By whose authority?

It was raised in discussion with me recently, that one of the reasons someone else felt it was improper for me (as a woman) to preach is that I was thus claiming authority over the men in the congregation.

Authority is a slippery concept; it carries different nuances in different contexts.  The verse under discussion here is 1 Timothy 2:12, (“I permit no woman to teach or to have authority over a man”), and the underlying Greek translated “authority” is not the usual exousia but the unusual term authenteo, which occurs nowhere else in the New Testament.  However, from other use contemporary with the writing of the Scriptures we know that this verb had the sense of “give orders to, dictate to.”  In effect, what Paul was saying was “I don’t let a woman tell a man what to do.”  (I should rather hope not; I’d also rather hope he didn’t let a man tell a woman what to do, but that’s perhaps a side issue here…)  The point here is, Paul is not forbidding the normal, healthy, rightful exercise of authority, but something which transgressed that.  So I rather feel that this verse does not address the question of the normal activity of preaching, although it may indicate something of what that preaching should not be.

But beyond that, I think it’s worth asking whose authority is expressed in the act of preaching?  Of course one would hope that the preacher has prepared a sermon thoughtfully, prayerfully, and with appropriate use of Scripture; and that the congregation listens thoughtfully, prayerfully and with a spirit open to being led by God.  In that sense, preaching is, both in the giving and receiving of it, an exercise of the authority of God.

Beyond that, though, one can look at the dynamics of authority within the community of the church.  A preacher does not step into the pulpit simply on his or her own initiative.  Processes vary between denominations, but preachers seek the approval and authorisation of others in the church community.  Within my own tradition, preachers hold a licence from the archbishop, granted only after the archbishop has been assured by those responsible for these matters that the candidate’s life and beliefs make them a fit person for the office.  And the archbishop holds that responsibility as an expression of the authority of the church which elected him (or her, in some fortunate places in the world where this has become possible).

So the authority of a preacher in the pulpit is not personal authority.  It is an expression of the authority of the whole church, which has discerned the necessary gifts and calling in this individual to carry out this role for the good of the whole body.  In that sense, it is not the authority of a woman over a group of people, but the authority of the church; and that authority applies equally to all, men and women, to those who listen and those who take up the tasks of teaching, preaching and leading.  As a preacher, I submit myself to that authority, and so I claim no personal authority over the men (or indeed anyone) in the congregation.  The authority over them rests with the church (the people of the Spirit), and with the Lord, and I am only its instrument, to the best of my capacity.


7 comments on “By whose authority?

  1. David M. Green says:

    Reblogged this on Feminism Is Gender Fascism and commented:
    The Christian church has one and only one authority and that is in the written Word of the Father Above – the Bible. In which there is absolutely no evidence or approval given to female preachers whatsoever. Indeed the primary distinguishing characteristic that sets Christianity and pagan religions apart: is that in Christianity there is no provision made for females in the Priesthood while in pagan religions females are not only included in the priesthood these religions also worship human reproduction and fertility and include sexual rites and practices condemned by the Father Above in His Word. Those Christians following in the footsteps of pagan religions by allowing females to serve within their Priesthood as preachers will in the day of judgement stand side by side with those of ancient Israel – whom the Father Above punished repeatedly for their backsliding into pagan religious practices – condemned to eternal death instead of being allowed into paradise.

  2. paidiske says:

    I would argue that Christian priesthood would not be understood as such by pagans at all, since Christian priests do not offer sacrifice (the only necessary sacrifice having been made by Christ). Priest in a Christian context is a linguistic contraction of the Greek presbuteros, or elder, and functions within the community of faith in quite a different way than a sacrificial priesthood.

    As I understand the day of judgement, salvation will not be by works – even the meritorious works of good oversight of the church – but by grace, through faith, and so the matter of whether or not a woman preaches or another accepts a woman’s preaching is not of soteriological concern.

    • David M. Green says:

      Jesus said, “By their fruits ye shall know them.: and James wrote that Faith without works is dead and challenged those proclaiming a faith only gospel to show him their faith while he then claimed that he would show his faith by his works. Hence Faith and Works go hand in hand and aptly demonstrate whether one is in reality a Christian or a wolf in sheep’s clothing.

      Both the Father above and Christ are male – this is a fact that cannot be denied – consequently a female cannot represent Christ in the truest sense which is why the Jewish and Christian priesthood was reserved for men only. Conversely Satan’s goal was to wrest away Adam’s title to this world and gain access to the tree of life in order to gain the power of life or death over mankind. Failing to gain the power of granting eternal life for himself and his subjects Satan throughout history has sought to usurp the authority of the male in all areas of life – social – political – religious and family in order to prevent the salvation of mankind. Which is why the ancient pagan religions he has established are all based on worshiping the female and how feminism came about in our society.

