Egalitarianism, theology

“Ordained Proclaimers or Quiet Learners? Women in Worship in Light of 1 Timothy 2” by Charles A. Gieschen in “Women Pastors?” edited by Matthew C. Harrison and John T. Pless

I grew up as a member of the Lutheran Church-Missouri Synod, a church body which rejects the ordination of women to the role of pastor. The publishing branch of that denomination, Concordia Publishing House, put out a book entitled Women Pastors? The Ordination of Women in Biblical Lutheran Perspective edited by Matthew C. Harrison (who is the current President of the LCMS) and John T. Pless. I have decided to take the book on, chapter-by-chapter, for two reasons. 1) I am frequently asked why I support women pastors by friends, family, and people online who do not share my position, and I hope to show that the best arguments my former denomination can bring forward against women pastors fail. 2) I believe the position of the LCMS and other groups like it is deeply mistaken on this, and so it warrants interaction to show that they are wrong. I will, as I said, be tackling this book chapter-by-chapter, sometimes dividing chapters into multiple posts. Finally, I should note I am reviewing the first edition published in 2008. I have been informed that at least some changes were made shortly thereafter, including in particular the section on the Trinity which is, in the edition I own, disturbingly mistaken. I will continue with the edition I have at hand because, frankly, I don’t have a lot of money to use to get another edition. Yes, I’m aware the picture I used is for the third edition.

“Ordained Proclaimers or Quiet Listeners? Women in Worship in Light of 1 Timothy 2” by Charles A. Gieschen

Gieschen starts by noting that 1 Timothy 2 is a “battleground” text, often taken into account even so far as on issues of whether we should let women serve as lectors (people who read the texts) or vote in meetings (69). This chapter purports to settle the issue regarding exegesis of the text.

Before delving into exegesis, though, the question arises of how the text ought to be translated. The author translates the text himself, specifically 1 Timothy 2:12, as follows: “I do not permit a woman to teach or to exercise authority over a man, but [I want her] to keep quiet” (69, brackets are from Gieschen). Needless to say, this translation is highly controversial to begin with, particularly since the author decides to add in his own preferred way to read “keep quiet” by bracketing in his presumed meaning. Indeed, Gieschen’s translation differs markedly from the translation offered by Peter Kriewaldt and Geelong North in their own chapter on 1 Corinthians 14 and 1 Timothy 2. Their translation, instead of stating that “I want her” to keep quiet, as Gieschen suggests, has this clause as a continuation, simply saying “she must be silent” (52). Such a difference may not seem like much initially, but when one is going to go so far as to ask whether women ought to be kept from reading the Bible in worship based on this text, the importance of what is being said here multiplies dramatically. Moreover, given that Gieschen is providing his own translation, one might expect some defense of the meaning of authentein as “exercise authority.” As Marg Mowczko shows from a brief survey, however, the word’s meaning as simply “exercise authority” is highly contested, even from other Greek sources. Nevertheless, Gieschen offers no defense of this translation, and simply uses this translation for his exegesis. If one finds questions in his translation of the meaning of authentein, then much of what follows is also thrown into question.

Gieschen then goes into three alleged reasons why people are “overrun[ning]” this “biblical command” (69-70). First, he alleges that it is because “biblical authority has eroded… to the point where the demands of biblical texts simply are not heeded.” Second, some argue the command is “culturally conditioned.” Third, “feminism had a profound impact on the Western world.” These three allegations amount to poisoning the well from the start, a technique that, unfortunately, has been repeated throughout the book. It is simply assumed that if a reader does not come to the same conclusions as the authors, they must “not heed” biblical texts, they must dismiss them, or they have given into some bogeyman, whether Gnosticism (in the next chapter, this is the argument), some form of feminism their readers ought, apparently, to fear, or some kind of historical heresy. This does nothing to advance the argument and indeed seems to show just how little regard the authors have for those with whom they disagree.

