This week I am posting a chapter on Women in Ministry from my book, Normal Christianity.
- Dr. Jonathan Welton
Many years before the time of King David, Israel was enslaved by the Canaanites. The Israelites had once again walked away from the Lord and as happened so many times during that era they were enslaved again. Deborah the prophetess was the recognized national leader among the Hebrews during that time.
The Lord directed Deborah to bring Israel out of slavery. Deborah prophesied to a man named Barak that He was to gather a volunteer army of ten thousand men to fight for freedom. She also provided his battle strategy and assured him of victory. In that moment, Barak, if he were like most men, might have been pondering what being the hero of the entire nation would be like, but he had a different thought. Barak realized he was being given a tremendous honor by this prophetic word. Although Barak may have been tempted to keep the honor of this victory for himself and the men of the army. He chose instead to honor Deborah in return.
Barak said to her, “If you go with me, I will go; but if you don’t go with me, I won’t go.”
“Very well,” Deborah said. “I will go with you.” “But because of the way you are going about this, the honor will not be yours, for the LORD will hand Sisera [the enemy general] over to a woman...” (Judges 4:8-9).
Barak had no obligation to honor Deborah, he could have kept the honor for himself and his men, but he chose to share the honor with Deborah. By doing so, he passed the honor to all women. Deborah did not keep the honor to herself, she went on to declare that Barak will not get the honor, and neither will she, but rather the honor will go to a no-name woman. By the divine exchange that takes place between Deborah and Barak, we see a divine order of empowerment between the genders.
Presently, the Church is full of wonderful Deborah’s who have been honoring men for many years. It is time for a company of Barak’s to rise up. Humble and confident men who are not willing to keep the honor of leadership to themselves, men who will empower women to step into their call and destiny.
Many have been asking the Lord, “Where are the Deborah’s?” but a better prayer would be, “Lord, raise up men as a Barak company!”
WHERE IT ALL BEGAN
From the very beginning of humanity there has always been a battle for dominance between the sexes. Let us go back and see where it all started.
Now the serpent was more crafty than any of the wild animals the LORD God had made. He said to the woman, “Did God really say, ‘You must not eat from any tree in the garden’?” The woman said to the serpent, “We may eat fruit from the trees in the garden, but God did say, ‘You must not eat fruit from the tree that is in the middle of the garden, and you must not touch it, or you will die.’”
“You will not surely die,” the serpent said to the woman. “For God knows that when you eat of it your eyes will be opened, and you will be like God, knowing good and evil.” When the woman saw that the fruit of the tree was good for food and pleasing to the eye, and also desirable for gaining wisdom, she took some and ate it. She also gave some to her husband, who was with her, and he ate it. Then the eyes of both of them were opened, and they realized they were naked; so they sewed fig leaves together and made coverings for themselves.
Then the man and his wife heard the sound of the LORD God as He was walking in the garden in the cool of the day, and they hid from the LORD God among the trees of the garden. But the LORD God called to the man, “Where are you?” He answered, “I heard You in the garden, and I was afraid because I was naked; so I hid.” And He said, “Who told you that you were naked? Have you eaten from the tree that I commanded you not to eat from?” The man said, “The woman You put here with me—she gave me some fruit from the tree, and I ate it.” Then the LORD God said to the woman, “What is this you have done?” The woman said, “The serpent deceived me, and I ate” (Genesis 3:1-13).
After this, God placed a curse upon the serpent, a curse upon the woman, and a curse upon the ground that Adam would be tending. The curse that was placed upon the woman is the curse that caused the gender war. What was the curse upon the woman?
To the woman He said, “I will greatly increase your pains in childbearing; with pain you will give birth to children. Your desire will be for your husband, and he will rule over you” (Genesis 3:16).
This phrasing works as a statement of action and reaction. Because the woman “desires” her husband, he will “rule over” her. Yet this does not make much sense as a curse. Why should a woman’s desire for her husband cause him to dominate her? Most men would gladly accept their wife’s desires for them, causing them to treat her more gently rather than roughly, as is implied in this verse. How are we to understand this?
The key is in the word “desire,” translated from the Hebrew tesuqah, which occurs only three times in the Old Testament. It is best understood through its usage in Genesis 4:7, which shows another side, that of a desire to overcome or defeat another: “[Sin’s] desire is for you, but you should rule over it.”
Thus, God is saying that a woman’s desire will be to gain the upper hand over her husband, but because she is the weaker vessel, her husband will put her down by force, if need be. The curse is essentially that women will lose the battle of the sexes. History bears this out. Until the advent of women’s rights movements, women were virtually their husband’s property, treated as heir-producing machines, given little freedom, and forced to serve their husband’s every whim. In many cultures, men bought and sold women like cattle. Some cultures maintain this custom even today. In fact, women’s rights has only existed in mainstream culture since Susan B. Anthony and the Suffrage movement of the 1920s.”1
ADAM NAMES THE WOMAN
After God had released the curses for rebellion, including the subjugation of woman, Adam named his wife. Until this point in the story (see Gen. 1-3:19) his wife was only referred to as the woman, but now Adam doles out a name for her. And so, the woman becomes Eve. This may seem small and insignificant, but if we consider that Adam and the woman had walked as equals before the curse, this is actually a profound detail.