      Christ also said that many deceivers would come in his name who would draw away many Christians from the path of life onto the path of eternal perdition. The advent of feminism and its invasion of the Christian church is but one of the latest of Satan’s deceptions designed to deceive the very elect if possible.

      • paidiske says:

        Christ is male, since he was incarnate. The Father cannot be reduced to biological attributes, and it is notable that Scripture describes some divine attributes in feminine terms (I think, for example, of the divine wisdom in Proverbs, personified as female).

        If you wish to make the argument about priesthood one of representing Christ, why stop at sex? Why not insist on someone of Christ’s skin colour, hair colour, stature, hand preference? None of those things matter, because a representative priesthood represents Christ’s humanity, and the assumption of humanity is what allows for human redemption. In that sense, women can indeed represent Christ since we also are fully human (although I suspect some men would truly like to deny that).

        Feminism came about in part, indeed, because of the recognition of the full humanity of women and the implications of that for society, not out of a desire to usurp rightful authority.

        By their fruits ye shall know us, indeed; so I say judge women in ministry not on our sex but by the fruit of our work. I spent yesterday in a hospital, ministering to the dying, the grieving, the psychotic, the disabled and the sick, as well as celebrating recovery with those going home and new life with those who had just given birth. For which of these works will you condemn me?

      • David M. Green says:

        Not only does Christ refer to God as his Father He also claimed that to see and know Him was to see and Know God While the Apostle John makes it perfectly clear that Christ is God, was with God and is the Creator in John 1: 1-5. These five verses alone make it crystal clear that the Father Above is male and not female.

        If the Father Above had intended for women to be a part of the priesthood He would have included them as priests and apostles in the first place. The fact that he didn’t makes it abundantly clear the priesthood is reserved for men only – women have their place but not as priests.

        Indeed for her part in the Fall Eve and all women through her were placed in subjection to their husbands and not the other way around. And as Paul also made it abundantly clear woman was made for the man and not man for the woman.

        Feminism is simply a rebellion Satan has used to deceive many restless Eve’s who refuse to fulfill the role they were created for and as the Bible says: “Rebellion is as the sin of witchcraft.” And the penalty for witchcraft is death.

        RE: I spent yesterday in a hospital, ministering to the dying, the grieving, the psychotic, the disabled and the sick, as well as celebrating recovery with those going home and new life with those who had just given birth. For which of these works will you condemn me?

        I don’t! However I am well aware of the vows of poverty and chastity taken by those within the Catholic church. A church whose own leaders had 100,000,000 to 150,000,000 million innocent individuals put to death during the middle ages who refused to bow the knee to the pope.

        That is why it is so important to know what the Bible actually says for as Isaiah writes in 8:20 “To the Law and the Testimony if they do not speak according to this word there is no light in them.“

      • paidiske says:

        You say that the Father is “male and not female.” I would say that God, while referred to as Father, is neither male nor female but transcends both, since those are matters of biology.

        I take it that you refer to 1 Samuel 15:23, “For rebellion is no less a sin than divination, and stubbornness is like iniquity and idolatry,” part of Samuel’s rebuke of Saul for failure to obey God. And yet you expect women to disobey God when he calls them to minister; hardly consistent!

        I am not sure why you raise the Catholic Church; I am not Catholic, nor do Catholics ordain women.

        I know what the Bible actually says, and I know that it is possible to understand its teaching on gender relations in different ways. I respect Christians who live according to their understanding with integrity. I ask only that they do likewise in return.

  3. Dinah C. says:

    this comment by N.T.Wright in answer to a similar question can be found here :
    in it he gives a good short comment on 2Timothy and a link to his more scholarly article.
    The problem of a hierarchical ordering of men and women is a problem that the church acquired from its surrounding culture in the 2nd and 3rd centuries, it was not so in the early church. … small quote follows :
    “”Now if you were writing a letter to someone in a small, new religious movement with a base in Ephesus, and wanted to say that because of the gospel of Jesus the old ways of organising male and female roles had to be rethought from top to bottom, with one feature of that being that the women were to be encouraged to study and learn and take a leadership role, you might well want to avoid giving the wrong impression. Was the apostle saying, people might wonder, that women should be trained up so that Christianity would gradually become a cult like that of Artemis, where women did the leading and kept the men in line? That, it seems to me, is what verse 12 is denying. The word I’ve translated ‘try to dictate to them’ is unusual, but seems to have the overtones of ‘being bossy’ or ‘seizing control’. Paul is saying, like Jesus in Luke 10, that women must have the space and leisure to study and learn in their own way, not in order that they may muscle in and take over the leadership as in the Artemis-cult, but so that men and women alike can develop whatever gifts of learning, teaching and leadership God is giving them.”

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