Verses like 1 Timothy 2:12 and 1 Corinthians 14:34 seem to state the opposite. Many skeptics love to point out these passages to justify their notion that the Apostle Paul--one of Christianity's greatest early leaders--was sexist and that the Bible demeans women. But is any of that actually true? Does the Bible actually demean women or is there some misunderstanding? Was Paul actually sexist or is there a logical explanation for what he wrote in those verses? Can women preach and have authority in church? And if they can't, what does that mean about God and the Bible?
Let's go to 1 Corinthians 14:34 first.
And the prophets’ spirits are under the control of the prophets, since God is not a God of disorder but of peace. As in all the churches of the saints, the women should be silent in the churches, for they are not permitted to speak, but should be submissive, as the law also says. And if they want to learn something, they should ask their own husbands at home, for it is disgraceful for a woman to speak in the church meeting. -1 Corinthians 14:32-35, HCSB (emphasis mine).This verse is pretty straight forward in its meaning. Taken out of it's context, this verse could be easily used to say women shouldn't speak in church or that the Bible is against women. But in 1 Corinthians 14:3, Paul stated,
The person who prophesies speaks to people for edification, encouragement, and consolation. -1 Corinthians 14:3, HCSBSo what? The person who prophesies teaches, uplifts and supports people. What does that have to do with women speaking in church? Well, this makes more sense when we realize that Paul allowed women to prophesy in 1 Corinthians 11:5. In 1 Corinthians 11, Paul wrote about wearing head coverings when one was prophesying. This was a cultural custom in the early years of the Church, back when it was still heavily influenced by Judaism. He wrote that men should pray and prophesy with their heads uncovered (1 Cor 11:4) and that women should pray and prophesy with their heads covered (1 Cor 11:5). So if Paul allowed women to prophesy in 1 Corinthians 11:5--to speak to the church for "edification, encouragement, and consolation,"--how could he turn around a few chapters later and say women could never ever speak in church, as some people interpret it? In dealing with a difficult passage or verse like this, one must investigate the context it was written in. In 1 Corinthians 14:26-40, Paul's main idea is maintaining order during church. The church services at Corinthian churches were apparently very noisy and chaotic; the women were calling out questions during the service while their husbands were all speaking in tongues or prophesying. Being Gentiles from mostly pagan backgrounds, the women at Corinth probably had new questions every five seconds about this new faith with only one God (no religion mixing, popular at that time), modest living, morals and theology that actually applied to daily life. Now, if you’re at church and have a question, do you interrupt the pastor while he’s talking and shout out “MR. PASTOR, I HAVE A QUESTION!!!”? Or do you wait until after the service and ask your question then? Most of you (hopefully) would choose the latter. If you did the former repeatedly, you’d probably be asked to leave the service. Similarly, Paul wanted order at the Corinthian church, because (1) God is a God of order (1 Cor 14:32), and (2) no one would be able to learn or worship with all the commotion going on. Paul wasn't exercising gender bias or being unfair; he was simply addressing a specific problem that a reasonable solution: limit the number of people to able to speak in tongues/prophesy at once, and silence the people talking too much and adding to the disorder. So he commanded only three people at most speak in tongues or prophesy (1 Cor 14:27, 29), and that the Corinthian women be quiet at church, and wait until afterwards to ask their husbands any questions they had (1 Cor 14:35). This makes sense to Paul’s “as in the churches of the saints” claim; he was saying that in all Christian churches, the women (and men as well) should remain silent while whoever speaking is speaking, and give them their full attention.
While the idea that the husband is the head of the wife may still come off as "offensive" to people today, know that subordination doesn't mean oppression. Jesus, after all, called the Father greater than Him (John 10:29), yet is in perfect harmony and equality with the Father (John 10:30) and is the exact image and representation of Him (Col 1:15). Similarly, my parents are the head of and have authority over me, but they don't treat me like dirt or as if I'm inferior to them. Therefore, saying the husband is the head of the wife (Eph 5:23) isn't saying that women are inferior to men; it's saying that God has given men the responsibility of watching over their wives and families and the authority to do so. The President isn't any better than me just because he has authority. In the same way, men and women are still equal to each other, but in the family setting, the husband is head of the household.
Also, Paul's main objective when writing the passage was keeping order in Corinthian churches and nurturing them in spiritual growth. Pleasing people was not on his agenda (Gal 1:10). As we will see below, Paul wasn't discriminatory towards women or “sexist.” However, he wasn't afraid to issue commands against them to stop a church from becoming unproductive, ungodly or even caving in on itself, as we’ll see below too.