Adam named his wife Eve, because she would become the mother of all the living (Genesis 3:20).
Previously, Adam had been given dominion in Genesis 1:28 to rule over all the animals, birds, and fish; but he did not rule over woman until the curse occurred. When the woman received the curse of subjugation, Adam named her in the same manner that he had named all the animals of the garden (see Gen. 2:19-20). By naming the woman, Adam took dominion over Eve in the same way that he took dominion over the animals. And so the curse was applied and enacted. God called this a curse because He never desired for them to be unequal. It was not God’s intention, but rather a result of sin. In fact, in the story of Noah, we find that God worked to bring restoration of equality in the Old Testament.
NOAH AND HIS SONS
By the time we get to Genesis 6:5-7, we find that the earth had become wicked. We learn of God’s plan to wipe out the first creation with a worldwide flood and start again with the only righteous people on earth, Noah and his family. Skipping ahead in the story, God had Noah build an ark in preparation for the flood.
And Noah and his sons and his wife and his sons’ wives entered the ark to escape the waters of the flood (Genesis 7:7).
On that very day Noah and his sons, Shem, Ham and Japheth, together with his wife and the wives of his three sons, entered the ark (Genesis 7:13).
Sometimes it can seem like the Bible provides us with odd details, but it is surprising how much can be contained in a small statement like the preceding verses. Looking at these two verses you can see that Noah and the other men went into the Ark first, and then the women followed. Once the flood was over, God gave Noah very specific directions as to how to exit the ark.
Then God said to Noah, “Come out of the ark, you and your wife and your sons and their wives (Genesis 8:15-16).
God intended to bring the eight of them out of the ark as couples walking in unity and equality. He was trying to start the planet over with at least a partial redemption of gender equality. Unfortunately, we read that Noah disobeyed the Lord’s specific instructions.
So Noah came out, together with his sons and his wife and his sons’ wives (Genesis 8:18).
We see from this that God desired to restore women, but man’s disobedience got in the way. Not much progression in the restoration of equality took place between the Garden of Eden and when Jesus came upon the scene 4,000 years later. As we will see though, what Jesus accomplished changed everything.
JESUS, THE ULTIMATE REDEEMER
In the Garden of Eden, there was equality between men and women. In Heaven, there will be no curses (see Rev. 22:3), which means that women will be fully restored. Currently, we live in a timeline between these two curseless realities, the Garden of Eden and Heaven. When Jesus entered this timeline where men and women live on earth under the curses, He came to bring us freedom. Jesus came to bring the future reality of Heaven into our present. He even passed this commission to His Church when He told us to bring Heaven (future) into earth (present).
This, then, is how you should pray, “Our Father in heaven, hallowed be Your name, Your kingdom come, Your will be done on earth as it is in heaven” (Matthew 6:9-10).
Because of what Jesus accomplished on the cross, freeing humanity from the power of the curse, we do not have to wait until Heaven for the curse to be removed. In fact, according to Paul, Jesus has changed the current timeline so that we do not dwell under gender, economic, or racial curses any longer.
You are all sons of God through faith in Christ Jesus, for all of you who were baptized into Christ have clothed yourselves with Christ. There is neither Jew nor Greek, slave nor free, male nor female, for you are all one in Christ Jesus (Galatians 3:26-28).
Jesus came to redeem all humanity from every curse, including the curses that were incurred by Adam and Eve in Genesis 3. Because we have been placed inside of Christ and Christ has been placed inside of us, it doesn’t matter whether we are a Jew, slave, female, or Greek—all in Christ are equal. If we were able to see this from the perspective of God the Father when He looks at individuals in His Church, He is not looking at male and female, African or European, bank owner or welfare recipient—He is looking at the heart and seeing Christ.
This is what God was trying to explain to the prophet Samuel when he was searching for the next king of Israel. “Man looks at the outward appearance, but the LORD looks at the heart” (1 Sam. 16:7b).
The Lord’s perspective is different from ours. Consider that God has never been under any curse; therefore, He does not treat us according to the curses. The Genesis 3 curse never said that women were going to be accursed of God and therefore could not be used for leadership. The curse only changed the way that men and women would interact, not the way that God would interact with women.
God has always looked not at the outward but at the heart of the believer, which is where Jesus is dwelling. So when God looks at a believer, it does not matter to Him whether male or female, because He is looking at the Christ in us. Paul was urging the Galatians to see each other in this same way. The Genesis 3 curse never changed God’s interaction with women, and Jesus’ redemption was to change our interaction with each other.
