The role of women in the scope of church life is an issue that has received different reactions in different Christian circles at different times in church history. At Allen Creek Community Church, the question we are primarily concerned with is: how should women biblically understand their role with regards to leadership in the church? In some churches recently, this question quickly becomes an issue of power, and some assume women should join men in grasping as much of it as possible. In other churches, the controversy is avoided by an equally inappropriate retreat to “traditionalism”. This second reaction often seems to be a knee jerk response to the perceived attitudes and agendas of the feminist / humanist movement (IE anti-male bias, blurring of all sex distinctions etc.). Because of this, merely addressing the issue of women in leadership is often seen as giving in to the secularizing forces of feminism. Without ever giving a holistically biblical, culturally relevant answer to this question, some Christians regurgitate traditional sex roles, assuming this is a biblical position.
In dealing with this assumption, it is helpful to note that the ideals of male/female equality were born in a society that learned many of its subconscious values from the Scriptures themselves. It is no coincidence that Western civilization, where women enjoy more freedoms than most other corners of the globe, is also the place where Christianity has taken root and flourished.
Christ did an incredible thing for women, lifting them to a high level… How ironic that feminists today do not give any credit to Christ or Christianity; in fact, they say it has oppressed women. In reality, Christianity has elevated women enormously. Had Jesus never come, Gloria Steinem, had she survived childhood [due to the widespread ancient practice of child abandonment, especially of infant girls], would most likely be wearing a veil today!
It is not too extravagant to say that the Bible is at the root of the slow change of attitudes toward women and their increasing freedoms and rights. Certainly, many Christians may have hindered this process in history, but, we cannot escape the fact that the language of equality between men and women originated in the Bible before any secular humanist took up a pen. Also we must remember that in church history, women have often enjoyed the freedom to lead in various roles. The early Montanists and later Waldensians had women teachers and prophets operating in their Communities.
Even so, many Christians may fear changing sex roles simply because change is often viewed as intrinsically bad. This conservatism is good only as long as what is being conserved is God’s agenda for humanity as revealed in Scripture and not cultural forms which are equated with God’s agenda. Historically, on many different issues, Christians have changed, giving up long-cherished forms and institutions in order to conform more fully to biblical mandates or values. Sometimes this process takes many hundreds of years.
SLAVERY: AN ANALOG
Slavery illustrates this perfectly. Slavery is an institution that Christians today believe to be fundamentally at odds with God’s design for humanity as revealed in the Scriptures. But this has not always been the case. The Christian view of slavery was disputed even up to less than two centuries ago. Only through slow societal change prompted by Christians who saw the implications of scriptural values, did those views reverse. After 18 centuries of slavery in the church, and in western society, abolition finally won out.
But why did attitudes change so slowly? The reason, along with sheer bigotry and greed is, we never find the Apostolic writers attacking the institution of slavery directly. Instead, their approach was much shrewder, and some might argue, more effective. They attacked the values upon which non-God honoring practices were based. Without imposing a ban on slavery from a position of ecclesiastical authority, a ban which may have hopelessly divided a very young church and derailed her from her primary mission in the world, Paul undermines the whole institution with his words, “there is no longer slave nor free, for you are all one in Christ… Masters, serve your slaves as brothers, ETC.” (Gal. 3:28; Eph. 6:7-9, Philemon)
We can’t underestimate the value of this implicit approach, even if our modern desire would be for something more explicit. We must never lose sight of the fact as Evangelicals, that the root interest of the New Testament writers and the early Jesus community was making new disciples of Jesus. The conversion of pagans into the church was a first priority because it was of eternal importance. If the Gospel only has benefit for this age, they believed, Christians are to be pitied. Therefore, believing in Resurrection and the World to Come, the primary message of the Church wasn’t “free the slaves and the women.” It was, repent and be baptized for the forgiveness of sin because judgement is coming.
However, this message of personal salvation, while primary, would have amazing secondary implications. If God was accepting all comers into his family by grace, giving them hope for heaven, then not only was there hope for oppressed classes for a better life someday, there was a fundamental equality baked into the cake of the Church. While the gospel’s first message to slaves and women was, “yes, you too are favored by God and your destiny is heaven”, the question that followed was, “how can we mistreat those whom God has favored?” As a result, women and slaves came flooding into the church.
