Dickson on why 1 Timothy 2:12 doesn’t prohibit women giving sermons

Let a woman learn quietly with all submissiveness. I do not permit a woman to teach or to exercise authority over a man; rather, she is to remain quiet.

Could there be anything else to say about 1 Timothy 2:12? According to John Dickson, yes. He’s just come out with a new e-book: Hearing her Voice; A Case for Women Giving Sermons. He says something I haven’t heard before. Not everyone in Sydney thinks alike.

‘Hearing her voice’ is a bit of an odd title because it’s not really about ‘her voice’. He doesn’t give much space to discussing why ‘her voice’ might be worth hearing or why we’re missing out by not hearing it (i.e. that she might offer a different perspective to men).

The second half of the title – women giving sermons – is the point. This book is almost exclusively about women giving sermons. Dickson doesn’t stuff around with warming examples or analogies, he doesn’t pursue other ideas to see where they might lead us. The book gets straight to the point. I like that. You can read it in one session. His argument is simply that 1 Timothy 2:12 does not prohibit women from giving sermons.

These are his key points:

  1. ‘Sermon’ and ‘teaching’ have become virtually synonymous for evangelicals. ‘Teaching’ in the New Testament, however, meant something very different to the expository preaching of today’s sermons.
  2. Teaching, exhorting, evangelising and prophesying were all distinct types of speech in the New Testament. ‘Exhorting’ was likely the closest to our present day sermon. Only one of these types of speech (teaching) is restricted in 1 Timothy 2.
  3. Before the New Testament was written and circulated widely, ‘teaching’ was ‘preserving and laying down for the congregation the traditions handed on by the Apostles’. Teaching had more to do with memorising an oral tradition so as to speak authoritatively to the congregation, than explaining or applying it. It was transmission of the ‘deposit’, not exposition of scripture.
  4. Now that we have the New Testament recorded in writing (and audio, youtube, iphone apps etc.) the role of teaching has transformed. Dickson says that ‘no human being preserves and lays down the teaching of Jesus and the apostles anymore.’

Since giving a sermon is not equivalent to ‘teaching’ in the New Testament sense (moreover, ‘teaching’ is rare these days) and since women are encouraged to prophesy, evangelise and exhort, there is no reason to restrict women from the pulpit.

Moreover, Dickson urges those who reject his argument about teaching to consider the other types of speech open to women and to find practical ways of allowing women to share their voice at church – women clearly spoke publicly in the early church.

Read the footnotes. There are hidden gems.

I was disappointed that he didn’t discuss the rest of 1 Timothy 2 (though, this was simply a book on women giving sermons, he did not promise anything more). In a footnote, Dickson reluctantly put himself in the ‘complimentarian’ camp, though he, like me, dislikes the labels ‘complimentarian’ and ‘egalitarian.’ He reads 1 Timothy 2 as applying to all women (rather than wives in relation to their husbands, Ephesian women or undereducated noisy women).

He doesn’t explain why teaching – even in the sense of transmitting the oral tradition – is limited to women. We only get ‘because Adam was formed first…’ and so ‘was the original custodian of God’s revelation’. It seems arbitrary to me – what has timing to do with teaching? (though I can’t really blame Dickson for this, I’ll have to take it up with Paul). But then this was just a book on women giving sermons.

I found I needed to do a bit of just ‘trusting the expert’ in the book. I don’t know Greek nor am I an ancient historian, so I’m glad to learn from people like Dickson. I’m not in a position to critique the finer points of his argument, but I look forward to reading a response.

I exhort you (I’m allowed to do that) all to download this book for a summer afternoon. It’s only $4.22. It’s refreshing to read someone who’s trying to promote a dialogue between two increasingly entrenched camps. It’ll make you think and it might change your mind.

Meet Jesus at Uni also has a good review of it here.

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