We, as ambassadors of Heaven, as those seated in heavenly places, are to bring Heaven’s reality into this world. One aspect of bringing that reality into this realm is bringing equality back to our sisters, mothers, daughters, and wives.
Before we look at some of the amazing women of God who were listed as fellow ministers alongside the apostle Paul, we need to understand the power of name recognition. Author Bob Sorge gives incredible insight into this topic.
The desire for the praise and approval of man runs very deep in our sinful flesh. We can crucify the desire for man’s praise, but it keeps resurfacing in our flesh in all kinds of creative and fresh ways.
Paul was aware of the insidious trap that young men fall into, for they can easily convince themselves that their motives are totally pure in seeking the praise of God alone, when in fact this desire for the praise of man is still a very strong issue within them. Paul showed his sensitivity to this issue in the way he related to one brother in the book of Second Corinthians.
Here the context of the matter to which I refer:
I thank God, who put into the heart of Titus the same concern I have for you. For Titus not only welcomed our appeal, but he is coming to you with much enthusiasm and on his own initiative. And we are sending along with him the brother who is praised by all the churches for his service to the gospel. What is more, he was chosen by the churches to accompany us as we carry the offering, which we administer in order to honor the Lord himself and to show our eagerness to help. We want to avoid any criticism of the way we administer this liberal gift. For we are taking pains to do what is right, not only in the eyes of the Lord but also in the eyes of men.
In addition, we are sending with them our brother who has often proved to us in many ways that he is zealous, and now even more so because of his great confidence in you. As for Titus, he is my partner and fellow worker among you; as for our brothers, they are representatives of the churches and an honor to Christ. 2 Corinthians 8:16-23
Paul is writing about two brothers—Titus and an unnamed brother. Titus is mentioned twice by name and commended; the other brother is left nameless. Why does Paul not mention the other brother’s name? Because Paul knew the power of name recognition.
There’s something intoxicating about seeing your name in print and having your name known by others. I’ve tasted of that wine personally just a little bit; Paul also knew all about that. And he was aware that the brother to whom he was referring didn’t have the maturity to handle the fame properly. So Paul refused to make his name known. There’s no doubt in my mind that the unnamed brother was young, new in ministry, and still in training. Titus, on the other hand, was safe to name because of his evident maturity and proven faithfulness.
We might think this was an accidental oversight on Paul’s part until we realize that he repeated the same thing the second time in the same epistle. The following verse comes four chapters later:
I urged Titus to go to you and I sent our brother with him. Titus did not exploit you, did he? Did we not act in the same spirit and follow the same course? 2 Corinthians 12:18
For the second time, Paul mentions Titus twice by name while leaving his companion nameless.2
Considering this profound insight about name recognition, let us apply this to the topic of women in leadership. Keep in mind that the Apostle Paul who avoided mentioning the name of Titus’s traveling companion, did not hesitate to commend many female ministers in his writings.
In Romans chapter 16, Paul points out many women by name without hesitation. This speaks volumes about the level of their character and leadership in the early church. For example, the chapter starts by acknowledging a female deacon named Phoebe.
I commend to you our sister Phoebe, a deaconess of the church in Cenchrea. I ask you to receive her in the Lord in a way worthy of the saints and to give her any help she may need from you, for she has been a great help to many people, including me (Romans 16:1-2).
Then Paul acknowledges Priscilla and Aquila in verses 3 and 4. Look closely, and you will see that he makes a statement that wouldn’t even be proper in modern times. Paul put the wife’s name first. Even in modern etiquette this is considered taboo. Etiquette states that we address a couple as Mr. and Mrs. Jonathan and Karen Welton. It would be considered improper and poor taste to address a couple as Karen and Jonathan Welton. Yet, the apostle has no qualms about acknowledging Pricilla first and her husband second.
Greet Priscilla and Aquila, my fellow workers in Christ Jesus. They risked their lives for me. Not only I but all the churches of the Gentiles are grateful to them (Romans 16:3-4).
Paul continues and acknowledges Mary, Tryphena, Tryphosa, and Persis.
[Mary served in ministry:] Greet Mary, who worked very hard for you (Romans 16:6).
Greet Tryphena and Tryphosa, those women who work hard in the Lord. Greet my dear friend Persis, another woman who has worked very hard in the Lord (Romans 16:12).
Considering the caution that Paul used regarding name recognition, it is a powerful statement that he named so many female co-workers in Romans 16. It is unfortunate that Paul has been given such a bad reputation of supposedly suppressing women. I believe that much of the church has misunderstood much of what Paul actually wrote regarding women. I will show you later in this chapter how some of these misunderstandings have occurred.
FEMALE APOSTLES AND PROPHETS
By examining Romans 16, we can see that Paul was very much in favor of women in ministry, but as yet, we have not seen high positions of authority given to women in Scripture, so let’s continue our investigation.
And in the church God has appointed first of all apostles, second prophets, third teachers, then workers of miracles, also those having gifts of healing, those able to help others, those with gifts of administration, and those speaking in different kinds of tongues (1 Corinthians 12:28).