But what if they interpreted the gospel’s implications and Jesus stunning inauguration speech about freedom (Luke 4:18-19) as primarily sociological and not spiritual? The church would likely have collapsed in infancy, so not ready was the world for seeing the full implications of grace in human relationships. We know this for a fact, since we know the first fight over the application of this message was not about women or slaves, it was about whether even Gentiles could belong! Thus, no ban on slavery will one find in the words of Jesus or the writings of the Apostles, which may actually have served two good ends: one, keeping the force of the Gospel always bent toward personal conversion and spiritual redemption first, and two, keeping the church from imploding due to the resistance over turning the social order upside-down.
In fact, it seems an opposite concern is evident: that in order to maintain the largest chance of winning the most disciples toward the highest goal (personal redemption), slaves are encouraged to behave better, not worse, because of faith in Jesus, for the expressed goal that God’s name and teaching be more attractive. (1 Tim 6:1)
So, when the issue of slavery gripped America, there were many Christians who considered emancipation to be utterly non-Biblical. Compared with those who restrict the freedom of women, they had much more biblical material to refer to. But ultimately, the position that won the day was the one that acknowledged that slavery may have been “allowed” by Scripture writers, but the full weight of Scripture shows that all men and women have equal value before God. Slavery was a fundamental desecration of this larger truth. Christians such as Wilberforce and Lincoln and their belief in what the Bible teaches lead the way for emancipation.
In the same way, Christians today should be the first to explore the full implications of God’s Word in relation to the freedom of women to minister in the Body of Christ. Coming fully in line with Biblical revelation will probably mean change, it always does. Ultimately, Christians must ask whether the issue of women and their freedom in the church is a worldly distraction tempting the church to keep up with secular values, or is it the voice of God, calling the church to keep up with His Word, conforming fully to its Truth. To answer that, we must look to the Scriptures and see for ourselves.
Scripture and Interpretation
AC3 believes that the Bible is the totally true Word of God and the guide for all Christian life and practice. Therefore, where we land on this issue must ultimately be informed by Scripture, not by culture. However, because the scriptural material is so broad, there is debate among Christians as to which passages are pivotal and central, and which ones are merely descriptive and particular to a given time and place. In other words, which passages give us the principles for Christians to follow at all times and in all places, and which passages give us cultural expressions of those principles which are not binding on all Christians at all times?
This is the heart of the controversy. This paper will describe the different relevant passages and show that, understood holistically, the Bible teaches the full equality of men and women in Creation, and in Redemption. We believe the heart of the scriptures with regards to women and men and their place in Christian life and ministry is summed up in Paul’s words, “There is neither Jew nor Greek, slave nor free, male nor female, for you are all one in Christ Jesus.” (Gal 3:28) If this was the only thing Paul wrote about women there would, of course, be no controversy. There are other, “difficult” passages that we will examine later. Ultimately, however, Galatians 3:28 communicates the foundational “principle” of equality.
Again, to use slavery as an example for interpretation, we must ask which passages about slavery are foundational. The ones which give cultural considerations about the slave/master association (legitimizing it!), or the ones which give underlying principles for the “christianizing” of this relationship (standing the whole institution on its ear!)? When the full weight of biblical revelation is taken into consideration, the answer to that question becomes clear. When we begin to see the broad brush strokes of scripture, the more specific passages that seemed to be in conflict with the broader principles, actually wind up helping to make the case. We saw this in relation to slaves, where the context actually winds up reversing the whole picture. We shall see it as well in relation to “restrictions” on women.
Biblical Truths About Women
The broad brush strokes of scripture concerning the equality of men and women are not just found in Galatians but throughout the entire Bible from the first pages on and are seen played out in the life of Israel and to a much greater degree in the practical life of the early church.
The bible shows that God created men and women both in his image, and both had a relationship with God and both were given the mandate to rule and subdue the earth.GEN 1:26-28
The fact that God made a “helper” for Adam in Eve, is in no way seen as a denigration or a designation of inferior status. The same term is used for God many times throughout the Old Testament.GEN 2:18
The Bible teaches that the rulership of men over women is a result of the destructive intrusion of sin. Some see Eve’s “desiring” Adam, as a desire to rule over Adam, and Adam’s rulership to be God’s benevolent post-fall provision. There is some ambiguity as to what Eve’s “desiring” does mean. Is it desire to rule (the same phrase is used of sin desiring to have Cain, Gen. 4:7), or desire for intimacy? There can be little doubt that the desire for self assertion and dominance are not exempt in women and perhaps this verse is foreshadowing the enduring “battle of the sexes”. However, regarding male rulership, a plain reading shows this in the context and as a result of the curse.
