Frank:. Women in the Church (long)

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Frank:. Women in the Church (long)

Post by admin » Sat Aug 11, 2018 12:47 pm

Women in the Church

Dear Sister,

Thank you for your gracious letter.

You have asked an excellent question. You wanted to know my view on a woman’s role in a house church and how I understand the “limiting passages” that seem to restrict their functioning.

I have been asked this question so many times I have lost count. I trotted around this problem by devoting two paragraphs to it in my book Rethinking the Wineskin. But I have never addressed it in detail.

I am monumentally disinterested in adding more noise to the ill-fated gender brawl that rages in the house church movement. It is for this reason that I have been loathe to write on the subject. Yet I keep meeting women who have been spiritually straightjacketed by what I find to be a wooden interpretation of certain Biblical texts. Their stories have released me to tread on this hazardous minefield. And for their sake, as well as for the sake of all my beloved sisters in Christ, I regret not having done so sooner.

With that said, I am ready to have my ears singed with the hand-wringing, nitpicking, nailbiting, and tooth-gnashing that will be generated by my response.

So let this letter forever settle the whole controversy.

Here, dear Sister, is the answer to your question.

Here is the final word on the subject:

According to Paul, under no condition and under no circumstance may a woman speak in a church meeting. She must never, ever, under any situation, say a word in the church. She must without exception keep absolutely, totally, and completely silent.

Unless . . .

she has her head covered!

Are you clear now?

I trust you are laughing, for I was being facetious. Yet I was also trying to make a point. The fact is that Paul seems to contradict himself on this subject. The so-called “limiting passages” are incredibly difficult to interpret. Given their obscurity, no one can be dogmatic as to what Paul really meant when he penned them. This being so, every interpretation that has been given to these texts has shortcomings. And I will shamelessly admit that this applies to my own.

For the sake of those reading this letter, the “limiting passages” are those texts that seem to put some restriction on a woman’s ministry in the church. Strikingly, there are only two such passages that exist in all the NT. They are:

1 Corinthians 14:34-35:

Let the women keep silent in the churches; for they are not permitted to speak, but let them subject themselves, just as the Law also says. And if they desire to learn anything, let them ask their own husbands at home; for it is improper for a woman to speak in the church (NASB).

1 Timothy 2:11-14

Let a woman learn in silence with full submission. 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 become a transgressor (NRSV).

Before I share my understanding of these two passages, let me explain how I arrived at it.

The Entire Thrust of the New Covenant

Long ago I learned an invaluable lesson: The NT should never be handled as a manual of fragmented doctrines and isolated teachings. The NT is a whole. It is essentially a story. What is written in the letters of Paul and others is part of that story.

The story contains a consistent message. It is the message of the New Covenant. This covenant is not an updating of the Old Covenant. Contrary to common misunderstanding, it does not include a new set of rules to replace the old set of rules.

The Old Covenant contained a set of rules by which men and women were to live. It also drew sharp distinctions between people—granting special privileges to certain ones. Some were worthy to be God’s people (Jews). Others were not (Gentiles). Among those worthy, some were given the honor of being nearest to God (the priests). Others were not (the people). Some were given special ministerial functions (the high priest and priests). Others were given smaller functions (the Levites). Still others were given virtually no function at all (the congregation).

When Jesus Christ entered the scene, things radically changed. Our Lord inaugurated a New Covenant which made the old one obsolete. The New Covenant did away with rules. It did away with earthly distinctions. It abolished special classes of people who possessed special privileges.

Under the New Covenant, the Law of God has been written on the human heart in the Person of the Holy Spirit. The Spirit has come to indwell all who call upon the Savior—including men and women. Including Jew and Gentile. Including slaves and non-slaves.

All earthy distinctions are abolished by the New Covenant. All ministerial classes are wiped out. For to possess the Spirit means to have access to God—no one excluded.

But more, possessing the Spirit means being granted the privilege to minister in God’s house. As Joel prophesied, “I will pour out my Spirit on all flesh . . . and your sons [men] and your daughters [women] shall prophesy . . . and upon the servants [male slaves] and upon the handmaidens [female slaves] in those days will I pour out my Spirit (Joel 2:28-29).

Thus Galatians 3:28 is an unalterable reality of the New Covenant: “There is neither Jew nor Greek, bond nor free, male nor female, for you are all one in Christ Jesus.” This passage summarizes Paul's understanding of the effect of the Gospel on cultural givens like racism, slavery, and gender oppression. This passage is not constricted to “salvation”; it holds social implications for everyone. The New Covenant erases all social and class distinctions. And it has afforded all to receive the Spirit and serve as priests in God’s house. That includes women.

With that said, whatever the “limiting passages” mean, they cannot in any way overturn the New Covenant. Neither can they contradict the entire thrust of the NT. Hence, the idea that women are excluded from speaking in God’s house is a catastrophic breach of the New Covenant. A covenant that has done away with earthy distinctions and treats both men and women as effective co-priests in God’s kingdom.

The Invisible Interpreter

Another lesson I learned in my spiritual journey has to do with the reality of the Holy Spirit. I am a firm believer in the intuitive nature of the Holy Spirit in the life of the believer. I also hold firmly to the organic nature of the Body of Christ (when it is removed from an institutional setting).

