Should Women Teach Theology to Women?
The title says it all. A small but not insignificant movement that has been gaining momentum over the past couple of years revolves around the notion that women shouldn’t teach other women theology. There is some breadth to this movement, and the goal will be to address the original view as well as some of the fruit that’s come from it.
First, let’s begin with the main argument in a nutshell. The reason that women should not be teaching theology to other women is that women assume a “spiritual authority that does not rightfully belong to them. They take on the role of guiding the wives, daughters, and parishioners of husbands, fathers, and pastors who alone bear the responsibility for their spiritual and moral well-being.” The key word there is “alone.” That is a digestible summary of the justification for why women should refrain from teaching theology to other ladies––it’s not their responsibility.
To clarify, what isn’t being argued is that women can’t learn theology or speak about theology with other women in informal conversation. In addition, the position isn’t that women can’t learn about Biblical womanhood from other ladies. But, here’s the distinction, women really shouldn’t be actively seeking to learn theology from other women or be seeking to teach it in Women’s Bible Studies, podcasts, and courses taught by women for women, or in training formats. “By focusing on developing strong male leaders within the Church, we can create an environment where the desire of women to seek other women for theological guidance can be reduced and where they can flourish under the loving guidance and protection of their fathers, husbands, and pastors.” To be clear at this point, there is variance in the aforementioned position, but that’s the kernel of what is held to.
Now, to show you where this can go. In Matt 23:15, Jesus says this to the Pharisees, “Woe to you, scribes and Pharisees, hypocrites, because you travel around on sea and land to make one proselyte; and when he becomes one, you make him twice as much a son of hell as yourselves.” There’s a principle here that’s worth considering. Oftentimes when someone is trained under someone else, they amplify certain teachings and beliefs, even beyond the original proponent. That doesn’t always happen, to be clear, but, in this instance, it does seem like many have gone “to infinity and beyond” (old school Buzz Lightyear).
A fruit that’s come from the movement described says that women teaching other women should remain solely within the realm of homemaking skills. What this can look like is women in the church organizing a space for homemaking lessons: making/mending clothes, canning, gardening, decorating, and things of the sort. And that’s not a bad thing at all. But… it is at times proposed not in addition to, but in place of, women teaching other women theology.
Of course, all of this begs the question, what do the Scriptures teach about the topic of women teaching others theology? Are there particular restrictions and should the practice happen at all? It does seem that in an effort to move away from women teaching men, the pendulum has swung all the way to the other side of the spectrum where women shouldn’t teach women about the Scriptures at all (at least in some people’s minds). So, what does God say?
First, women know theology. This goes without stating, but it builds a foundation for where we are going. Godly women know Biblical doctrine, which is teaching that pertains to God, and are wise in applying what they know. Paul tells the church of Ephesus in Eph 4 that the church family is to be equipped (men and women) “for the work of service to the building up of the body of Christ.” One purpose is that the church family wouldn’t be “tossed here and there by waves and carried about by every wind of doctrine.” So, how are women to avoid being carried away? The solution is seen in verse 15, “speaking the truth in love.” What is the truth? It’s sound doctrine. It’s Biblical theology. Women who love Jesus know theology and are to speak about it (cf. Rom 15:2; 1 Thess 4:18; 5:11; Heb 3:13; 10:23–25).
Second, women are to teach theology. It is expected from the Scriptures that women will teach, but not all will teach doctrine in the same spheres. In Prov 6:20–23 we read Solomon saying Prov 6:20–23, “My son, observe the commandment of your father And do not abandon the law of your mother; Bind them continually on your heart; Tie them around your neck. When you walk about, they will lead you; When you sleep, they will keep watch over you; And when you awake, they will speak to you. For the commandment is a lamp and the law is light; And reproofs for discipline are the way of life.” What are the father and the mother teaching? Theology. They’re to instruct in the law according to verse 23. Yes, the primary responsibility rests upon the father according to Jewish tradition, but as the mother lived out the law she was to guide her children as well (cf. Prov 1:8; 31:1). Building upon this, in 2 Tim 1:3–5 we discover that Timothy had the same unhypocritical faith of his mother and grandmother. Who taught Timothy about the truth growing up? His mother did. What did she teach him about? We don’t need to wonder, in 2 Tim 3:14–15, we read, “But you, continue in the things you learned and became convinced of, knowing from whom you learned them, and that from childhood you have known the sacred writings which are able to make you wise unto salvation through faith which is in Christ Jesus.” Timothy’s mom taught him theology. Was that only because his father was an unbeliever? Based on what's seen in the Proverbs, I would argue no. The mother is ideally to complement the father in her life and instruction.
