The following is a response to my recent article on the Biblical sphere of women written by someone who would like to be identified as my “anonymous priest pal.” While I do not agree with some of his analysis here, I make it available to my readers so that the argument for both sides can be weighed.
I will offer one brief comment: In my humble opinion, which is all I can give because I am untrained and never had a course in the sacraments, whatever sacramental realities that bring us closer to God must exist in all contexts where parallels exist. For example, gender roles spoken of in relation to marriage in Eph 5 and 1 Pet 3 are 1. rooted in creation and 2. a means of sanctification for individuals for each gender. So, when we see gender roles cited in different contexts, particularly in the Church such as 1 Cor 14, 1 Tim 2, or 1 Cor 11, we cannot dispense with them so easily outside of the narrow context of those passages specifically because in both passages they are likewise rooted in creation (something that is explicitly stated in all three of those passages) and are extensions of the same sacramental reality we read about concerning marriage in Eph 5. So, if in one context a certain kind of submissive action sanctifies the participant and draws her closer to God, it appears to me irrational that one does not get sanctified by doing the same exact thing in another context. For example, silence cannot sanctify someone in one context, but not in another context with the same gender and age dynamics at work. It is on this point specifically I differ with my pal and in my opinion, so do the fathers.
My main weakness in any analysis I give is that without a formal education in these matters, the opinions I give are extrapolated from reading the Scriptures and fathers. I do not spend a lot of time (and honestly do not find it worthwhile) reading recent scholarship. That being said, these scholars and such may be correct, so I “print” a counter-point to my earlier article so the logic and evidence in both may be weighed and so if I have any errors, they may be pointed out. Without further ado:
On the Role of Women by An Anonymous Priest Pal
In Craig Truglia’s article Timothy Gordon, Abby Johnson, and the Biblical Sphere of Women, he attempts to explain the biblical vision of women as relates to conduct in Church, home, and the public sphere. Much of the beginning of the article I think is excellent. However, starting in the section titled The sacramental reality of gender-roles and religious authority, Craig states “[Paul condemns] women teaching Christian men (presumably Christian doctrine).” Here is where I believe he begins to fall into error.
According to Craig, women should never teach Christian men in any context, at least concerning Christian doctrine. To support this, he quotes 1 Tim 2:8-15, which beings with this passage: “I desire therefore that the men pray everywhere, lifting up holy hands, without wrath and doubting; in like manner also, that the women adorn themselves in modest apparel…” The “Everywhere” mentioned, that men should pray everywhere, also applies to women, including the following passage: “Let a woman learn in silence with all submission. And I do not permit a woman to teach or to have authority over a man, but to be in silence.” Therefore, by Craig’s logic, a woman should be silent before a man “everywhere” and not teach “everywhere.” Craig also states that “this means, Paul has applied the subject of discussing prayers and petitions during a liturgy to life inside and outside of church” – so if a woman should be silent and not teach in Church, she should also be this way in life. I hope I have successfully explained, and understood, Craig’s argument!
1 Timothy 2:8 – “I desire then that in every place the men should pray, lifting holy hands…”
The first weakness I see in Craig’s argument is his interpretation of 1 Timothy 2:8. As Craig states, “Paul has applied the subject of discussing prayers and petitions during a liturgy to life inside and outside of church.” Craig would see it that Paul is saying, “Apply your conduct in the Church to your conduct everywhere.” However, several major Fathers see this verse as meaning, “Unlike the Jews who only worship in Jerusalem, for you all locations are suitable places to pray and offer worship.” Here are the quotes to that effect:
St. Theophylact of Ochrid: “Paul also wants men to pray in every place, because Christ did not forbid it. But he said this in contrast to the Jewish prayer. For prayer happened in one place, that is, in the Temple of Jerusalem. And with us it is not so: grace is infinite, and as a Christian prays for all, so in all places” (Commentary on 1 Timothy 2:8, translated from Russian).
St. John Chrysostom: “The object of Paul is to distinguish the Christian from the Jewish prayers, therefore observe what he says: In every place lifting up holy hands, which was not permitted the Jews, for they were not allowed to approach God, to sacrifice and perform their services, elsewhere, but assembling from all parts of the world in one place, they were bound to perform all their worship in the temple. In opposition to this he introduces his precept, and freeing them from this necessity, he says in effect, Our ways are not like the Jewish; for as Christ commanded us to pray for all men because He died for all men, and I preach these things for all men, so it is good to pray everywhere” (Homily 8 on 1 Timothy).
St. Basil the Great: “Certainly, the Lord gives the authority for praying in every place, in the words, ‘Woman, believe me, the hour is coming when neither on this mountain nor in Jerusalem will you worship the Father’ (John 4:21). And the words of the apostle are legitimate, because the word every does not include places designated for human usage or for unclean or shameful human deeds, but it does take in the regions from the confines of Jerusalem to every place in the world duly appointed, in conformity with the prophecy of sacrifice, that is, consecrated to God, for the celebration of the glorious mystery” (Concerning Baptism).