We understand from this passage that apostles are the highest position of authority in the church. In fact, Ephesians 2:20 tells us that the apostles and prophets are the foundation of the church. Therefore, if a woman could be an apostle or a prophet, wouldn’t it stand to reason that she could be placed in lower positions of authority such as evangelist, teacher, or pastor? I would believe that stands to reason!
There are four women listed as prophetesses in the Bible, three in the Old Testament and one in the New Testament (Note: The title prophetess has no less authority than the male equivalent of prophet, because they come from the same root word.)
The first is Miriam:
Then Miriam the prophetess, Aaron’s sister, took a tambourine in her hand, and all the women followed her, with tambourines and dancing (Exodus 15:20).
The second is Deborah, who was not only a prophetess but was the leader of Israel:
Deborah, a prophetess, the wife of Lappidoth, was leading Israel at that time (Judges 4:4).
The third is Huldah the prophetess:
Hilkiah the priest…went to speak to the prophetess Huldah... (2 Kings 22:14).
The fourth is our New Testament example, Anna:
There was also a prophetess, Anna, the daughter of Phanuel, of the tribe of Asher. She was very old; she had lived with her husband seven years after her marriage (Luke 2:36).
From these four examples we can see that God has no problem having a woman as a prophet, the second highest level of authority in the church. If a woman can be a prophet, then she can be a lower position like a senior pastor, right? But what about an apostle, is there any evidence of a female apostle in the New Testament?
Yes! There is a clear example of a female apostle in the New Testament. In fact she and her husband are both listed together as apostles, and not just ordinary apostles, but they are called “outstanding among the apostles.”
Greet Andronicus and Junias, my relatives who have been in prison with me. They are outstanding among the apostles, and they were in Christ before I was (Romans 16:7).
There is no scholarly rebuttal to the fact that Junias was a first century female name. Interestingly, the name Junias, is a derivative of the name Juno, the Roman goddess and wife of Jupiter. As the patroness of marriage, Juno was sought after for the dilation of the cervix for safe child delivery. Junias was without question a female name, so this passage of Scripture is proof of a female apostle.
Average Christianity argues over what position a woman can hold in ministry. Some will allow a woman to teach children, some will let them teach the youth group, some will say she can hold administrative roles, and sometimes maybe she can be an assistant pastor, but typically the role of senior pastor is out of the question.
The concept that a female cannot be in the sacred position of senior pastor is biblically hard to defend. When the word pastor is examined in Scripture there is a major flaw in the argument. If you were to look up the word pastor in a concordance, you would find that it is only used once in all of the New Testament (Eph. 4:11). Even in this one reference, there is no definition or instruction as to who can and cannot be a pastor. Yet culturally we have created definitions that restrict women from access to the most vague of all New Testament leadership gifts.
We have seen that women can reside in the highest places of authority in the church as apostles and prophets. Therefore they rightfully can hold any of the lower gifts or callings throughout the church. However, many churches have banned women from these positions because of three passages in the New Testament. Let us investigate these highly debated verses.
THE TROUBLE VERSES
Case #1: 1 Peter 3:6-7
The late Bible teacher, Kenneth E. Hagin has a great insight into this verse and its application. Here is what he has to say about First Peter 3:6-7:
Peter cites Sarah as a model wife whose worthy example Christian wives could follow.
They were submissive to their own husbands, like Sarah, who obeyed Abraham and called him her master. You are her daughters if you do what is right and do not give way to fear. 1 Peter 3:6
It is possible to lift this one verse out and say, “See, the wife is to obey her husband just as Sarah obeyed Abraham.” But does it mean the wife doesn’t have any right to speak her own mind? Some would leave the impression the wife never has a right to express her thoughts, that she’s under the rule—the obedience—the domination—and is nothing more than a slave. But that isn’t what Peter is saying. Let’s see what the law says:
Then Sarai said to Abram, “You are responsible for the wrong I am suffering. I put my servant in your arms, and now that she knows she is pregnant, she despises me. May the LORD judge between you and me.” “Your servant is in your hands,” Abram said. “Do with her whatever you think best.” Then Sarai mistreated Hagar; so she fled from her. -Genesis 16:5, 6
Here we see Abram letting Sarai have her own way. He isn’t dominating her like some warlord. From the 16th chapter of Genesis through the 21st there is an account of a disagreement. At its climax, we see that Abraham gave in to his wife’s contention, and let her have her own way. And we see that God justified not him, but her.”
“And she said to Abraham, “Get rid of that slave woman and her son, for that slave woman’s son will never share in the inheritance with my son Isaac.” The matter distressed Abraham greatly because it concerned his son. But God said to him, “Do not be so distressed about the boy and your maidservant. Listen to whatever Sarah tells you, because it is through Isaac that your offspring will be reckoned.” -Genesis 21:10-12
God told Abraham, one time at least, to listen to his wife. According to this, Sarah ruled her husband on this occasion. And God approved of it, as He always does when a wife is right.”3
There has also been a tendency in the church to view women as unqualified for places of high leadership because they are considered the “weaker vessel.” This comes from a misapplication of First Peter 3:7.
