Throughout history women have seen their rights and opinions circumscribed, their leadership opportunities limited, and their God-given talents succumbed to the laws of man. Many interpret the Apostle Paul’s writings, as a Biblical declaration that women are inferior and that an example of her proper place be one that is of silence and submission. However, there are also many interpretations of his writings that have proven to be mis-interpreted. The Bible not only endorses women, but also makes it clear that women have an equal place in the Christian church.
In more recent history a prime example of the power of female leadership that has greatly affected women’s rights today is Frances E. Willard. A staunch supporter of female education, temperance reform, and women’s suffrage, Willard became leader of the world’s largest female organization. She advocated female preachers and called for a movement of female theologians. She shared her view on the importance of the interpretation of scripture, stating, “We need the stereoscopic view of truth in general, which can only be had when woman’s eye and man’s together shall discern the perspectives of the Bible’s full-orbed revelation.” Historian Edward Blum, in his article, “Paul has been forgotten: Women, Gender, and Revivalism during the Gilded Age”, clarifies Willard’s belief, stating, “She contended that most pastors used ‘literal’ interpretations to subjugate women in the same way that antebellum ministers had used them to defend slavery” (259). The parallel between slavery and the restrictions on women clearly brings to light the simplicity of a major misinterpretation. In the Christian church today, you will find few people, if any, who will say the Bible supports slavery. Willard intelligently drew more parallels when addressing religious leaders’ comments about proper prayer meeting behavior, stating, “She did not think prayers should be offered or testimony spoken merely with the bass or tenor, when God had made for purposes of harmony two other qualities of voice” (Blum 263). Her clever wit continued to gain more and more women supporters, and even began to peel the “scales” out of men’s eyes as well. Even though her ultimate goal of equality was not fulfilled, future generations would continue to reap the benefit of seeds she had sown. Blum states that President Jimmy Carter, “In a letter sent to 75",000 Southern Baptists nationwide, criticized their ‘rigid doctrines’ of ‘literal’ biblical interpretations, and advocated ‘the equality of women",’ and severed his ties with the denomination” (269). Without Willard’s key leadership role, it is likely the rights and roles of women in today’s society would be different, and even more likely that the same could be said of the church, all due to biblical misinterpretations of man.
Despite the so-called universal subjugation of women relative to men, the Bible praises many women who broke the mold and were recognized for their faith in their own right. In the Old Testament, Deborah became a judge and the first female ruler in Israel’s history. Sarah is mentioned more than 30 times in the book of Genesis. One of the most significant factors reflecting the importance of women biblically is the lineage of Christ. Five women are placed in the detailed lineage of Jesus, which is noteworthy considering it was completely against Jewish custom to include women in such an important status. The five women are Tamar (Genesis 38:6- 30), Rahab (Joshua 2:1-24), Ruth (Ruth 1:1; 4:22), Bathsheba (2 Samuel 11:1-27) and Mary (Matthew 1:30-36). In Judges 4:21, Jael, a Jewish maiden, drove a tent spike through Sisera’s head, seeming to use this strike as a mighty blow for women’s liberation. Even more ironic to a culture so heavily weighted on the side of men is that two books of the Bible not only praise the exploits of women, but carry their names as well: Ruth and Esther. A key detail to review in God’s favor of women is the fact he brought his son into the world through a woman, without the participation of any man whatsoever. Women were among Jesus’ closest friends and followers; often times, he and the disciples relied on them for support. Women were the last at the cross when Jesus was crucified, and the first to the tomb. It was to these same women that the first command of the great commission was given in Matthew 28:5-7, “Go quickly and tell His disciples that He has risen from the dead...” Three of the four gospels specifically mention that Jesus appeared to the women first; this cannot be a coincidence. This is plain evidence that the historic practice of relegating women to a subservient role and denying them the opportunity to preach is nowhere met with support in any of the life or teaching of Jesus. Even if another biblical author should proclaim something different, the life, examples, and teachings of Christ should trump any and all opposition.
