Let me first begin by clarifying the reason for which I am posting on this issue. One) Its not because I am looking to engage in a theological debate on the issue. In fact, though I have had thoughts on this issue for the past 7-8 years of my Christian walk I have not sought to refute any of the teachings I had heard on the topic since committing my life to the service of Christ and building his kingdom. I present these views as humbly as possible. I am not angry over this debate. I recognize good people, family, and friends who hold to an other view.
That said, it is not my desire to simply present the opposing view but to better understand each side and give those seeking to come to the truth on these matters an advantage in doing so. In other words, Im not just presenting a more superior rhetoric.
I do not as well hinge my evidence on personal experience which I recognize is or can be subject-able to those who have not had my experience.
Final I undertake this as an aid to my younger brother Timothy and his wife Christy. I am hoping it helps them to continue to grow closer to God together and remain unified to their ‘small body/church’ and together become men and women of Godly influence for this generation.
I will use a range of scripture. I will seek to drag each passage used through its original cultural and historical context. Also we will observe a few of the words a little closer to better dissect their meaning for us today. As I have already made conclusions of my own on the issue I am not making it up as I go rather I will be explaining how I got to such conclusions. I hope that they are fair to all who engage in this study with me.
To begin with there are two main passages I will be using. Both by Apostle Paul. His first letter to Corinth, and his first letter to Timothy. Some extra biblical context will no doubt be gathered from Acts and Romans.
- 1 Corinthians 14:33-35 As in all the churches of the saints, women should be silent in the churches. For they are not permitted to speak, but should be subordinate, as the law also says. If there is anything they desire to know, let them ask their husbands at home. For it is shameful for a woman to speak in church.
- 1 Timothy 2:12-14 I permit no woman to teach or to have authority over a man; she is to keep silent. For Adam was formed first, then Eve; and Adam was not deceived, but the woman was deceived and became a transgressor.
The first inclination that I have been aware of since a young age was to read the bible, accept what it says literally, and apply it to your life. As a student of the bible I have sought to understand scripture ‘literally’, however, in its original context. This is more difficult, it takes more time and research. Which means this should take up no small number of words. Bear with me.
I think number one it is so important to understand the culture of 1 Century Roman/Greek world and even a bit of the Jewish culture regarding the role of women in general, and the value given to women. A third cultural layer to add in that influences Paul’s inspired words to the church is to consider the influence on the Greek world from Oriental Faiths. So Jewish, Greek & Roman, and Eastern thinking influences the literal understanding of Paul’s letters.
- Jewish Rabbinical ‘Philosophers’ are known to have valued women about as much as they did slaves, and Gentiles. This in my opinion came from misinterpretation of the OT scriptures and a result of human pride.
- Oriental Faiths often deified the women as a goddess, often a goddess granting secret knowledge, higher spirituality, and favor through sexual practices with priests or devotees. Some of the oriental faiths brought new philosophies concerning even the OT creation story, that women was greater then man because she was the one whom knowledge was revealed to in the Garden. She then went and shared it with the man and he too became enlightened.
- Greek and Roman times highly overvalued the male role in society even to the point that the image of sexuality was the male image rather then the female as it seems to be in our own day. It was legal for a male Roman citizen to commit infanticide with any new child for having defects or especially for being a girl. Like with many things Paul addresses as cultural problems that influence the church he does not suggest a 180 degree turn; unless on issues of sexual immorality and direct sin, Paul has another approach. Paul is worried that chaos in the church; “women all asking questions because of their ignorance would disrupt the service.” (I say ignorance because it was just that, women were not educated both in Greek culture and Jewish culture.) Women in Greek culture were were viewed as far inferior to men, according Aristotle and women was an incomplete man and was to be treated as such. On par with their views and treatment of slaves. Women and slaves were as they were because of inferior nature. Ok, so all of that to bring us to the first century church. Wild enough women were driven to the church because in Christian sub-culture they enjoyed a much higher status. This is a historical fact. Probably due to the placement of women in key roles in the early church as seen in Romans. (Romans 16:7 Junia=Apostle) (Romans 16:1 Phoebe = Deacon) Another interesting example is from Acts 18:24-26 the couple Priscilla and Aquila took aside Apollos to better explaining things concerning Jesus to him.
However, my main point is more of a historical one. That sheds needed light on the passages we are all eager to take as literal. That main point being that the greater culture of Greek/Romans, Jewish and the perversions of the Oriental Faiths leave women clinging for dear life to any such sub-culture as the early church was. This is no doubt a major reason so many women joined the Christian Churches. So looking at Paul’s scenario he is addressing has a different feel. Its helpful to notice what he is encouraging, beyond that he may be saying that women are to submit to the man.
