Women Teaching Women, Part II

It turns out my post “Women teaching Women” has generated some good questions that I’d like to begin to address here. To be honest, since coming to the conclusion that teaching an inductive study on the book of Colossians to a mixed group of men and women was inappropriate (back in the 70’s), most of my focus has been on what I can teach, not on what I can’t.

After taking a short break the first few years of our marriage, I have spent the last thirty-plus years teaching Bible studies, book studies, and topical studies to women of all ages. I have felt much freedom in doing so and a great deal of contentment in the field God has given me to farm. I have spoken on biblical topics at women’s conferences, women’s workshops, break-out sessions for women, etc. I have not been yearning for other fields because this one is enormous and keeps me more than busy. Frankly, it has never occurred to me to wish I could be a plenary speaker at a Grace Agenda conference, or any other conference, for that matter!

But even so, I would like to answer some of the questions that have come up in the comments on the “Women Teaching Women” post I wrote a few days ago. I do see that even though it has seemed pretty simple to me all these years, there are genuine areas of application that call for our reflection and wisdom.

1. Women can teach Bible to their children and grandchildren. Paul says of Timothy “from childhood you have known the Holy Scriptures” (2 Timothy 3:15), and in chapter 1 (vs. 5) Paul reminds Timothy of “the genuine faith that is in you, which dwelt first in your grandmother Lois and your mother Eunice.” Timothy’s father was a Gentile (Acts 16:1), and there is no mention of his conversion, so in all likelihood, these faithful women had a hand in bringing Timothy to Christ.

The last chapter of Proverbs (31:1), written by King Lemuel, is identified as “The words of King Lemuel, the utterance which his mother taught him.” Proverbs 1:8 reinforces the idea of mothers teaching their children: “My son, hear the instruction of your father, and do not forsake the law of your mother.”

2. Older women are to teach younger women. This famous passage in Titus 2:3-5 has quite a broad biblical curriculum laid out for us: “…teachers of good things — that they admonish the young women to love their husbands, to love their children, to be discreet, chaste, homemakers, good, obedient to their own husbands, that the word of God may not be blasphemed.” It seems to me that older women have a tremendous opportunity here. This in itself is enough to keep us occupied a life time, for there will always be young, new wives who need encouragement and young unmarried women who need encouragement.

3. Though the word teach is not used in this passage, I believe it is implied: “She opens her mouth with wisdom, and on her tongue is the law of kindness” (Prov. 31:26). This is a description of an honorable woman who is overseeing household servants and children, and has contacts with merchants and other community members. It is apparent that she is imparting wisdom to all by her life, work, and testimony, and this certainly could have included teaching those in her own household.

4. Then we have Priscilla and Aquila, Paul’s “fellow workers in Christ Jesus” (Romans 16:3-4). Given that we know “they took him [Apollos] aside and explained to him the way of God more accurately” (Acts 18:26), it’s no stretch to imagine the couple ministering together to many others. Paul did not call Aquila his fellow worker, but both Priscilla and her husband Aquila.

Quite a few other women are mentioned in the New Testament, like Phoebe who was a helper to Paul (Romans 16:1-2). Andronicus and Junia may have been another husband-and-wife team. They are described as “of note among the apostles, who also were in Christ before me” (Rom. 16:7). I can easily imagine Paul keeping them busy “explaining the way of God” to new converts.

To summarize, these are what I can find as examples of women in Scripture teaching in a Christian context. Women may teach their children and grandchildren, and I believe by extension, they may teach other children. This could be a neighborhood Bible study or in a formal day school or homeschool co-op.

Women may teach younger women, and it turns out there are quite a lot of those. Teaching younger women is a huge blessing because it gives the older women a mission in the church even after their own children have grown, and it is useful to the younger women to learn wisdom from the older women.

Women may teach in a general way to all through their life and testimony, through their wise words and general godly and kind demeanor. This would include all those in their households, as well as business contacts in the community.

