Buried Talents: Studies in the Role of Women, Preface

[As promised, I’m starting a series on the role of women. These posts will be shamelessly ripped off from my book Buried Talents, which is available in full text on this site.

However, I’m updating it. In particular, a number of internet forums have discussed it extensively, which have provided some additional material and forced me to dig more deeply here and there. And I’ve re-edited it a bit to make it more suitable for posting on a blog. So I’ll be tossing some new stuff in here and there for those who’ve been through this before.

I decided not to wait until May. It just seems right to get the material on out there for discussion.]

The Christian community has struggled with understanding the Bible’s teachings on the role of women in the church since the First Century. The Restoration Movement,[1] of which I am a part, has struggled with these teachings since its inception. In fact, the Restoration Movement’s long insistence on congregational autonomy and the right of each Christian to interpret the scriptures for himself (or herself)[2] has resulted in quite a divergence of opinion over the years.

And yet, while it is easy to document a wide variety of opinions among the leading thinkers of the Restoration Movement, our practices within the Churches of Christ have been remarkably uniform. Our uniformity is all the more remarkable given how very little biblical support there is for much of what we do (and don’t do).

Consider this: There are only a handful of verses that deal particularly with what women can and can’t do in the church:

(1 Cor. 14:33b-35) As in all the congregations of the saints, women should remain silent in the churches. They are not allowed to speak, but must be in submission, as the Law says. If they want to inquire about something, they should ask their own husbands at home; for it is disgraceful for a woman to speak in the church.

(1 Tim. 2:11-15) A woman should learn in quietness and full submission. I do not permit a woman to teach or to have authority over a man; she must be silent. For Adam was formed first, then Eve. And Adam was not the one deceived; it was the woman who was deceived and became a sinner. But women will be saved through childbearing—if they continue in faith, love and holiness with propriety.

Additionally, the familiar passages in 1 Timothy and Titus setting forth the qualifications for elders and deacons state that an elder or deacon must be “the husband of one wife” (1 Tim. 3:2; Titus 1:6). (I believe this translation to be a mistake, as I’ll explain later.)

Certainly, if one considers these verses to pronounce laws that are independent of local culture and that thus remain in effect today, we should not have female elders or deacons and we should not allow women to speak in the assemblies or to teach or to have authority over a man. But where in all this do we find a command denying women the privilege of silently distributing the Lord’s Supper? Where does the Bible say that teenage boys—and not girls—should silently pass out handouts during the services? Or that only men should pass out the announcement sheets? And what scripture denies women the right to attend church business meetings? Even if they must be denied the right to vote on church business, to prevent their exercise of authority, isn’t their input worthy of consideration?

Where does the Bible permit a woman to confess Jesus during a church service? Why don’t we wait until church is over to take her confession? How can we allow a woman to head the pre-school department when there are some men who volunteer for nursery or Vacation Bible School work? And how can we have women as non-deacons taking on greater responsibility and authority than many men take on as deacons? For example, if a man must be a deacon to be in charge of cutting the grass, locking the building, or counting the collection, how can a woman be in charge of the pre-school or taking food to the bereaved?

Surely, we must admit that our practices do not strictly comply with our doctrine. We impose non-biblical restrictions on women out of traditions born out of nothing but the sexism of the past, while at the same time granting women authority as program heads and administrators that we would require a man to be a deacon to undertake.

While we claim to teach a strict interpretation of these passages, we are not really all that strict. After all, while we don’t let women ask questions during the assembly (and rarely men!), we do allow women to ask questions in Sunday school class. Moreover, we never require women to ask their husbands at home. We freely allow them to ask the preacher questions about his sermon at church—just not during the service. Paul did not say for women to wait until after services to ask questions—he said the women should ask their husbands at home.

And, of course, we allow women to teach men—in our colleges, junior colleges, and high schools—so long as the subject is not the Bible. But Paul did not say that women should not teach men the Bible. He said that women should not teach men. Similarly, we don’t require our wives to give up non-church jobs that involve having authority over men. If one of our wives is promoted from grade school teacher to principal, her husband will gladly cash the increased paycheck even though this promotion puts her in authority over male teachers, custodians, bus drivers, and lunchroom workers.

But Paul did not limit his command limiting a woman’s authority to church affairs. Indeed, our traditional interpretation is that Paul bases his command on the relationship of men and women founded in the Garden of Eden, millennia before there were churches, Sunday Schools, or church colleges. If God put men over women, He did not do so only in their marriages and in church.