Husbands, in the same way be considerate as you live with your wives, and treat them with respect as the weaker partner [weaker vessel (KJV)] and as heirs with you of the gracious gift of life, so that nothing will hinder your prayers (1 Peter 3:7).
First of all, Peter is speaking about the husband and wife relationship. Notice how he starts by saying, “Husbands.” Second, he tells the husband three things about how to treat his wife: be considerate, with respect, as co-heirs. He even gives an ominous warning about how the husband’s prayers could be hindered if he doesn’t get this right. Then he uses the phrase, “weaker partner,” in the middle of the passage. In this case the King James Version brings more clarity. In the King James Version, the phrase is rendered as “weaker vessel.” The word vessel refers to dishware, as in a plate or a bowl. So to say that a wife is a weaker bowl or plate is essentially to say that a wife is to be treated like fine china.
Fine china is not your typical dinnerware that you throw in the dishwasher and then into the cupboard. No, it requires a gentleness that carefully washes it by hand, and it is usually displayed in a glass-front china cabinet where all can admire it. Women are fine china and should be treated with respect, gentleness, and considerateness is the correct understanding of the phrase “weaker vessel.”
Case #2: 1 Timothy 2:11-14
A woman should learn in quietness and full submission. I do not permit a woman to teach or to have authority over a man; she must be silent. For Adam was formed first, then Eve. And Adam was not the one deceived; it was the woman who was deceived and became a sinner (1 Timothy 2:11-14).
Without understanding the correct context, it is easy to see how these verses are used to oppress women. In any careful study of the letters of Paul, the first thing that must be done is answer the following questions: To whom is the letter written? What is it regarding? Is this directive applicable to every person, everywhere, for all time?
When verses of the Bible are not in proper context, it is easy for them to be misused. For example, we must understand that Paul was speaking in hyperbole and frustration when he said, “As for those agitators, I wish they would go the whole way and emasculate themselves!” (Gal. 5:12). Yet, if we do not understand these verses in their proper context, it would be easy to create a eunuch cult. This is no exaggeration; over the years many thousands of people have participated in suicide cults based on slight misteachings of the Bible. It is desperately important that we look closely at what we believe and why.
There is an important saying, Right teaching leads to right living, and it would make sense that the opposite is also true, Wrong teaching leads to wrong living. Wrong teaching about women in leadership has led the church to the mistreatment of women for hundreds of years.
Question #1: To whom was the letter written? First Timothy is a letter from the apostle Paul to his spiritual son Timothy, who at that point was recognized as an apostle in Ephesus. A close look at the following passages reveals the problems in Ephesus. Here is what Paul was writing to Timothy about.
Have nothing to do with godless myths and old wives’ tales; rather, train yourself to be godly (1 Timothy 4:7).
Besides, they get into the habit of being idle and going about from house to house. And not only do they become idlers, but also gossips and busybodies, saying things they ought not to (1 Timothy 5:13).
Question #2: What is it regarding? From these verses as well as the historical evidence, we learn that one of the major problems in the Ephesian church was women going from house to house spreading evil teachings and doctrines of demons (see 1 Tim. 4:1). We are informed in chapter 1 that the reason for writing to Timothy was to correct this issue. Some translations say to command certain men not to teach, but the roots of this verse show that it was a gender neutral statement, command certain persons not to teach. This is important because it was actually women who were teaching erroneous doctrines in Ephesus. Paul wanted them silenced not because of gender but because of heresy.
As I urged you when I went into Macedonia, stay there in Ephesus so that you may command certain persons not to teach false doctrines any longer or to devote themselves to myths and endless genealogies. Such things promote controversial speculations rather than advancing God’s work—which is by faith (1 Timothy 1:3-4 TNIV)
As we have seen, the issue was not certain men, but more accurately certain women. Today’s New International Version has done a great job translating in this case because the nongender specific Greek pronoun tisi is used here.
Question #3: Is this directive applicable to every person, everywhere, for all time? This personal letter between Paul and Timothy is not broadly applicable to all churches everywhere. Some of it is personal, contextual advice. Paul had left Timothy in charge of the church in Ephesus, and Timothy had to straighten out the false teachings by the local women. We must apply the words of Paul in a little less personal and a little more contextual manner.
For example, Paul told Timothy to stir up the gift that is in him from when Paul laid hands upon him. Obviously you and I have not had the apostle Paul lay hands on us for impartation of spiritual gifts, but that does not mean that we can disregard this verse. We must treat this verse in context as something we can still learn from. We learn from this that spiritual gifts can be imparted by the laying on of hands and that they need to be stirred up within us as well. Scripture must be kept inside its correct context.