The indwelling Spirit gives every believer Divine instincts and impulses that are just as real as our physical senses. Because both are born out of Divine inspiration, the leading of the Spirit will never contradict the Scripture. Nor will the Scripture contradict the instincts of the Spirit.

With that said, on a purely subjective level, all of my spiritual instincts tell me that God wants women to function in the meetings of the church.

I have observed meetings where the women were muzzled. They were prohibited from uttering a word; only the men spoke. As I sat in those gatherings, everything inside me intuitively knew this was amiss. There was something shamefully artificial about it all. Especially when there were women in the same room who were richer in spiritual life than most of the men. But they were vetoed from speaking simply because they were women.

This practice, to my mind, violates an important spiritual principle. Everything in the Lord’s house is governed by “the measure of Christ” (Eph. 4:13). Yet these meetings were governed by external restrictions which produced spiritual limitation. When women who have much to offer in the way of spiritual supply are restricted from speaking in the gathering, the church suffers for it.

I will articulate the clear impressions I had in those meetings as I watched the men ramble on while the sisters passively spectated:

Half the priesthood of God is being smothered and squelched.

The sisters are banned from speaking simply because the brothers have intellectually interpreted the Bible to mean they should.

The brothers and sisters are being loyal to their interpretation of the Bible. But I have to wonder if they are blithely ignoring what their spiritual instincts are telling them about the practical fruit of this interpretation?

This meeting is grossly lacking in spiritual richness. It reminds me of the so-called “real world” in the movie The Matrix—cold, colorless, and tasteless.

Muting the sisters is a good recipe for producing dead meetings.

Again, this is my own analysis. Someone else’s mileage may vary.

When I stepped back from that experience, I had to ask myself a telling question: “What clear message is sent by silencing the sisters in the church meetings? Supposing that God originated this idea, what message is He conveying through such a mandate?” The answer is as arresting as it is alarming. The undeniable message is that men cannot learn anything from women. Nor can they be ministered to spiritually by a woman!

Ponder that for a moment.

If every brother were honest with himself, he would be forced to admit that such a thought is absurd. It is also a poor fit with real life. My own observation is that those who hold to the idea that women must be silent in the church “because the Bible says so” are doing something that is plastic. I mean, what man in his right mind (provided he has a normal IQ!) really believes he cannot learn spiritual things from a woman? Such a belief strains the bounds of credulity until they break!

In my own experience, some of the most wonderful insights shared in church meetings have come from the lips of women. Their contributions have been profoundly rich and meaningful. Therefore, I argue that the practice of silencing them in a meeting is outwardly imposed rather than the natural expression of authentic Body life. So it seems to me.

What Would Happen If . . . ?

Imagine for a moment that the two “limiting texts” did not appear in the NT. What would be the practice of those house churches that do not allow their women to speak in the meetings? What would the women prefer to do?

Such an acute question . . . if it can be answered . . . is profoundly insightful. If the group would allow the sisters to speak in their gatherings, then one must question if the practice of silencing them contradicts the natural life of the Spirit.

To my mind, it does.

Interestingly, some of the men who hold to the “women-must-be-silent” doctrine have admitted to me that they are personally puzzled as to why God asks for such a thing. Some of them have highly lauded the contributions of their wives in spiritual matters . . . only to express confusion as to why they cannot share them in public gatherings.

I applaud these men’s desire to be faithful to their understanding of Scripture. But I challenge the accuracy of that understanding on both spiritual and Biblical grounds. And I would urge them to reexamine their interpretation based on these deeper observations.

(I am keenly aware that there exist men who are chauvinistic, gender-hierarchalist, patriarchical, sexist—pick-your-adjective—legalists who have been oppressing females all their lives. These befuddled souls are eager to latch onto any Bible verse that can be twisted to billy-club women. They are quite clever at masking their own personal biases against women with Scripture verses. And they will accuse anyone who defends women speaking in the church as pursuing a modernist heresy. But I am not appealing to such people in this letter.)

On the flip side, I have been in scores of meetings where the women shared and functioned with the men present. All of the churches I work with do so. The immense spiritual benefit to both the sisters and the brothers during such meetings is undeniable. Further, the spirit of every believer in the room knows it is both proper and necessary for women to function and share Christ. The marks of the Holy Spirit’s presence—“life and peace”—are unquestionably present (Rom. 8:6).

In this connection, in every organic expression of the church that I am aware of, the sisters function in the meetings as do the brothers. (This has been true in my own experience ever since I started meeting in homes in the 1980s.) By my lights, it is only when we get exposed to the “limiting passages” and adopt a certain interpretation of them that things begin to change. They devolve from liberty to suppression. This is never a sign of God’s fingerprints; for “where the Spirit of the Lord is there is liberty” (2 Cor. 3:17).

Now before someone reading this letter clips the previous paragraphs out of context and labels me a “spiritual subjectivist” . . .

And before I am accused of exalting my subjective leadings above the Scriptures (which I predict someone will eventually do) . . .

Let me repeat what I said at the front. The Scripture and the internal witness of the Spirit always go hand in hand. Consequently, if our interpretation of the Bible smacks square in the face of what our inwards are telling us (I am speaking of the human spirit indwelt by God’s Spirit, not the emotions) . . . and if it flat-footedly denies what is practically real in our own lives (that men can learn spiritual things from women), this should force us to seriously reexamine our interpretation of certain Biblical passages.