Background is important, and Gieschen provides his own basic assumptions about 1 Timothy before delving into more exegesis. First, he holds that Paul did write this letter. Second, he argues it is the word of God. Third, he argues the “implied reader” of the text is churches across Asia Minor (73). Next, Gieschen goes into the context of 1 Timothy 2, stating that the context is “after addressing false teaching and before discussing congregational offices” (74-75). Oddly, when offering a translation of 1 Timothy 2:8-15, his translation of 2:12 is actually different from that offered at the beginning of the chapter. Here, it is “I [also] neither permit a woman to teach, nor [do I permit a woman] to exercise authority over a man, but [I want her] to keep quiet” (75). Again, this is a different translation by the author than he offered just pages before. This translation has additional brackets putting words into the text, presumably for clarity. These brackets, though, offer miles of intepretation inserted into the text, particularly when one looks at the brackets he inserts into verse 15, which he adds “[God-ordained role of]” in front of childbearing (itself a somewhat atypical translation). These brackets are, in fact, adding the author’s interpretative framework into the text, moving it in the directions the author prefers, and allowing him to state that women are to occupy certain roles, simply by adding it to the text of Scripture through brackets. The number of bracketed words added into the text here is alarming, but what many of them tend to do is shift the meaning towards a patriarchal understanding that is stronger than what seems to be in the text itself. It is alarming to see the author, who just a few paragraphs before was attacking his opponents for not taking Scripture seriously enough, seriously just add entire clauses with meaning (like “God-ordained role of”) into that very Word of God.

Finally, Gieschen moves into the exegesis of the text. Immediately, however, we encounter the problem we’ve encountered several times before: Gieschen prefers a reading of the text that selectively makes words literal or not based upon his preferred meaning. For example, he asserts that the quietness or silence of women is not to be understood as women having to be completely silent in worship. The text says quiet/silence, but it doesn’t mean that; what it means, according to Gieschen, is that women “are not to be in a verbal teaching mode during the service but to be in a ‘quiet’ learning mode” (78, emphasis his). So now, we have the author being selectively literal with this text, and then moving beyond selecting which parts to take literally into saying that what the text actually means to say is this longer text, that women are not to be in a “verbal teaching mode.” Well, one may wonder, why doesn’t Paul just say that, then?

Regarding public teaching, Gieschen goes on to argue that what is meant is that “I do not permit a woman to engage in the authoritative and public transmission of tradition about Christ and the Scriptures to men” (80). Again, one wonders why Paul didn’t simply state this rather clear exortation, relying instead upon his exegetes to do so for him. But smuggled in alongside this argument is the shift in meaning from “teach” to “authoritative and public transmission of tradition about Christ and the Scriptures.” This lengthy meaning derived from a single Greek word is simply placed into the text, once more moving the meaning of the text into Gieschen’s reading without argument. And, of course, because this lengthy reading of didaskein is taken to mean “authoritative and public transmission of tradition about Christ and the Scriptures,” Gieschen then feels comfortable to state that it “clearly prohibits woman [sic] from holding the pastoral office…” (81). Of course it does, when one imports a lengthy prohibition into a single word!

Here, though, we finally see Gieschen address the meaning of “exercise authority.” But rather than delving into the rather lengthy modern discussions of the meaning of this phrase in Greek, Gieschen cites a single article in his favor in order to state that it means exercise authority. Remarkably, however, Gieschen goes on to acknowledge the word’s meaning is generally “in the sense of ruling, controlling, or dominating without inherently possessing the authority to do so” (81). But this is exactly what many egalitarians have argued–that the word is a usurped authority or one wielded in such a way as to harm others. And if that is the proper translation, then the meaning of the text shifts: “I do not permit a woman to… (domineer/harm/hold authority wrongly over) a man.” And this is a reading that hardly undermines the egalitarian case. Indeed, if we agree with Gieschen here that the authority is exercised in a way of controlling/dominating, then we have moved into an egalitarian reading of the text–one that Gieschen himself apparently endorses partially only to undermine it by, apparently, holding that women inherently are unequal in authority (despite his earlier insistence that women are equal “before God” (71).