Therefore, the text is not revealing God’s ideal order, but rather God’s prediction of how the curse will find fulfillment. At the very least then, vs. 16 acknowledges the sinful desire of both sexes to dominate the other with men winning the power struggle. At best, the “desiring” of vs. 16 shows how women will long for intimate partnership with their husbands but instead, will often find harshness and subjugation. History has borne out both views. Both are descriptions of the consequences of the Fall, not prescriptions for God’s ideal order.GEN 3:16
The bible teaches that in the sacrifice of Jesus, God was offering reconciliation with humanity. Through faith in Christ, we all may become the children of God without reference to racial, social, or gender distinctives. (John 1:12-13)GAL 3:26-28
The Bible teaches that when God first initiated the church by pouring out his Holy Spirit, he did so graciously on both men and women alike, both were the recipients of gifts, to be used in the building of the church.ACTS 2:1-21
Both men and women have received the privilege of using their Spirit-given gifts in the life of the church. Both men and women are empowered by the same Spirit to minister to the Body of Christ under His authority. The New Testament is replete with practical examples of women operating in their gifts for the benefit of the church; as intercessors (Acts 1:14), as helpers (Acts 9:36, Mark 15:40, 41), as deacons (Rom. 16:1, 2), as prophetess’ (Acts 21:9) as teachers (Acts 18:26), as apostles (Rom. 16:7), as leaders of house churches, IE. functional elders (Col. 4:15), as messengers of good news (John 20:17, 18) and as evangelists (Phil. 4:2, 3). See also Old Testament examples in Deborah as spiritual, civil and military leader (Judges 4:4-14), Huldah, prophetess and advisor to the king (2 Chron. 23:22-28), Miriam, prophetess and spiritual leader (Exodus 15:20 & Micah 6:4).I PET 4:10
The Bible teaches that the primary qualification for spiritual leadership is giftedness, not gender, (Judges 4:4) given by the Holy Spirit, recognized and affirmed by the Body of Christ and it’s existing leaders.II TIM 1:6
The Bible shows Jesus standing traditionally accepted attitudes toward women on their head. Our current context makes it difficult to appreciate the significance of Jesus’ actions in 1st Century Jewish culture which literally revolutionized female roles and value. He invited women to be recipients of the Good News without any qualification of gender (Lk. 7:48), He spoke to women in public (Jn. 4) and he put women in the position of “learners,” a position they did not have before, discipling them along with the Twelve.LK 8:1-3
The Bible defines leadership as the service and empowerment of others for ministry, not the exercise of power over people.MT. 20:25-28
The Difficult Passages
The above passages give us the primary current of Biblical material on women and their place in the Christian community. At the very least, they legitimize a second approach to scripture when it comes to understanding the “difficult passages” on women in church life. Do we view the Scriptures as a document which establishes and authenticates male dominance as normative with the above passages as “difficult” or the reverse: does the Bible establish the equality of men and women in life and redemption, with the below passages as “difficult”?
The answer lies in how well each view deals with their difficult or “aberrant” texts. We believe the following texts should not be interpreted simplistically, or in contradiction to the rest of Scripture. The following analysis of the few isolated texts which, at first glance, appear to restrict the full redemptive freedom of women, shows that the texts are, in fact, few, and must be understood in their relation to the broader teaching of Scripture and their total context. It will also show that, so discerned, these passages actually lend weight to the view that God wants to bring women and men back into His original, creation design of harmony with Himself and mutuality with each other.