I said all that to make a simple point: My interpretation of the “limiting passages” perfectly mirrors what my spirit tells me what is right, proper, natural, and spiritually viable in a church meeting. It also maps perfectly to those organic expressions of the church with which I am familiar. Thus on a spiritual, practical, and intellectual plane, I am at peace with it.

I would suggest that anyone who wishes to upgrade their thinking on this subject take all three elements (spiritual, practical, and intellectual) into consideration. Disregarding one of them can easily lead to a skewed perspective.

To put it another way, the culture of first-century styled church life precludes any interpretation of the “limiting passages” that bans women from speaking in public meetings.

To be continued...

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Re: Frank:. Women in the Church (long)

Post by admin » Sat Aug 11, 2018 12:49 pm

Women in the Church part two


What Saith the Big Picture?

Before we approach the “limiting passages,” a rudimentary question must be answered: “What is the overall teaching of the NT on a woman’s role in the church?” . . . “What is the big picture about women and ministry?”

You will find that it is perfectly consistent with the broad principles of the New Covenant.

Here is a chronological survey of women in ministry. Since I do not have a concordance in front of me, I am doing this from less than inspired memory. So it is by no means exhaustive:

? Elizabeth and Mary (not Zechariah and Joseph) are the first to receive the message of Christ’s coming. They are honored and blessed by angels. And they are the first to sing and prophesy about the Christ child.

? The prophetess Anna receives honorable mention as one who spoke of the Messiah to those who waited for Him (Luke 2:36-38).

? During our Lord’s earthly ministry, a group that the Gospel writers call “the women” were just as well known as “the twelve” (Luke 8:1-3; 23:49,55; 24:24). In fact, the twelve male disciples were a rather pitiful bunch when compared alongside of the Lord’s female disciples. It was the women who stayed with the Lord in His last hours. It was the women who watched Him be crucified. It was the women who were the first to meet Him at His resurrection. And it was to the women that He first entrusted the privilege of carrying the news of His resurrection.

? Both the twelve and “the women” were among the 120 who waited for the coming of the Holy Spirit on the day of Pentecost (Acts 1:14). The women, along with the men, spoke in tongues, declaring the “great things of God” (Acts 2:1-11).

? The Holy Spirit has been poured out upon women and men alike . . . the result being that “your daughters shall prophesy” (Acts 2:17-18).

? In Christ, all earthly barriers are destroyed. Galatians 3:28 boldly declares, “There is neither Jew nor Greek, there is neither bond nor free, there is neither male nor female: for ye are all one in Christ Jesus.” Women, therefore, are not second-class citizens in the church of God.

? Priscilla and her husband Aquila taught Apollos the way of the Lord more fully (Acts 18:26). It is noteworthy that four out of the six times that Priscilla and Aquila are mentioned in the NT, Priscilla’s name appears first (Acts 18:18, 26; Rom. 16:3; 2 Tim. 4:19). This is ancient shorthand signifying that Priscilla was more spiritually prominent. Also, the fact that her name appears first when she and her husband instructed Apollos indicates that she led in that exchange (Acts 18:26, NASB & NIV).

? Philip the evangelist had four daughters who were prophetesses (Acts 21:9). This means they prophesied. (Note that first-century prophesy was always done in and among the church. Think about it: If a women is prophesying by God’s Spirit and revealing Jesus Christ, why on earth would a man be barred from hearing it?)

? In 1 Corinthians 11:4-5, Paul states that women may both pray and prophesy when the church comes together (1 Cor. 11:1-34). The context makes clear that Paul is referring to public meetings where both men and women are present.

? When Paul wrote his letter to Rome from Corinth, he honors the following women for their service in the church: Phebe, Priscilla, Mary, Tryphena, Tryphosa, Persis, Julia, and the sister of Nereus (Romans 16). In this chapter, Paul lists about twice as many men as women. But he commends more than twice as many women as men.

? Paul mentions Junia as a fellow-apostle (Rom. 16:7). This is the most natural way to construe the statement “notable among the apostles.” (“Junia” is clearly a feminine name.)

? In Philippians 4:2-3, Paul makes special mention of Euodias and Syntyche who helped him in the work. Significantly, the church in Philippi began with women and met in a woman’s home (Acts 16:13ff). Point: Women were rather prominent in the Philippian church.

? Paul reminds Titus that the older women should be “teachers of good things.” They ought also to teach the younger women (Titus 2:3-5).

? Paul commends Timothy’s mother and grandmother. There is good reason to infer that they taught him the holy Scriptures since he was a child (2 Tim. 1:5 with 3:15).

Clearly, women were active in ministry in the first-century church. Because they were recipients of the Spirit, they were just a part of the believing priesthood as were the men. We find them prophesying publicly. Praying publicly. Teaching publicly. We also find them “contending side by side” with Paul in the work. What is more, Paul calls these women “co-workers,” a term he applies to his male associates!

Some have interpreted the “limiting passages” to mean that women must de facto be excluded from sharing in a meeting when men are present. But this conclusion runs totally against the grain of the broad principles of the NT. For this reason, advocates of the “women-must-not-speak” position are forced into completely non-Scriptural dances distinguishing between “sharing” (when only sisters are present) and “teaching” (when men are present). But this is pure invention. And it is dissonant with Paul’s actual practice.

