This post could go in a variety of different directions, however, what I want to focus on is the value that God places on women, both to humanity in general and to the family of God. It is very easy to presume a patriarchal bent towards the world that God has created and to carry that presumption forward into the church. After all, how often do we see the men in a society or a family seemingly having the sovereign authority to dictate how things are to be run, especially for how women are to live. (Nearly all, if not all, Ancient Near East societies were patriarchal by nature, however, do we see this in the Hebrew society because this is how God desires it? Perhaps some aspects, yes, but at the same time, we often see God working within a society to produce the most equitable scenarios. While He doesn’t alter the culture’s views at large, He does construct laws that would tell the Hebrews how to engage in such a society in the most righteous manner possible – slavery is an example of this.) We often use our modern societal constructs to be the lenses by which we read scripture as well, which is likewise problematic. What we deem as appropriate dress or behavior for the sexes may not match what we find in the societies of the scriptures’ record. I say all of this to say that we should approach this subject (as indeed with any subject) by simply taking a bird’s eye observation of the culture and see how God is working in the culture rather than parachuting down and purposefully implanting one’s self into their culture, but giving it a modern wash so it makes sense “for me, today.” This post is also not going to deny the role of men nor women (even though I would argue the scriptures present a holistic view of these roles, not the modern stereotypical presentation they are usually given), but at the same time, this post isn’t necessarily intended to explore all of the nuances of men and women and their roles in God-honoring society.
In Genesis 2, we find that when God created humanity, (a’dam, in Hebrew), he recognized that humanity wasn’t complete and whole and would need the addition of something to make humanity alive. Just as God breathed into a’dam the breath of life and a’dam became a living soul, personally, so too would humanity need something to make it alive. The union of man and woman is described as a “one flesh” union in the Bible because it portrays the wholeness that is achieved by their coming together. Adam, personally, wasn’t a whole being until God breathed into him the breath of life. Likewise, Adam, as the prototype of humanity, wasn’t whole until God brought life to him. When God takes of Adam’s side and makes women, Adam gives her the name of Eve because she is to be the mother of all LIVING. A woman is not a mother by default but is so because she has brought LIFE into the world. In other words, humanity was made whole when it was in union with life. This is very important to recognize. I certainly would access that Adam and Eve were real people, however, we shouldn’t just read through the introductory chapters of Genesis as old hat information. We should really stop and consider what is going on here. Humanity, as God had intended it, was not a humanity that was in union with death, but life. God did not bring an agent of death from Adam’s side to join unto him, but an agent of life. A God-honoring humanity would not view women as second-class or an object – a God-honoring humanity would be that which sees a woman and recognizes it is staring into the face of life. After all, it was a woman, Mary, who brought forth He which is the Life of men, Jesus Christ. In Genesis 2:23, Adam declared of her that she was bone of his bones and flesh of his flesh. Adam didn’t view life herself as a distinct object, but the very fabric of his skin and the structure of his body – his flesh and bones. This is what the writer of Genesis wants us to see here. It isn’t so much about simply recounting history, but is to again, have us stop and consider what all God is doing and how that would and should impact our understanding of Him and us.
