also that the women should dress themselves modestly and decently in suitable clothing, not with their hair braided, or with gold, pearls, or expensive clothes, but with good works, as is proper for women who profess reverence for God. Let a woman learn in silence with full submission. I permit no woman to teach or to have authority over a man; she is to keep silent. For Adam was formed first, then Eve; 14 and Adam was not deceived, but the woman was deceived and became a transgressor. Yet she will be saved through childbearing, provided they continue in faith and love and holiness, with modesty.
The saying is sure: whoever aspires to the office of bishop desires a noble task. Now a bishop must be above reproach, married only once, temperate, sensible, respectable, hospitable, an apt teacher, not a drunkard, not violent but gentle, not quarrelsome, and not a lover of money. He must manage his own household well, keeping his children submissive and respectful in every way— for if someone does not know how to manage his own household, how can he take care of God’s church? He must not be a recent convert, or he may be puffed up with conceit and fall into the condemnation of the devil. Moreover, he must be well thought of by outsiders, so that he may not fall into disgrace and the snare of the devil.
Deacons likewise must be serious, not double-tongued, not indulging in much wine, not greedy for money; they must hold fast to the mystery of the faith with a clear conscience. And let them first be tested; then, if they prove themselves blameless, let them serve as deacons. Women likewise must be serious, not slanderers, but temperate, faithful in all things. Let deacons be married only once,[i] and let them manage their children and their households well; for those who serve well as deacons gain a good standing for themselves and great boldness in the faith that is in Christ Jesus.
For those of us who are women in church leadership, or for all of us who have learned from or been nurtured by women in church leadership, this passage needs to be read carefully.
Paul deals with three main things in his address to women: appearance (v. 9), behaviour (v. 10), and learning (vv. 11-14). Presumably none of us have a difficulty with the idea that a church leader’s appearance, behaviour and learning should all be appropriate to her (or even his) role. But why the apparent stance against women’s leadership by Paul?
Paul is writing at a time when women, generally, would not have had the same education as men. For Paul, women are relatively uneducated and so easily deceived – just as Eve is deceived by the serpent because she only heard the Lord’s admonition against eating the fruit second hand from Adam (in the Genesis story Eve had not yet been created when the Lord God shows Adam the tree of the knowledge of good and evil).
Paul might never have imagined that there would come a time when Jewish girls will go through ‘bat mitzvah’ when their brothers go through ‘bar mitzvah’, when young women outnumber young men at universities, when women are every bit as qualified as men to teach and preach and lead.
Paul is right that a leader’s appearance, behaviour and learning are all important – but we are wrong if we think that women can never achieve those standards.
In our world of equality of opportunity in education, Paul’s teaching about leadership is equally applicable to women and men and all leaders are called to be respectful, thoughtful, honest, gentle, not greedy, and holding fast to the faith. Thank God that these are gifts and graces given by God to all – for without God’s grace surely women and men would all fail in leadership.
We thank you Lord For your grace and power Poured out on women and men. Grant to all people your grace, Give to all leaders your gifts, That your whole church may learn the truth of the gospel. In the name of Jesus, the servant leader. Amen
The Rev’d Ruth Whitehead is the Moderator of the South Western Synod.