- First, Paul is likely addressing the chaos in the church created by a higher ratio of unlearned women experiencing greater levels of freedom then could possibly have been enjoyed at all in their greater cultures. Paul then is not discouraging what women may add to a service. For instance in 1 Corinthians 11:5 Paul mentions women who prophesy in church. It is a practice already encouraged for anyone who has come into the family of God where there is no more walls of separation, no more Jews/Gentile, Male/Female, slave/free…
- Second, Paul is encouraging the men to see to the education of their wives at home. So that services are not disrupted by the many questions these women would have, now that they are experiencing the freedom to be in the same place as their husbands while in public and to be engaging together with a community of men, women, and children. This as Paul says would be shameful if services were nothing but women asking questions. The issue at hand is the lack of understanding women had in the early church and their need to be taught at home so the experience of a worship service would be a blessing for all in attendance.
Lastly I want to address Paul’s use of the creation story. In the passage quoted from Timothy as well as a more extensive reference from Paul’s letter to Corinth concerning ‘head coverings’ in 1 Corinthians 11:2-16. First I will answer what is meant by Paul in calling man “The Head” of the women and that meanings direct connection to Gods given order from creation.
- First, “Head” can be translated in two ways; Origin & Authority. Man is either the origin of women or the authority of the women. Personally I see that both of these are valid ways of understanding the word “Head” however, both of these need to be grasped to appreciate the roles of both men and women in their relationship to each other. If Origin is the correct understanding then we aught not get up in arms about the whole issue because Paul is not calling man the authority over the women. Rather he is explaining the origin, and even the order of creation. Remember Paul is already addressing the issue of dis-order in the church concerning the freedom and status of women. So in the beginning God made Adam, a man and gave him dominion over all of creation, this was not a license from God to abuse all things under him. No, as Adam was without sin in that moment it was God entrusting him with a great responsibility to care for those things which by nature were less superior to himself being made in the very image of God. But then God saw that Adam/Man was not complete. Therefore unlike Aristotle is was not women who is incomplete it is man who is incomplete without the women. Together they make life. A new kind of ‘man’ is created from the original man. Adam does not have the same kind of superiority to Eve as he does to the rest of creation. But his job is still the same, because he was created first he must care for all of creation. Eve would become his partner in this work. After the fall of man Adam would maintain his superiority as being in Gods image but he and the women had fallen. Both were perfect before and both were now corrupted by their rebellion to God. Mans role remains, as Paul describes, he came first, he cares for the women.
- This is what leads me to the possibility of the word “Head” meaning ‘Authority’. If that is so then what does authority mean. Well just like in the order of creation mankind was given a dominant role. This word like authority is corrupted by sinful men abusing that power that comes with the title. Authority as in this same passage is related to being like Christ to the church. The answer then is love, care, commitment, compassion, understanding, patience, trustworthy. When man functions as Christ does for his bride she can rightly humble herself to the guidance/leadership/authority of the man. This of course if hard for non-Christians to try, and it is hard for those Christians who have a hard time walking out a Christlike marriage.
All that to say, I am still working out a conservative christian position that the man aught to lead in a marriage, to have authority. But to outright quench the work of the spirit in women for the glory of the kingdom of God is not right. Its not biblical. Think of two of the earliest and most successful missionaries. The Samaritan women at the well, and Marry Magdalene. The Samaritan brings the good news of the messiah to her entire town who believes. Marry brings the good news of Christ’s resurrection to the unbelieving disciples.
Finally considering the big picture of Paul’s work in writing to Corinth he is advocating for a better way in working through the tough issues of the time. What is the most loving way? I am saddened by two things the suppression of the role of women in the kingdom of God and the Godless approach of over emphasizing feminist agendas in our culture. Again, I’m not so much angry or bent out of shape as I am sad to see that these two extremes are unloving in their approaches to creating better communities. If however, your understanding of the leadership/authority of the man in Christian communities is important then the Love of Christ must be ever stronger in those communities and the practice of men loving their wives as Christ loves the church must always be stressed. Not the other way around, stressing women’s submission over mans love, care, commitment, compassion, understanding, patience, and trustworthiness.
The wrong approach would be to either despise the feminist movement and embrace the error of Christian groups downplaying the role of women in community.
To despise the Christian communities way of suppressing women and join arms with the feminist movements who have plenty of their own issues.
Rather we should seek a literal understanding of the text in its original context. I hope this helps just a little. Much more could be done to get into the context or expound on verses.
– Jesse Evans