First, let me start with acknowledging that the bible has the power to transform our lives, but certain interpretations of it can cause great harm to many different individuals, maybe even you. This might be why you or someone else approach the bible with caution. Maybe you don’t try to dive any deeper because you know that certain things in it hurt you in ways that you know God wouldn’t want to hurt you. You might be the person that goes to church every week but doesn’t look any further into the bible because you don’t want to believe the things that some people say the bible says. Or, you might be the person who has tried to read the bible several times but becomes easily discouraged by the things it says at face value. You might even be the person who has never read the bible because of the hurt that it has brought to you or the people around you. This blog post is for you.
Some of the texts that I am going to focus on here are the texts that are used to silence women and keep them out of leadership roles both in the church and at home. Some examples of these include…
Wives, submit to your husbands as to the Lord, because the husband is the head of the wife as Christ is the head of the church. Now as the church submits to Christ, so also wives are to submit to their husbands in everything – Ephesians 5:22-24
A woman is to learn quietly with full submission. I do not allow a woman to teach or to have authority over a man; instead, she is to remain quiet. For Adam was formed first, then Eve. And Adam was not deceived, but the woman was deceived and transgressed. But she will be saved through childbearing, if they continue in faith, love, and holiness with good sense. – 1 Timothy: 11-15
As in all the churches of the saints, the women should be silent in churches, for they are not permitted to speak, but are to submit themselves, as the law also says. If they want to learn something, let them ask their own husbands at home, since it is disgraceful for a woman to speak in the church. 1 Corinthians 14: 34-35
Just typing those out made me bubble with frustration inside.
Now, let me begin with saying that I am not a theologian and that I did not come up with this content on my own. It was the doing of Rev. Matt Fulmer, one of the lead posters at my home church, The Gathering in St. Louis. And here is the content that he shared with me and I am going to share with you…
There are 2 types of churches when it comes to worldly views. The first is known as egalitarianism. Egalitarianism says that while there are differences between men and women that we should appreciate, they are still created equal in the eyes of God. This means that women can be called to leadership as well as men. Both can be ordained and can lead in the highest of positions. It also means that both can exercise authority and lead at home and other areas of a person’s life. The second is known as complementarianism. Complementarianism believes that men should lead and women should complement men. They think that men and women are created equal, but do not, cannot, and should not share equal roles in life. The believe men should lead and women should complement them in their roles. Both at home and in church, men should be the leaders.
Why would God limit what God could do through someone simply because of their sex?
We are going to zero in to one of the verses specifically, 1 Corinthians, to take time to truly study and interpret what it is saying instead of taking it at face value, because, after all, we know that the Bible doesn’t usually say things very straightforward unless you’re talking about the 10 commandments. See the verse from above.
We must read the Bible in certain ways. God gives us 5 tools to interpret what God is trying to get across:
- The context of the passage (i.e. what comes before and after the verse you are using)
- Historical and social context (i.e. the time period)
- Cross references with other parts of the bible
- Literary intent (i.e. who it was written TO)
- Yes, common sense!
Using these 5 tools will help keep you from proof texting in order to get your point across. (Proof texting = picking out verses and not diving deeper into the story, because there is ALWAYS more to the story!)
This comes from a letter that Paul wrote to the Corinthians. These people lived in the city of Corinth. Corinth, at the time, could be considered similar to the original Las Vegas…basically Sin City. It was disorganized, chaotic, and filled with scandalous sexual practices. To illustrate for you just how chaotic this place was, Paul even had to explain to people in this letter that they should not get drunk during the Lord’s Supper. He had a lot of simple things he needed to get across just to get some sort of order in the mess that was Corinth. His desperation for order is where we see the original verse that I shared in 1 Corinthians.
Young women at the time were exercising their newfound boldness and confidence, and would ask many questions during the middle of the sermon. They’d just raise up their hands and ask for more clarification. After all, they’re actually being taught now! They are curious, they want to know more.
Paul wants to add order so that the upheaval of chaos doesn’t disband the entire church in Corinth, a place that is desiring to know more about God. Paul is basically saying something like: hey, there is a group of women interrupting and we cant have that in the middle of the sermon so maybe they should just ask for clarification when they get home instead of during the message.
So, the question is… is this indictment over ALL women, or just this instance?
Take the same book, 1 Corinthians, just a few chapters earlier. 1 Cor 5:11 assumes that women along with men will be praying and prophesizing. It does NOT say that only women with be praying with other women or women praying only at home.
Another example of women in the Bible would be Phoebe. She delivers the book of romans and teaches on it. Yes, the WOMAN teaches! She even is called a deacon, which is the same level as Paul.
Or, take Junia and Priscilla, who are both called an apostle. In fact, medieval scholars got ahold of “Junia” (female) and changed it to “Junias” (male) because they were uncomfortable that it was a woman who was doing such great things. An earlier transcript was found that proved Junias to be Junia, a woman.
The reality of Jesus’ Kingdom is that there is no longer slave nor free, male or female, etc. We have FREEDOM in Christ. You hear that at so many churches, but how many truly act on it?
In fact, Paul was going against the status quo or the standard of the time in many ways…
In the first century, men could abuse their wives because women were seen as property. Love and care were not things of that time between a husband and a wife. Paul goes against the status quo and elevated women’s status in the kingdom by continuing to say that husbands and wives should love and care for each other. He also elevated women by showing how they were valued and important in the church.
Still, Paul was a guy living in a highly patriarchal society and, yes, he did believe that men should rule over their wives in the home. The important part to note is that he knew there was another kingdom that was in tension with the Roman kingdom. On one hand, he is truing to push against that power structure but he also doesn’t want to cause major upheaval. Still, he tells us that women should and have led in the church.
Enough about Paul though, what about Jesus?
Jesus also approached women contrary to the norm at the time. For example, he, a Jewish Rabi, would never have talked to or touched women, yet he did such things with a samaritan woman who then went to teach her town about Him. And who was the first person to meet Jesus after is resurrection? Mary Magdalene. And who told the people of the town the good news and the DUDES didn’t believe her? Mary Magdalene. Jesus even allowed women to kiss and anoint his feet! (which was a pretty huge deal at the time… even though it sounds gross and very unsanitary now)
Jesus helped and encouraged women to lead in the church. Jesus elevated the role of women and went against the social norm. Leave it to Jesus to pick up the minority and show people whats up.
Given the context, Jesus and Paul were both on the cutting edfe of women rights. If we want to follow their example, it NEEDS to influence how we treat women in all areas of our lives. If Jesus and Paul pushed against the systems of power and aggression, believing that the Kingdom of God created a new reality then that is what we should be about as well. And not just about Women.
If I’ve taught you anything, just remember that you cannot take anything at face value. There is always more to the story. If you can dive into literary analysis in your english class, why don’t you approach the bible with the same level of seriousness? Do it, I bet you’ll learn a lot.