John Dickson, Senior Minister in the Anglican Diocese of Sydney and Honorary Fellow of the Department of Ancient History, wrote a wonderful e-book Hearing Her Voice: A Case for Women Giving Sermons. As of the writing of this book review, this ebook is available for free at Amazon. His central contention is that I Timothy 2:11-12 has been misunderstood by interpreters, and his main argument is that the prohibition against women teaching in the Church has little to do with their ability to preach a Sunday sermon in the modern context. He opines that I Timothy 2:11-12 does not require a wholesale shift from a complementarian to an egalitarian view of women in church leadership but a right understanding of scripture.
Dickson suggests that Paul often distinguishes between teaching, prophesying, exhorting, evangelizing and reading scripture. He surveys a number of Pauline texts to show that these are distinct public speaking activities within the Church, and they are not to be conflated into one category (public speaking or preaching). Thus, there is a role for women in the Church to speak publicly, but they are not to teach. Then he makes the simplest of moves; he asks us to contemplate what teaching meant to the original author and audience rather than filling that term with our contemporary understanding.
He convincingly argues that the term teaching refers to the act of handing down the Jesus tradition/teaching through authorized men, prior to the formalization of the NT canon. The Church had a loose sense of a NT canon by the middle to late second century AD, but it would not formalize an authorized list until the end of the fourth century. So during the time after Jesus’ death in roughly 30 AD up through roughly 150 AD, the Church lived and died by the tradition handed down through authorized bishops. If you had a dispute regarding a matter of praxis and wanted to turn to Jesus’ teaching you had to consult a bishop who was steeped in the Jesus tradition or teaching, much the same way Jewish rabbis at this time would instruct their students to memorize their teaching. This act of apostolic handling and passing on of tradition is what Dickson argues is the meaning of teaching in I Timothy 2:11-12.
As a Protestant, he believes that this type of teaching is permanently deposited into the NT canon, and no person alive today teaches the Church as Paul meant in I Timothy. As such, modern preaching is more like prophesying or exhortation based upon the Jesus tradition deposited in the NT. As such, even if your church prevents women from holding the office of elder in the church based upon I Timothy 3:1, there is no reason why a women could not exhort the congregation from the pulpit using scripture, the deposit of authorized teachings from Jesus.
Having said all of that, I was left wondering if he intends to argue that all of Paul’s use of the term teach or teaching should be understood as such. For example, in I Timothy 3:1 elders must be able to teach. Does Dickson believe that an elder must posses the qualities of a teacher or does he believe that an elder must have rightly received the deposit of faith through authorized persons? If he believes the latter then how are we to exegetically tell the difference between these two interpretive possibilities. I am sure he has thought through this issue, but he did not address it in his brief ebook.
In spite of the book’s brevity, his argument is simple, satisfying and sublime. His writing is clear and non-academic. He concludes the book with a section of helpful, group discussion questions that could be used as part of a class or home study group. This quick read is more than worthy of your time.