Always Learning, Never Knowing

 always learning but never able to come to a knowledge of the truth.– 2 Timothy 3:7

What’s your favorite thing to learn? Me, I’m partial to learning languages. It’s probably the first thing I really get excited about. I could spend hours explaining the finer points of grammar, or exploring a concept that doesn’t exist in English but does exist in Spanish – that sort of thing. Learning naturally leads to teaching …

Except if you’re a Christian woman. You can learn, oh yes you can learn anything and everything there is to know. But teaching? That’s just not Biblical:

 A woman should learn in quietness and full submission. I do not permit a woman to teach or to assume authority over a man; she must be quiet. 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. – 1 Timothy 2:11-15

Okay, that’s not quite right, technically, it’s biblical for women to teach other women:

 Likewise, teach the older women to be reverent in the way they live, not to be slanderers or addicted to much wine, but to teach what is good. Then they can urge the younger women to love their husbands and children, to be self-controlled and pure, to be busy at home, to be kind, and to be subject to their husbands, so that no one will malign the word of God. – Titus 2:3-5

The thing is, it’s a pretty limited list of instructions. Women can teach women not to drink much wine, but not about the theological hermenutics of biblical interpretation. Women can teach women to be busy at home but not how to understand the cultural context of Scripture. But since our society is different from that of the Bible, there’s really not a lot of women teaching women going on, after all, not every woman is married and has children. So we compromise. We excel at the first verse, seeing to it that women don’t teach. We fail at the second, seeing to it that women do teach.

I can’t tell you how many Bible Studies I’d endured over the years where the teach/don’t teach dynamic kept my spiritual life stagnant. Just when I’d get interesting about something, it’d be thrown away. Then I’d start right back at the beginning as if the last six week Bible Study didn’t happen at all. I’m allowed to learn, but I’m not allowed to teach.

But that’s the thing – with teaching comes true mastery. Anybody can obtain general proficiency in just about anything, but it’s the teachers that have to go beyond, read more books, understand the basic thinking about the material, construct tests to measure their student’s understanding, and modify their teachings accordingly to best share the information. Women aren’t allowed to do that.

It’s not unlike knowing a language that you’re forbidden from speaking. If you don’t use it, you lose it. Now cultures in the past understood this; and they kept it pretty simple. They decided that they just shouldn’t educate women at all. Why waste the resources of brilliant men on teaching little girls anything important when all they will do is chase around their children as they get older? Better to focus their efforts on teaching potential husbands and leave it to them to teach their wives anything they might want to know.

So women didn’t know a lot of things for a long, long time. And where did that get us? Under-educated women are more likely to die in child-birth, there would be more child deaths, there would be more malnutrition, they are more likely to have children at a younger age, there would be higher birth rates, there would be more child marriages, men would have much more earnings than women, they would be less likely to find work. That’s just the statistics for a lack of a secular education. It makes one wonder what a spiritual education might do for a society.

I think, one can safely say that we’ve seen how women have brought a lot of unique skills to the table in the sectors of Christianity that do permit women to teach. Sometimes the virtue of having a different perspective helps resolve conflicts or stops problems before they even begin. Women seem to be much more confident and much more vital to their church’s success. Whereas in my time in churches that blocked women’s teaching and leadership, women were just going along to get along, not offering any opinion that disagreed with the one they were supposed do, just following the leader and getting only the slightest affirmation for doing so. It makes me think back to all the times where people would say something like … “You’d be a perfect teacher … if only you were a …” and leave that thought hanging there as if there was something wrong about me teaching. Is that the kind of Christianity that Jesus envisioned?

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4 thoughts on “Always Learning, Never Knowing

  1. Well written article, but I guess I’m not with you on this one. Women are “forbidden” — that is not permitted — to preach or teach men on a spiritual level. I find nothing in the Bible that says women shouldn’t teach women on a spiritual level. At least it’s done a lot in our church, though it would be more in a “sharing” setting (like Bible study.) For example, “What does this verse mean?” “Well, I think…” or “According to some commentators, etc.”

    Neither is there anything that says women shouldn’t teach men on a non-spiritual level. For example, when our missionary couples prepare to go off to a Spanish-speaking country, they quite often get an older, fluent sister to give them language classes. Though it wouldn’t soon happen that a sister would teach a brother alone, one-on-one, more for the sake of propriety.

    A person needs to regard the spirit of the teaching. Is it done in humility or to exalt someone’s great wisdom (male or female)? If you’re thinking of some woman going to University and getting a PhD in Theological studies, then making a name for herself as a teacher, that’s a whole ‘nother ball game. But we read about different women in the New Testament, servants of the church even, and it doesn’t appear they were so restricted. Eunice & Lois taught Timothy a few things, but the sound of it.

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    1. I don’t believe that secular and spiritual teaching can be isolated. A great many of my secular teachers also taught spiritual lessons and a great many of my spiritual teachers taught secular lessons.
      Spanish is a great example – at what point does teaching the words for “church (iglesia)” “God (Dios)” “faith (fe)” “to believe (creer)” “salvation (salvación)” become the equivalent of a spiritual lesson about having faith in God, believing in salvation, joining the church?
      Why is it a whole ‘nother ball game? God chose and called Deborah to lead Israel as a Judge for 40 years, being the spiritual leader and go-between Him and all of them, men and women alike. Is that because ‘there were no suitable men’? Was God incapable of raising up a young man to be a suitable leader during that time? Could it be that Deborah was even better than the most suitable man? Eunice and Lois did teach Timothy spiritually, and look where that got him, he was not deceived, he was not teaching false doctrines, and he was ready to grow in his faith that he had inherited from them. Why is that against the rules? What about Priscilla and Aquila – how could it be that she was an unsuitable teacher when Apollos went out and blew everybody away debating about God?
      Looking at church history, Jerome once referred the church elders to Marcella, saying that she could explain to them a great many difficult teachings in a way they could easily understand. One would also be hard pressed to prove that Phoebe the deacon and Junia the apostle didn’t teach at all.
      It makes me wonder what horrible defect God placed in women but not in men that even though women were made from men, they could be taught by men but they could never teach them because of Adam and Eve. Such a school of thought is to be expected by a first-century patriarchal culture, not a twenty-first century egalitarian culture.

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  2. And yet it is there – And you have to admit that error abounds regardless of gender, so if there does happen to be good reason for Paul’s words it may be at a deeper level. However, given that times have travelled beyond those initial earliest times of learning/teaching where so much basic error was in sway, and the basic tenants of the new faith were under attack, it could now be argued that the sophistication of modern theology has produced so much error from men, that to discriminate against women is now unreasonable.

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    1. True. I just learned that one possible translation of the verse is: “I do not permit a woman to teach …” He could have been referring to a specific woman in the church of Ephesus, one who had been a high priestess in the cult of Artemis who hadn’t gotten the details of Christianity quite correct. With early Christianity’s dominance of women in the church, it’s quite possible that a church that silenced women wouldn’t function at all. After all, 1 Corinthians seems to give instructions saying that everyone in turn ought to prophesy, offer a song, or a piece of instruction. If that is indeed the case, then a great number of men who fear losing the prestiege / power of being teachers have misapplied this verse for millenia.

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