Osburn, in Women in the Church 2, p. 232 ff., cites Kevin Giles, “A Critique of the ‘Novel’ Contemporary Interpretation of 1 Timothy 2:9-15 Given in the Book, Women in the Church,” Evangelical Quarterly 72 (2000), as providing a thoroughly researched argument that until the last few decades the near unanimous view of the Christian community was that women could not exercise authority over men in any circumstance, including in the workplace, due to the innate inferiority of women. Those who contend that women are to be subordinate to men at church but may supervise men at work have produced an interpretation just as novel to Christianity as the view that women are not required to be subordinate to men.

Clearly, we have some hard thinking to do in this area. And certainly the problem is not limited to the Churches of Christ or even the Restoration Movement. I’ve seen Presbyterian, Episcopal, and Baptist Churches fight and divide over these very same issues.

I must add that current issues such as women’s liberation, the Equal Rights Amendment, or “equal pay for equal work” do not cause the controversy. Any honest church historian knows that these questions were being debated long before women could vote or even own property.

The purpose of this book is not to pursue a personal agenda. Being of the male gender, as we say in West Alabama, I have no dog in this hunt. Rather, I only insist that we teach a doctrine that we are willing to practice and can defend from the pages of scripture. We should impose no restrictions on women that the Bible does not impose, and we should grant them no power that the Bible disallows. We should stop pretending that we “speak where the Bible speaks and are silent where the Bible is silent”[3] and actually do what we say we do.

I began my investigation into this area with just such thoughts in mind. Clearly, we are tradition-bound—but what does the Bible really say? Is it possible to discover the truth of the matter despite our layers upon layers of tradition, orthodoxy, biases, and all?

And perhaps not so surprisingly, I have found my position changing over the years. I can recall teaching a series of Sunday school classes on this topic three times before composing the first draft of this book. Each of the first two times that I taught, I concluded that although we are not true to the scriptures, such passages as 1 Timothy 2:11-15, while seemingly somewhat arbitrary, are binding today because Paul based his conclusions on eternal principles that he says are found in Genesis.

The third time I taught the subject, I decided to prepare more carefully and to pay particular attention to what the accounts of the Creation and Adam and Eve in Genesis 1-3 really say. Paul finds his commands in Genesis (he doesn’t re-write Genesis or add his commands to Genesis). Therefore, before coming to any conclusion, I set as a standard that a true understanding of Genesis would yield a true understanding of Paul’s commands. If someone were to present an interpretation of Paul’s writings that is not found in Genesis 1-3, that interpretation must be false.

With this insight reached before knowing the conclusions that it would lead to, I undertook my study. I was, quite frankly, surprised at the results.

I make no claim to be free from error. This material is offered for your consideration. Despite my best efforts, because I’m human and thus imperfect, it probably contains some mistakes. I’d be delighted to get your input. It is offered to help you understand the Bible better and to allow the Church to better serve our Lord. Please approach it from that standpoint. Take nothing personally. Consider only what is best for the work of the Lord. Our own needs are subordinate to the needs of the work of the Church, the need to reach out to others, and the need to help the poor.


[1] An American religious movement beginning around 1800 resulting in the present-day Churches of Christ, Independent Christian Churches/Churches of Christ, and Christian Churches (Disciples of Christ), with combined membership of around 4,000,000. The author’s background is Church of Christ, distinguished from Christian Churches/Churches of Christ (Independent) primarily by its practice of a cappella congregational singing and non-use of conventions and missionary societies. Christian Churches (Disciples of Christ) are distinguished from the other branches of the movement by having a national denomination organization and tolerance of liberal theology, as defined later in this book.

[2] I have not changed references to “brothers” or “he” to non-sexist terms like “siblings” or “he” to “he/she.” Such changes make the reading very tedious. We’ll just have to agree that such “male” references are of indefinite gender unless the context otherwise indicates, as is always the rule in standard English. While I must concede the bias inherent in our language, no one has come up with a readable alternative.

[3] One of the defining slogans of the Restoration Movement, coined by Thomas Campbell.

About Jay F Guin

My name is Jay Guin, and I’m a retired elder. I wrote The Holy Spirit and Revolutionary Grace about 18 years ago. I’ve spoken at the Pepperdine, Lipscomb, ACU, Harding, and Tulsa lectureships and at ElderLink. My wife’s name is Denise, and I have four sons, Chris, Jonathan, Tyler, and Philip. I have two grandchildren. And I practice law.
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0 Responses to Buried Talents: Studies in the Role of Women, Preface

  1. josh says:

    "Certainly, if one considers these verses to pronounce laws that are independent of local culture and that thus remain in effect today, we should not have female elders or deacons and we should not allow women to speak in the assemblies or to teach or to have authority over a man."