Women may co-teach with their husbands to both men and women, to build up and strengthen the church in many and various ways.

Now these are the general areas I see in Scripture, but I am not limiting women’s opportunities for teaching to these only. There may be more that I haven’t seen. But it’s a good start anyway, and I like to begin with the yes. Yes, women may teach. Yes, women are to be learners as well (1 Tim. 2:11). And there is so much to learn. So before we turn to the prohibitions, we should be encouraged by all that we are honored to do.

In my next post, I will hit the negatives.

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15 thoughts on “Women Teaching Women, Part II

  1. Hi Nancy,

    Thanks for the second post! :) Just a couple quick questions on other Biblical examples.

    1. How do you see this fitting with Deborah who held court under a tree and decided the Israelite’s disputes for them, ruled Israel, and became Israel’s military leader. Under a tree is a public place, and presumably her decisions in disputes involved appealing to and explaining the Bible to the disputing parties since that was the written judicial authority they used. She taught and had authority over men. Her song is recorded in the Bible, which gives it the authority of Scripture and is good for teaching and reproof and instruction and so forth both men and women alike. On top of that, she was married, yet the Bible mentions nothing derogatory about her whatsoever, either in her being an authority over men nor her prophetic teaching nor her adjudicating nor her doing any of these things instead of her husband being the one to lead. In fact, she seems like one of the better ones among the judges and her rule brought about 40 years of peace.

    2. How does this fit with Huldah? When King Josiah found a copy of the law and was trying to figure out what to make of it, he sent messengers to Huldah who was a prophetess (again, a married one) who verified the word of the Lord. She may have been speaking privately, but she was certainly doing so with authority recognized even by the reigning king.

    These both look to me like examples of a woman teaching the Bible with authority to a man. How would you view these? Thanks for your time.

    Rachel Shubin

  2. Rachel, i just went and re-read the story of Deborah and I must say that yes, she was a prophetess, judging the people and she delivered her prophesy privately to Barak the leader who was supposed to lead the army and have victory over Sisera. but he was not willing to go by himself, he only would go and do what God is calling him to do, if Deborah would come. she agreed – most likely because the well being of her nation was at stake. he still was the leader of the army, but he was a whimp and put himself under Deborah’s authority, and God took away the victory over Sisera from his hand and gave it to Yael, another woman. it should have been him, the leader of the army, who would kill the leader of the enemy’s army. he should have acted upon God’s word and he would have received his honor. but he didn’t want to. so God used 2 women to bring his intended victory. also at the beginning of Deborah’s song, it states Deborah’s and Baraks song, even though it is clearly written by her, but which shows that she was acting under his authority. I think it would have been Barak’s song, if he had followed God’s call unconditionally.

    now, i would like to point out that judgment and prophesies are not equal to teaching, even though they may have elements of teaching. the judge usually deals with a case between two parties and even though it is publicly heard, it concerns only the two parties involved, not just anybody listening. if she quoted the law for that purpose that’s fine too. it’s like in public court hearings today, anybody can choose to listen, but they don’t have to act on the judges words. it only has authority over the parties involved. and in Deborah’s case at least one of the disputing parties usually both had to choose to come to her as a judge. nobody forced anyone to come to her.

    prophetess are found throughout the bible, and while the prophetic word may be a word towards a single person or a congregation, we are also instructed to test the prophecies and confirm them through 3 witnesses and not to prophecy wildly during service. so even a prophetess in the church would act under the authority of men.

  3. Hi Lydia,

    Thanks for the response. I kind of feel like we’re reading two different things though, so I want to go through it together real quick..

    Judges 4:4-7
    4 Now Deborah, a prophet, the wife of Lappidoth, was leading Israel at that time. 5 She held court under the Palm of Deborah between Ramah and Bethel in the hill country of Ephraim, and the Israelites went up to her to have their disputes decided. 6 She sent for Barak son of Abinoam from Kedesh in Naphtali and said to him, “The Lord, the God of Israel, commands you: ‘Go, take with you ten thousand men of Naphtali and Zebulun and lead them up to Mount Tabor. 7 I will lead Sisera, the commander of Jabin’s army, with his chariots and his troops to the Kishon River and give him into your hands.’”