3 Now I want you to realize that the head of every man is Christ, and the head of the woman is man, and the head of Christ is God. 4 Every man who prays or prophesies with his head covered dishonors his head. 5 And every woman who prays or prophesies with her head uncovered dishonors her head — it is just as though her head were shaved. 6 If a woman does not cover her head, she should have her hair cut off; and if it is a disgrace for a woman to have her hair cut or shaved off, she should cover her head. 7 A man ought not to cover his head since he is the image and glory of God; but the woman is the glory of man. 8 For man did not come from woman, but woman from man; 9 neither was man created for woman, but woman for man. 10 For this reason, and because of the angels, the woman ought to have a sign of authority on her head. 11 In the Lord, however, woman is not independent of man, nor is man independent of woman. 12 For as woman came from man, so also man is born of woman. But everything comes from God. 13 Judge for yourselves: Is it proper for a woman to pray to God with her head uncovered? 14 Does not the very nature of things teach you that if a man has long hair, it is a disgrace to him, 15 but that if a woman has long hair, it is her glory? For long hair is given to her as a covering. 16 If anyone wants to be contentious about this, we have no other practice — nor do the churches of God. NIV1 COR 11:3-16
Understanding of the word “head” (Greek, “kephale’”) is pivotal to understanding this passage. If understood as “authority” or “ruler” as the word is often used in English, the passage implies that Christ is the ruler of man, man the ruler of woman, and God the ruler of Christ. This is a problem for a number of reasons.
- “Kephale”, is not the word most often used in 1st Century Greek to convey the meaning of authority. Most often, “Kephale” means, “source”, or “point of origination” and could be translated “fountainhead.”
- Moreover, the authority understanding puts severe strains on the basic New Testament notion of the priesthood of all believers. The implication of a “ruler” understanding, is that women would have to go through men to get to God, a denial of I Peter 2:9 and 3:7.
- If Paul was giving a “chain of command”, he would not have put it in the disjointed order he did: Christ/man, man/woman, and finally God/Christ. However, if “kephale” here means “source”, then the order Paul gives is simply chronological of origin and makes perfect sense: First, Christ is the source of man in creation (Col. 1:16), next, man is the source of woman with the formation of Eve from Adam (Gen. 2:21) and finally, God is the source of Christ in the birth of Jesus (Gal 4:4).
This passage does affirm gender distinctions. In the wonderful diversity of God’s world, humanity is a duality, male and female, different and equal, and they come to worship with different “jobs” as it were. Women represent redeemed mankind in the presence of God and men represent the image and glory of God (vs. 7). As such, they both enter worship with distinct functions, man, representing the image of God in humanity, and woman representing humanity itself, the splendor of God’s highest creation in restored relationship to Himself. In this way, she uniquely represents the church, which is the Bride of Christ (Eph 5:23). Paul finds proof for both these realities in culturally appropriate symbols. Man’s symbol is an uncovered head or short hair, a sign of our connection to God. Woman’s symbol is a covered head or long hair, a sign of her authority to represent all redeemed humanity (the Church) before God (vs. 10. This “symbol of authority” could also be a sign of God’s authority over all mankind).
Lest we begin to make too much of these gender distinctions, Paul is careful to let us know that no primacy is being given in these roles. They are based on the chronological origin of men and women, Adam being made first and Eve coming from Adam. This does not imply different status, for just as Eve came from Adam so now all men are born of women. There is only one who has primacy and that One is God (vs. 11, 12).
Verse 5: Finally, we cannot leave this passage without noting that in the midst of these worship instructions, the freedom of women to exercise the gift of prophesy is given without qualification. Prophecy is listed among the gifts belonging to Christian leadership (Eph. 4:11) being listed along side Apostleship, Evangelism, Pastoring and Teaching. In the context of I Corinthians, as in other places, the gift of prophecy is not so much a gift of fore-telling as of “forth-telling” (I COR 14:3 & 31). As such, it was a gift that emphasized group instruction, giving comfort and encouragement and strength in the context of a Christian worship service.
For God is not a God of disorder but of peace. As in all the congregations of the saints, 34 women should remain silent in the churches. They are not allowed to speak, but must be in submission, as the Law says. 35 If they want to inquire about something, they should ask their own husbands at home; for it is disgraceful for a woman to speak in the church. 36 Did the word of God originate with you? Or are you the only people it has reached? 37 If anybody thinks he is a prophet or spiritually gifted, let him acknowledge that what I am writing to you is the Lord’s command. 38 If he ignores this, he himself will be ignored. NIVI COR 14:33-38
In stark and almost inexplicable contrast to the flow of chapter 11, Paul seems here to contradict it all by expressly forbidding women to say anything during public worship. These comments are so abrupt and so out of context with the preceding flow that many have dismantled the text, claiming corruption from later editors. In examining the content and context of these verses, a suitable explanation can be found which makes these comments make sense without beginning the dangerous and unwarranted process of discrediting the text itself.