The next passage I'd like to discuss is 1 Timothy 2:11-15, specifically verse 12.
A woman should learn in silence with full submission. I do not allow a woman to teach or to have authority over a man; instead, she is to be silent. For Adam was created first, then Eve. And Adam was not deceived, but the woman was deceived and transgressed. But she will be saved through childbearing, if she continues in faith, love, and holiness, with good judgment. -1 Timothy 2:11-15, HCSB (emphasis mine)Unlike 1 Cor 14:34, this passage lacks the immediate context from verses around it that would normally help clarify its meaning. Because of this, there are two general views of interpreting what Paul wrote here.
First is the complementarian, or traditional view. It basically states:
- 1 Timothy 2:11-15 is to be taken literally, as a universal command. It applies just as much today as it did right after Paul wrote it. Women should learn in "quietness,"--not literal silence but in quiet receptivity--submission to authority and peacefulness. They shouldn't teach in an authoritative manner or exercise authority over men in the church setting. This would include speaking from the pulpit or just teaching in general.
- Prophecy has less authority than teaching, which Paul allows women to do in 1 Corinthians 11:5.
- By using Scripture to support his statement(verses 14 and 15), Paul's restriction on women from teaching and having authority over men in church is universal and applies to all churches and in all stable church circumstances.
- Varying views on verses 13-15 (Adam created first, Eve deceived, women saved through childbearing . . .)
The second is the egalitarian view. Generally, it states:
- 1 Timothy 2:12 was addressing a specific issue or situation at the Ephesus church.
- Prophecy carries just as much if not more authority than teaching does. Paul allowed women to prophesy in 1 Corinthians 11:5, so his ban on women from teaching at the church of Ephesus must have been exclusive to them.
- Paul used Scripture to support cultural issues (such as head coverings/uncoverings in 1 Cor. 11) that existed in Paul's time and don't apply today.
- Paul wrote 1 Timothy as a letter to Timothy, giving him instruction and guidance on how to pastor at the Ephesus church. (Paul had sent him to pastor there.) This would mean that much of the letter addressed current situations at that specific church and were not meant to be universal commands.
Those are the two major views on 1 Timothy 2:11-15. Complementarians state that the passage is literal and applies for all time; egalitarians say that the verse was for a local reason at the Ephesus church. So which is it? If we find a reason that this command was a local issue, then that would open the door for Paul's command not being permanent. However, if we can't find a specific reason for Paul to have restricted women from teaching at the Ephesus church, then we'd be left to assume that his restriction on women from teaching is universal.
That reason might lie in 2 Timothy 3:6-7. In this chapter of Paul's second letter to Timothy, Paul's pointing out difficult times ahead in the last days. He lists people being lovers of themselves, lovers of money, arrogant, boastful, blasphemers, etc. And he writes . . .
For among them are those who worm their way into households and capture idle women burdened down with sins, led along by a variety of passions, always learning and never able to come to a knowledge of the truth. -2 Timothy 3:6-7, HCSBIn the verses above, Paul described false teachers that were targeting women stumped in spiritual growth. Seeing how Paul wrote this letter to Timothy (who, to my knowledge, still pastored at Ephesus), and he identified the false teachers as "those"--implying Timothy may have been familiar with them--it's very possible that these false teachers may have already been wrecking havoc at Ephesus--including when Paul wrote 1 Timothy, a few years before.
This makes even more sense when taking into account that many women at the Ephesus church may have been spreading the teaching around themselves. In 1 Timothy 5--the same letter in which Paul restricts women from teaching--Paul speaks on how to support widows within the church. In verses 9 and 10, Paul gives the requirements for a widow to be placed on the official support list. In verses 11-13, he tells why not to put young widows on the official support list.
But refuse to enroll younger widows, for when they are drawn away from Christ by desire, they want to marry and will therefore receive condemnation because they have renounced their original pledge. At the same time, they also learn to be idle, going from house to house; they are not only idle, but are also gossips and busybodies, saying things they shouldn’t say. -1 Timothy 5: 11-13, HCSB (emphasis mine)If false teachers at Ephesus were targeting women, it seems by these verses their jobs were pretty easy. All it would take were one or two gossiping women to be infected with the teaching. They would then tell other gossiping women the teaching and it would spread quickly throughout the church. This would set the stage for why Paul would deny the Ephesus women the right to teach. Paul would have been trying to combat the false teachings, not help spread them. Since the false teachers preyed on women, and many of the women were proving themselves untrustworthy, Paul instituted a male leadership led by Timothy: someone he trusted. Paul didn't restrict women from being leaders at Ephesus because he was sexist; I believe he did so to stamp out the heretical teachings within the church. This would also give a more accurate explanation of 1 Timothy 2: 13-15, where Paul could have been refuting specific false teachings--Eve was made first, Adam was deceived, women shouldn't have children and they didn't have to live morally--rather than trying to give an argument for why women shouldn't teach. This creates a more logical explanation and makes Paul's logic easier to follow. (How does Adam deliberately sinning and women bearing children equal women not teaching in church?)