In other words – all places in the world may be places where prayers may be offered to God, and where the Eucharist may be fittingly offered. Craig believes this passage is saying our Church conduct should be our conduct ‘everywhere’; but this passage is really saying, Churches should be everywhere, and the Eucharist offered everywhere. Therefore, we are exactly discussing Church conduct in 1 Tim 2:8-15, and not necessarily conduct outside that context. We’ll see in verse 12 both St. Theophylact and St. John Chrysostom believe that behavior “in the Church” is being specifically spoken of, at least as concerns women.
1 Timothy 2:12 – “I do not permit a woman to teach or to exercise authority over a man; rather, she is to remain quiet.”
We now get to the heart of the matter! As we discussed, Craig believes this passage should be universally applied, not just in the context of Church. Yet again, several major Church Fathers disagree. We read:
St. Theophylact of Ochrid: “The apostle takes away from a woman any occasion for conversations in the church. … Know, however, that the apostle does not forbid women teaching at all, but only in the church; and outside the church this is not forbidden to her. So Priscilla instructed Apollos in sound doctrine; so a faithful wife is not forbidden to instruct an unfaithful husband” (1 Timothy 2:12, translated from Russian).
St. John Chrysostom: “Let the woman learn in silence; that is, let her not speak at all in the church; which rule he has also given in his Epistle to the Corinthians, where he says, ‘It is a shame for women to speak in the church’ (1 Corinthians 14:35); and the reason is, that the law has made them subject to men. And again elsewhere, ‘And if they will learn anything, let them ask their husbands at home’ (1 Corinthians 14:35). Then indeed the women, from such teaching, kept silence; but now there is apt to be great noise among them, much clamor and talking, and nowhere so much as in this place. They may all be seen here talking more than in the market, or at the bath. For, as if they came hither for recreation, they are all engaged in conversing upon unprofitable subjects. … ‘But I suffer not a woman to teach.’ ‘I do not suffer,’ he says. What place has this command here? The fittest. He was speaking of quietness, of propriety, of modesty, so having said that he wished them not to speak in the church, to cut off all occasion of conversation, he says, let them not teach, but occupy the station of learners” (Homily 9 on 1 Timothy).
Notice that in both saints, the reading of this passage is, “A woman may not teach in the Church.” Considering 1 Tim 2:8, we may conclude: as Churches are now everywhere throughout the world, and are places of offering the Eucharistic sacrifice, let a woman not teach there.
Now Craig and I would agree that a woman ought not to teach in Church. This remains the normative practice in the Orthodox Church to this day, as typically only ordained men may preach.
Women outside of Church
However, Craig goes a step further in his conclusion. Craig states: “It is my own opinion, that it would be ‘safer’ for women not to work as managers (if this places them as authorities over men), teach theology in the lay context (which likewise places them as intellectual authorities over men), or any position where the woman acts as a public figure representing authority.” The problem here is that the passage he quotes to support this, Titus 2:4-5, nor 1 Tim 2:8-15, say nothing on the topic of women in positions of authority outside of the context of the Church and home. Craig has presented passages that show us clearly that wives should be submissive to their husbands, homemakers, concerned with raising and teaching their children; yet it is a leap in logic to conclude that women should not be in a position in society where they have authority over other men, such as in the workplace or theological school as he suggests. I feel we should ask, why does Craig stop there? Why not include Church boards or councils, PTA meetings, or simple committees?
We might add that Orthodox Church history shows that women have been in positions that directly contradict Craig’s opinion. The woman Priscilla, as stated above by St. Theophylact, corrected the man Apollos’ doctrine. Nina left her home in the Roman Empire and preached the Gospel in the nation of Georgia, leading to its conversion; she is today called the “equal-to-the-apostles” Nina. We also have Deborah, the prophetess and judge of Israel, who also was married while commanding the armies of Israel. If a woman leading were a sin, why did God raise her up to accomplish His will? Craig seems to not offer an answer, even while acknowledging such godly women existed (and still exist).
Finally, Craig gives us quotes from different Church Fathers to support his conclusion: that women should not teach men even outside of Church, and that women should not be in positions of authority over men. Let’s go through each quote:
While Paul forbids women teaching in church, he very much wants them to exercise their authority in the home as the teachers of virtue (1 Tim 2:11, Theodore of Mopsuestia, Commentary on 1 Timothy). First, we should note that Craig calls all these Fathers “patriarchs in the faith,” but Theodore of Mopsuestia is not considered a Father in the Orthodox Church due to his Nestorian inclinations. Either way, let’s discuss the passage: While Theodore does say women do not teach in Church and do teach at home, there’s no reason to conclude from this passage that women can’t teach outside the home (the example of Priscilla teaching Apollos would not be considered a woman teaching in her own home).
They [women] are also to bear themselves in a way proper for their sex, to maintain a holy manner in bodily movements, facial expressions, words, silence, and whatever tends to the dignity of a holy decorum (Saint Jerome in his Commentary on Titus). Nothing problematic here as I see it.
“As if you were my son, you have referred to me the question others have asked of you, why the Law was so severe in pronouncing unclean those persons who wear garments of the other sex, whether men or women…And to Timothy he says: ‘Let a woman learn in silence with all submission. For I do not allow a woman to teach, or to exercise authority over men.’ How unsightly it is for a man to act like a woman! (“Letter 78,” Ambrose to Irenaeus). I am not able to access the context of this quote, so I can only offer that this passage as quoted does not make explicit that this applies to women in all contexts or only in the Church.