- The appeal is made based on the practice of “all the churches of the saints”. This phrase is the only one of its kind in the New Testament. Paul in many other places lays down rules for “all the churches” (see 7:17) but to add “…of the saints” is peculiar and redundant. It seems to refer to a particular group of churches who are distinct from other churches, perhaps the original Jerusalem based, Jewish churches of Palestine.
- As opposed to other instances when the Apostle gives instructions for all churches, here, there is no personal endorsement as in 7:17; “…my rule in all the churches…”; 11:16 “we recognize no other practice, nor do the churches of God…”; and 16:1 “as I directed the churches”.
- Because there is no personal authority attached to the prohibition, the argument is sustained by appealing to the “Law”. This would seem to be sufficient proof to conclude that Paul is not the author. Paul never establishes Christian practices on the Law. Even if he were inclined to do so, he would find no such regulation in the Old Testament. Evidently, the authors of this prohibition knew Jewish culture or the Talmud better than they knew Old Testament Law!
- The injunction concludes by instructing women to ask questions of their husbands at home due to the disgrace involved in them speaking in church. Talmudic tradition informs us that in Jewish life, all women were to be married, they were not qualified learners, and it was shameful for them to speak in the synagogues. The parallels to this passage are startling. It leads us to assume that the passage has a Judaistic, Talmudic origin.
Where all of these facts are pointing is to the non-Pauline origin of these prohibitions, probably from some Judaistic faction in the Corinthian church. What Paul is doing is quoting their philosophy back at them and then he goes on to discredit it in verses 36 – 38 of Chapter 14. Perhaps this solution seems very ad hoc. It is not, if we can prove that Paul repeatedly quotes the Corinthians in other passages where there’s nothing at stake.
- In fact, this is not an abnormal practice for Paul especially in I Corinthians where the entire occasion for writing the letter is to respond to the inappropriate views and problems in the church (1:11; 7:1). Although Greek does not contain any punctuation to tip us off, most scholars agree that Paul is quoting the Corinthians throughout this letter.
a. 1:12 & 3:4 “I belong to Paul, I belong to Apollos…”
b. 6:12 & 10:23 “everything is permissible for me…”
c. 7:1 “it is good not to have sexual relations…”
d. 8:1 “we all possess knowledge…” and others…
In all these places it is so evident that Paul is quoting a Corinthian source that many translations correctly put these “mottos” in quotation marks. Paul always follows up these half truths, or outright false notions with a correction or an elaboration. Such is the case in chapter 14. The false idea is obvious because of it’s incongruence with the rest of the letter and the New Testament.
- So understood, verse 36 is then read as a severe rebuke of this aforementioned prohibition. Paul asks sarcastically if the party trying to silence the women had received a special revelation, one which no one else was privileged to hear. The legalizers would recognize their own teaching and hear Paul invoke “the Lord’s command”, no doubt to contrast their weak appeal to the Law. Read this way, the passage makes complete sense in the context of the letter, and actually serves to show Paul’s strong feelings about the freedom of women to participate in public worship, specifically with the gift of prophecy which he had just spent the better part of two chapters detailing.
A few further comments should be made about how this passage is commonly applied. Those Christian communities that use this passage to restrict women in leadership or teaching roles, usually do not apply what it ACTUALLY says. Many churches use this passage as a reason to keep women from positions of leadership, but rarely do they actually put a complete restriction on women “speaking publicly in church because it is shameful”. Think of what this means in reality: no women doing announcements, leading worship, talking during open sharing times, or praying from on stage. The irony is thick: while this text forbids women to speak in church at all, most evangelical churches regularly have women speak publicly – just in non-pastoral roles. Meanwhile, the passage says nothing about women in leadership and yet the same churches use this very text to say women should not be leaders.
The inconsistency in application is notable. Also, it is somewhat understandable given the conflict with the obvious and contradictory freedoms of 1 Cor 11:5. Some get around this conflict by saying that the 1 Cor 14 restriction is Paul’s own sentiment, but only as a nod to commonly accepted cultural practice (IE everyone would agree to the shame of women speaking in public, and Paul didn’t want them to do anything out of sorts, that would distract from the gospel). So these interpreters imagine that if the cultural practice changed (IE if for any reason it became NOT shameful for women to speak in public, as it is today) then Paul would clearly condone the public ministry of women since it would no longer be breaking a taboo, causing a distraction.