In this, a woman was given the responsibility of being the help-meet for Adam. (Genesis 2:18) This often gets viewed as if the woman was simply to be standing by Adam’s side, being the quiet and meek counterpart while Adam handles all of the business. At other times, this gets viewed in such a way that transforms the wife into the personal servant of the husband. This is unfortunate. The Hebrew word behind help-meet doesn’t carry this idea, but comes from a word that describes protector and succourer. If your help is described as protection, that is not a passive standing in the shadows of the husband. This is active. In our society, even in the church, we have often told and taught women that their place is the “meek and quiet vessel”. We have effectively taught our help-meets, our protectors, to stand down from their role. Then, husbands fall; marriages fail; rinse and repeat for the next generation. The word succour means to come to the aid of someone in a time of hardship or distress. Once again, rescuing is the man’s job and the woman shouldn’t worry this. In fact, we’ve gone so far as to suggest that if a man needs rescuing from his wife, then he isn’t much of a man. How pathetic! Where do we get this stuff? This is not the intention of woman’s creation – her purpose isn’t to exist to be a guy’s arm candy. There is real value that has been placed upon the importance of women that men have largely forfeited enjoying because of a woefully misguided understanding of masculinity and the role of women – especially and sadly perhaps more largely seen in the church. The book of Proverbs records that a husband’s reputation is known because of the virtuous woman he’s married to. It also records that the heart of the husband does safely TRUST in her. And, we aren’t teaching this to our girls. Many Christian girls are being taught to be sweet and quiet and keepers of their home, etc. – and while there is certainly nothing wrong with those qualities or aspirations, what we can’t ignore is the important role they have – the vital role they have – as protectors of their future husbands. Does this mean a woman is insanely jealous of her marriage? YES! Does this mean a woman keeps her man locked up in a cage? No, not at all. There are extremes and as with any extreme, we have to be mindful that we aren’t taking things outside of their boundaries. An army isn’t always fighting, but it is prepared when the time calls for it. God gifted man with woman – we should honor their purpose.
Some might argue – but doesn’t Paul tell the Corinthians that the head of every woman is the man? Isn’t Paul showing his chauvinistic tendencies? This comes from 1Corinthians 11 and what Paul is doing is describing the natural order of leadership and provision. The leader and provider of every man is Christ and just as the husband is to love his wife as Christ loved the church, so too is the husband head of the wife. This isn’t a statement of control, but of obligation. The husband provides for the well-being of his wife as Christ provides for the well-being of believers in their salvation. The woman responds by yielding to his provision but also by fiercely protecting what she has.
What about in the church then? My intention here isn’t to be controversial for the sake of controversy or to stir the proverbial pot. However, we must stop creating biblical teachings based on stringing verses together and then wrapping them in our modern cultural baggage in order to understand them. Therefore, in an attempt to be as biblically honest as possible (which includes cultural awareness of the day and time the scriptures were written), I want to explore some things and hopefully at least get us thinking a bit more on this subject. For the ankle-biters in the audience, already yipping and nipping about this, we’ll get to 1Timothy 2 and 3 and 1Corinthian 14 soon enough. But, for now, let’s make some observations about how women have been used by God throughout the scriptures.
- Deborah was a Judge in Israel and even commanded battle. (Judges 4 & 5)
- Miriam, Moses’ sister is called a prophetess in Exodus 15:20
- Huldah, the wife of Shallum, was a prophetess in 2Kings 22 with no mention whatsoever about there being an issue with female prophets
- The wife of Isaiah is called a prophetess in Isaiah 8:3
- In Nehemiah 6 and in Revelation 2, we find the names Noadiah and Jezebel who are called false prophetesses, and the reason they are false is not because they are women, but is because of their message and motivations
- Anna, the prophetess of Luke 2, who served God in the temple day and night with fasting and prayers
- Mary, the sister of Martha, is found sitting at Jesus’ feet in Luke 10, which is the place a disciple would sit
- Mary Magdalene, Joanna, Mary the mother of James and other women that were with them were the FIRST to be commissioned to tell of the resurrected Christ. The men – the disciples – learned it, or heard the gospel preached to them by women (Luke 24)
- The letter to the Romans is given into the hands of Phebe to communicate to the saints there. Phebe in Romans 16:1 is called a servant, which is from the Greek word for deacon. Paul tells the Romans to receive her as they would receive any saint and whatever SHE HAS NEED OF, they are to see to it. Why? Because Paul says that (in the context of the gospel ministery), Phebe has been a succourer of Paul – now where have we seen this idea of a succourer before?
- In chapter 16 of Romans, we find a series of salutations from Paul and in verse 3, we find a greeting for Priscilla and Aquilla and the WIFE of this team is mentioned FIRST.
