionalists concerned about that is that there is no requirement to have a pulpit in the assembly in the first place. I’m pretty sure the first century church did not. They usually met in homes, and the custom was to sit on the floor in most cases. If we met more like the first century church did, sitting around our couches praising God, edifying one another, and discussing the Scriptures amongst ourselves in a more relational manner, I think it would be easier to see how women, married or unmarried, fit into God’s perfect plan for church. I think in that context, women could teach men just fine without humiliating their husbands and causing chaos in the church.