In this episode of TGC Q&A, Tim Keller and Don Carson address the question, “What did Paul mean by ‘I do not permit a woman to teach’?” They discuss:
- What Paul actually forbids (0:29)
- The debate over whether he forbids one thing or two (2:21)
- Imperial ignorance—it can’t be known (3:43)
- Transcultural exhortation (4:15)
Explore more from TGC on this topic:
The following is an uncorrected transcript generated by a transcription service. Before quoting in print, please check the corresponding audio for accuracy.
Tim Keller: Well, first Timothy two is such a controversial passage, and I’m so glad that I’m here with a New Testament scholar.
Don Carson: It’s just called punting.
Tim Keller: Because I’m just an amateur. What is Paul forbidding there, do you think?
Don Carson: Well, let me dare make an advertisement, first of all.
Tim Keller: Okay.
Don Carson: There’s a recent commentary by Robert Yarbrough, Bob Yarbrough on the PNTC series on the Pastoral Epistles that is especially strong in following the trace of the argument through the text, and it’s one of the best treatments of first Timothy two I’ve seen anywhere, simply because it follows the trace of that.
Tim Keller: Yeah. What series is that in? It’s in-
Don Carson: The Pillar series.
Tim Keller: Okay, that’s right.
Don Carson: Yeah. Well, if you want more exegetical detail, that’s where I would look first. Then the next thing I’d say, you can configure that as two limitations or one. “I do not permit a woman to teach or have authority.” Is that two things or is it one thing?
Tim Keller: Yeah.
Don Carson: And syntactically, that is according to the way the Greek sentence has put together, it’s two things, but it’s pretty close to one thing anyway. That is, the authority that was exercised in the early church was primarily through the Word. It was not from some hierarchical structure or status. So it sounds like a church recognized Word-based authority, what has come to be called a magisterial authority, a teaching authority, which seems to be the limitation that Paul has in mind, and that is in line with other texts that one finds in the New Testament. To my mind, that’s the focus of it.
Tim Keller: Interesting. Yeah. First of all, just to show where we are in our cultural moment, I bought The Pillar Commentary by Bob, and I immediately opened it and read that section, and I did think it was masterful. I said, “Oh, here we go. This is great.” Here, I’m speaking as a pastor practitioner. I like the fact that you say there is some debate about whether that’s two things or one, and there are people, I’ve seen some people who… I’m convinced by what you said, that it’s one thing, but there are people who say it’s two. What I do at Redeemer, what I’ve done over the years, and it’s not a popular position, is to say Paul is forbidding something here, something, and I’m open to anybody who may have a different opinion from me on what that is or how that works itself out.
We also have to keep in mind that different denominations invest different levels of authority in different offices. Therefore, what authority looks like in a Baptist church or a Presbyterian church or an Anglican church might be different, and [inaudible 00:03:29]. So I’m open to that. I am not open to somebody saying, “There isn’t anything he’s forbidding,” or “That was not a transcultural statement, and therefore it doesn’t bind us anymore.”
Don Carson: Or, “It’s just so difficult. Therefore, we can’t know. Therefore”-
Tim Keller: That’s interesting. An awful lot of young Christians are doing that. They’re throwing their hands up, and they’re saying, “Since I can’t understand it, I’m just going to do what seems right to me.” Yeah, yeah.
Don Carson: It’s what a friend of mine likes to call imperial ignorance. That is to say, it’s the assertion that not only I don’t know, but you cannot know.
Tim Keller: Right. That’s a good point, and it’s self-justifying too. It’s really saying-
Don Carson: It is self-justifying. What it really does is open the door to anything.
Tim Keller: To anything I want to do. I would generally say he’s forbidding something. You show me something and I’ll work with you on that, but don’t tell me he’s not forbidding anything, because he is. But how would you answer that question? How do you know this is a transcultural piece of an expectation that’s true for all time and all churches?
Don Carson: As opposed to greet one another with a holy kiss?
Tim Keller: Yes.
Don Carson: Yes. Two things. Paul grounds his argument first in the order of creation, and second in the order of the fall. Now, you can wrestle quite a long time with exactly what that means. I’m prepared to venture a suggestion, but the point is, it’s hard to think of any events in all of the Bible that are less culturally dependent than the order of creation.
Tim Keller: Certainly.
Don Carson: It’s not as if Paul is saying, “Considering the relative ignorance of women who don’t have enough education, therefore I forbid such and such.” That’s not what he’s saying.
Tim Keller: No, he’s not.
Don Carson: It’s tied in his own argumentation to two things that are massively transcultural.
Tim Keller: Yeah. It almost seems like he may know somebody who might question. At least, certainly, it is an inconvenient that he does that for people who really don’t like the expectation. The only thing I say, again as a practitioner, is if somebody says, “How do you know it’s a transcultural passage?” I say, “Well, how do you know it’s not, especially when you’re talking about a New Testament passage?” It seems to me that the burden of proof is on the person who says it’s not, and it should be a very high bar. In light of the way he ties it to the creation and the fall, it’s very difficult to see how anybody could get over that. I’ve heard people try to do it, and I just think they’re pretty unconvincing.