There is no evidence anywhere that Paul or his entourage ever excluded anyone from ministry on the basis of gender. Paul happily worked alongside of women like Priscilla, Euodias, and Syntyche without a lot of supercilious hokum about Divinely ordained female inferiority. Further, there is no analog for the “women-cannot-speak-with-men-present” idea in any of Paul’s other letters. In short, both Paul’s life and letters are consistent with the revolutionary sentiment that he voiced in Galatians 3:28.

The truth of the matter is that the “limiting passages” are highly obscure. Anyone who asserts that they are clear and direct is living in a fog of presumption and academic naivety. For one, such an assertion reflects a benighted dismissal of texts like Acts 2:17, Galatians 3:28, 1 Corinthians 11:5, and 1 Corinthians 14:26,31.

Pick up any decent commentary. Look up the “limiting passages.” And you will discover the various ways these texts can be interpreted due to the ambiguity of the language. The fact that competent evangelical scholars disagree on the meaning of Paul’s word-uage in these verses attests to their obscurity.

It is my opinion that we should always interpret the obscure by the clear. And never interpret the clear by the obscure. When we interpret the clear and consistent thrust of Scripture in light of one or two obscure passages, we end up rupturing the core message of the Bible. And we are forced to do all sorts of exegetical gymnastics to make the (many) clear passages fit our interpretation of the (few) obscure texts.

Therefore, when an obscure passage seems to be at odds with the clear thrust of Scripture, we must look very carefully at context.


What Kind of “Silence” Is This?

Attention to context . . . historical, social, local, and spiritual . . . is everything when it comes to rightly interpreting a passage of Scripture. So let us look at the local context of the first “limiting passage”:

1 Corinthians 14:29-35.

Let two or three prophets speak, and let the others pass judgment. But if a revelation is made to another who is seated, let the first one keep SILENT. For you can all prophesy one by one, so that all may learn and all may be exhorted; and the spirits of prophets are subject to prophets; for God is not a God of confusion but of peace, as in all the churches. Let the women keep SILENT in the churches; for they are not permitted to speak, but let them subject themselves, just as the Law also says. And if they desire to LEARN anything, let them ask their own husbands at home; for it is improper for a woman to speak in the church (NASB).

There are several things to consider here.

First, Paul has already encouraged the women to pray and prophesy earlier in the letter (1 Cor. 11:5).

Second, Paul encourages the whole church to function in Chapter 14. He writes, “for you can all prophesy one by one” (v. 31) and “when you assemble, every one you has a psalm, has a teaching, has a revelation . . .” (v. 26). (To deny that these exhortations do not include women is ludicrous. It is to suggest that the church does not include women, and the NT is only written to men! For shame.)

Therefore, for Paul to suddenly say that women must never say a word in the church meeting is to completely contradict himself in the space of a few words.

Attention to context, however, resolves the apparent discrepancy.

If we invert 1 Corinthians 14, the following picture emerges: The meetings in Corinth were in utter chaos. Many of the saints were speaking in tongues at the same time, and no one was interpreting what was being spoken. Some were prophesying jointly. And what some of the prophets were saying was in dire need of evaluation. Sadly, few were doing this.

Keep in mind that some in the church were doubting the resurrection (1 Cor. 15). Others were under the impression that visiting prostitutes and committing incest were acceptable. To their minds, since these things were done with the body and not the spirit, they were innocent activities (1 Cor. 5-6).

In the face of this, the women were interrupting those speaking with questions. Their motivation was to learn. But they were adding a further distraction to an already disruptive meeting.

It was common in the ancient world for hearers to interrupt someone who was teaching with questions. But it was considered rude if the questions reflected ignorance of the subject. It must be noted that women in the first century—whether Jew or Gentile—were uneducated. Any exceptions were rare.

Women were essentially trained to be home-keepers. Thus for a woman to query or challenge a man in public was an embarrassing thing in the Greco-Roman world. For when women interrupted the men with questions, the men were being interrogated by their social inferiors. Hence, it was considered shameful.

In 1 Corinthians 14, Paul deals with this entire mess. First, he handles the abuse and misuse of tongues and prescribes guidelines for their proper use (1 Cor. 14:1-28). He then switches to the subject of giving and evaluating prophetic words (1 Cor. 14:29-34).

So beginning with Chapter 14:29, Paul shifts his attention to the prophets and their role in the church. He tells the Corinthians that when the saints prophesy, they should not do so jointly. Instead, they should prophesy two or three at a time. Then they are to pause so the church may “pass judgment” on what has been prophesied.

Passing judgment—discriminating—involved asking the prophets questions. It involved quizzing and probing them so as to learn what it is they meant. And whether or not it was valid. (This was the common way that both Jews and Gentiles learned in the tutorial settings of that era.)

It is within this very context that Paul shifts to the sisters and says that they are not to participate in this kind of quizzing-questioning exchange. That if they do not understand a prophetic word or have a question about what is said, they should ask their husbands at home. Their tutoring is to occur at home, not in the meeting. The meeting is not a question-answer session.