The main idea of a universal prohibition of women’s leadership comes from 1 Timothy 2: 11-14, which says, “A woman should learn in quietness and full submission. I do not permit a woman to teach or to assume authority over a man; she must be quiet. For Adam was formed first, then Eve. And Adam was not the one deceived; it was the woman who deceived and became a sinner.” Trying to understand Paul’s teachings is an intense but important challenge that affects how Christians live their lives. When reading these verses, one must take into account the original context and situation behind the text as well as the original interpretation of the words. This verse is from Paul’s letter to Timothy. Timothy is currently the bishop of the church at Ephesus. The original religion in Ephesus was of the god Dina, which included many deranged worship ideologies and methods such as intercourse representing direct communion with the god. In a society where men dominated women, and where teachers whose beliefs ran rampant as opposed to the Christian faith, it can easily be understood why Paul would address Timothy with this warning. Further reading even reveals a companion of Paul’s, Priscilla, who partnered with her husband and Timothy to take on a crucial role of leadership in the church at Ephesus. Furthermore, the original word used to represent the verb of authority, in the original Greek, is authentein. Renowned theologian John Jefferson Davis explains in his article, “First Timothy 2:12, the Ordination of Women, and Paul’s Use of Creation Narratives”: “...authentein, often had negative overtones such as ‘domineer’ or even ‘murder’; and only later during the patristic period did the meaning ‘to exercise authority’ come to predominate” (Davis 5). We can interpret, since the earlier meaning more closely corresponds to the time period of the writing of 1 and 2 Timothy, that the best translation for authentein would be “to domineer.” If Paul’s forbidding women to teach or have authority is universal, then his comment “she must be silent” found in the same verse must also be universal. The same argument could be made concerning the braided hair, gold, pearls, and expensive clothes mentioned in earlier verses. Davis argues further, stating, “Paul had at his disposal a number of words that could have served this same sense, notably proistemi. This word, occurring eight times in the New Testament and used six times by Paul in reference to church leaders, can connote the ‘normal’ and ‘expected’ type of leadership that should be exhibited by those selected to lead” (5). The fact that Paul would choose such an unusual and rare word is no coincidence. “Circumstances, as indicated by clear references in the Pastoral Epistles themselves, involve women who are being deceived by false teachers and, as such, are not suitable for the exercise of teaching or ruling authority in Ephesus” (Davis, 5). As the original Greek text and cultural views of that time suggest, Paul is clearly addressing the church in Ephesus, not setting a universal truth for us all to follow.
Another argument made against the ordination of women also comes from the above verse of Timothy, as well as 2 Corinthians 11:3-4, in which Paul refers to the Genesis account of creation. Whether one believes in Adam and Eve as actual historic people or as archetypal characters, the order of creation is not what Paul is using to prohibit women, but just an example to refer to the misleading occurring. “In Paul’s writing to the church in Rome, Adam, not Eve, is singled out as the representative figure who brought guilt and death upon the entire human race ‘Romans 5:12-21’ ” (Davis, 6). It’s evident that Paul sees a parallel between the deception of Eve in Genesis 3 and the deception of the women in Ephesus. Regarding the other verse of opposing equality, 2 Corinthians 11:3-4 says",
“But I am afraid that just as Eve was deceived by the serpent’s cunning, your minds may somehow be led astray from your sincere and pure devotion to Christ. For if someone comes to you and preaches a Jesus other than the Jesus we preached, or if you receive a different spirit from the Spirit you received, or a different gospel from the one you accepted, you put up with it easily enough.”
It’s clear that in both accounts Paul is warning leaders and people to be wary of false prophets. Dr. C.S. Cowles in his article, “In Praise of Women Preachers”, states, “It is often overlooked, however, in fact that women were praying and prophesying in the Corinthian Church” (7). This fact alone should be evidence to suggest that women are not prohibited from leadership. In many other places Paul speaks of Adam and Eve when the application is culture-specific and not a universal truth or example to follow. Cowles even brings light to a greater perspective with verse 11, which says, “However, in the Lord, neither is woman independent of man, nor is man independent of woman. For as the woman originates from the man, so also the man has his birth through the woman; and all things originate from God.” The whole idea of the “order of
creation” or belief that since man was made first, he is made superior to the woman, is defeated by this simple act of God. In Wm. O. Walker, Jr.’s article, “1 Corinthians 11:2-16 and Paul’s Views regarding Women”, the professor at Trinity University and author of over 30 articles examining the New Testament states his view on the Corinthians verses, saying, “I propose, in the first place, that the entire passage, is an interpolation” (97). An interpolation is an idea that has been introduced by someone else. In Corinthians Chapters 8-11, the main topics are connected with eating and drinking, then out of nowhere the subject of the roles of women and men and their relationships with one another and the church is introduced, completely interrupting the flow of the discussion. Then the passage proceeds to a discussion on eating and drinking. “There is simply nothing else like this passage, in tone or in vocabulary or in content, anywhere in the undoubtedly authentic writings, but it shows many similarities to the pseudo- Pauline writings” (Walker, 108). This means that the passage is commonly misinterpreted and cannot be used to prove Paul’s attitude toward women’s proper role, but rather is relative to a specific issue of the time.
