1 Corinthians 14:32-36 and Women Speaking in Church

Probably one of the most difficult passages in the New Testament is the one in 1 Corinthians about women speaking in Church. This is difficult for one main reason–Paul had already spoken in the same letter about how women should be when they pray or prophecy in Church. Not only that, but at the end of Romans, Paul lists several women who are leaders in the Church (deacon, apostle, and others).

So, here is the passage that seems different:

32 And the spirits of prophets are subject to the prophets, 33 for God is a God not of disorder but of peace. As in all the churches of the saints, 34 women should be silent in the churches. For they are not permitted to speak, but should be subordinate, as the law also says. 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 Or did the word of God originate with you? Or are you the only ones it has reached?

This comes at the end of a long passage concerning orderliness in worship, with only one prophet speaking at one time, and only one speaker of tongues speaking at one time (and even then only if someone could interpret the tongue for the rest of the congregation). Then there is this passage. Some segments of the Church have used this passage as one of their essential texts for preventing women from doing anything in a worship service. Never mind the fact that women are obviously prophesying and praying in the Church. This passage forbids it, they say.

Or does it?

Ancient biblical text that has no lower case letters, punctuation, or spaces

Ancient biblical text that has no lower case letters, punctuation, or spaces

Interesting thing about our English Bibles, they are all translations based upon what the translators believed the text to mean. All of the modern translations go back to the original Greek and translate it fresh, so the anti-Christian criticism that “the Bible has been translated so many times there is no way to know what the original said” is completely ridiculous and false. Nevertheless, each translation team has to make certain judgments about the text when they translate. Case in point is this passage.

When Paul wrote his letters, there were no upper case and lower case letters; there were only upper case letters. Likewise, there was no punctuation. Nor were there any spaces between words. The text flows on and on in a long string of capital letters across the page. This means we have to make a judgment call on how to break up the text to translate it into English. Look at this example:

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Does that say God is now here or God is no where? We have to make a decision. It is the same with the above passage. The phrase as in all churches of the saints is a dependent clause. It can be attached to an independent clause and make a complex sentence. It can be attached to any independent clause. These translators have chosen to attache it to verse 34 so it reads As in all churches of the saints, women should be silent in the churches. Yet it could equally be attached to verse 33 so it reads for God is not a God of disorder but of peace, as in all churches of the saints. If the punctuation was there, then it adds emphasis to the argument Paul was making that worship ought to be orderly in the churches in Corinth because it is orderly in all the other churches of the saints.

If it is placed there, then the following injunction to women becomes a very specific and targeted statement to a specific group of women in Corinth, not a universal declaration across all time and churches. There was one group of women disrupting the worship service by simply talking or asking questions. This would obviously not include the women who were praying or prophesying in church, nor would it include female deacons or apostles (see the link at the top of this post). This was a specific instruction for a specific group of women in a specific city at a specific time.

Given the fact that elsewhere Paul also declares that there is, in Christ, no male or female, I would also venture to say that this injunction would also apply to men who would disrupt the worship service by needless chatter or questions. This passage is not a blanket condemnation of women speaking in Church. Rather, it is an injunction for certain women to pay attention during the worship service.

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Romans 16:1-16 and Women in Ministry

phoebeThere are a lot of Christians, from Roman Catholics to Fundamentalist Baptists, who do not believe that women should be in ministry. They each have different reasons for this belief. For the Catholics, the priest stands in the place of Christ, and since Christ was a man a woman cannot be a priest. For Protestants, they try to base this belief on certain passages in the New Testament, but in order to do so they ignore other passages and do not read the ones they use in the context of the whole letters in which they are written.

Case in point is the conclusion to the Book of Romans. In sixteen verses Paul identifies ten women who are leaders in the Church. One he explicitly identifies as a deacon and one he identifies as an apostle, along with another that is known as an apostle:

