Ministry (27): A definite but unclear no

There is only one passage in the Bible that actually prohibits women from preaching the gospel. But according to biblical scholars, this statement did not come from Apostle Paul at all. How does the Church deal with this?

“Let your women keep silent in the churches.” This is the more familiar version of the so-called commandment to keep silent, which is found in 1 Corinthians 14: 34. The context , however, shows that this has nothing to do with preaching, but with women asking questions for the purpose of learning.

Meanwhile, the message in 1 Timothy 2: 12 is quite clear: “And I do not permit a woman to teach or to have authority over a man, but to be in silence.” In the original Greek text, “teach” is rendered with the same word as in Jesus’ Great Commission to the disciples: to baptise and teach all nations. The author of this passage wants to prohibit women from preaching the gospel.

But who is this author?

Under the name of their teacher

The majority of scientific interpreters of the Bible are certain that it was not Apostle Paul who wrote the first epistle to Timothy, but one of his disciples. It was quite common in ancient times for students to write under the name of their teacher. It was not even considered objectionable.

The assumption of different authorship is not based on mere conjecture, but on verifiable facts, which include:

  • the vocabulary and word order in the so-called pastoral epistles (1 and 2 Timothy, Titus) differ significantly from those of the Pauline epistles addressed to the churches in Rome, Corinth, Galatia, and so on. Statistical analyses prove this.
  • the information in the pastoral epistles about all that the Apostle experienced on his travels and his travel routes are not consistent with the other epistles.
  • the pastoral letters address matters that are not addressed in the epistles to the churches. Whereas Paul was typically concerned with righteousness through faith, the focus was suddenly on the preservation of traditional teaching.

If the Apostle was not the author, though, what are we to make of the statement about the preaching of the gospel by women?

Authority comes from God

The District Apostle Meeting responded to this at its November 2021 meeting. The resolution reads as follows:

  • “God is the actual author of the biblical books. The authority of the biblical writings is based upon their divine inspiration, and is not dependent on their authors, whether they were Apostles and prophets or not.
  • Therefore, the exegetical conclusion that a particular text derives from a particular author or not is of no relevance whatsoever for the authority of that text.
  • The teaching authority of the apostolate does not serve to solve individual exegetical problems. Rather, it is given to assure the purity of the Church’s doctrine and preaching.”

Summarised this means: The problem of whether the pastoral epistles were written by Paul or by disciples of Paul is not relevant to the doctrine of the New Apostolic Church. Since the pastoral epistles are part of the New Testament, they are authoritative and binding.

But does that not mean that the issue of the ordination of women is not already settled?

The overall picture counts

No, because now it comes down to context. The Church cannot base its doctrine on a single Bible verse. That would be arbitrary. After all, in the Bible you can always find a suitable verse to justify just about anything. Those who are serious about the doctrine, therefore, consider biblical findings in a comprehensive manner.

And what is striking in this important passage in 1 Timothy 2: 11–15 is:

  • the commandment to keep silent contradicts 1 Corinthians 11: 5, where women are allowed to speak prophetically, that is, proclaim the word of God.
  • the theological justification for the commandment to keep silent contradicts statements from the letter to the Romans.
  • the author does not cite a divine commandment, but only his own authority and the cultural guidelines of his social environment.

We will explore these aspects in the upcoming parts of this series.

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Andreas Rother
Bible, ordinations, Doctrinal statements