Writing: Women Writing Theology
“But I do not allow a woman to teach or exercise authority over a man, but to remain quiet.” (1 Timothy 2:12)
I begin by quoting that verse because many of you are already thinking about it. I do not blame you. It is an important and much debated verse, and the way we interpret it tends to define our opinions about women writing theological articles and books.
I have no desire to simply paper over this verse. However, I believe when we focus primarily on passages such as these, we end up framing the issue of women writing about theology rather negatively. Either we go to the Scriptures looking for things women can’t do, or we go looking for loopholes that will allow women to teach in more capacities. We focus on what has been negatively forbidden rather than positively commanded.
The result is that female Christians blessed with writing talent who seek to use their gifts for the benefit of the Church are often questioned about their motivations. “Are they simply on an ego trip?” some ask. “Are they unwilling to be quiet servants? Have they bought into worldly ideas? Is this all about gaining power and influence?”
Any of these questions could be asked of males who seek to enter the pastorate or produce a theological tome, but they often are not, even in an age when celebrity pastors rake in thousands or even millions of dollars in book sales and speaking fees. Some Christians assume a man’s desires and calling are genuine unless proven otherwise, while a woman’s are self-serving unless proven otherwise.
This would not be the case if we focused not only on what women are forbidden from doing in scripture, but also on what they are commanded to do—indeed, what they are applauded for doing. Commands to evangelize (Matthew 5:14-16, Matthew 28:18-20 [debated interpretation], 2 Corinthians 5:18-20, Colossians 4:5-6) are not addressed to men only, but to all believers. When Paul speaks of the gifts of the Spirit, he does not assign some to men and some to women. (Romans 12:4-8, 1 Corinthians 12) On Pentecost, Peter spoke of the Spirit being poured forth on both men and women. (Acts 2:17-18)
Does this mean there are no differences between men and women? No. Does this mean that there should be no restrictions on what a woman can do in church? No. Paul made clear that all things were to be done in a proper and orderly manner. (1 Corinthians 14:40) Rules put in place by God are not simply about spoiling fun: they are designed for our flourishing. However, we should not make the assumption that women who seek to exhort, encourage, and promote godliness in the Body of Christ are not also promoting our flourishing. (1 Thessalonians 5:11)
When Jesus visited the house of Mary and Martha, he praised Mary for sitting at his feet to learn the things of God. (Luke 10:38-42) The study of theology is not only beneficial for women individually, but also for those to whom they will pass on their wisdom. While Paul may not have envisioned that women would hold the highest teaching offices in the Church, he declared the good work that women were doing in passing on the faith to others, particularly the next generation.
In his second preserved letter to Timothy, Paul wrote, “For I am mindful of the sincere faith within you, which first dwelt in your grandmother Lois and your mother Eunice, and I am sure that it is in you as well.” (2 Timothy 1:5) It seems clear to me that Paul mentioned Timothy’s mother and grandmother rather than his male relatives because it was these females who served as primary spiritual influences in Timothy’s early life.
I could go on and speak of women who hosted house churches (Colossians 4:15), served as deacons (Romans 16:1* [debated translation]), and made prophesies (Exodus 15:20, Judges 4:4, 2 Kings 22:14, Luke 2:36), but all of this makes a case for the role of women in general. What about the role of an individual woman?
Imagine a Christian woman who is a gifted writer. If her faith is so important to her, is it surprising that she would seek to write about it? If the thriving of the Church is important to her, is it surprising that she would offer words of encouragement and scriptural truth? No, it is not surprising, nor is it sinful.
A woman should never present herself as a special voice of God. She should be mindful of the Church authorities placed over her and seek to honor them. She should be held accountable to the Scriptures. If she does all these things, seeking merely to benefit her fellow believers and not to promote herself, is it not a godly exercise? I believe it is godly and that the men of the Church should listen to the women, for there is much to be gained from the gifts of the Spirit within them.
Theology is a noble subject of study for women. Individual churches and denominations must search the scriptures to determine exactly how women’s gifts should be exercised, but we must never forget the positive command placed upon both males and females to proclaim the gospel hope within them. (1 Peter 3:15) I want to see more women studying the scriptures at both the lay and academic levels. It could provide eternal benefits not only for them, but for their friends, spouses, children, and church.
All scripture quotations are from the New American Standard Bible, copyright The Lockman Foundation.
* The NASB and other major English translations refer to Phoebe as a “servant”. The Greek word is diakonos, which is translated as “deacon” elsewhere. Her exact role is therefore a matter of debate.
Amy Mantravadi holds a B.A. in Biblical Literature from Taylor University. She is an active member of Patterson Park Church in Beavercreek, Ohio. You can read her blog at www.amymantravadi.com or follow her on Twitter @AmyMantravadi.