Look at the passage again with this thought in mind:

“And if they desire to LEARN anything, let them ask their own husbands at home; for it is improper for a woman to SPEAK in the church.”

Notice the undeniable connection between “learning” and “speaking.” Thus the only kind of speaking that Paul is restricting in this passage is that of asking questions. Both leading-questions and ignorance-based questions.

Therefore, Paul’s injunction for women to “keep silent” does not possess an absolute sense. It is rather a corrective to a specific problem. The context bears this out. Instead of publicly clamoring for explanations, the women were to learn from their husbands at home. However, when it comes to speaking in the meeting to edify the church, they are free to speak (1 Cor. 11:5; 14:26,31).

In addition, Paul felt that the brothers are to handle the business of questioning prophetic words and teachings. This spares the sisters from having to step into the unseemly role of correcting a man in the meeting. Paul reminds them that even the Law of God relieves women from exercising that sort of authority (v. 34).

Further, Paul lets them know that his instruction is not unique to Corinth. It is the practice of all the churches (v. 34). He then uses irony to chastise them for their proclivity to depart from apostolic tradition and smugly pave their own path in everything (v. 36).

To strengthen the case, the Greek word “silent” in this verse is sigao. It means to hold one’s peace temporarily. The word has the flavor of being quiet so as to listen to what another has to say. Paul uses the same word two other times in Chapter 14.

He first says that the person speaking in tongues should be silent (sigao) if there is no interpreter (v. 28). Does this mean that the one who speaks in tongues is never to speak in the meeting? Certainly not!

Paul uses the same word again when he says that if a person interrupts someone prophesying, the first one speaking should be silent (sigao)—letting the other person interject his word (v. 30). Does this mean that the person prophesying should never speak again in the meeting after he has been interrupted? Certainly not!

In the same way, when a sister has a question during the meeting, she ought to be silent (sigao). That is, she should hold her peace (v. 29-34). Does this mean the sisters are never to speak in the meeting? Certainly not!

Again, the silence spoken of in 1 Corinthians 14 does not indicate that women are never to speak in the meeting. Such an idea merely reflects a culturally biased misreading of Paul. It would also put Paul in stark contradiction with himself (11:5; 14:26,31).

No, the “silence” here has a very restricted meaning. It applies to those times when a sister is confused by something spoken or when she overtly challenges a prophetic word. When this happens, the sisters should hold their peace and give way to the brothers. She should then inquire of her husband at home. For Paul, this will foster both order and peace to a once chaotic and confused meeting in Corinth (v. 33).

While I am no fan of Bible paraphrases, I think Eugene Peterson’s translation reflects the underlying spirit of what Paul had in his heart when he penned 1 Corinthians 14:34-35:

Wives must not disrupt worship, talking when they should be listening, asking questions that could more appropriately be asked of their husbands at home. God’s Book of the law guides our manners and customs here. Wives have no license to use the time of worship for unwarranted speaking (The Message).


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Re: Frank:. Women in the Church (long)

Post by admin » Sat Aug 11, 2018 12:55 pm

Women in the Church part three

What Kind of “Teaching” Is This?

Let us now turn our attention to the other “limiting passage.” Before we look at the text, it must be understood that 1st and 2nd Timothy are unique letters. Paul is writing to an individual that he has known for about 15 years. Such communication—between two closely-tied individuals—is known as “low context.” It simply means that the author can assume an intimate knowledge of the reader’s understanding of any particular statement he makes.

Let me unpack that a bit.

Because Paul had a close relationship with Timothy, he could say things to him that he knew Timothy would understand. His statement had a particular context to it with which Timothy was familiar.

Suppose, for instance, I wrote a letter to one of my co-workers. And in the letter I made a statement about “priority.” Others reading the letter would be lost as to what I was talking about. But my co-worker would be clear because we have had several in-person discussions about it.

In the same way, 1st and 2nd Timothy are very difficult books to interpret because they are literally dripping with “low-context” statements. That is, statements that have a context that only Paul and Timothy were privy to.

Therefore, the best we can do is try to piece together the exact situation that Timothy faced in Ephesus. Linguistic and historical scholars have uncovered several facts that throw light on the passage we are considering. And it meshes well with what we can uncover by inverting the letter.

Putting all the facts together, the following scenario emerges: Paul’s warning to the church in Ephesus was finally coming to pass. Six years earlier he forewarned the Ephesian elders that wolves would penetrate the church and draw disciples after themselves with perverse teachings (Acts 20:28-30).

Well, the wolves had appeared. So Paul exhorts the young Timothy to combat their perverse teachings (1 Tim. 1:3-7; 6:3-5). Since Timothy is well aware of the heresy, Paul does not need to explain it in detail. However, it appears that it was a kind of proto-gnosticism.

Parenthetically, developed Gnosticism was a heresy that appeared in the second century. The Gnostics taught that full salvation comes through special knowledge (gnosis) that only the initiated possess. What Timothy was battling in Ephesus appears to have been an extremely embryonic form of the heresy. (Paul seems to refer to the heresy when he says to Timothy “Turn away from godless chatter and the opposing ideas of what is falsely called gnosis”—1 Tim. 6:20.)

