“I do not permit a woman to teach or to exercise authority over a man; rather, she is to remain quiet.” The Apostle Paul to Timothy, 1 Timothy 2:12
Have we in many of our churches used this and other verses as a foundation for mistreating women? I have some questions, and possibly a few answers.
In addition to the verse above there is the other well-worn “proof text” found in Paul’s letter to the church at Corinth.
“As in all the churches of the saints, the women should keep silent in the churches. For they are not permitted to speak, but should be in submission, as the Law also says. If there is anything they desire to learn, let them ask their husbands at home. For it is shameful for a woman to speak in church.” 1 Corinthians 14:33-35
Wow, it seems pretty clear doesn’t it? How could anyone miss the message of these two powerful admonitions that are the accepted authority that puts women in their places in the church.
But wait, Paul says more about women.
“but every wife who prays or prophesies with her head uncovered dishonors her head, since it is the same as if her head were shaved. For if a wife will not cover her head, then she should cut her hair short. But since it is disgraceful for a wife to cut off her hair or shave her head, let her cover her head.” 1 Corinthians 11:5,6
I have a question. How is it possible that a woman could prophesy without speaking? She could pray silently but she cannot possibly prophesy while being silent. (Isn’t it interesting that we are big on the silence but are unmoved by the head covering, hair length, etc. ?) The truth is that no person, including a woman, can speak God’s truth to another without speaking. They were not able to text or send a bluetooth, they had only one option, speaking!
In his letter to the Romans Paul was careful to send a greeting to several women who had labored with him in the gospel. (Romans 16:1,2,3,6,7 and 12.) It would be unreasonable to conclude that their only contribution to the mission was baking bread and toting luggage. We know that Priscilla taught the preacher Apollos (Acts 18:26).
There is no doubt that women had speaking roles in the first century church. Why then the passages above? I offer these suggestions.
Corinth and Ephesus (the city where Timothy was ministering) were both large cities, hubs of trade and commerce, and both populated with largely gentiles. In each of these major cities paganism reached its apex. There were all sorts of gods, goddesses, temples priests and priestesses, and prostitutes.
Paganism in these first century cultural centers was marked by every excess. Drunkenness, gluttony, sexual orgies, idol worship, sacrifices of every kind to the gods, and in general the most unholy of lifestyles. Because most of these pagan religions conveniently included sexual excesses, women were often the leaders of the sects. And of course even some of the gods were women, like Diana for instance.
It was out of this cultural setting that God had called people to himself. They were believers in the Christ (Paul called them saints) but their whole lives had been entrenched in a society of unbridled sin where the lusts of the flesh ruled the day.
And, the state of women must be considered. They were little more than chattel property. They were there to serve their men sexually, to cook, to work (Proverbs 31), to raise children, etc. They were not worthy of education and were in every way subservient to males. Even today, in 2010, women in much of the middle east are in the same dire circumstances. At best, they are second class citizens.
Now we find Paul writing to immature Christians whose neighbors were the people described above and they themselves had barely escaped this dreadful lifestyle. The carry over, was drinking to excess at fellowship meals, rudeness, talking over others, sexual sin, and in general, behaving as pagans in the church assembly.
I believe Paul was addressing a particular cultural situation that we have little feel for. “Women be quiet and learn from your husbands”. Only the men had any education. “Women be quiet in church”. Don’t emulate paganism where women were leaders. “Women if you are going to pray or prophesy in the assembly wear a head covering to show that you have the authority to do so”. It was Paul’s intention that these redeemed people look completely different than their pagan counterparts. Thus his warnings about food offered to idols, keeping holy days, etc. Christians are to be a holy (set apart) people was his consistent teaching.
Paul said to the Galatian churches
“There is neither Jew nor Greek, there is neither slave nor free, there is no male and female, for you are all one in Christ Jesus.” (Galatians 3:28)
I have never read any place that the Holy Spirit gives out spiritual gifts based on gender. Perhaps I overlooked that text. I believe that in our sincere desire to please God to the “T” we have gone headlong into limiting gifted, smart, educated, devoted women in their service to their Christ and their fellow saints.
Someone tell me how these tasks constitute taking authority in the Christian community that belongs to males? ( I heartedly affirm male headship in the home and in the church)
- Singing a solo
- Reading a passage of Scripture
- Offering a communion meditation
- Serving as an usher
- Passing the trays and plates
- Teaching a Bible lesson to a mixed gender class
In my view it is time to take off the gags and let the women free to serve God using their giftedness to encourage and build up the body, not just women and children.
Agree or disagree, this is only my view. It does not represent the views of my church or its able leaders. I just wish it did.