- In Romans 16, there are 29 people listed in the first 16 verses and 1/3 of them are women who have helped Paul in the gospel or have lead something in the ministry – Paul nowhere tells them to stop or scolds them for not knowing their place
Does this mean a woman had the right to do whatever a man could do? No – women couldn’t be priests, for example. Is this because they weren’t able to? No, but because of that responsibility was conferred upon the men of the tribe of Levi by God. Note that – it wasn’t even just a “man’s thing” to be a priest in Israel. If you were a man of a different tribe, you couldn’t be a priest. The reasons run deeper than biology. However, what this does demonstrate is that the often strict swim lanes we create for men and women in the church can’t be squared with these examples given above. Does this mean women can be deacons? Well, we already read from Romans 16:1 where Paul calls Phebe a deacon, so the answer to me would be, “yes, they can.” But, what about 1Timothy 3?! Don’t worry, we’ll get there shortly. Does this mean woman can be pastors and teachers? Again, what about 1Timothy 3?! Hopefully as you read this you’re not getting hot under the collar. That isn’t how we should be positioned as believers. We should face the Bible openly and allow it to rake us over the coals if necessary. If there is heat, it shouldn’t be because of mental and emotional friction caused by one’s beliefs being challenged, but because of the refining fire the scriptures put us through. I say all of this to say that we can’t traipse into passages like 1Timothy 3 and 1Corinthians 14 with blinders on to the 11 things I listed above. I’m going to leave the Corinthians passage for another time, but suffice it to say, Paul is not making blanket statements about women being silent in churches and if they want to learn something, they can wait until they get home and ask their husbands. Go read chapter 14 in light of the whole letter (which is Paul’s admonishment for factious behavior), then read chapter 14 slowly and summarize your observations. You’ll see that Paul is not saying what many use 1Corinthians 14 for.
Regarding the Timothy passages, I’ll post these below for reference.
1Timothy 2:9 In like manner also, that women adorn themselves in modest apparel, with shamefacedness and sobriety; not with broided hair, or gold, or pearls, or costly array; 2:10 But (which becometh women professing godliness) with good works. 2:11 Let the woman learn in silence with all subjection. 2:12 But I suffer not a woman to teach, nor to usurp authority over the man, but to be in silence. 2:13 For Adam was first formed, then Eve. 2:14 And Adam was not deceived, but the woman being deceived was in the transgression. 2:15 Notwithstanding she shall be saved in childbearing, if they continue in faith and charity and holiness with sobriety.
1Timoth 3:1 This is a true saying, If a man desire the office of a bishop, he desireth a good work. 3:2 A bishop then must be blameless, the husband of one wife, vigilant, sober, of good behaviour, given to hospitality, apt to teach; 3:3 Not given to wine, no striker, not greedy of filthy lucre; but patient, not a brawler, not covetous; 3:4 One that ruleth well his own house, having his children in subjection with all gravity; 3:5 (For if a man know not how to rule his own house, how shall he take care of the church of God?) 3:6 Not a novice, lest being lifted up with pride he fall into the condemnation of the devil. 3:7 Moreover he must have a good report of them which are without; lest he fall into reproach and the snare of the devil. 3:8 Likewise must the deacons be grave, not doubletongued, not given to much wine, not greedy of filthy lucre; 3:9 Holding the mystery of the faith in a pure conscience. 3:10 And let these also first be proved; then let them use the office of a deacon, being found blameless. 3:11 Even so must their wives be grave, not slanderers, sober, faithful in all things. 3:12 Let the deacons be the husbands of one wife, ruling their children and their own houses well. 3:13 For they that have used the office of a deacon well purchase to themselves a good degree, and great boldness in the faith which is in Christ Jesus.
