I spent two years in college involved with the Summit Church, a local mega-church down the road from UNC. I have to admit that I learned a lot there. Among the many things, I learned to appreciate discipleship; I learned to value community; and I learned how to sacrifice my time for the Church.
But — and I can’t emphasize “but” enough here — I also learned during my time at the Summit that these hip mega churches, which is how I would categorize the Summit, often teach really, really bad theology. (As a side note, it amazes me that the good ‘ole Southern Baptist were the ones that figured out how to mask their theology with flashy lights and catchy music).
One of the things that increasingly bothered me while I was at the Summit, and, at that, one of the reasons why I ultimately left the Church, was the Church’s unapologetically ‘conservative’ view on women in ministry. I have had numerous conversations with friends about why I disagree with the Summit’s conservative take on the issue, but I have never taken the time to write my thoughts down. I never really had the time, and I never really wanted too…until now.
Back in February, I watched a video posted by J.D. Greear, the pastor of the Summit Church. In the video, Greear comments on the role of women in ministry. His sermon was on Deborah, and I guess it is inevitable to avoid the issue of women in ministry when you encounter such a strong biblical figure who just so happens to be a woman!
I was surprised, and I am happy to admit this, to find Greear taking a rather “middle of the road” approach that isn’t typical within conservative evangelical circles. He certainly breaks off from pastors such as John McArthur and John Piper. But I still found his take on the issue flawed. So I wanted to comment then, but strained on time, I never finished one of the many drafts I started. In May, however, the issue resurfaced. Greear posted a blog clarifying his and his Church’s position. And again, I was, if I may put it rather frankly, very frustrated with his conclusions, especially with what I would consider haphazarded exegesis. May was a busy month. I was transitioning to New Haven, CT, and I had no time to write anything.
Now school is finished and I have moved. I still don’t have much time to write. But with summer fading away, if I have any time at all, it is now! So I guess I should take Greear’s opinion “step by step” and break down what are, in my mind, its major flaws. Before you trudge through my post, however, I would encourage you to jump over to Greear’s blog and take a quick look at what he has to say. My response will, moreover, follow his blog post. (click here)
First things first, the issue of 1 Timothy 2:12: like many conservative pastors, Greear shelters his conservative take on women in ministry under the banner of a “biblical reading.” His go to verse is, of course, 1 Timothy 2:12, which states: “I do not permit a woman to teach or to exercise authority over a man; rather, she is to remain quiet” (1 Ti 2:12, ESV). Greear acknowledges the argument that it is possible that Paul’s prohibition is a one time event, a call for the women of Ephesus, which is where the letter of Timothy was addressed, to remain quiet. I am happy that Greear recognizes this argument because this is how I read the text, and I am not the only one. N.T. Wright, for example, argues that Paul’s prohibition is occasional, meaning that it was a prohibition directed only to the Church at Ephesus, not the entire early Christian movement. Greear, however, dismisses this interpretation. He writes:
“Some suggest that Paul only had one situation in one church in mind, where the women were unruly. But the reasoning Paul uses—that man was created first, then Eve, and that she was deceived first while he overtly rebelled first—excludes such a possibility. Paul bases his rule for Timothy’s church in the created order, which means it applies to all churches.”
I have to be honest; I find Greear’s response unconvincing. And it is somewhat confusing. I guess — and I could be wrong — that he is saying, Paul’s prohibition is not occasional because Paul supports his prohibition with theological reasoning. In other words, because Paul evokes creation, then his ruling is universal and applies to “all churches,” both then and now. Yet off the top of my head, I can think of another instance where Paul uses creation order to back up a decree. I am thinking of 1 Corinthians 11:1-15. In this passage Paul orders the women in the Corinthian Church to cover their heads when they pray and prophesy. “Every wife who prays or prophesies with her head uncovered,” Paul writes, “dishonors her head, since it is the same as if her head were shaven… let her cover her head” (I Cor 11:6-6). As in 1 Timothy 2, Paul issues this decree and then provides theological reasoning to back it up. And as in 1 Timothy 2 the reasons are creational.
“For if a wife will not cover her head, then she should cut her hair short. But since it is disgraceful for a wife to cut off her hair or shave her head, let her cover her head. For a man ought not to cover his head, since he is the image and glory of God, but woman is the glory of man. For man was not made from woman, but woman from man. Neither was man created for woman, but woman for man. That is why a wife ought to have a symbol of authority on her head, because of the angels.” (1 Co 11:6–10, ESV)
So just like in 1 Timothy, Paul uses creation order to back up his proclamation. Now, I have to admit. I have not attended a service at the Summit Church in almost two years. But at least the last time I was there, the women in the Church were not required to wear head coverings when they prayed. So my question is this: why is it that Greear feels that Paul’s proclamation that women should not teach or hold authority in 1 Timothy 2 is universal and timeless because of the evocation of creation order? Yet he does not read 1 Corinthians 11, where Paul also evokes creation order, in this way? (I am only guessing that he doesn’t, he very well could, but my reasons for thinking no are below).
I can guess, and now I could be wrong on this point too, that Greear would use some rather sophisticated hermeneutics to get around the issue of head dresses in 1 Corinthians 11. He’d probably say something like, “well you see back then… not wearing a head dress was a tell tell sign that you were a prostitute. Since we don’t associate not wearing a head covering with prostitution today, the text really means something like: women shouldn’t come to Church dressed like a Victoria Secret super model.”
This sort of exegesis is on point. It understands the historical context of the text and, then, translates the underlying point of the text to our modern world. Thumbs up for seminary! But of course, Greear doesn’t use this sort of exegesis when it comes to 1 Timothy 2. According to him, because Paul evokes creation order, the text is timeless and universal and applies to all Christian churches. Well J.D., I hope somewhere on your blog you have some posts dedicated to the need for women to wear headdresses in your Church. Otherwise, your hermeneutic is inconsistent. So here’s my point: If Paul’s use of creation order necessitates a timeless and universal decree, then because 1 Corinthians 11 uses the same pattern, it follows, by Greear’s logic, that women in the modern Church should have to wear headdresses as well.
Okay, so to wrap up this post, because I have gone over my 1000 word target, let me make a few concluding observations. Obviously I don’t believe that Paul’s use of creation order negates the possibility that this text is a one time decree, given to the Church at Ephesus. N.T. Wright has argued elsewhere with a great deal of sophistication that 1 Timothy 2:12 is occasional. I wont regurgitate that here, since I assume if you have made it this far through my post that you can read. (Plus its N.T. Wright, come on!).
My final speculation is this: there is a reason that men like J.D. Greear live and die by a universal reading of 1 Timothy 2:12. When these conservative pastors and authors approach the text they don’t let the text itself, including the text’s historical and scriptural context (more on this in a subsequent post), influence their thinking. They have already made their mind up. They have been told, somewhere in their life, that women cannot preach. To them, this is nonnegotiable; the assumption exists before the text.
So I made it through the first paragraph of J.D.’s blog in only, yikes, 1500 words. Next time I will speak about the grammar of 1 Timothy 2:12, which J.D. mentions in the second paragraph of his blog. The grammar, as I hope to show, supports an occasional reading of the text.