This is probably the only way to understand this passage as Paul’s own sentiment and still allow public ministry of women. However, it still does not answer the fundamental inconsistency in Paul’s granting of freedom of women to pray and prophesy in public as if it were commonly accepted and understood, and then him retracting that same freedom with compelling force two chapters later! This interpretation also does not justify the arbitrary restriction of women from leadership yet not from public speaking, since if we assume Paul would allow public speaking of women IF it were no longer culturally “shameful”, then by what logic do we assume he would not also allow women to hold leadership positions if in fact that too were no longer taboo?
No, the best way to make sense of ALL the data in 1 Corinthians is to assume that the freedoms for women to speak, pray, prophesy and evangelize were standard operating policy in the New Testament church (the evidence for this from Acts alone is overwhelming). Aligned with this policy of freedom in Christ, Paul stands strongly against the Jewish believers who wanted to impose Talmudic restrictions on the New Community.
11 A woman should learn in quietness and full submission. 12 I do not permit a woman to teach or to have authority over a man; she must be silent. 13 For Adam was formed first, then Eve. 14 And Adam was not the one deceived; it was the woman who was deceived and became a sinner. 15 But womenwill be savedthrough childbearing — if they continue in faith, love and holiness with propriety. NIVI TIM 2:11-15
Unlike the Corinthian passage, however, the prohibition in this passage is Paul’s own sentiment. In it, he authorizes a number of things with regards to women, including a prohibition on teaching. It seems all the more binding because he ties this prohibition to the Fall and Eve’s deception. But the many problems involved with making this fit with the rest of the New Testament should cause us to look a little deeper into the content and context of these words.
- There is debate among scholars as to what exactly Paul is prohibiting. The “authority” Paul prohibits here is unclear. The word is not “exousia”, the normal Greek word for authority but “authenteo” which is found no where else in the New Testament, a word which may mean “to usurp authority”. The word “teach” is difficult because it is unqualified – Paul here doesn’t permit women to teach AT ALL. If this prohibition is meant for all churches, it is big news and should be found in every letter Paul writes. Instead, in Colossians 3:16 we find the counsel for everyone to “let the word of Christ dwell in you richly as you teach and admonish one another with all wisdom.” Also, in Titus 2:4, women are specifically commanded to teach.
- There is a prescription for women to learn in verse 11 which is almost passed over by the startling limitation Paul puts on women’s teaching ministry. It is, if we consider the cultural context, equally startling. “Women should learn” was an amazing new opportunity for females who had until the example of Jesus, not been considered worthy of being taught. That Paul feels the need to re-emphasize this new freedom may perhaps give us an indication of the attitudes and spiritual education of the women he is addressing.
- The appeal to the Genesis account showing Eve’s deception, is not to exonerate Adam but to draw the distinction between Eve’s sin being the result of following deception and Adam’s therefore being the result of knowledgeable action. We know from Romans 5:12 that Paul sees Adam as wholly responsible for humanity’s fall so he can’t be making a statement about males being less susceptible to fault and therefore more qualified to teach. Apparently, Paul is emphasizing that Eve did not understand fully the nature of the “tree” and therefore was susceptible to the Devil’s lies. Adam, was not deceived, that is, he knew the full ramifications of eating the fruit of the tree.
- “Women shall be saved through childbearing” is one of the most enigmatic texts in the entire New Testament. It would be prudent, therefore, to approach this text with extreme humility and care. It is baffling foremost because it stands in direct contrast to the rest of Scripture where salvation depends on God’s grace and is obtained through faith. We should look to the greater context of these verses to find clues to help in understanding these words.
Why would Paul feel the need to make the teaching prohibition if women were not in fact, already teaching? It is clear that women were teaching in the Ephesian church, but why were they teaching? It is superficial to assume that they were taking this role all on their own, because it would have been so culturally inappropriate. If they were teaching, it must have been at the prompting of the gospel, understanding the same radical freedoms which the Corinthian women did. This would mean that the prohibition is anomalous, unique; a special instruction for a special situation, a severe retraction of an already granted freedom due to some crisis.
Is there evidence of such a crisis in this church in Ephesus?
- The internal evidence of both I and II Timothy shows that the church was, in fact, in an extreme leadership crisis. Paul follows up the prohibition to women by giving extensive guidelines for elders. If there were no crisis, we might expect these guidelines to be general and include more about spiritual disciplines, IE prayer which isn’t mentioned. But because of the crisis they are more specific with special emphasis on proper sexual conduct and family relationships and ability to teach.