This goes hand-in-hand with my second argument. Regarding women, Paul usually wrote the same thing in his letters: women submit to your husbands and husbands love your wives as yourselves (Eph 5:22-33, Col 3:18-19) Such is the case in Ephesians and Colossians. If Paul wrote something unique concerning women in one of his letters (like in 1 Corinthians 14:34 and 1 Timothy 2:11-12) it makes sense to assume that it probably only applied to that specific church--especially if he allowed women to prophesy in one church (which does carry authority when from God, just see the Old Testament), but completely restricted them from all teaching or having authority in another. You can't have two universal laws that contradict.
Another point to consider is that the Bible allows women to have civil authority over men. Deborah was a prophetess and Judge: a spiritual and military leader of Israel during the time of the Judges (Judges 4:4). Esther, as queen of Persia, was used by God to save the entire Jewish population in exile and keep the Messianic birth-line going. God worked through and used both of these women and their positions in civil authority to accomplish His plans, so why would He have women restricted positions in spiritual authority? Deborah was a military and spiritual leader. The Bible also names many other female prophets (Ex. 15:20, Neh. 6:14, Lk. 2:36, 2 Ch. 34:22) and Paul himself recounts many women that were helpful to him in his ministry, including Junia (Rom. 16:7) Prisca, (Rom. 16:3) Euodia and Syntyche (Phil. 4:2-3), and Phoebe (Rom.16:1-2). In Romans 16:1-2, Paul actually gave Phoebe the title diakonos: meaning a servant who administrates, such as a deacon. Paul also used diakonos to refer to himself regarding his own ministry, and addressed Timothy, a deacon, with the same title as well. So if Paul had no problem addressing Phoebe as a deacon, why would Paul then turn around and restrict all women from teaching and having authority in church, forever? When we take this all into account, on what grounds could we say that Paul was universally banning all women from teaching in 1 Timothy 2:11-15? It doesn't make any real logical sense. Paul was a Spirit-filled leader of the early Church. Even if something happened to cause him to have issues with women in church leadership, I believe we can be confident that he would have taken it up with God first, instead of abusing his authority to keep all women from teaching based on a personal bias. Especially with that bias contradicting Paul's character and what he stood for.
It's also notable to add that many of the women at Ephesus came from a pagan background. Ephesus was the home to the Temple of Artemis: a pagan goddess. It was one of the Seven Wonders of the Ancient World and brought in huge business for Ephesus; people from all over Turkey (where modern-day Ephesus is), the Roman Empire, and throughout the known world came to worship at the massive temple. She was a virginal fertility goddess (weird, yes) and many new female Ephesian Christians may have been bringing in practices, teachings and mindsets from their worship of Artemis into the Ephesus church, trying to blend them with Christianity. Because of this, it's also possible many of the women were spiritually immature there, which would give Paul reason to be wary of them since they would be more easily deceived to false teaching. Alongside this, Paul may have been slow to put a woman he didn't know in authority over a man--especially in a church where the women were apparently causing a lot issues--either due to Eve being deceived and sinning first, or seeing a majority of women in these churches didn't have the necessary characteristics to be church leaders.
In summary, I have a hard time believing 1 Timothy 2:12 or 1 Corinthians 14:34 were written as universal laws. No, Paul wasn't a social radical whose goal in life was to overturn every social injustice or inequality that plagued Roman society. But his focus was on advancing the Gospel, a message that would demolish social rules and boundaries and unite its believers in one faith. And while many misinterpret his words as "sexist" or "against women", Paul was a trailblazer in the Christian faith and the equality of all believers, especially for women. With a religious background where women were spiritually inferior to men, Paul openly traveled with, spoke with, accepted help from, thanked dearly, depended on, worked closely with and had close friendships with many women whose actions would be fundamental and helping build the early Church. And in a world of rigid classes, economic slavery, inferiority of women and cultural boundaries, Paul wrote:
There is no Jew or Greek, slave or free, male or female; for you are all one in Christ Jesus. -Galatians 3:28, HCSBPaul was no sexist; he wouldn't institute gender-based rules without solid, unbiased reasons. The man was a pioneer in Christianity and women in ministry. You can hold on to a false opinion against Paul if you want to, but any ignorance you may have is now without excuse.
