Apologize and Don't Be Sorry!

A site dedicated to thinking through the common objections to the Catholic Faith as well as questions of a general religious nature.

Location: Prague, Oklahoma, United States

Just your basic 21st century priest trying to bring the Gospel to everyone who will give it a fair hearing.

Tuesday, November 28, 2006

Women and Evangelization: I Timothy 2:12

Dear Father Tharp:
I read in 1 Tim 2:12 that women aren't supposed to teach, presumably the Gospel. Does that mean that women shouldn't evangelize?  What is the role of a Christian woman? Are we supposed to try to bring others to the knowledge of Jesus Christ?

Name and Hometown Withheld.

     Your question centers upon a common problem.  Proper reading of the Sacred Scripture depends upon three things: context, context, context.  While it can come across as an excuse not to read the Bible, the fear of misunderstanding a particular passage is a problem.  Reliable interpretation remains paramount.  Women’s roles in the Church seem like a modern issue.  As your question demonstrates, it was a question for the early Church as well.
Let’s begin with a proper context for reading this verse.  When interpreting a particular verse from the Bible, you have seven layers of context to consider.  The verse sits within a particular selection (first layer), the particular selection within a specific chapter (second layer).  The chapter rests within a particular book (third layer). That book belongs to a particular type of biblical literature (fourth layer).  Reading the book in question means understanding the historical background of the Testament in which it is found (fifth layer).  Understanding the relationship of the Testament – Old or New – to the whole of the Bible follows next (sixth layer).  Lastly, because the Bible didn’t fall bound from heaven, you must read the Bible in relationship to the Church’s tradition and teaching authority (seventh layer).
Returning then to the verse in question, what is St. Paul driving at when he says: “I do not permit a woman to teach or to have authority over a man. She must be quiet.” Reading in the immediate context, St. Paul has begun a discussion of his role as apostle and therefore, logically, moves to the subject of how men and women conduct themselves as Christians (Cf. I Tim. 2:7-3:16).  Essentially, the whole letter represents St. Paul helping St. Timothy serve faithfully as a bishop.  As St. Paul addresses the role of women in the immediate context, we catch a connection which directs us to a further interpretation point.  In verses 2:13-15, St. Paul mentions Adam and Eve and the relative roles of our first parents.  It would be logical to assume that this is the heart of the matter: verse 12 is less about teaching and more about proper authority in the Church.
Consulting a couple of commentaries shed some further light on this matter.  In one commentary, the author points out that when it comes to gathering for prayer in the public assembly, both men and women were to observe proper decorum.  However, when addressing the matter of leadership, the commentator notes that St. Paul’s reference to Adam and Eve is meant to affirm the leadership role of men in the public worship of the Church.  The passage might act, therefore, as a corrective against a push for women’s ordination that was coming from various Gnostic Christian groups.  Peter Kreeft, in his book You Can Understand the Bible, makes the valid point that rather than demeaning women, St. Paul emphasizes the unique role of women in both the life of the Church and the life of the world in general.
The role of women in the arena of evangelization and proclamation of the Gospel is identical to that of men.  The Second Vatican Council’s Decree on the Apostolate of lay people puts it well: “On all Christians, accordingly, rests the noble obligation of working to bring all men throughout the whole world to hear and accept the diving message of salvation” (Apostolicam Actuositatem #3.3).  Every member of the faithful, with due respect to their state in life, are called to witness to the saving truth of Jesus Christ.  Just because that role for women doesn’t include ordained ministry, it doesn’t follow that women should not be involved.  Based on that logic, EWTN, founded by Mother Angelica, would have to go off the air.  Further, we would have to ignore the contribution of great saints and reformers such St. Monica, St. Catherine of Siena, and St. Teresa of Avila – to name three -- if the only contribution that counted was ordained ministry.  
     With this in mind, I want to throw my support behind the upcoming Catholic women’s conference.  The one-day conference takes place on January 27 at St. Monica’s parish in Edmond.  Programming meant to foster devotion in a way suited to the genius of women has been long overdue.  Our non-Catholic friends have done much work in this area; it is high time that Oklahoma Catholics got into the game as well.  As this is the first year for this program, high attendance helps insure future events.  More information is available at www.ocwconference.com or by contacting Sharmin Romero at 405-330-8733.