Theology Tuesday: Women and Church Leadership
The Catholic Church has a long establish set of doctrines to explain why there are only males in the priesthood. It is not my place to defend the Catholic Church’s doctrines, as I am no longer part of it. However, we can reasonably conclude that they likely have a solid theological justification for their restrictions.
We start with the somewhat controversial command by St. Paul in his first letter to Timothy:
But I suffer not a woman to teach, nor to usurp authority over the man, but to be in silence.
-St. Paul’s First Epistle to Timothy, Chapter 2, Verses 12
The very first thing said when this verse is brought up is ALWAYS “That was just the culture of the time”. However, if we can use that argument here, why can’t we use it everywhere? I do not present that we should not understand the context of Scripture, but that we should examine the whole context, not just those portions which support our 21st century Western ideas. Specifically, we should always start with the Scriptural context before considering the cultural context. Here:
I will therefore that men pray every where, lifting up holy hands, without wrath and doubting. In like manner also, that women adorn themselves in modest apparel, with shamefacedness and sobriety; not with braided hair, or gold, or pearls, or costly array. But (which becometh women professing godliness) with good works. Let the woman learn in silence with all subjection. But I suffer not a woman to teach, nor to usurp authority over the man, but to be in silence. For Adam was first formed, then Eve. And Adam was not deceived, but the woman being deceived was in the transgression. Notwithstanding she shall be saved in childbearing, if they continue in faith and charity and holiness with sobriety.
-St. Paul’s First Epistle to Timothy, Chapter 2, Verses 8-15
Clearly, commands are being given to men and women here. Men are to pray, and to maintain their faith and their patience – not an easy command, as men tend to want to fix it themselves and get mad when we don’t! Women are, by contrast, cautioned against focusing on their outward appearance. Why are the women cautioned on this and not the men? It’s common sense – women are more likely to be a distraction due to their outward appearance then men are. It doesn’t matter that we don’t want to admit it – the truth is timeless.
We can also get some help from Matthew Henry, who wrote 1600 years after St. Paul:
“According to Paul, women must be learners, and are not allowed to be public teachers in the church; for teaching is an office of authority, and the woman must not usurp authority over the man, but is to be in silence. But, notwithstanding this prohibition, good women may and ought to teach their children at home the principles of religion.”
Many in favor of making women priests like to bring up Timothy’s mother and grandmother, as well as Pricilla when debating the subject. Henry again:
“Timothy from a child had known the holy scriptures - who should teach him as a child but his mother and grandmother? (2Tim 3:15). Aquila and his wife Priscilla expounded unto Apollos the way of God more perfectly; but then they did it privately, for they took him unto them, (Acts 18:26).”
“Then there are two very good reasons given for the man's authority over the woman, and her subjection to the man, Adam was first formed, then Eve; she was created for the man, and not the man for the woman (1Cor 11:9); then she was deceived, and brought the man into the transgression.”
We have to overcome our desire to be liked and to make everyone happy with our doctrines. We have clear guidance from the Bible in this case – part of the “curse” of Eve was that women were to be subject to their husbands, as the curse of Adam is for men to work hard to provide for the families that they are responsible for. However, just as women have their own curse, they have their own blessing – that of childbirth, which men can never experience. “Though in sorrow, yet she shall bring forth, and be a living mother of living children; provided they continue in faith, and charity, and holiness, with sobriety: and women, under the circumstance of child-bearing should by faith lay hold of this promise for their support in the needful time.”
The revelation that men and women are equal in Christ (Galatians 3:27-29) proclaims our equality of worth – not our duplication of assigned duties. Men are to lead, and are responsible for the actions of those they lead. Women, who have played a vital part of Christianity since the beginning, have critical roles as well – however, the office of priest or pastor is not one of them.
Redefining roles and explaining away Biblical truths based upon our current cultural norms (which are of men, not of God) may seem smart, but it is merely another example of how “the foolishness of God is wiser than men; and the weakness of God is stronger than men” (1Co 1:25), and how we should instead ensure that “our faith should not stand in the wisdom of men, but in the power of God” (1 Cor 2:5).