Thursday, March 31, 2005

Women voting in the church

The following is a response I wrote to a member of my church who is advocating we change the church constitution to forbid women voting:

My position isn’t determined by the majority opinion in the RCUS. We ought not base our positions on such things. On the other hand, I realize that the majority position should make me consider my position more carefully.

The more I consider the situation, the more I think that your position rests on a faulty (or at best debatable) interpretation of 1 Timothy 2:12. Consider the various translations we have of it: NIV: “I do not permit a woman to teach or to have authority over a man; she must be silent.” KJV: “But I suffer not a woman to teach, nor to usurp authority over the man, but to be in silence.” NKJV: “And I do not permit a woman to teach or to have authority over a man, but to be in silence.” NASB: “But I do not allow a woman to teach or exercise authority over a man, but to remain quiet.” Calvin translates it as “…and not to assume authority over the man.” The problem here is with the word translated “authority.” It is only used here in the New Testament. The best definition I could find of the word in the Greek is as follows:
831 authenteo {ow-then-teh'-o}
from a compound of 846 and an obsolete hentes (a worker); v
AV - usurp authority over 1; 1
1) one who with his own hands kills another or himself
2) one who acts on his own authority, autocratic
3) an absolute master
4) to govern, exercise dominion over one

This seems to imply that the word means more than simply having authority over. It has to do with governing authority, or perhaps taking authority that isn’t already given (assuming as Calvin states or usurping as the KJV states).

This interpretation seems to be more in line with Romans 16:1-2 that talks about Pheobe:
“I commend to you our sister Phoebe, who is a servant of the church which is at Cenchrea; that you receive her in the Lord in a manner worthy of the saints, and that you help her in whatever matter she may have need of you; for she herself has also been a helper of many, and of myself as well.”
And Acts 16:14-15:
“A woman named Lydia, from the city of Thyatira, a seller of purple fabrics, a worshiper of God, was listening; and the Lord opened her heart to respond to the things spoken by Paul. And when she and her household had been baptized, she urged us, saying, "If you have judged me to be faithful to the Lord, come into my house and stay." And she prevailed upon us.”
These women most definitely didn’t hold ruling or governing authority in the church, but according to your definition of authority (“exercising your will over someone”) they held some kind of authority.

It seems to me then, that the proper interpretation of this passage is that the women should not take authority of themselves that hasn’t already been given to them. They are not to assume it.

From what I remember of your position, you wouldn’t have a woman question a man about an office at all. I think Calvin’s position is somewhere in between here. The women would be allowed to ask questions (or even debate I think) as long as it is outside the general assembly. Allow me to quote him at length from his commentary on 1 Corinthians 14:34-35:
“It appears that the Church of the Corinthians was infected with this fault too, that the talkativeness of women was allowed a place in the sacred assembly, or rather that the fullest liberty was given to it. Hence he forbids them to speak in public, either for the purpose of teaching or of prophesying. This, however, we must understand as referring to ordinary service, or where there is a Church in a regularly constituted state; for a necessity may occur of such a nature as to require that a woman should speak in public; but Paul has merely in view what is becoming in a duly regulated assembly.”

As a further credential to my position, consider the passage in 1 Corinthians 11:1-16, especially verse number 5. “But every woman who has her head uncovered while praying or prophesying disgraces her head, for she is one and the same as the woman whose head is shaved.” What were these women doing prophesying in church? Why weren’t they keeping their mouths shut? (note those last questions are meant to be inflammatory and cause anger on your part) To be fair, I don’t agree with Calvin’s comment on this passage, but I’ll post it here for your benefit:
“I may seem, however, to be superfluous for Paul to forbid the woman to prophesy with her head uncovered, while elsewhere he wholly prohibits women from speaking in the Church. (1 Timothy 2:12.)
It would not, therefore, be allowable for them to prophesy even with a covering upon their head, and hence it follows that it is to no purpose that he argues here as to a covering. It may be replied, that the Apostle, by here condemning the one, does not commend the other. For when he reproves them for prophesying with their head uncovered, he at the same time does not give them permission to prophesy in some other way, but rather delays his condemnation of that vice to another passage, namely in 1 Corinthians 14. In this reply there is nothing amiss, though at the same time it might suit sufficiently well to say, that the Apostle requires women to show their modesty -- not merely in a place in which the whole Church is assembled, but also in any more dignified assembly, either of matrons or of men, such as are sometimes convened in private houses.”

This seems to me to miss the point of the passage. Paul wants the woman to be in subjection to her husband. Whether she is speaking once in a while in church is not the root of the issue.

To conclude, let me say that I’m not saying the Biblical position is that all women should be voting all the time. But, by playing devil’s advocate I’m suggesting that the Bible is not as clear on this position as you would advocate. There is a wide range of Biblical positions on this issue and to move our church from one of those to another (within the acceptable Biblical positions) is fruitless work. The scriptures seem to take this position on the issue as well: 1 Corinthians 11:16: “But if any man seem to be contentious, we have no such custom, neither the churches of God.”


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