    (1 Tim 2:12-14) "But I do not allow a woman to teach or exercise authority over a man, but to remain quiet. For it was Adam who was first created, and then Eve. And it was not Adam who was deceived, but the woman being quite deceived, fell into transgression."

    Do you consider these facts that Adam was first formed and that Eve is the one who was deceived as being dependent on local culture? Will you, perhaps, say that you don't beleive the book of Genesis or 1st Timothy but rather believe that we evolved from apes and therefore the apostle of Christ, the chosen vessel, is wrong and so is Moses? Short of denying the real existence of Adam and Eve and denying that God specifically created them in the manner described, Adam from clay and Eve from one of Adam's ribs, I don't see how you can twist away these verses. If we are going to buy into your arguments, we might as well just believe in evolution and give up on Christianity altogether. Indeed, that's where many are heading.

  2. Nick Gill says:

    I don't know you except from this blog, Josh, but I have this much to say:

    Unless you stopped obeying your mother when you came up out of the waters of baptism and began rebuking her for exercising authority over a man, you have been living in violation of your interpretation of Paul's instruction.

    Or perhaps you were an adult convert. If you have male children who were baptized, I hope you immediately commanded their mother to stop teaching and exercising authority over them.

    Because, according to your interpretation, long before there were children in God's Creation, God established the unchanging rule of man over woman. When a child becomes a man, accountable for his deeds, how dare a Christian woman presume to tell him to brush his teeth and go to bed?

  3. josh says:

    Consider the Scriptural sandwich which is very nutritious. Paul's prohibiting a woman from teaching and usurping authority over man is sandwiched between "Let the woman learn in silence with all subjection" and "If a man desire the office of a bishop, he desireth a good work. A bishop then must be blameless, the husband of one wife" — You can't reduce his argument to absurdity with your sophistry about mothers and children because the Holy Spirit foresaw your janggling and buffered his truth between two slices of bread which full well establish the context.

  4. Nick Gill says:

    OH PUHLEEZE! How convenient for you! Suddenly the order of Creation vanishes from the scene, because of Paul's Scriptural sandwich that, between those two slices of bread…

    -wait for it…-

    …Has the order of Creation as the cheese laying right next to the meat of "I do not permit a woman to teach or usurp authority…"!

    The CLOSEST context is cosmic, not ecclesiastic. Try again, Josh.

  5. Alan says:

    Jay wrote:

    But Paul did not limit his command limiting a woman’s authority to church affairs

    I think he did limit it to church affairs. In the very next chapter he wrote:

    1Ti 3:14-15 Although I hope to come to you soon, I am writing you these instructions so that, if I am delayed, you will know how people ought to conduct themselves in God's household, which is the church of the living God, the pillar and foundation of the truth.

    In addition, I think both the immediate and the general context of Paul's instructions to Timothy carry that meaning. Paul began chapter 1 instructing Timothy to silence those teaching false doctrines. Then he immediately began specifying what should be taught instead. Chapter 2 is just a continuation of that. In the latter part of chapter 2, he says that women must learn in quiet submission, and that they are not permitted to teach nor to have authority over men. This is directly connected to what he has been saying since chapter 1, verse 3. In the process of silencing the false doctrines, TImothy was instructed not to permit the women to teach men… nor to have authority over men. So the context is what is being taught in the church.

  6. Nick Gill says:

    Alan,

    Despite my aggravation with Josh's logic, I would agree with you that the overall thrust of the message of 1 Timothy limits Paul's instruction to internal affairs. As a Jew, Paul would expect women to be industrious and to function in an authoritative capacity over day-to-day household affairs (Proverbs 31).

    Do you read the commands in the early part of chapter 2 with the same limited scope with which we read the last command? What I mean is:

    Is Paul commanding that only men should pray publicly?
    Is Paul commanding that only women should dress modestly?
    Is Paul commanding that only women should do good works?

    Because we translate the command that "women should learn quietly in full submission" as a command to the women only. The parallelism of the passage should suggest that each command have the same scope. That is why I tend to agree with NT Wright's translation of this passage:

    8 So this is what I want: the men should pray in every place, lifting up holy hands, with no anger or disputing.
    9 In the same way the women, too, should clothe themselves in an appropriate manner, modestly and sensibly. They should not go in for elaborate hair-styles, or gold, or pearls, or expensive clothes;
    10 instead, as is appropriate for women who profess to be godly, they should adorn themselves with good works.
    11 They must be allowed to study undisturbed, in full submission to God.
    12 I’m not saying that women should teach men, or try to dictate to them; they should be left undisturbed. 13 Adam was created first, you see, and then Eve;
    14 and Adam was not deceived, but the woman was deceived, and fell into trespass.
    15 She will, however, be kept safe through the process of childbirth, if she continues in faith, love and holiness with prudence.