    So, first of all, I don’t know where you are getting that she delivered her prophesy privately to Barak. She was already leading Israel at that time and holding court, which is public. It says nothing about privately sending for Barak. Also, I don’t know how you are getting that Deborah and Barak’s song shows she was acting under his authority, especially when a few sentences before you say that he put himself under her authority, which is born out in everything from his response to her when she calls him to the fact that in every instance in the song she is mentioned first and he is mentioned second. Everything in Judges 4 and 5 says and implies that she ruled Israel and he was her general and under her authority.

    Moving on to the judicial aspect… I’m not so sure about that either. Judges absolutely do not have authority only on the two parties involved. This isn’t like me deciding a dispute between two of my children. Deborah was the head of state and deciding cases in public court. Her decisions would undoubtedly became legal precedent and explication of the law itself just as ours do now. We see this exemplified when we get to Solomon, but the Jew were a people with a rich oral history. They listened, learned, and repeated what they learned. This would have held true for her decisions as well.

    So yes, while she was listed as a prophetess and a judge, both of those would have included publicly, authoritatively teaching both men and women from a position of authority. And though those 3 witnesses are required for prophesying in the New Testament, they only are required during the service so as not to confuse outsiders. This is never seen in the Old Testament. Isaiah? No. Miriam? No. Huldah? Super no. She was confirming Bible stuff for the king himself.

    Thanks. :)

    Rachel

  4. ok, about the privately delivered prophesy… ch. 4 v.6 “she sent for Barak… and said to HIM” -it seems to me this was not a public prophesy. it was directed to him only. then she the prohesy is actuallybquoting something that the Lord already spoke to Barak before ( we don’t know if through a prophet, Deborah or directly himself) but she says “has not the LORD God of Israel commanded…” from the translation and hebrew grammar here it is pretty clear that she repeats something to Barak. It even includes.a promise that he will defeat Sisera. But he doesn’t want to go. I think this is the point here. The man in charge doesn’t want to go without Deborah. He puts her into the position to lead the army. And what happens? the prophesy changes from v. 7 “I will deliver him into your hand” to “the LORD will sell Sisera into the hand of a woman.” and “there will be no glory for you in the journey you are taking”

    to me itbis clear that the original intend was for Barak to go and defeat the army and Sisera, but he was not willing to obey God, only if the prophetess would come. He put her into a position of authority, she did not take this position by herself. that’s the point here. she was appointed by the leader of the army to take over his position, and God used the women to deliver his people, but the glory of the man was removed. There are churches and families today were the men are not willing to step up and take their position of authority, they even encourage and agree to let the women do it. God still can work his purposes there and save people, but it’s not His perfect plan. You see, Deborah’s story doesn’t teach us that woman should always be in authority position and judge and prophesy and lead armies or nations, but it says that when the people are not walking with God ( that’s how the story starts out), and there is a woman who is faithful to Him, he can still use her in whatever way he wants to accomplish His will.

    Hulda is similar in this. and she helped out the king who asked her help because he recognized that she is the one to ask. she did not walk up to him say “Hey Josias, let me take over, since clearly you have no knowledge of those things”

    Also, I would like to point out, that we women have our own realm of authority and we should be filling out our job here. there are so many wonderful things we are called to do and teach, as Nancy listed here. there might be some exceptions ever now and then, but we should not seek to rule over the men. there is just no point in that. but, we also should be careful when it comes to judging a woman who may be in an authority position over men, because we don’t know why she is there. maybe the Pastor has some issues that need to be addressed, maybe the man who is supposed to be in that position simply doesn’t want to take it. maybe, sometimes it’s better to have a female leader for the people of God rather than no leader at all. but it should not be the norm in the church. as it also is not the norm in the bible. Deborah’s story is exceptional. All other judges were men. All other armies in the bible were led by men.

    does this help?