Next, Gieschen surveys various responses to his argument, some of which we’ve dealt with already in this series. But of interest is his argument against those who note that women did indeed teach men or apparently hold various offices. He shifts the goal posts. He simply states that these women cannot be proved to have held the “pastoral office” (83), however he chooses to define it (he doesn’t). Yet when we have looked at others in the same volume who have defined pastoral roles, we’ve seen they can’t even show that anyone held such an office in the NT. So Gieschen’s saying that it is “very difficult to defend” that women held the “pastoral office,” it should not be surprising. (See discussion of ordination and its definition in this book here.)

Order of creation is a major buzz-theme for complementarians, and we see Gieschen wield it here. He argues that there is a “created order” that grounds his interpretation of this passage. What is that created order? He simply appeals to verse 13 in which Paul says Adam was created first, then Eve. But, as many, many have pointed out, this bald-faced appeal is extremely inconsistent, because any number of creatures, dirt, skies, and clouds were all created before Adam. So if “created order” is simply the order in which things were created, this argument turns into an absurdity. Now, many complementarians will insist this misrepresents their argument, but Gieschen, like so many others, fails to go beyond this simple reading of “first Adam, then Eve” as if it solves everything for them. One might as easily say “first cats, then Adam.” Gieschen is concerned, though, with proving that this “order of creation” (however defined) is not “nullified” or undone. Rather than acknowledging that Galatains 3:28 presents a massive problem with his reading, however, Gieschen enlists that text by saying that “differences in genders and roles do not imply that women are inferior to men…” How not? Just because Galatians 3:28 says so? But Galatians 3:28 actually says “There is neither Jew nor Greek, there is neither slave nor free, there is no male and female, for you are all one in Christ Jesus” (ESV). Once again, Gieschen is using a text that seemingly says the opposite of what he wants it to–“there is no male and female”–in order to say what he does want it to: male and female genders have different roles which are put into creation order for all time and are in no way contradicted by saying “no male and female.” But this the height of eisegesis rather than exegesis–Gieschen is reading into Galatians 3:28 that which is not there. Indeed, Gieschen’s ultimate defense of his position is to punt it to the Lutheran Church–Missouri Synod’s theological statements, rather than defending his readings from the text. The quote he offers doesn’t cite Scripture to back up its twisted reading of orders of creation and redemption; it simply asserts their position.

Finally, Gieschen looks at the “saved through child-bearing” in verse 15 briefly, arguing that it must mean some kind of role for women. Why? It seems because it most closely matches Gieschen’s own reading of the context.

This chapter on 1 Timothy 2 is problematic in several ways, as we’ve seen. There’s no need to rehearse all the errors Gieschen makes in his translation or exegesis. What is important is to note that Gieschen’s own understanding of one of the key clauses in the text–the meaning of “authority” is one that egalitarians can–and do–argue for themselves. Ultimately, it seems that it is Gieschen’s theological presuppositions that guide his reading of the text, locking in words to specific meanings, selectively being literal when needed, adding words where needed, and expanding words to mean entire sentences. Once again we see that the complementarian reading of the text is far from a plain-sense reading of Scripture as is so often argued.


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Book Reviews– There are plenty more book reviews to read! Read like crazy! (Scroll down for more, and click at bottom for even more!)

Interpretations and Applications of 1 Corinthians 14:34-35– Those wondering about egalitarian interpretations of this same passage can check out this post for brief looks at some of the major interpretations of the passage from an Egalitarian viewpoint.



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About J.W. Wartick

J.W. Wartick is a Lutheran, feminist, Christ-follower. A Science Fiction snob, Bonhoeffer fan, Paleontology fanboy and RPG nerd.

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