According to the false teaching, both eating meat and engaging in marriage were forbidden (1 Tim. 4:1-3). Myths about the Law were also embraced (1 Tim. 1:4-7). We know from historical records that the Gnostics perverted the creation account. Eve was regarded as both a mediator and redeemer figure (compare with Paul’s statement in 1 Tim. 2:5). She pre-existed Adam. Man came into existence because of woman, and he was given enlightenment through woman. Since Eve was the first to take a bite off of the Tree of Knowledge, she was regarded as the bearer of special spiritual knowledge (gnosis).

It is for this reason that those who accepted this heresy preferred the leadership of women over that of men. The heresy taught that women could still lead people to the illuminating gnosis that was represented by the Tree of Knowledge. It was further believed that redemption completely reversed the effects of the fall so that men were no longer subject to earthly authorities and women were no longer subject to their husbands.

While male teachers were spreading this doctrine (1 Tim. 1:20; 2 Tim. 2:17), it found fertile ground among the women in the church (2 Tim. 3:6-9). Because women were not educated, they were the most susceptible. And their homes provided a network by which the false teaching spread rapidly (1 Tim. 5:13-15; 3:11).

Some of the women who had adopted the heresy began to peddle it in the meetings. They also began to challenge the men as they spoke. In short, the women were trying to take over the church with the false doctrine.

This, I believe, is what provoked Paul to write the following passage:

1 Timothy 2:11-14

Let a woman learn in silence with full submission. 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 become a transgressor (NRSV).

It is striking to discover that there are seven parallel words that appear in both this text and 1 Corinthians 14:34-35. Two of them are: learn and silent. This is of no small significance.

In both passages, the word learn is translated from the same Greek word:

1 Timothy 2:11: “A woman should LEARN (manthano) in silence and full submission (hupotage).”

1 Corinthians 14:35: “And if they desire to LEARN (manthano) anything, let them ask their own husbands at home.”

In the Timothy passage, Paul says that the sisters in Ephesus should learn in silence and full submission. Why? Because they were poorly educated. But more, they had been deceived by a false teaching.

The Greek word for silence in this passage is hesuchia, and it means a temporary quietness, as in yielding the floor to let someone else speak. It also has the flavor of listening with studious attention. It is the same word that is used in Acts 22:2, which says, “When they heard him [Paul] speak to them in Aramaic, they became very quiet (hesuchia).”

In effect, 2 Timothy 2:11 is the same instruction that Paul gave to the sisters in Corinth. Namely, the women ought not to disrupt the meeting with questions and challenges. In the meeting, they should learn in silence.

So the first thing Paul says to Timothy is: Let the sisters stop asking leading-questions to challenge the men. Instead, let them take on humility and learn with studious attention.

Paul then builds on this point and says that the sisters are not to teach the brothers (1 Tim. 2:12). But the original Greek is illuminating. It is in the present active voice. It literally reads:

“I am not now permitting a woman to teach . . .”

Consequently, Paul is not drafting a universal rule for women here. On the contrary, he is dealing with a highly specific situation in Ephesus. He is speaking to the women in Ephesus who are peddling a false doctrine in the church. Thus, for Paul, they have forfeited their right to teach in the meetings.

Here is something else to consider. Timothy had known Paul for around 15 years. Timothy had traveled with the aged apostle on two church planting trips. He had visited all the churches Paul planted. If Paul had universally banned women from teaching and speaking in church meetings, why on earth would he have to explain this to Timothy in his letter? Timothy would have already known this.

Hmmm . . .

But there is more. Paul goes on to say that no woman in the church is to “have authority over a man.” The Greek word translated “have authority” (or “usurp authority” as it stands in the KJV) is authenteo. Throughout the entire NT this word is only used once; it is in this passage. Significantly, Paul did not use the garden-variety word for authority (exousia) that he uses in his other epistles.

Authenteo is an obscure term. The best authorities show that it can either mean “to exercise authority over” or “to seize authority over.” Given the context, the second meaning is to be favored: “to seize authority over.” (If someone wants a footnote, see Louw and Nida’s Greek-English Lexicon of the NT Based on Semantic Domains. They argue it means “to control in a domineering way . . . to dominate men.” Also see BAGD lexicon. Young’s Literal Translation translates this phrase as “nor to rule a husband.” Ben Witherington suggests it means to “rule over,” “master,” or “play the despot” over men.)

After Paul instructs Timothy that the women can no longer teach in the church, he takes dead aim at the content of their heresy:

For Adam was formed first, then Eve; and Adam was not deceived, but the woman was deceived and become a transgressor.

Here Paul makes plain that Eve did not pre-exist Adam. He also states that it was Eve who was blameworthy. It was she who was deceived—just like the women in Ephesus. In all of Paul’s other writings he always hangs the fall around Adam’s neck. But given this particular situation, he sets his sights on Eve. And by doing so, he blows to bits the false teaching that the Ephesian sisters were promoting.

Again, Paul could not have been grounding a universal rule that forbade all women everywhere from teaching in the church meetings. This would contradict his own words. Consider the following:

In 1 Corinthians, Paul states numerous times that women may prophesy in the church (1 Cor. 11:5; 14:26, 31). Prophesy contains instruction, for Paul writes, “for you can all prophesy in turn so that everyone may be instructed (taught) and encouraged” (1 Cor. 14:31).