    This is a far more complex subject than either you or Josh will allow, especially when one takes 1 Cor 11:1-5 into account. Clearly women are allowed to pray publicly in Corinth.

  7. Alan says:

    This subject is much too large to address adequately in blog comments.

    Let me just respond to one point. 1 Cor 11:2-16 is definitively NOT referring to the assembly of the church. The first mention of the assembly in 1 Corinthians is found in verse 18. In verse 17, Paul introduces a new topic, addressing the assembly. He has no praise for them in these matters, because their assemblies do more harm than good. Contrast that to verse 2, where he did have praise for them for remembering what Paul had taught them on other topics. That is a very distinct change of subjects. And note that nothing in the instructions about head coverings specifies the time or place where those instructions apply. So anywhere and any time when a woman prayed or prophesied, she was commanded to wear a head covering. And therefore 1 Cor 11:1-16 does not give permission for a woman to lead prayer in the assembly, nor to prophesy in the assembly.

    But if someone ignores those facts and tries to use 1 Cor 11:1-16 to justify allowing women to lead prayers or to preach in the assembly, then they are also obligated to require the woman to wear a head covering when she does it. Allowing a woman to preach with out a head covering is a violation of two direct commands in scripture.

  8. marti says:

    Hi Jay. I had no idea you had a blog out there. My husband stumbled upon it and passed it along to me.

    When I started reading this I almost laughed out loud. You are hitting the nail on the head. To be honest, this issue is one of the reasons we chose the church we are at now. It is a "Church of Christ" but it does not hold all the same traditions that other Churches of Christ hold.

    I have a daughter and I could not imagine myself telling her as she grows up that she can be anything that she wants to be and do anything she puts her mind to, except for within the church. If we tell our daughters they can do anything outside the church, but then limit them when they are within, what do that tell them? What message are we sending them? I love being a part of a church that has women deacons, board members (elders), leading communion and serving communion, leading prayers, reading scripture and even giving children's messages. I haven't heard a woman preach since we've been here, but I know that nobody would leave the church over it. Everyone is welcome to the table and everyone is welcome to serve in the area they are able. I love that and am very blessed to be able to raise my daughter in such an environment.

    Thanks for your post! And tell Denise "Hi" for me!

  9. Nick Gill says:

    Alan,

    "The first mention of the assembly in 1 Corinthians is found in verse 18."

    That's the silliest thing I've heard so far. Where else do you thing they are partaking of the table of the LORD in chapter 10? Where else do you think they are displaying factions in chapter 1? When and where does Paul say in chapter 5 that they should cast out the sexually perverse man?

    Have you ever actually wrestled with these texts, or do you just assume they are universal even though such an application contradicts other plain teachings?

    Can Paul be saying that it is universally shameful for a man to have long hair, when the man Jesus called "the greatest man ever born of a woman" had long hair? Nazirites had long hair, and it can hardly be suggested that it is shameful to honor a vow to God.

    Please tell me where else but the assembly would ANYONE be prophesying, since "the one who prophesies builds up the assembly" (14:4) and " prophecy is a sign not for unbelievers but for believers" (14:22) and "you can all prophesy one by one, so that all may learn and all be encouraged" (14:31)?

  10. Nick Gill says:

    Dear Alan,

    I just re-read my comment, and I'd like to apologize for my rash comment. In my worse moments, I hit "submit" before I read what I've typed, and pejorative words like "silly" and "actually" and "assume" come flying out of my mouth/fingers.

    While we clearly disagree on some of the issues here, I know that we agree on a lot more, and besides that, I should have respected you as one of my own elders.

    Again, I'm sorry, and I'm striving to be a more gracious communicator.

    in HIS love,
    nick

  11. Alan says:

    Hi Nick,

    No problem. Not being able to edit comments in this medium is an unfortunate limitation that I run into myself from time to time.

    I'll try to address the meat of your objection. I think our modern misconception of church (an event that happens twice on Sunday and once on Wednesday) affects how we read Paul. We have multiple examples of people prophesying outside of the assembly. (Acts 10 and Acts 19 come immediately to mind). Paul taught the Ephesians both publicly and from house to house… and he urged the Ephesian elders to follow his example. Not all prophetic teaching happened on Sunday and not all prophetic teaching happened in the public assembly.

