Why it is Important Not to Conflate Prophecy and Teaching in Discussions About Women Preaching

Clearly Paul does not intend for women to be teaching/preaching within the church, right?

We have to understand what the difference between prophecy and teaching is. The gift of prophecy consists in spontaneous utterance inspired by the Spirit. Prophecy therefore consists of divine revelation. The gift of teaching, however, is different. Teaching does not consist in new revelation but in instruction based on revelation that has already been given.

 

In evangelical debates over women in ministry, two biblical texts have always stood as a prima facieobstacle to the egalitarian view:

1 Timothy 2:12 “But I do not allow a woman to teach or exercise authority over a man, but to remain quiet.”
1 Corinthians 14:34 “The women are to keep silent in the churches; for they are not permitted to speak, but are to subject themselves, just as the Law also says.”

At first blush, these two texts seem to settle the matter in favor of the complementarian position. After all, this is the sense adopted in the vast majority of English translations. How could they all be wrong? Clearly Paul does not intend for women to be teaching/preaching within the church, right?

Egalitarians have marshaled a variety of exegetical arguments against this prima faciereading. They argue that, despite appearances, Paul doesn’t really mean to shut down women from exercising their teaching/preaching gifts in the gathered assembly. Egalitarians point out that Paul clearly understood women to be gifted teachers (e.g., Acts 18:26Titus 2:3). Moreover, the very same book that enjoins female silence also allows for women to prophesy to the entire church (1 Corinthians 11:5). These female prophets—along with their Old Testament counterparts like Miriam, Deborah, and Huldah—demonstrate that whatever Paul means in 1 Timothy 2:12 and 1 Corinthians 14:34, he can’t mean to impose a universal ban on women teaching men. He must mean something else.

One of the major problems with the egalitarian argument at this point is that it conflates the gifts of prophecy and teaching. For example, Gordon Fee writes:

It seems altogether likely that Paul intends “praying and prophesying” to be not exclusive of other forms of ministry but representative of ministry in general. And since “prophets” precedes “teachers” in the ranking in 1 Corinthians 12:28 and prophesying is grouped with teaching, revelation and knowledge in 1 Corinthians 14:6, one may legitimately assume that women and men together shared in all these expressions of Spirit gifting, including teaching, in the gathered assembly.1

Fee’s logic here is clear. Because Paul allows women to prophesy to the gathered assembly and because prophecy is a greater gift than teaching, then certainly he would allow women to teach as well.

This account of things, however, misses the fact that Paul treats prophecy and teaching as two different gifts and that he therefore regulates them differently in his churches. Paul never issues a blanket prohibition on female prophecy to men in any of his letters, but he does on female teaching. Why is that?

To answer that question, we have to understand what the difference between prophecy and teaching is. The gift of prophecy consists in spontaneous utterance inspired by the Spirit. Prophecy therefore consists of divine revelation. The gift of teaching, however, is different. Teaching does not consist in new revelation but in instruction based on revelation that has already been given.2

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