Author J. Lee Grady gives insight into the situation that Timothy was dealing with in Ephesus.
Bible scholars have documented the fact that bizarre Gnostic heresies were circulating throughout the region at that time, and these false teachings posed a serious threat to the infant Christian churches that were budding in that part of the world. That’s why so much of Paul’s message to Timothy deals with how to guard against false teaching.
This teaching most certainly bred unhealthy attitudes among some women in the Ephesian church. These women were completely unlearned, but they were spreading false doctrines, and in some cases they were claiming to be teachers of the law and demanding an audience. They were most likely mixing Christian and Jewish teachings with strange heresies and warped versions of Bible stories. Some even taught that Eve was created before Adam and that she “liberated” the world when she listened to the serpent.4
...For Adam was formed first, then Eve. And Adam was not the one deceived; it was the woman who was deceived and became a sinner (1 Timothy 2:11-14).
What Mr. Grady has written explains why Paul would write such a seemingly out of place statement—the culture at that time was saturated with false teachings about what took place in the Garden of Eden, who was created first and who was deceived. Ephesus at the time was the seat of the fertility goddess Diana (see Acts 19), and the new believers who were getting saved out of the occult were young in the Lord and very confused by their past. Paul was teaching Timothy how to manage his situation as the leader. The direction from Paul is a very specific and unusual context, which should not be applied to everyone, everywhere, for all time.
To gain more insight into what was really going on in Ephesus, we need to look closely at the phrase “to have authority over.” The root word used for authority in the verse is authentein, and it is used only one time in the New Testament. The Greek word that is typically used for authority in the New Testament is exousia.
I do not permit a woman to teach or to have authority over a man; she must be silent (1 Timothy 2:12).
Bible scholars have noted that authentein has a forceful and extremely negative connotation. It implies a more specific meaning than “to have authority over” and can be translated “to dominate,” “to usurp” or “to take control.” Often when this word was used in ancient Greek literature, it was associated with violence or even murder. A clearer picture of what Paul told Timothy is that he doesn’t allow a woman to violently steal authority. But are we to think that Paul would allow a man to violently steal authority just because he is a man? Obviously, the issue was not gender. In reference to this specific problem, Paul was instructing Timothy not to allow these women who were trying to take control and usurp authority.
In Paul’s letter to Titus, Paul addressed a similar problem. In this case, it was men who were causing the problem.
For there are many rebellious men, empty talkers and deceivers, especially those of the circumcision, who must be silenced because they are upsetting whole families, teaching things they should not teach for the sake of sordid gain (Titus 1:10-11 NASB).
The fact that this verse has never been used to tell all men everywhere that they must be silent and cannot teach is indicative of the one-sided approach that the church has taken toward women.
One last thought on this passage is that the chapter divisions inside the letters of Paul are not Divinely inspired, they are simply a manmade construct to make reading easier. Yet at times they cause more problems than they help. For example, First Timothy is divided into five chapters and the reading breaks seem quite arbitrary. If an individual were to read straight through First Timothy without chapters and verses, they would notice that this letter is much more naturally divided into four major sections.
Introduction 1 Timothy 1:1-14
Here is a trustworthy saying that deserves full acceptance: 1 Timothy 1:15
Here is a trustworthy saying: 1 Timothy 3:1
This is a trustworthy saying that deserves full acceptance. 1 Timothy 4:9
These three “trustworthy” sayings of Paul are the focus of his letter to Timothy. After Paul states the saying, he then expands on the thought presented and how it applies to Timothy’s leadership.
To see the context of 1 Timothy 2:11-15, we must back up to 1 Timothy 1:15 and look at the first trustworthy saying which is “Christ Jesus came into the world to save sinners – of whom I am the worst. But for that very reason I was shown mercy so that in me, the worst of sinners, Christ Jesus might display his immense patience as an example for those who would believe in him and receive eternal life. Now to the King eternal, immortal, invisible, the only God, be honor and glory forever and ever. Amen.”
Then from 1 Timothy 1:18-2:15 Paul expands upon this saying and gives very practical instruction.
1 Timothy 1:18-20 Paul admonishes Timothy specifically
1 Timothy 2:1-7 Paul admonishes the whole church
1 Timothy 2:8 Paul admonishes men
1 Timothy 2:9-10 Paul admonishes women (plural)
1 Timothy 2:11-14 Paul admonishes about a specific woman (singular)
1 Timothy 2:15 Paul admonishes women (plural)
Because we have not seen the context, 1 Timothy 2:11-14 and vs 15 have been tremendously confusing. Here it is in the NIV:
“11 A woman[singular] should learn in quietness and full submission. 12 I do not permit a woman[singular] to teach or to assume authority over a man; she[singular] must be quiet. 13 For Adam was formed first, then Eve. 14 And Adam was not the one deceived; it was the woman who was deceived and became a sinner. 15 But women[plural] will be saved through childbearing—if they continue in faith, love and holiness with propriety.”