And yet you forbid a woman to teach; how do you command it here, when elsewhere you say, I suffer not a woman to teach? 1 Timothy 2:12 But mark what he has added, Nor to usurp authority over the man. For at the beginning it was permitted to men to teach both men and women. But to women it is allowed to instruct by discourse at home. But they are nowhere permitted to preside, nor to extend their speech to great length, wherefore he adds, Nor to usurp authority over the man (Saint John Chrysostom, Chrysostom on Titus 2:3). It might help to clarify this quote using St. Theophlyact, one who was well acquainted and rather dependent on Chrysostom’s homilies. He writes, “How so, in another place, does he say: “But I do not permit a woman to teach” (1 Timothy 2:12)? There [1 Timothy 2:12] he talks about public teaching in the church, which is not allowed for women; but here about home teaching, and only younger women” (On Titus 2:3, translated from Russian). In other words – Chrysostom and Theophylact are trying to resolve a supposed contradiction. In 1 Tim 2:12, Paul says women can’t teach; yet here, Paul says they should. Both Chrysostom and Theophylact say: “There’s no contradiction: Paul means that women can’t teach at Church, but women can teach at home.” It would be a false conclusion to say that if a woman can teach at home (Chrysostom: “But to women it is allowed to instruct by discourse at home”), therefore she can only teach at home. Once again, we only need to look at the example of Priscilla correcting Apollos to see that a woman may teach in other contexts, and even teach not just children but grown men.
In what sense then does he say, I suffer not a woman to teach? 1 Timothy 2:12 He means to hinder her from publicly coming forward, and from the seat on the bema, not from the word of teaching…How came Priscilla to instruct even Apollos? It was not then to cut in sunder private conversing for advantage that he said this, but that before all, and which it was the teacher’s duty to give in the public assembly (Saint John Chrysostom, Comments on Rom 16:6). This passage is rather explicit that a woman may not teach in a Church setting, not all public settings.
Great modesty and great propriety does the blessed Paul require of women, and that not only with respect to their dress and appearance: he proceeds even to regulate their speech. And what says he? Let the woman learn in silence; that is, let her not speak at all in the church; which rule he has also given in his Epistle to the Corinthians, where he says, It is a shame for women to speak in the church 1 Corinthians 14:35; and the reason is, that the law has made them subject to men. And again elsewhere, And if they will learn anything, let them ask their husbands at home. 1 Corinthians 14:35…To such a degree should women be silent, that they are not allowed to speak not only about worldly matters, but not even about spiritual things, in the church. This is order, this is modesty, this will adorn her more than any garments. Thus clothed, she will be able to offer her prayers in the manner most becoming (1 Tim 2:11). This is entirely supportive of the idea that women may not teach in Church, or even speak about spiritual or worldly matters. The services should not include chatter.
He was speaking of quietness, of propriety, of modesty, so having said that he wished them not to speak in the church, to cut off all occasion of conversation, he says, let them not teach, but occupy the station of learners. For thus they will show submission by their silence. For the sex is naturally somewhat talkative: and for this reason he restrains them on all sides…Neither was the man created for the woman, but the woman for the man. 1 Corinthians 11:9 Why then does he say this? He wishes the man to have the preeminence in every way; both for the reason given above, he means, let him have precedence, and on account of what occurred afterwards. For the woman taught the man once, and made him guilty of disobedience, and wrought our ruin. Therefore because she made a bad use of her power over the man, or rather her equality with him, God made her subject to her husband. Your desire shall be to your husband? Genesis 3:16 This had not been said to her before…The woman taught once, and ruined all. On this account therefore he says, let her not teach. (1 Tim 2:12-14). This passage says nothing about teaching outside the context of Church, only a theological justification as to why women ought to be silent in Church.
Craig has made an excellent case for women returning to their modest roots, for women being submissive to their husbands, for women being silent in Church and known for their modest behavior and apparel – after all, this is the content of the epistles of Paul. However, I believe Craig assumes too much, universalizing a specific teaching – that, if women must not teach in Church, they may only teach at home, and therefore ought to not hold any leadership positions over men in any capacity. This is problematic because, as I believe I have shown, the Church Fathers that Craig quotes, and that I quote, don’t have a lick to say on the matter of women teaching outside of Church, nor or women holding leadership positions. The burden of proof is on Craig to show that the Fathers mean something other than what they continually say they mean. I will leave with St. Theophylact’s quote: “Know, however, that the apostle does not forbid women teaching at all, but only in the church; and outside the church this is not forbidden to her.”
Deborah can be explained through divine dispensation. Perhaps the same can be said of Nina. Can a case be made against women holding authority from the Church Fathers? Maybe, maybe not. But did anyone of authority protest against inequality and the “unfair” treatment of women at the time? Ah, but maybe one will claim that there is a development of our understanding of what is permissible.
Actually, yes. St. Basil the Great lamented that women were punished for adultery in his time but men were not.