I commend to you our sister Phoebe, a deacon of the church at Cenchreae, so that you may welcome her in the Lord as is fitting for the saints, and help her in whatever she may require from you, for she has been a benefactor of many and of myself as well. Greet Prisca and Aquila, who work with me in Christ Jesus, and who risked their necks for my life, to whom not only I give thanks, but also all the churches of the Gentiles. Greet also the church in their house. Greet my beloved Epaenetus, who was the first convert in Asia for Christ. Greet Mary, who has worked very hard among you. Greet Andronicus and Junia, my relatives who were in prison with me; they are prominent among the apostles, and they were in Christ before I was. Greet Ampliatus, my beloved in the Lord. Greet Urbanus, our co-worker in Christ, and my beloved Stachys. 10 Greet Apelles, who is approved in Christ. Greet those who belong to the family of Aristobulus. 11 Greet my relative Herodion. Greet those in the Lord who belong to the family of Narcissus. 12 Greet those workers in the Lord, Tryphaena and Tryphosa. Greet the beloved Persis, who has worked hard in the Lord. 13 Greet Rufus, chosen in the Lord; and greet his mother—a mother to me also. 14 Greet Asyncritus, Phlegon, Hermes, Patrobas, Hermas, and the brothers and sisters who are with them. 15 Greet Philologus, Julia, Nereus and his sister, and Olympas, and all the saints who are with them. 16 Greet one another with a holy kiss. All the churches of Christ greet you.

Ever bold name is a woman. Phoebe is declared a deacon. Junia is called an apostle along with her husband Andronicus. Prisca is also an apostle along with her husband Aquila.

There are some translations of the Bible that do not call Phoebe a deacon, but merely a servant. This is the work of translators who cannot bear to have a woman explicitly called a deacon, as the word in Greek is diakon, which is the word deacon–a Greek word that translates to one who serves. In other places in the New Testament, if the text mentions men, the translators have no problem using the title in its untranslated form, deacon. Here, because it is used of a woman, the translators obscure the plan meaning that women had this leadership role as well and translate the title to its English equivalent.

Some translations of the Bible change Junia’s name to Junias, a completely made-up male version of the name. This is because the translators cannot allow a woman to have the title of apostle. Paul used the name Junia because he was speaking of a woman named Junia, not a man with a name no one in the entire history of the world had ever heard. The equivalent today of what the translators do when they change the name would be to say that someone named Sarah was really Sarah-o, a new male version of the name.

Prisca, also known as Priscilla (the difference between Anna and Annie) is the same one who met Paul and worked with him in Corinth. She is also the same one who took Apollos aside and taught him the Christian faith more clearly.

The rest of the women listed here are known to be hard workers in the Lord. Given the fact that Paul had not yet been to the Church in Rome, he either knew these women by reputation or because they had moved to Rome and were already working in the churches there. Either way, it would be difficult to assume that these women’s work is not in  helping lead the communities there. Reputations for hard work do not usually spread across an empire if that work is only setting the table and cooking food. Rather, it is because they are hard-working leaders in the Christian communities that are known around the empire to the extent that Paul uses this opportunity to identify with other ministry leaders as he is trying to introduce himself to those communities.

The next time someone suggests women ought not be in ministry, point them to Romans 16 and ask for a good explanation.

Romans 14:1-6 and Judging Others

This is a re-post from earlier this year. Happy Thanksgiving!

 

 

Having been in a few different Christian traditions over the course of my life, I am amazed how strongly traditions cling to certain practices to the point of disparaging other traditions that do not have those same practices.  In Romans, Paul tries to delicately navigate between Jewish believers and Gentile believers and the one, new community they have created in Christ in that city.  Jewish believers still keep the kosher food laws

and the Gentiles do not keep them (among other differences).  Then Paul gets to this passage:

Welcome the person who is weak in faith—but not in order to argue about differences of opinion.  One person believes in eating everything, while the weak person eats only vegetables.   Those who eat must not look down on the ones who don’t, and the ones who don’t eat must not judge the ones who do, because God has accepted them.  Who are you to judge someone else’s servants? They stand or fall before their own Lord (and they will stand, because the Lord has the power to make them stand).   One person considers some days to be more sacred than others, while another person considers all days to be the same. Each person must have their own

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convictions.   Someone who thinks that a day is sacred, thinks that way for the Lord. Those who eat, eat for the Lord, because they thank God. And those who don’t eat, don’t eat for the Lord, and they thank the Lord too.

This is a fabulous passage for the situation today.  We have traditions that have a strong practice of fasting during certain times of the year, traditions that advocate abstaining from alcohol, and traditions that have none of those practices.  We have traditions that have numerous holy days throughout the year they celebrate, and we have traditions that may or may not even celebrate Easter as a special day.

What I love about this passage is that Paul does not say which side has the people who have the weaker faith.  The implication is that we assume whoever has a different practice than us has the weaker faith.