  5. Lydia,

    This does nothing to address the main points that

    a) Deborah was already leading Israel before she sent for Barak (vs. 4). She did not get her authority from Barak. She got it from God, who is the one who made her both prophetess and judge. God obviously intended for that authority to extend over men, and she discharged her duties exceedingly well. There is no hint in the text of reproach against Deborah or implication that she was trying to grab authority. The reproach directed at Barak for his refusal to go to battle without God’s representative does not imply that Deborah was not part of God’s perfect plan.

    b) As a function of her positions as judge and prophetess over Israel, Deborah surely did a great did of teaching and explaining the Law, and her discussions on the topic carried the weight of her position of God-appointed leader over Israel. The fact that her main positions were other than teacher does not negate the fact of her public, authoritative teaching. If it was okay for her to teach the Bible because her main positions were something else, then it would be okay for Nancy to teach the Bible to men if her main job were an English teacher. In this case, the tie is actually very strong since teaching was an integral part of her main positions.

    c) True, Huldah did not go seek out Josiah and say, “Hey, you don’t know what you’re doing. Let me take over.” Josiah sought her out because he knew that she could speak godliness on the subject she was well-informed on. It would be more like someone inviting a long-married woman with a track record of speaking wisdom on the subject of marriage to speak at a marriage conference.

    d) As far as the idea that the story of Deborah is not saying that women should always be in authority, I have never heard anyone claim that that is the point of the story. How it always reads to me is far more along the lines of God uses whom He wills. If he wants to use Jonah, he’ll do so even if it means throwing Jonah into a whale for three days to get him to obey. If he wants to use Joseph whose brothers threw him into a pit and then sold him as a slave, no problem. These are not insurmountable problems either. If God wants to use a woman despite the fact that that would have been seen as ridiculous by all the surrounding nations (which would make their resultant defeat look even more ignominious), then great! God uses whom He will, and sometimes the person He gifts with awesome leadership and rhetorical skills and calls to use those skills is a woman. Unusual in the Bible, yes. Sub-par? Considering the effectiveness with which Deborah discharged her duty, I would have to say no. :)

    Rachel

  6. I see the prophetess situation as a unique one. Paul does not speak against the prophetesses of the day. Like he does of the deaconesses. I think there were deaconnesses who ruled, that is the reason it was necessary for Paul to speak against it. Deborah was more a political ruler. She didn’t work with the Temple. She did lead Israel. The thing is, we haven’t’had prophecy in 1900 years so your point is somewhat moot.

  7. Nancy’s point is that women shouldn’t teach the Bible to a man in a public setting or hold authority over him in any setting (I think that second part is what she holds; clarifying would be good). Deborah does both. So no, not moot.

  8. Uhh, Robert, Robert right? Male?

    What are you doing on here? Don’t you know this is a private blog for women? Not public, and certainly not for men. It’s weird that you’re on here. You should probably avert your eyes before you get inadvertently taught something by a woman.

    Shoo!

  9. The reason I look in is that I have an elderly lady friend who lives in another state who enjoys the Wilson women’s blog. I read it to her over the phone because she doesn’t do computers. As far as comments go, I know Doug and his attitude about men commenting is like a man walking through a living room who makes a comment about something overheard. As long as a man doesn’t make a regular habit, he is fine about an occasional male post.

  10. Robert, I think Terry was referring back to a comment after the last post on this subject that was trying to explain what constitutes public and private. Your comment brings up an interesting point though. So, let me just make sure I’m understanding this correctly. It’s okay for women to teach about the Bible as long as they don’t try to teach men, and the corollary is that it’s okay for men to listen in to such teaching as long as they don’t try to learn from it. Did I get it right?