But women aren’t only to teach children. They are to proclaim and herald the gospel to unbelievers. In Acts 18:25–26, we read, “This man had been instructed in the way of the Lord; and being fervent in spirit, he was speaking and teaching accurately the things concerning Jesus, being acquainted only with the baptism of John; and he began to speak out boldly in the synagogue. But when Priscilla and Aquila heard him, they took him aside and explained to him the way of God more accurately.” There Priscilla and Aquila are teaching doctrine, the gospel, to Apollos. That’s evangelism right there. As a caveat, yes, narrative isn’t normative, but keep in mind that Priscilla here isn’t holding authority over men in the context of the church family in the gathered assembly (cf. 1 Tim 2:9–15).
Third, particular women are instructed to teach other women theology. Titus 2:3–5 reads, “Older women likewise are to be reverent in their behavior, not malicious gossips nor enslaved to much wine, teaching what is good, so that they may instruct the young women in sensibility: to love their husbands, to love their children, to be sensible, pure, workers at home, kind, being subject to their own husbands, so that the word of God will not be slandered.” While many passages emphasize the need for men to teach women, this passage teaches and expresses something different. Paul speaks of women instructing women as a form of blessing for the church.
The expectation is that within healthy local churches, older women are instructing younger women. The context does not suggest this is only teaching for one’s children, or that it’s restricted to one-on-one discourse (unless you can prove the same with the older men from verse 2). The restriction is that it’s women to women. This could be one-on-one, or… it could be a Bible study for ladies, a discussion group, training ladies how to counsel other women, or a class for women. The way this takes shape and the format simply must be guided by the restrictions of the text itself.
Ladies who have walked with the Lord longer are teaching the younger generation how to be godly women in the season God has placed them in. The qualifications are clear, not any older woman qualifies, it must be one who loves and is pursuing the Lord. The woman who teaches is holy in conduct, not speaking evil about others behind their backs, not a drunkard, and she’s known for teaching what is good.
In addition, the teaching is inextricably linked by what follows with the conjunction “so that.” There is a purpose and scope of this teaching. We know what, who, and why. What are they teaching? They teach that which is good. Who are they teaching? They teach younger women. Why are they teaching? They teach in order to equip these women to excel in the spheres that God has placed them in. The teaching in view here pertains to how to live and walk as a Christian. It goes beyond how to make meals, clothing, and art. The older women are to teach the ladies to love their husbands. God, theoretically, could have given this mantle solely to husbands to teach their wives how to love them, but He doesn’t. The older women are to teach the younger women.
That brings up a litany of questions. Can this teaching be done without speaking about respect and submission from Eph 5? Can you properly build and undergird a foundation for what it means to be a wife with respect to your husband without Gen 2:18–25? How can you speak about submission without speaking about theology proper and Christology in Jesus’ submission to the Father in His incarnation from Luke 22:42? Can you speak about loving your children without speaking about Jesus’ love for children from Mark 10:14, or instructions from the Proverbs or the book of Ephesians about raising children which would include hamartiology and anthropology? The older women are to instruct the younger women to be in control of themselves. There’s no restraint for the flesh that comes outside of the Spirit of God working in concert with the word of God––pneumatology and Bibliology. They are to teach how to maintain the home. How can that be done without walking through Prov 31 and the excellent wife in a study of Biblical womanhood? If you will teach on the subject of kindness, is that restricted merely to moral platitudes, or through looking and gazing upon the person of Christ in the Scriptures? Kindness is connected to ecclesiology as well as it characterizes the church (cf. Col 3:12; 1 Pet 2:1–3). The purpose of teaching good is so that God would be honored, even in the family.
The cherry on top is at the end of the verse, “so that the word of God will not be slandered.” In order for God’s word to be upheld, women must know theology and must instruct others in theology as a hedge of protection for God’s honor. It’s not optional. It’s not because of sin that women are teaching women theology. It’s not because of a lack of godly men that women should teach other women theology. No, God upholds this for the good of His people.
Circling back to the foundational argument quoting from the linked article above, “Can a woman learn theology from another woman? Certainly, women are capable. But I’m asking whether a woman should learn theology from other women. That is, does the Bible thematically and theologically push for women to teach other women theology? Is that the biblical ideal? … This is the fundamental issue I have with women teaching theology to other women. By doing so, these women assume a spiritual authority that does not rightfully belong to them.” Furthermore, “there is no passage in Holy Scripture that says… ‘Women shall teach theology to other women.’” I hope you can see that the Bible does present that not only can women teach theology to other women but that they should. If that’s not happening, Titus 2:3–5 isn’t being followed, and that’s a problem.
There are many helpful statements that surround this position, including clarifying to a generation of men who have set aside their position and calling from God to be leaders and protectors. The church certainly does need men to be men. The world over needs that. There is also a helpful pastoral word shared about how some women, unfortunately, are predominantly and even exclusively seeking women for shepherding in lieu of the church or their family. But, the primary concern with this position is that it seems to displace women from a role that God has called them to fulfill, not as a replacement of God’s calling for men, but as something that would further aid men in their own callings as husbands and fathers (the aim of Titus 2:3–5).