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?