- The rest of the letter and II Timothy give us a wealth of detail on the problem. Some specific leaders were evidently falling away from true faith (I Tim.1:19, 20) men who had specialized in strange teachings – among them, forbidding people to marry (4:1-4). Timothy is urged to be careful whom he puts into leadership because of this (5:22) and beware of leaders who are in it for the money (6:5).
- Of special interest is the seeming connection between these false teachers whom Timothy is repeatedly warned about, and women in the church, specifically young widows. These false teachers worm their way into the lives of lonely women (II Tim. 3:6) who wind up spreading their teaching (2:16, 17). Paul seems especially frustrated with these “weak willed women” who are sexually promiscuous, perhaps even with the false teachers [I Tim. 5:11]. Remember they forbid marriage. Some scholars believe their “no marriage” heresy revolved around a vision of singleness that included open sexual relationships rather than celibacy. They had been given the opportunity to learn but remained ignorant (II Tim. 3:7) and were going around, presuming authority they didn’t have by teaching inappropriate things themselves (I Tim 5:13).
- So Paul counsels these women to marry and have children (5:14) – in direct contrast to his advice to women in other situations (I Cor. 7:29-40).
The proper understanding of this text comes readily if we put all the above clues together. We might interpret the difficult passage thusly:
- First, the injunction that women must learn was a call to go, “back to the basics”. The Ephesian women, as a whole, were putting the cart before the horse. Before anyone can teach, they must first be humble learners (2:11).
- They should not try to take the authority of recognized leaders or pretend to be teachers when they have no such authority (vs. 12).
- Unqualified, ignorant people are easy targets for deception, and if given leadership and teaching roles, would bring only trouble (vs. 13, 14).
- But, if such women will settle down and abandon their sexually loose lifestyles (5:11) demonstrating it through marriage and bearing children (5:14), they will be saved (2:15), assuming, of course, that they continue in the fundamentals of Christianity, faith, love, holiness with self control.
Thus Paul wanted to eliminate ALL unqualified leaders and teachers with this letter to Timothy, both women and men. There were men, like Adam, who were abandoning the faith with full understanding. There were women, like Eve, who were making decisions and saying things based in ignorance. The best chance of finding qualified teachers was with men, who, unlike women, were used to the learning, education process that precedes teaching. Although because of the false teaching crisis, Timothy was to exercise extreme caution in the selection of even male leaders (5:22) who were to be examined exhaustively (3:1-13). There is indication in this letter than the deviant male teachers could be saved (1:20) as is true of the deviant female teachers (2:15). Therefore, there is reason to believe that once Paul’s remedies are fully operational, (IE that women are taking seriously the position of learner, and bringing their moral life into conformity with Christ’s standards) that equipped and properly trained women could take the positions of service that they were in other churches – IE teaching.
This is the enduring principle of I Timothy 2:11-15: Learning comes before teaching. Teaching is fundamental to leadership. Severe measures must be taken when the leadership of a church has been corrupted, even to the point of banning an entire gender for a period of time. Nevertheless, against the force of an entire patriarchal culture stands the open door: “women must learn” – an injunction founded in the Savior’s ministry, who discipled women and considered them worthy learners and fellow ministers of the gospel within his extended entourage of followers.
3 Here is a trustworthy saying: If anyone sets his heart on being an overseer,he desires a noble task. 2 Now the overseer must be above reproach, the husband of but one wife, temperate, self-controlled, respectable, hospitable, able to teach, NIVI TIMOTHY 3:2
It is often assumed that because the first injunction for elders is that they be the husband of one wife, this by necessity excludes women. However, we note that deacons are also to be the husbands of one wife (1 Tim 3:12) and yet almost all scholars are willing to grant that there were women who served as deacons in the New Testament church, ex. Phoebe (Rom 16:1). Was Paul suddenly defrocking women like Phoebe or Euodia or Syntyche, who had long been loyal servants of the churches?
In fact, we note that when it comes to qualifications for deacons, Paul adds this interesting phrase: “their wives in the same way…”, 3:11. The word translated “wives” (gunaikas) means simply “women” – the possessive “their” is not in the original Greek, it is supplied by the translators who make the assumption Paul is turning to the spouses of deacons. But why give qualifications the spouses of the deacons and not the spouses of elders, which is conspicuously missing? It would seem far more important that elder spouses meet certain character criteria, than the spouses of those who carry less responsibility.