    I was thinking a bit more about what you said about Deborah, and actually I think we agree on one point. Oddly, it’s the point relevant to this discussion. You said that it was okay for Deborah to teach and hold authority over men because she wasn’t doing either of those things in the temple. Is that an accurate restatement of your position? If so, then we are in agreement. My understanding of the passage from I Timothy about women not teaching that brought all this up in the first place is that the instructions are from an apostle to a pastor on how to run an orderly worship service (as opposed to general instructions on how to live every day life). So, he’s saying women shouldn’t be preaching in church. That’s consistent with Deborah not teaching in the temple. :)

  11. Or rather, not preaching during the church service, since an orderly worship service is what Paul is talking about.

  12. The second paragraph, I would agree with. The first, not quite. In the formal teaching of the Bible, women aren’t to be formally teaching Christian men. That doesn’t mean that a woman in certain circumstances can’t or won’t teach a man. The Aquila Priscilla situation that Nancy referred to. Scripture doesn’t forbid a certain kind of teaching of women to everyone. That is personal testimony in the form of books. I am thinking particularly of Corrie ten Boom. She wrote one of the most influential books I have read on Spiritual Warfare. Defeated Enemies. Was it a sin for her to write it? No. Was it a sin for me to learn from it? Don’t think so. you might want to track down an autobiography, The Good Seed, by Maryanna Slocum. It is the story of a woman Bible translator in southern Mexico. It shows the difference between a woman witnessing to an unbeliever man, which is lawful and the rise of the church in that ethnic group and the struggle to learn to obey scripture regarding male headship.

  13. In considering Deborah and Hulda, remember not everything recorded in Scripture is to be taken prescriptively or proscriptively. The history the Bible records shows us God’s faithfulness to his people. He used imperfect people, often in unexpected ways, to accomplish his purposes. Passages of instruction or teaching would weigh more in deciding proper conduct (“should’s” or “ought’s”) than a historical account.

  14. Rachel,
    I think the overall context of Judges helps to explain Deborah and her teaching. The theme of Judges is that ‘Israel did what was not right in the eyes of the Lord.’ At the time when Deborah is judging, the narrative pushes the reader to ask– where are the men? Why is Barak not taking charge? And the answer is– ‘Israel did what was not right in the eyes of the Lord.’ Because there were no men leading Israel, deborah faithfully filled the vacuum. But that doesnt offer us a mandate to follow that lead.

    Interestingly, the writer of Judges hints at this, because at the Hebrew level Deborah is described as judging, but is never afforded the title of Judge like her male counterparts. This is an intentional ommission.

    Equally, when thinking about Huldah and King Josiah, the emphasis of the narrative is that Yahweh worship had degraded to such a degree in Israel, that there were no men to interpret for Josiah.

    These examples are not of normal practice, but notible exceptions that are the result of years of corporate faithlessness on the part of Israel.

  15. Hi Drew,

    I think I’m going to have to disagree with you. I don’t think God was just using her because no good men were around. The reason God raised up every single one of the judges was because the people were doing evil in his sight. The fact that Deborah was a woman was no more reproach to the men of Israel than the fact of the rest of the judges being there at all already was to the whole of Israel. Besides, there is no indication that the men in Deborah’s time were being any flakier than the men at any other time. I would cite verses, but they would comprise the entire Old Testament. Also, can you please provide some examples of where the Bible gives the male judges a title of judge but doesn’t do so for Deborah. I looked and they all look to me like they say something along the lines of “so and so was judging Israel at that time” whether it was a guy judging or Deborah judging. I see no omission at all, intentional or otherwise.

    Alas, I’m going to have to disagree on Huldah as well. If you Google any timeline of Israel’s kings and prophets, it will show that during the reign of Josiah, both Jeremiah and Zephaniah were active prophets (as well as Habakkuk for part). If you find one that has dates on it, Josiah found the text in question during the eighteenth year of his reign, so that should help you pinpoint.

    This discussion seems to be continuing on Nancy’s third part if you’d like to catch up there. Thanks! :)

    Rachel

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