Paul’s view of equality can be best summed up with his writing in Galatians 3:28. “There is neither Jew nor Greek, there is neither slave nor free man, there is neither male nor female, for you are all one in Christ Jesus.” This is one of the most powerful, yet plainly laid out verses, showing Paul’s view of equality for women. But there are many other occurrences of Paul’s endorsing or praising women, such as in Romans where Sarah is uplifted in importance, or later when dealing with the complex issue of God’s election of his people in chapter 9. Another remarkable aspect of Paul’s writing is his commending letter to a woman named Phoebe. “Phoebe whom he addresses as ‘our sister’...a servant of the church which is at Cenchrea (16:1- 2)” (Cowles, 5). The word for servant is diakonos, which appears in both masculine and feminine
forms in the New Testament. “...Its form in the Greek is masculine even as it is whenever Paul speaks of himself as a diakonos, servant, of Christ. Diakonos was the accepted title indicating pastoral leadership in the Church” (Cowles, 5). This is pure evidence of Paul’s endorsement of a woman as a respected minister of the word. The word choice Paul uses shows no distinctions between Timothy and Phoebe based on gender. In this same passage of Romans, Paul stresses the importance not only of Priscilla, but also of Mary, “who worked hard for you” (16:7). “The phrase, ‘worked hard for you",’ in its original Greek can also be rendered ‘worked hard among you or over you’ ” (Cowles, 6). This is yet another example of a woman exercising oversight of some important ministry in the church at a crucial time. Lastly, Paul’s views on verse 3, “But I want you to understand that Christ is the head of every man, and the man is the head of a woman, and God is the head of Christ”, seems to establish some hierarchy relations, but taken to the original Greek, can mean something completely different from what we perceive it to mean. The original Greek word, kepholay, or headship, is expressed differently in a Christian context. “In a parallel passage in Ephesians 5:23, Paul says ‘For the husband is the head of the wife, as Christ also is the head of the church.’ Precisely, how does Christ exercise his headship over the Church? Paul’s answer is, ‘Christ loved the church and gave himself up for her’ (5:25)” (Cowles, 6). This standard for relating to one another “in Christ” is not that of a king lording it over his subjects but that of a servant with a wash basin in hand. “Not subordination but of mutual submission” (Cowles, 6). This is also compared to the Trinity or Godhead, in which one aspect or part is not held over the other two, but rather together they function as a whole. According to Paul, the same can be said of a man and woman, mutually submissive to each other under the church, and ultimately Christ’s kingdom, which through multiple scriptures is said to be equal.
The ordination of women is Biblically justified, endorsed, and seemingly encouraged. The acceptance of their equality is inevitable, and is a crucial component to the gospel that must be interpreted correctly. There has been much improvement in women’s rights in today’s society, but the fight is not yet over. Reverend Joseph Cook, in his letter to Frances Willard, said it best: “Hand in hand, man and woman...left an earthly Paradise Lost;/Hand in hand, they are likely to enter...an earthly Paradise regained.”
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Blumm, Edward. "Paul Has Been Forgotten: Women, Gender, and Revivalism during the Gilded Age." JSTOR. Society for Historians of the Gilded Age and Progressive Era, July 2004. Web. 06 Nov. 2012.
Chaves, Mark. "The Symbolic Significance of Women's Ordination." The University of Chicago Press, Jan. 1997. Web. 06 Nov. 2012.
Cotter, Wendy. "Women's Authority Roles in Paul's Churches: Countercultural or Conventional?" JSTOR. Brill, Oct. 1994. Web. 06 Nov. 2012.
Cowles, C. S. A Woman's Place?: Leadership in the Church. Kansas City, MO: Beacon Hill of Kansas City, 1993. Print.
Cunningham, Loren, and David J. Hamilton. Why Not Women?: Afresh Look at Scripture on Women in Missions, Ministry, and Leadership. Seattle, WA: YWAM Pub., 2000. Print.
Davis, John J. "First Timothy 2:12, The Ordination of Women, and Paul's Use of Creation Narratives." EBSCO. Priscilla Papers, 2009. Web. 6 Nov. 2012.
Ferguson, Charles W. Methodists and the Making of America: Organizing to Beat the Devil. Austin, TX: Eakin, 1983. Print.
Walker, Wm. O., Jr. "1 Corinthians 11:2-16 and Paul's Views regarding Women." JSTOR. The Society of Biblical Literature, Mar. 1975. Web. 06 Nov. 2012.
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Comment: JSTOR is not a source. Cite the publication.
West Sound Academy 12/7/12 8:35 PM
Comment: Indent all lines after the first one.