According to the original manuscripts, Paul goes from writing in the plural about all women in 2:9-10, to writing in the singular, in reference to a specific woman that was causing problems in the Ephesian church. Paul is instructing Timothy specifically about what was going on in the Ephesian church and how to handle this trouble-making woman.
Then there is the bizarre and mysterious verse 15, “But women will be saved through childbearing…” Fortunately, I have not to heard an altar call for women to get pregnant so they can earn their salvation. Nonetheless, there is a lot of confusion and oppression that has happened with this verse. The problem is created by an error in translation. Here is the same verse in the Young’s Literal Translation:
“she shall be saved through the childbearing…”
That little “the” makes a huge difference.
In context, Paul was just writing about Adam and Eve (1 Tim. 2:13-14), and back in Genesis 3:15, God speaks of the offspring of Eve crushing the head of the serpent, which we understand is a prophecy of Jesus’ defeat of the devil at the cross.
Therefore Paul is not saying women that give birth will be saved, he is saying that women are saved through “The Child” that was born in fulfillment of Genesis 3:15, which is Jesus! This brings us full circle to the trustworthy statement about the message of salvation. which Paul started with in 1 Timothy 1:15-17.
Case #3: 1 Corinthians 14:34-35
...As in all the congregations of the saints, women should remain silent in the churches. They are not allowed to speak, but must be in submission, as the Law says. If they want to inquire about something, they should ask their own husbands at home; for it is disgraceful for a woman to speak in the church (1 Corinthians 14:34-35).
In our previous trouble verse we looked at the situational context and how the words from Paul to Timothy do not apply to everyone, everywhere for all time. Yet when we look at this last and most troubling of the three trouble verses, it seems to be the harshest.
Regarding subjugation of women it states the following:
- This rule applies to all congregations (everyone, everywhere, for all time).
- They must be silent in church.
- They are not allowed to speak.
- No asking questions.
- It is disgraceful for a woman to speak in church.
The first thing that must be understood about First Corinthians is that it is a response letter to the Corinthians. They wrote to Paul, and he is writing back, “Now for the matters you wrote about…” (1 Cor. 7:1).This puts the situation into context.
As one would with any response letter, Paul at times quotes from the Corinthians original letter to put his response into context. We are not able to see this in our modern English versions, but by looking closely at the original Greek, we can see that certain parts of First Corinthians were not written by Paul but were quotes from their first letter to him. This is key to explaining First Corinthians 14:34-35.
It is visible in the Greek that First Corinthians 14:34-35 is a quote from the original letter to Paul. (New Endnote #5) If Paul taught that it is disgraceful for a woman to even speak in church, then why would he spend time teaching that women should have their heads covered when prophesying in church (see 1 Cor. 11:2-16)? Prophesying is more than speaking; it is speaking for God, so if it is a shame for a woman to speak, wouldn’t it be worse to claim that she is speaking for God?
If we step back from just focusing on First Corinthians 14:34-35 and look at the verses before and after, we will see the dialogue that is taking place between Paul and the Corinthians.
What then shall we say, brothers? When you come together, everyone has a hymn, or a word of instruction, a revelation, a tongue or an interpretation. All of these must be done for the strengthening of the church. If anyone speaks in a tongue, two—or at the most three—should speak, one at a time, and someone must interpret. If there is no interpreter, the speaker should keep quiet in the church and speak to himself and God.
Two or three prophets should speak, and the others should weigh carefully what is said. And if a revelation comes to someone who is sitting down, the first speaker should stop. For you can all prophesy in turn so that everyone may be instructed and encouraged. The spirits of prophets are subject to the control of prophets. For God is not a God of disorder but of peace (1 Corinthians 14:26-33).
As in all the congregations of the saints, women should remain silent in the churches. They are not allowed to speak, but must be in submission, as the Law says. If they want to inquire about something, they should ask their own husbands at home; for it is disgraceful for a woman to speak in the church (1 Corinthians 14:34-35). (This is the quoted portion.)
Did the word of God originate with you? Or are you the only people it has reached? If anybody thinks he is a prophet or spiritually gifted, let him acknowledge that what I am writing to you is the Lord’s command. If he ignores this, he himself will be ignored. Therefore, my brothers, be eager to prophesy, and do not forbid speaking in tongues. But everything should be done in a fitting and orderly way(1 Corinthians 14:36-40).
In verses 26-33, Paul is teaching how a church service should be so that everyone can participate, then in verses 34-35 he quotes from the Corinthian’s letter to him regarding their philosophy of how to run a service. Paul immediately responds in verses 36-40 with a very harsh rebuke to the Corinthian leaders. Apparently he strongly disagreed with their thoughts expressed in verses 34-35.
There is a sensible flow to Paul’s response when we see the quoted section in the middle. Paul even uses the same language in both of his statements, “For God is not a God of disorder but of peace…everything should be done in a fitting and orderly way (1 Cor. 14:33,40) And of course Paul is not contradicting what he said earlier about how a woman should prophesy in church.