But what does this mean for us, the modern-day Christians? Should every church have a female pastor? Should we start training more women as ministers and giving them high positions in leadership to rid of "the old order"? Should we literally pull women out of churches (or, rather, deeper into churches) to be leaders in ministry?
My answer is "no" to all of those. My point in this post is not that every church should have a women leader or that women should take over ministry. My point is that a person should not be judged by their gender any more than they should their appearance, race, or background when speaking what they describe as God's word. That person should be judged by what's coming out of their mouth and whether it matches up with the Bible or not, not by their appearance or gender. I don't believe God would judge someone on a factor in which they had no control, keeping them from teaching His word to everyone. I just don't see that in His character, in who He is. God is fair! Read Psalm 75:2 and Psalm 119:75 if you want biblical proof. In Psalm 99:4, David wrote:
The mighty King loves justice. You have established fairness; You have administered justice and righteousness in Jacob. (Psalm 99:4 HCSB, emphasis mine)God is the creator of fairness. How would He, then, through the Apostle Paul, institute a law that commands that women cannot teach men, simply because they are women? It doesn't seem right to me. In my opinion, it's like a throwback to the Law of Moses, which we are no longer under. I don't see my God enforcing a rule like that.
When choosing church leaders, I don't think our focus should be on that person's gender. Of course, their gender automatically makes an impression, but the deciding force should be in what they are teaching, not in who is teaching it. If that person--man or woman--is teaching something other than the true Gospel of Jesus Christ, then they need to be shut down, regardless. That is not acceptable in God's house. Paul said in Galatians 1:9:
As we have already said, so now I say again: If anybody is preaching to you a gospel other than what you accepted, let them be under God’s curse! (Galatians 1:9 NIV)That doesn't give us a free card to rudeness; we should still be as respectful as possible (1Pt 3:14, Mt 5:44). But false teaching is a very big issue, which is both outlined here and in Titus 1:9. And like I just said, I believe our ministers should be judged, not by gender, but by what they're speaking--and by whom they're speaking it. There are Spirit-filled women out there just as there are Spirit-filled men. Acts 2:16-18 says:
On the contrary, this is what was spoken through the prophet Joel: And it will be in the last days, says God, that I will pour out My Spirit on all humanity; then your sons and your daughters will prophesy, your young men will see visions, and your old men will dream dreams. I will even pour out My Spirit on My male and female slaves in those days, and they will prophesy. (Acts 2:16-18 HCSB)Sons and daughters, male and female servants. The Holy Spirit isn't exclusive to one or the other. I believe that's what we need to be judging our spiritual leaders by: not on gender, or race or appearance, but by whether or not they are led by the Spirit, and if it is God's will that they should have that position.
Whatever view you hold of these passages, I hope you can at least take what I've written into consideration. I understand this may be a lot to grasp at once, and it isn't exactly an easy topic, but it is something I believe needs to be said and discussed in the Christian community. Proverbs 4:7 says though it cost all you have, get understanding, and this is an area where I think much of our understanding needs to be increased.
Also, be respectful of people who hold views different from yours. Just because someone holds a complementarian view doesn't mean they're sexist; just because someone holds an egalitarian view doesn't make them a radical. Many people hold the views they have because they earnestly believe that's what God's word says and are trying to apply it. Despite whether you agree with someone or not, you still discuss and make your statements out of love. Jesus commands this in John 13:34-35, and I hope I have shown this in my post.
I pray and hope that God ministered to you through what I've written here. Feel free to leave any disagreements, questions, or whatever you have to say in the comments below.
Have a great day and God bless!
Sources1. Questions About 1 Timothy 2:11-15, Joseph Tkach, Grace Communion International - http://www.gci.org/church/ministry/women10
2. Paul the Apostle and Women, Wikipedia - http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Paul_the_Apostle_and_women
3. Ancient Ephesus and The New Testament, Rev. Dr. Mark D. Roberts - http://www.patheos.com/blogs/markdroberts/series/ancient-ephesus-and-the-new-testament/
Also, for some great further reading:
- "Women in the Early Church" at The Christian History Institute
- "The Neglected History of Women in the Early Church" at The Christian History Institute
- "The Role of Women in the Church" and "The Role of Women in the Church [Part] 2" at Truth or Tradition