All the saints, including the sisters, are to teach and admonish one another through psalms, hymns, and spiritual songs (Col. 3:16).

The manifestation of the Holy Spirit, which includes prophesy, words of knowledge and words of wisdom, is given to the whole church for the common good (1 Cor. 12:1-12). And these gifts are to function in the church meetings (1 Cor. 14). Experience shows us that God bestows all spiritual gifts with undistinguishing regard on men and women alike. There is no such thing as a gender-specific spiritual gift!

The writer of Hebrews tells the whole church, including the sisters, that given their relative spiritual age, they all should be teachers (Heb. 5:14).

The Hebrew writer also encourages the whole assembly, brothers and sisters, to exhort one another when the church gathers (Heb. 10:24-25).

So 1 Timothy 2:12 should not be taken as a blanket statement that women may never minister in the church when men are present. To believe this would contradict the NT. Sisters would then have to cease from prophesying, exhorting, testifying, and operating in spiritual gifts—all of which Paul enjoins.

(In this connection, the Body of Christ—a functioning community, not a denomination—produces “teachers,” “exhorters,” “prophets/prophetesses,” etc. And only the local Body can discern who has these gifts and who does not. So let the church decide who has the gift of teaching and who is faking it!)

Again, the overall context of 1 Timothy indicates that a false teaching was afoot and the sisters in Ephesus were pushing it.

Once more, I think Eugene Peterson rightly captures the flavor of Paul’s message in this passage. He also throws wonderful light on verse 15—which is one of the most perplexing verses in the entire NT:

I don’t welcome women to take over and tell the men what to do. They should study to be quiet and obedient along with everyone else. Adam was made first, then Eve; woman was deceived first—our pioneer in sin!—with Adam right on her heels. On the other hand, her childbearing brought about salvation, reversing Eve. But this salvation only comes to those who continue in faith, love, holiness, gathering it all into maturity. You can depend on this (The Message).

Thus the real issue in both 1 Corinthians 14 and 1 Timothy 2 is the abuse of a God-given privilege. In both Corinth and Ephesus, Paul urges the sisters to give way to the brothers in the area of learning. Why? Because they were interrupting the meetings due to their lack of spiritual maturity and education. In Ephesus, they were out-and-out seizing authority over the men with a false doctrine.

But the genius of Paul’s instruction is that the women can learn. They should be tutored by their husbands at home so as to eventually be put on an equal social footing with the men. In this regard, Paul was a progressive thinker and a champion of a woman’s honor in his day. A day where the notion of male superiority was well-entrenched.

Paul’s arguments, therefore, have nothing to do with ministry. They rather have to do with order in the meetings. He is arguing for proper order where there exists disorderliness.



In summary, Paul of Tarsus was called by God to liberate men and women from the bondage of the Law. Ironically, he is treated by some as a new law-giver! The scribes of our Lord’s day applied the Old Testament without any regard to local context. Tragically, scribalism is still with us today. Modern scribes turn isolated NT verses into oppressive laws without any regard to local and temporary conditions. Paul’s message is one that promotes radical freedom rather than suppression. And that freedom liberally extends to women. Therefore, if our interpretation of Paul contradicts his message of freedom, then we are connecting the dots wrong.

The Bottom Line

So where does this leave us? Well, I cannot speak for anyone else, but it leaves me here: The “zipper-position” which takes away a women’s right to speak in the church meeting represents a very brittle approach to the NT. It is an unwarranted assumption that is based on a common but obvious culturally generated misinterpretation of Paul's usage.

The truth is that the sisters are no less vital a part of the church than are the brothers. Men are in dire need of women to show them Christ. (Keep in mind that the church—the ekklesia—is a female!) Further, unlike the situation in the first century, women in our time are pretty well educated. They are not our social inferiors.

Therefore, Paul’s injunctions in the “limiting passages” only apply to women who are disrupting the church meetings by uninformed and disruptive questions. They also apply to women who are spreading false doctrines or seizing authority over men.

I will add that it is my opinion that the business of correcting and challenging others in a meeting is best handled by the brothers. The sisters should be unburdened by such unseemly tasks. (Incidentally, there is good Scriptural ground for this idea. We never see women in the first century exercising oversight in the church. Note that oversight and ministry are two very different things. See Rethinking the Wineskin for details.)

Now, consider this weighty text of Scripture:

As it is, there are many parts, but one body. The eye cannot say to the hand, “I don't need you!” And the head cannot say to the feet, “I don't need you!” On the contrary, those parts of the body that seem to be weaker are indispensable, and the parts that we think are less honorable we treat with special honor. And the parts that are unpresentable are treated with special modesty, while our presentable parts need no special treatment. But God has combined the members of the body and has given greater honor to the parts that lacked it, so that there should be no division in the body, but that its parts should have equal concern for each other (1 Cor. 12:20-25).

In the light of this passage, to exclude women from functioning in the church gatherings is to resurrect the clergy system with new garb! The men become the new clergy caste. Only they are worth a hearing. The women become the new laity caste. What they have to say is not as valuable. In fact, it is not valuable enough to be heard. They are closed off from functioning in God’s house.

At bottom, if we only give men the right to speak in the gathering, we have unwittingly reestablished the clergy-laity dichotomy. “One anothering” goes out the window. The old leaven of authoritarianism is dressed in new clothing. And all our rhetoric about restoring the priesthood of all believers devolves into just that . . . rhetoric!