These passages often get used to define a woman’s place in the church structure, as it relates to their teaching (as in 1Timothy 2) and their ability to be a pastor or a deacon (1Timothy 3). It is presented as Paul writing a ‘pastoral’ letter to Timothy to teach Timothy the proper structures for church officiating. While I wouldn’t generally disagree that Paul is teaching Timothy something about so-called, “church structure”, what might be a bit of a rush is to conclude that Paul is making universal claims. We have a tendency, being 2,000+ years removed from the New Testament times, to simply inject ourselves into everything as being written directly “to us”. In so doing, we turn the New Testament into universal applications rather than observing and celebrating their immediate application with the respect to the audience it was actually written to (the letter of Revelation being a prime example of this). That being said, let’s understand that this letter was written to Timothy, ~2,000 years ago. Timothy was in Ephesus. What do we know about Ephesus? Well, in Acts 19, we see that Paul was literally turning the city upside down by preaching Christ. It was causing riots in the city because the preaching of Christ was impacting some local economies. How so? Remember that in Ephesus was the epicenter of the cult of Diana (Artemis). This was a FEMALE cult that worshiped this goddess, who was the goddess of wild animals and hunting. Within this cult, females would hold positions of priestess and prophetess. They would be obligated to teach and perform rituals. They would hold the seat of authority over the men in this cult. Those in Ephesus that were making temple shrines/idols of Diana were losing money because people were turning to Christ that a riot breaks out (Acts 19:21-41). This is the cultural influence in Ephesus. So, is Paul writing to Timothy to simply reverse it because men are better? No, not at all. It would seem that Paul is doing nothing more than demonstrating how the burdens that these women would have carried in their former cult are not the same in the family of God. Instead of dressing up in the cultic garb and parading yourself for Diana, Paul says the let the woman adorn themselves in modest apparel – not the costly and flashy things of this world, but with the good works that profess godliness. In other words, in their former associations, they dressed to demonstrate their allegiance. Paul says to let their good works of godliness be their apparel. A cult or temple priestess would have been known by her attire – how much more, Paul says, would a woman be known as a woman of God because she would choose to adorn herself with the works of godliness! Likewise, the woman isn’t obligated to carry on with the teaching duties, but is FREE TO LEARN without the teaching burden. We shouldn’t skip by verse 11 too quickly – Paul is absolutely for women learning. He doesn’t promote a male intellect while the women remain ignorant. Don’t miss this! He also doesn’t condone a woman usurping authority over the man. The Greek word behind the usurpation of authority deals with forceful or violent dominance – even killing. It is one who takes control or authority to make and carry out these weighty type decisions. Remember that Diana was the goddess of wild animals and hunting. Paul is encouraging these women to forsake the animal instincts that their former cult would have encouraged and promoted. He draws on Adam and Eve where Eve was deceived by none other than the influence of an animal (the Serpent) and the animal encouraging Eve to act upon her own animalistic, self interests.
I’m simply suggesting that if the culture of the day means anything to us as a 2,000+ year later observer, then I think we have to allow for the possibility that this is what Paul is drawing on here. I could be wrong, however, what I’m certain of is that in light of the 11 things listed above about women in the Bible, I believe we have to slow down and try to consider things holistically rather than simply quoting 1Timothy 2 and calling it a day. Same with 1Timothy 3. The very fact that Paul uses the word, deacon, to describe Phebe in Romans 16 demonstrates that Paul is not opposed to women serving (which is what deacon means – a servant, an errand runner). Therefore, if the cultish history is the backdrop for Paul’s words to Timothy, then perhaps chapter 3 isn’t a universal rule, but a practical admonition for Timothy IN EPHESUS, knowing that the women there were coming out of a cult where they were the leaders. (And, I would argue the same for the Corinthians passage). Can women be a shepherd, which is the role of a pastor? In Christ, we have ALL been made priests, where in the Levitical order, women were not priests. A priests helps minister the things of God – they help navigate atonement – they help with matters of the law…and, now in Christ, women are priests along with the men. Women can minister the things of God? Women can help navigate atonement (preach the gospel)? Women can teach of the law? Certainly seems to be the case.
I wonder if we have done harm to the church by instilling a structure that wasn’t to be instilled universally? Could it be that there are specific things in Paul’s letter to Timothy that address the Ephesian believers that we should be careful not to extract universally for today? I certainly see this as possible. Could it also be that while there are specific things listed that have universal principles at play for us today? Yes, I definitely see that. Allowing godliness to shine through God-honoring good works is something anyone can adorn in their lives through faith, for example.
In the end, are we giving women the honor that God has given them? Are we recognizing them, as wives, the way God has designed them for us to be? Are we recognizing women, as fellow believers, with the gifts and abilities God has given them – and do we encourage them, just as Paul did of Phebe and Priscilla? There just seems to be more going on here than we normally consider. Perhaps as Yoda would say, Much to learn we still have.