You don’t celebrate all the wonderful feasts and festivals commemorating the mighty workings of God throughout history?  You must have a very weak faith and understanding of God.  You don’t understand that God is always at work and no day is different than any other because all days together show God’s redemption?  You must have a very weak faith and understanding of God.

You don’t eat meat?  You must have a very weak faith because God has called all things clean.  You eat meat?  You must have a very weak faith because eating meat was a concession after the flood and God intended us to be vegetarians.

You drink alcohol?  You must have a weak faith because alcohol impedes the growth in grace we are to have in order to be sanctified.  You don’t drink alcohol?  You must have a weak faith because only drunkenness is condemned in the Bible.

Paul writes in 14:13, “So stop judging each other.”  If we have certain practices such as these, and we sincerely follow them out of love for Christ, then we are fine in his eyes.  And it is perfectly fine for others to have opposite practices such as these and sincerely follow them out of love for Christ.  It is not our role to judge Christ’s servants.  We have not been given that authority.

Let us all live in love for Christ.  If we do this, then that love ought to spill over into love for each other–irrespective of our individual tradition’s expectations on issues such as these.

Romans 10:9-13 and How to be Saved

Spas_vsederzhitel_sinayI’m not sure when it started in certain streams of Christianity, but there are whole swaths of people who believe that if you pray a “sinner’s prayer” you are saved. Praying is good, but there is an inherent problem with this idea. There are lots of people who pray the prayer, feel that they have received forgiveness of their sins, rise up justified, and have absolutely no transformation of their lives. They act exactly how they did before praying the sinner’s prayer, only now thinking they are forgiven and saved.

If you look at this passage in Romans, it can offer an antidote to this problem:

If you confess with your lips that Jesus is Lord and believe in your heart that God raised him from the dead, you will be saved. 10 For one believes with the heart and so is justified, and one confesses with the mouth and so is saved. 11 The scripture says, ‘No one who believes in him will be put to shame.’ 12 For there is no distinction between Jew and Greek; the same Lord is Lord of all and is generous to all who call on him. 13 For, ‘Everyone who calls on the name of the Lord shall be saved.’

On the surface, this looks like it affirms the idea that if one prays a sinner’s prayer one will be saved, except for one crucial fact. Here the confession is that Jesus is Lord. Sinner’s prayers focus on Jesus as Savior. As a result, we have a lot of Christians who happily have Jesus as Savior and have a hard time following Jesus as Lord. Paul is explicit here–Accept Jesus as Lord and you will get him as Savior as well.

If Jesus is Lord in our lives, it means we obey him. Lord is a political term. It means “the one in charge.” If Jesus is Lord in our lives, we will obey his commandments, follow his leading in our lives, and truly seek to do his will on earth as it is in heaven. By confessing this reality in our lives, we can live in an appropriate relationship with Christ, one in which he has saved us to live for him.

If Christians would focus more on Jesus as Lord, they would live a saved life. When Christians focus on Jesus as Savior, we end up getting a lot of people who gladly receive forgiveness of their sins and reluctantly (if at all) follow Christ’s commandments. There is a word for people like that: hypocrites.

Romans 6:1-13 and The End of Sin

This is an ancient Christian symbol. ICXC are the initials for "Jesus Christ" in Greek. NIKA is the word for "Victor"

This is an ancient Christian symbol. ICXC are the initials for “Jesus Christ” in Greek. NIKA is the word for “Victor”

I have to confess, one thing that truly upsets me is when people who claim to be Christian seem to have no problem continuing to sin in their lives. I do not mean people who do sin, for that would include most (if not all) of us. What I mean is the people who do not struggle against sin. “God accepted me like this when I first came to faith; God will accept me now.” That attitude, while people try to make it sound biblical by speaking of grace, is completely antithetical to the Gospel message. In Christ our past sins are forgiven and we are empowered to live a new life in him.

God does not demand perfection when we first convert, but he expects growth. The same sins that ensnared us in the past ought not be the same sins with which we are dealing today. There should be growth. Sin should be coming to an end in our lives.