    Paul's instructions in 1 Cor 14 were not addressing prophesying outside the assembly, but only that which occurred in the assembly (see vs 26 for example).

    I think my beliefs are consistent with what was taught in churches for at least 1850 years. Historically it is not unorthodox to teach that women should be silent in the assembly, nor is it unorthodox that they should cover their heads when praying or prophesying. I think it is the opposing view that is a modern innovation and a deviation from the original practice of the church.

  12. Jay Guin says:

    Alan,

    I just deleted a brilliant exposition of 1 Tim 3:15. The problem I have is I want to make my case a certain way and in a certain order. I can't really explain my view on 3:15 without exegeting 1 Tim 2:11-15 — which I'm not ready to do. I'll explain why in another post.

    It's an interesting and thoughtful argument. We'll take it up when we get to 1 Tim 2:11-15, if you're not yet utterly convinced.

  13. Nick Gill says:

    I appreciate your graciousness, brother.

    I cannot find any reference to prophecy in Acts 10 except Peter's reference to the prophets of old.

    In Acts 19, how else but an assembly (not a modern Sunday AM/Sunday PM/Wednesday PM assembly, but an assembly nonetheless) can you describe Paul and twelve disciples together? As you say, our modern misconception is that anything other than "Sunday AM/PM Wed PM" is not "the public assembly." This idea is foreign to the Scriptures.

    With great respect, brother, I fear that it is you that is reading our idea of THE public assembly back onto the Scriptures, which never speak of the assembly the way that we do. Whenever believers are together, there is the assembly. There is the kingdom! There is Christ in their midst.

    There are MANY errors that it is HISTORICALLY orthodox to teach, brother. History teaches much, but proves little. During those same 1850 years, where is full immersion? Where is full communion around the Lord's Table? Where is the priesthood of all believers? Where was the Great Commission? It is historically orthodox to keep the Word of God chained to the pulpit and written in a foreign tongue! One might even say, after reading 1 Corinthians, that sectarianism is historically orthodox!

    Where was justification by faith for 1500 of those years? Luther and Calvin, with whom I disagree on several accounts, and Campbell and Stone, with whom I disagree about far less, would have much to say about the tenuous relationship between historical orthodoxy and the will of God.

    I agree that your beliefs are deeply "consistent with what was taught in churches for at least 1850 years." I just think that teaching got started a little later than you do.

    in HIS love,
    nick

    PS – Surprisingly, we are in agreement on the issue of veils, but not on the issue of silence. How odd. However, I think we should start by getting our young ladies to veil their cleavage and thighs before we worry about their heads.

  14. Jay Guin says:

    Re the ability to edit comments:

    I have no power in WordPress to let you all edit your own comments.

    But I can edit anything I want. If you send me an email, I'll be glad to fix anything you wish. Or delete it altogether.

    Or you can send me what you wish you'd typed and I'll cut and paste.

    However, no promises on how fast I can respond.

  15. Alan says:

    Nick,

    I think most people view 1 Cor 14 as addressing the weekly assembly at which the Lord's Supper is taken (a continuation of the latter half of chapter 11.) Certainly some well known commentators take that view. Cornelius' household was not that kind of assembly. Apparently, neither was the group of Ephesians in Acts 19.

    I mentioned historical orthodoxy mainly to show that my view is not something I came up with. It has been the view of thousands of church leaders for many generations. To characterize my view as absurd is to take on all those leaders, not just me. That doesn't prove the position to be correct, but it does strongly suggest that it is not completely unfounded. It deserves more careful examination before rejecting it.

    You wrote:

    I agree that your beliefs are deeply “consistent with what was taught in churches for at least 1850 years.” I just think that teaching got started a little later than you do.

    Since we have different views on what the scriptures themselves say, can you point to any other early church writings that suggest that the original practice was different from what I believe?

  16. Nick Gill says:

    That is a challenging question in a field with which I have very little familiarity. I have read very little extra-biblical early Christian literature. Further, I have little expectation that there is much early pro-feminine writing. Humanity does not have a good track record of respecting the feminine intellect or character.

    I will work on an answer, but I don't know how much time I'll be able to give it.

    Could you help me out as well? I have a question about the Greek word proistemi. It appears in Romans 12:8 and Romans 16:2 (as prostatis – a noun form), as well as 1 Thess 5:12 and 1 Tim 5:17 (two well-known passages for you and Jay!). I find it stunning that Paul uses this word in reference to a woman in Rome.

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