Challenging Complementarians with Inconsistency

Here’s my thesis, plain and simple as the truth:

You cannot read 1 Timothy 2’s statements about women in a way that nullifies, diminishes, or silences the prophetic, praying, teaching, and apostle-ing voices of women in the (mostly) Pauline churches without unraveling the Bible’s consistency. The actions of women in Paul’s churches illustrate the theological beliefs of the apostle.

We know (1) what Paul says in 1 Timothy 2 (and it’s near parallel in 1 Cor 14, if that text be taken as authentic — and I have big doubts about its authenticity). There are bucket loads of discussions and debates and arguments, but there are two basic sides: Side A thinks Paul believes Paul doesn’t permit women ever to teach in the church or to teach theology (some swirl this into “from the pulpit on Sunday mornings in a direct and personal way” but this is merely midrash on the essential point. That is, complementarians think there is something profoundly creational about female subordination, male superordination, and hierarchical structures embodying Trinitarian subordinationism.

Side B thinks 1 Timothy 2 must be restricted in some way: e.g., that women are to be silent until they are taught and then they can teach.

Side A and Side B, if one wants to spin it this way, can be seen to be together in restricting the teaching of women in the church. It is either a permanent or temporary restriction.

We also know something else, which I shall call (2). Mary prophetically sang a song that taught us how to understand who Jesus was and what God was doing. Priscilla taught. Phoebe was trusted by Paul to carry Romans to Rome and to read it and to interpret it (this is standard enough, though hardly certain). Junia was an apostle, a great one; not one of the twelve, but an apostle nonetheless. Philip’s daughters prophesied. The women at Corinth prayed publicly and prophesied.

If Side A wants to read (2) fairly, Side A must restrict the silence of women in 1 Timothy 2 somehow and not make it permanent and atemporal. If it chooses to use (1) to silence (2), Side A is guilty of making the Bible wrong in (2) and thus profoundly inconsistent.

It is one thing to contend that we cannot build theology on the basis of behaviors (the active, Spirit-inspired voices of women) but an entirely different problem to construct a theology that denies those behaviors as appropriate when the apostle never silences those voices. A theology that silences the preaching/prophesying/teaching voices of women in Paul’s churches by appealing to Paul’s voice divides Paul in half and chooses one over the other.

Side B has this in its favor: it finds Paul consistent in that, if he does silence some women (widows probably) he does so in a way that permits (2).

The drive of Side A to silence the voices of women in (2) leads to a hermeneutic of suppression, a hermeneutic that instead of letting the Spirit determine who does what quenches the Spirit.

About Scot McKnight

Scot McKnight is a recognized authority on the New Testament, early Christianity, and the historical Jesus. McKnight, author of more than fifty books, is the Professor of New Testament at Northern Seminary in Lombard, IL.