Look at what Paul says here:

What then are we to say? Should we continue in sin in order that grace may abound? By no means! How can we who died to sin go on living in it? Do you not know that all of us who have been baptized into Christ Jesus were baptized into his death? Therefore we have been buried with him by baptism into death, so that, just as Christ was raised from the dead by the glory of the Father, so we too might walk in newness of life. For if we have been united with him in a death like his, we will certainly be united with him in a resurrection like his. We know that our old self was crucified with him so that the body of sin might be destroyed, and we might no longer be enslaved to sin. For whoever has died is freed from sin. But if we have died with Christ, we believe that we will also live with him. We know that Christ, being raised from the dead, will never die again; death no longer has dominion over him. 10 The death he died, he died to sin, once for all; but the life he lives, he lives to God. 11 So you also must consider yourselves dead to sin and alive to God in Christ Jesus. 12 Therefore, do not let sin exercise dominion in your mortal bodies, to make you obey their passions. 13 No longer present your members to sin as instruments of wickedness, but present yourselves to God as those who have been brought from death to life, and present your members to God as instruments of righteousness.

Sin will only have power over us as Christians so long as we surrender ourselves to it. Christ came to end sin in us. We have a choice to make in our lives every moment of every day–do we continue to sin or do we fight? Through the power and presence of the Holy Spirit in our lives, we can have victory over sin if we continue to fight. When we give ourselves excuses and justify our sin, then we have lost and we “present [our] members to sin as instruments of wickedness.”

Christ enables us to overcome, though, and be “instruments of righteousness” because we “have been brought from death to life.”

Make a renewed commitment in your life today to fight against sin, to “no longer be enslaved to sin.”

Romans 2:6-11 and The False Separation of Faith and Works

saint_paulI have heard, even recently, well meaning Christians claim that the Old Testament was all about Law and the New Testament was all about Grace. In line with this, I also have heard it claimed that Paul was all about salvation by faith as opposed to “the Jews” who were all about salvation by works. If that were true, Paul could not have written this passage in Romans:

For he will repay according to each one’s deeds: to those who by patiently doing good seek for glory and honour and immortality, he will give eternal life; while for those who are self-seeking and who obey not the truth but wickedness, there will be wrath and fury. There will be anguish and distress for everyone who does evil, the Jew first and also the Greek, 10 but glory and honour and peace for everyone who does good, the Jew first and also the Greek. 11 For God shows no partiality.

The reality is that when we try to falsely separate faith and works, we end up with a system that is not completely Christian. No one can earn their way into heaven. This is true. But no one can simply believe their way into heaven, either. Our faith and beliefs have to be strong enough to change the way we live, the way we act and interact in the world.

When people separate faith and works, it gives them an excuse to continue sinning and to avoid the struggle against sin. “After all,” they say, “I am not saved by what I do, only by what I believe.” This leads to an attitude that thinks as long as we have confessed Christ as Lord and Savior, we can act in ways that are explicitly opposed to his lordship and contrary to the salvation he offers, and we will still be fine.

For me, this goes back to my starting point for all theology: God is not dumb. If Christ came to destroy sin and give us new life in him by being born of the Spirit, how can we think we can willingly continue living in the old way and as if we had not experienced that new birth? God does not expect someone to be completely perfect all at once, but God does expect struggle against sin, dependence upon him, and growth in grace. In this way, we live out the reality of being in Christ and having the gift of the Holy Spirit bestowed upon us.

Acts 19:29-31 and Christians Using Common Sense

Christians are supposed to use common sense. It is that simple. We are not called to be doormats or to turn off our brains as we deal with other people and the world at large. In Ephesus, as Paul was preaching and teaching, a riot broke out. Look at what happened next:

29 The city was filled with the confusion; and people rushed together to the theatre, dragging with them Gaius and Aristarchus, Macedonians who were Paul’s travelling-companions. 30 Paul wished to go into the crowd, but the disciples would not let him; 31 even some officials of the province of Asia, who were friendly to him, sent him a message urging him not to venture into the theatre.

Paul was prevented from confronting the crowd because the crowd would have pulled him apart. This also falls in line with what Jesus said in Matthew 10:23, “When they persecute you in one town, flee to the next.”

There are Christians who oppose using common sense. Some simply do not want to think. Others want to take one aspect of the Gospel message and apply it to every single situation in the entire world. Life is more complicated than that. This is why Jesus also said, “See, I am sending you out like sheep into the midst of wolves; so be wise as serpents and innocent as doves” (Matthew 10:16).

If you are a Christian, THINK. Use your God-given brain. Use common sense.

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