The Lord Jesus Christ is the sole mediator between the human race and God. In mediating us to God, He has established a new priesthood. And that priesthood includes both men and women. 'Twould have been highly convenient for Paul to install some kind of restricted order of priests to water down our high calling as Christ’s kin. The Lord’s followers took that path rather quickly. Yet Paul himself refused to do so.

This is pretty diffuse, but I hope you get my drift: The New Covenant makes us all priests, and Body life (which includes open church meetings) is the obvious practical expression.

To put it in a sentence: Breaching the main thrust of the New Covenant and the entire message of Scripture on the basis of two obscure passages has the tragic side-effect of creating a male clergy caste.

Because the sisters are part of the royal priesthood (to borrow Peter’s phrase), the NT invites them to testify, instruct, exhort, prophesy, sing, and pray in the meetings of the church (1 Cor. 11:5; 14:26; 31; Col. 3:16; Heb. 10:24-25). The sisters are free to open their mouths and feed their fellow brethren with Christ. In so doing, they glorify God and help build the church.

So dear Sister, I implore you: We need your part in the church meetings. We need your unique contribution whenever we gather. We need the texture of your personality as you share Jesus Christ with us. To muzzle you is to mute half the priesthood. It is to cause the whole church to suffer.

The meetings of the church are the natural outflow of the spiritual experience of each of the saints. To deprive you from participating in this outflow is to bottle you up. It is to suppress your spirit. To deny you the right to function is to suggest that you do not hear from God. To silence you in the gathering is contrary to the very fiber of the church.

We need your part in the meetings of the church!

What About Head Covering?

I shall close this letter with another oft-asked question: “What is your position on women’s head covering?”

Early in my spiritual journey, I was introduced to an interpretation of 1 Corinthians 11 which concluded that Paul taught the sisters, now and forevermore, to have their heads covered with a physical covering. And I found it fairly convincing.

As I began to look into the matter further, I was introduced to an interpretation of 1 Corinthians 11 which concluded that Paul was really dealing with a culturally-sensitive issue. But since the cultural factors no longer make the issue relevant, the sisters are not obligated to have their heads covered today. And I found it fairly convincing.

The reality is that 1 Corinthians is drenched in obscurity. Therefore, just as with the “limiting passages,” every interpretation of this passage has its own inherent weaknesses. The truth is I can argue the opposing positions quite convincingly. To my thinking, exegetically speaking they almost stand at a dead-heat. But there is one sentence that clears up the entire matter for me. I shall quote Paul:

“Judge for yourselves: Is it proper for a woman to pray to God with her head uncovered?”

What is my position on head covering? I stand with Paul: Sister, you are free to be covered or uncovered. The decision is yours. And let no man criticize you for it. “Judge for yourself,” and follow your own conscience on the matter.

Since I have been a bit broad-ranging, let me summarize all I have said in four words:


What About Wives Submitting to Their Husbands?

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Re: Frank:. Women in the Church (long)

Post by admin » Sat Aug 11, 2018 12:57 pm

Women in the Church part four

What About Wives Submitting to Their Husbands?

Once this letter is made public, some “which-side-are-you-on” consumers will hopelessly demark me into a warring camp. Unfortunately, hornets cannot be prevented from buzzing. But if the truth be told, I do not fit neatly into any category. I am neither a touchy-feely “Christian-feminist” nor a slashy-burny “patriarchal traditionalist” . . . as will be made clear now.

ALERT: May the extremists on both sides prepare to descend into grunts.

As far as the marital relationship goes, the husband/wife relationship is an earthly picture of the heavenly reality of Christ and His Bride. So I take at face value Paul’s injunction for wives to be subject to their husbands in the fear of Christ (Eph. 5:22: Col. 3:18; see also 1 Pet. 3:1-7). Yet I am quick to add that this passage has been all-too often lifted out of its proper context and misused by controlling husbands who wish to dominate their wives.

Jesus Christ does not dominate nor subjugate His Bride. Male domination of women, therefore, is a symptom of man’s fallen nature (Gen. 3:16). It is not a Divine mandate. Yet submission and subjugation are two very different things.

I refer you to the book The House Church Movement: Which Direction? Chapter 18 contains a good discussion on the “wives-submit-yourselves-to-your-husbands” injunction. And I happily take my stand with it.

But I drone on. Hopefully, somewhere in this lengthy epistle you found an answer to your question. And I trust that other sisters who read it will find within these words liberty and freedom from religious suppression.

Perhaps more rounds are needed, but this all I have time for at the moment. Maybe someday I will try to redress the deficiencies. So please accept it in that vein: It is a stab at something, not a finished product.

Your brother in the costly but glorious quest,


p.s. A note to those who have read this letter over my shoulder. If you happen to be one of those rare breeds who desires scholarly support for my views, I recommend these two books by my friend Ben Witherington: Women in the Earliest Churches and Women in the Ministry of Jesus. I also resonate with F.F. Bruce’s treatment of the subject in A Mind for What Matters. Chapter 17 contains a superb discussion on a woman’s role in the church. To my mind, Bruce and Witherington are two of the greatest NT scholars this century has produced.

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