More natural then, that we read his phrase “the women too” to mean, the same qualifications for male deacons apply to female ones. Thus, the role of deacon is proved beyond doubt (given the above examples) to have been an ordained position of leadership which women were filling in churches as far back as there have been churches. Therefore, if the qualification of “marriage to one wife” for deacons isn’t absolute, it must not be for elders either (provided our understanding of the restriction from 2:12 on authority is correct).
Also, if only husbands of one wife can be elders, then this, of course, excludes all single people from church leadership including Paul and the Lord himself. Should we argue from this that marriage was a prerequisite for Christian leadership? No, Paul was not interested in disqualifying faithful female deacons in other churches or single people with his comment. Rather, he was interested in disqualifying teachers in Ephesus with loose morals who teach that marriage is evil (I Tim 4:3) and who are probably sexually involved with many women. (2 Tim 3:6)
Would Paul show disdain for Christian singles who decided to stay that way for the sake of Christian ministry? Would he disqualify celibacy when Jesus himself acknowledged those who would accept celibacy for the sake of the Kingdom (Matt 19:12)? And would Paul disqualify those whom he himself said would be less distracted in Kingdom business by committing to singleness, a state he considered preferable (I Cor 7:32-35)? If the answer to these questions is no, then we mustn’t absolutize a requirement for all churches at all times that served a local need in a specific situation.
The message we receive today from secular society is an ironically confusing one. On one hand, the rhetoric of women’s liberation has never been more pervasive. On the other hand, almost as a knee jerk reaction, the icons of masculinity who are cold, unfeeling, tough, competitive, forceful and dominating are more abundant than ever. But who can blame a male community that has often lost it’s bearings in a search for the identity they have lost through changing roles? A retreat into “Rambo” gives some anchor of identity, albeit a very superficial and unfulfilling one as it often leaves behind half of the human race.
Men and women – though very unique and imaging God differently – must learn to find their primary identity in their redeemed personhood which is fleshed out by the Holy Spirit and looks like this: loving, joyful, peaceful, patient, kind, good, faithful, gentle and self-controlled (Gal 5:22). Most of these qualities are fundamentally at odds with our worldly definition of manhood and quite frankly, most feminist definitions of womanhood! But Christian men and women must learn to find significance, not in their primacy or lack of primacy. They must find significance in their new role in Christ, as servant to all (Phil. 2:3, 4), and to realize that the strength of leadership for both sexes resides in servanthood (Matt 20:25).
We must also honor the wonderful diversity that God placed in the human race, not trying to blur distinctions of sex because each represents the Image of God and therefore brings a different part of God’s glory to the table in life, in marriage and in the building of the church (1 Cor 11).
Upon entry into the Church we are instructed that the old break downs along ethnic, cultural, socioeconomic and gender lines are irrelevant (Gal 3:28). That same oneness and mutuality must guide our relationships after entry as well, for the glory of God, for the sake of Christ’s mission and so that Allen Creek Community Church can become a safe place where all seekers of God can grow to full maturity in Christ.
- Dr. James Kennedy, What If Jesus had Never Been Born? pg. 17.
- Earle E. Cairns. Christianity Through the Centuries, pg. 420.
- Walter A. Elwell. Evangelical Dictionary of Theology, pg 3.
- James B. Hurley. Man and Woman in Biblical Perspective, pg. 164.
- Gilbert Bilezikian. Beyond Sex Roles, pg. 149.
- James B. Hurley. Man and Woman in Biblical Perspective, pg. 73.
- It should be noted that the “child bearing” phrase is dealt with by scholars in many ways. Another view is that the childbearing that brings salvation refers specifically to Eve, who, through childbirth brought the human race into existence and subsequently, of course, Jesus Christ, the author of Salvation. So, the flow of the verse may make the conditions of salvation different for Eve than for the Ephesian women. For instance, “woman, (singular in the Greek) will be saved through childbirth (a reference to Eve whose “seed” Christ, crushes Satan) just as they (plural in the Greek) continue in faith, love, holiness with propriety (a reference to Ephesian women)”. In any case, the hope of redemption for Eve is obvious and alludes to the hope of rehabilitation for the women in Ephesus who had grasped after power and taught inappropriately.