We recently had a question posed to us at D33 and we thought we would share it and our answer with you. The person asked about the following line of argumentation for prohibiting women from teaching in the church. She heard it claimed that the word for “teacher” in Greek (διδάσκαλος) never appears in the feminine form in the New Testament (διδασκαλή apparently is the feminine form, according to this source). Thus, the primary responsibility for teaching theology lies with men, not women. We summarize the context for this post; the question was: “Is his argument using the masculine gender of ‘teacher’ good exegesis of scripture in support of older women not teaching theology to younger women?” We assume the question extends to women teaching theology to men, or at all.
The following was our response (slightly edited for this post):
Thank you for your important question. Here are a few points that stand out for us. First, there is no one-to-one correlation between physical gender and grammatical gender in Greek, although sometimes they do overlap. Thus, a masculine noun in Greek doesn’t necessitate that the noun is of a masculine physical gender. For example, incidentally, διδασκαλία, meaning “teaching, doctrine, or instruction,” is grammatically feminine, but this does not mean instruction is a feminine thing. So the argument based on grammatical gender does not work.
Second, Liddell and Scott’s and Montanari’s lexicons note that διδάσκαλος can take either a masculine or feminine article, perhaps depending on whether referring to a male teacher or female teacher. In this case, grammatical gender overlaps with physical gender. However, the feminine article does not appear with this noun in the New Testament. In either case, the noun remains the same with the second declension form (something that the argument seems to miss—in none of the Greek lexicons we consulted did we find the form διδασκαλή). Also in Greek, the masculine form would be used for men and for any group in which a man was included, even if women were also a part of that group.
We also note that there were several women teachers and authorities in the New Testament, including Priscilla (who taught a man, Apollos), Philip’s four daughters (prophetesses), Phoebe (a deacon), and Junia (an apostle), among others. Also, 1 Cor 11:5 assumes women prophesied in the church, which would be a form of teaching, maybe even with more authority than simply teaching. The argument that women could prophesy but not teach theology seems to be a meaningless distinction.
We refer the reader to two forthcoming resources from the D33 bloggers that contain some insight into these issues, especially key passages such as 1 Timothy 2—3 and Romans 16, among others:
Porter, Stanley E. The Pastoral Epistles: A Commentary on the Greek Text. Grand Rapids: Baker Academic, forthcoming October 2023.
Porter, Stanley E., and David I. Yoon. Romans: A Handbook on the Greek Text. BHGNT. Waco, TX: Baylor University Press, forthcoming September 2023.
— David I. Yoon and Stanley E. Porter
Great answer, gentlemen! It strikes me that so many questions could be settled ahead of time if people would just learn at least one modern foreign language well. No one would ever think to say that because la cama (the bed), la silla (the chair) and la ventana (the window) are all grammatically feminine nouns in Spanish, only women are allowed to lie down, sit down or look outside, or that because el perro (the dog), el gato (the cat) and el caballo (the horse) are all masculine nouns, there are no female members of those species! But then, alas, there’s that riddle a European friend told me about years ago: What language will we speak in heaven? English, of course; in face, American English. Why? Because Americans are the only people that can’t learn a foreign language! 🙂
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Thanks for your comment, Craig. That’s funny! We agree that there is a language deficit in our current educational system. It also illustrates that knowing just a little bit of Greek can be more than a little dangerous. Muchas gracias, amigo!
– Dave and Stan
How sad. Many church leaders teach flawed theology based on a little knowledge of Greek, or Hebrew, or Aramaic, or ANE comparative literature, or a YouTube video, or a movie, or …. etc. Unfortunately, such teachings impact actual practices in our churches, not to mention popular attacks and “canceling” of men and women of God who are working hard to reach non-Christians and to help Christians develop stable faith.
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