With these common misunderstandings in the previous three passages, it is easy to understand how many Christian leaders have oppressed women from leadership. Please understand that most Christian leaders are just trying to follow the Word to the best of their understanding. If they have not been shown the errors in these teachings, then they are taking these verses at face value and trying to be obedient without malicious intention.
For hundreds of years, women have been oppressed and suppressed by male chauvinistic church leadership. The terrible misconception is that the Bible is sexist. Unfortunately when the Bible is read with only a surface understanding, it appears to say some negative things about women. The reality is that the Bible strongly speaks of freedom and equality between the genders. I am hopeful that after reading this chapter and taking a closer look together, many lives will have new freedom, deeper healing, and restoration between genders.
Activation: For Women
Consider each of the times that male leadership has suppressed or oppressed you from taking a place of leadership that God had called you to. Now go through each one of those memories and release forgiveness in the same manner that we did at the end of the Clean Conscience chapter.
Activation: For Men
Ask the Holy Spirit to convict you of any times that you may have suppressed a woman from leadership based solely on gender. If any times come to mind, first repent to the Lord for your sin, and then ask the Lord to lead you in how to make restitution. Perhaps you need to meet with the individual face to face to apologize, or perhaps over the phone or through a letter. As the Lord leads you, correct your previous error and the harm that it caused.
To my friends Gretchen Humphrey and Debra Hogervorst. If I could clone each of you a thousand times and put you in leadership positions all over the Body of Christ, I would. You two are some of my favorite female leaders; I am so proud to know you and be known by you. Thank you for your friendship with Karen and me; we trust you with our lives and our hearts.
1. Richard T. Ritenbaugh http://bibletools.org/index.cfm/fuseaction/Bible.show/bibleBook/1/sChap/3/sVerse/3/sVerseID/72/eVerseID/72/opt/comm/RTD/cgg/version/kjv; accessed February 11, 2011.
2. Bob Sorge, Dealing with the Rejection and Praise of Man (Lee’s Summit, MO: Oasis House, 1999), 39-40.
3. Kenneth E. Hagin, The Woman Question (Tulsa, OK: Rhema Bible Church, 1983), 16-17.
4. J. Lee Grady, 10 Lies the Church Tells Women: How the Bible has been misused to keep women in spiritual bondage (Lake Mary, FL: Charisma House, 2000), 57.
5. Gilbert Bilezikian, Th.D. Beyond Sex Roles: What the Bible Says About a Woman's Place in Church and Family. 2nd ed. Grand Rapids: Baker Book House, 1985. ISBN: 0-8010-0885-9.
On page 248, Bilezikian writes, "It is worth noting that in 1 Corinthians more than in any of his other Epistles, Paul uses the é particle to introduce rebuttals to statements preceding it. As a conjunction, é appears in Paul's Epistles in a variety of uses. But the list below points to a predilection for a particular use of é, which is characteristic mainly of 1 Corinthians. “The verses he listed I also list below, in the order they appear, with a notation indicating the appearance of the é particle, in each case translating it as "Nonsense!" as Bilezikian did to indicate its flavor: 1 Cor. 6:1-2--"If any of you has a dispute with another, dare he take it before the ungodly for judgment instead of before the saints? (é Nonsense!) Do you not know that the saints will judge the world? And if you are to judge the world, are you not competent to judge trivial cases?"
The e of which he speaks is the Greek letter "eta," which looks like h
This device is called the "rhetorical eta," many of my Greek professors confirmed its use. Paul uses this device many times in 1 Corinthians. Its importance here is that it clearly marks a refutation of the previous passage. That is what the rhetorical ate is for, it indicates that what precedes it immediately is being refuted. Since the Greeks did not have quotation marks, this device serves as quotation marks and shows the injunction against women speaking was actually the statement of the Corinthians to Paul. Apparently some faction in the church, perhaps Judaizers, or some group the Corinthians has been in contact with, had said this to them.
We can see this clearly in English, if we know what to look for. The verse states: (35)"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."
(36) What! Did the word of God originate with you, or are you the only ones it has reached?"
Clearly that sounds like a reversal of what has been said. One can get a sense of the refutation of the previous remark, after all, those who want to allow women to speak are not demanding that mean be silent. Why would they seem to come across, as thinking that they were the only one's to hear from God? That idea makes much more sense if they wanted to silence someone. It makes more sense in speaking to the silencers, because they are acting like they are the only ones to receive the word of God.
Those sky-blue italicized words, "what" and "or" represent where the h comes. There are two of them, grammatically two of them should make it say "what, or" but they can also function as rhetorical and that fits the sense of the passage much better. Otherwise it sounds like nonsense, with Paul railing against those he supports! So the etas are here:
h "did the word of God come only to you? h are you the only one's it has reached?" This signals the refutation of the previous idea, the silencing of women.