1 Timothy 2:11-12 and Paul’s Opinion of Women

no-girls-allowed1Paul’s opinion of women is a difficult topic for people in the Church who do not take the time to dig into it fully. So many people get an idea or opinion on their own and then go to the Bible and find texts to support their opinion, or they read the Bible in such a way that they get passages in short snippets and out of context, which can say something completely different.

Take the passage in Romans 7, for example. There are people who read this and think that a defeated struggle against sin is what Paul experienced in his life, doing what he did not want to do. Yet that thought runs absolutely counter to everything Paul preached and taught throughout the rest of that letter, as well as everything else he taught. When we remember that Romans is a letter that was meant to be read all at once, we can see that Paul, in Romans 7, is using this language to describe someone who knows s/he needs a savior, but is not yet in Christ. The life for those who are in Christ is described both before and after this chapter. In context, Romans 7 says something completely different than what many claim it means.

The same is true for the status or allowed roles for women in the Church in 1 Timothy 2:

11 A wife should learn quietly with complete submission. 12 I don’t allow a wife to teach or to control her husband. Instead, she should be a quiet listener.

This seems fairly straightforward, yet it is completely contrary to Paul’s injunctions to women in 1 Corinthians that when they pray or prophesy in Church their heads should be covered. It also ignores the women deacons and apostles commended by Paul in Romans 16. Not to mention the fact that this flies completely in the face of the spiritual truth Paul loudly proclaimed in Galatians that in Christ there is neither male nor female.

This passage is a part of a particular letter written to a particular person in response to a particular issue. It needs to be read as a letter–all at once. When that happens, one can see this passage is linked to a larger issue throughout the letter:

(1:3-5) When I left for Macedonia, I asked you to stay behind in Ephesus so that you could instruct certain individuals not to spread wrong teaching. They shouldn’t pay attention to myths and endless genealogies. Their teaching only causes useless guessing games instead of faithfulness to God’s way of doing things. The goal of instruction is love from a pure heart, a good conscience, and a sincere faith.

 

(2:11-12) 11 A wife should learn quietly with complete submission. 12 I don’t allow a wife to teach or to control her husband. Instead, she should be a quiet listener.

 

(4:6-7) If you point these things out to the believers, you will be a good servant of Christ Jesus who has been trained by the words of faith and the good teaching that you’ve carefully followed. But stay away from the godless myths that are passed down from the older women.

 

(6:20-21) 20 Timothy, protect what has been given to you in trust. Avoid godless and pointless discussions and the contradictory claims of so-called “knowledge.” 21 When some people adopted this false knowledge, they missed the goal of faith.

Certain women in Ephesus were teaching myths that were contrary to the faith. They were teaching these things in the Church and Paul left Timothy to put an end to it. It is these women that are forbidden to teach in the Church and are told to learn from their husbands, because they themselves do not know enough yet to be teachers. Otherwise they would not have gotten tangled up in these godless myths.

When we find a passage in Scripture that does not seem to make sense with the rest of the tone of the Bible, we must try to read it in context and see if it says what it seems to say. Many times, by reading the passage in the full context in which it was written, we will find that it agrees with everything else we read in the Bible. Paul’s opinion of women is case in point.

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2 Corinthians 11:2-3 and Seduction of Eve

ringsThere are plenty of references in the New Testament of Jesus being a second Adam or a new man, and the Church being the bride of Christ.  One of the most interesting comes from this reading:

I’m deeply concerned about you with the same concern that God has. As your father, I promised you in marriage to one husband. I promised to present you as an innocent virgin to Christ himself.  But I’m afraid that your minds might be seduced in the same way as the snake deceived Eve with his devious tricks. You might be unable to focus completely on a genuine and innocent commitment to Christ.

Paul here is in the middle of his diatribe against the false teachings of the “super apostles” that came to Corinth after he had left.  Here he compares them to the serpent in the Garden of Eden who led astray Eve.  The connection is clear: false teaching can twist the truth of the Gospel message and we would end up turning away from Jesus.

What is not so clear in today’s context is how we can tell whether something is a false teaching or not.  There are so many different denominations and non-denominational churches in the world, how do we determine whether or not something is false?  There are even some who would say that no one can make the claim that someone else’s belief is false if they hold that belief sincerely.

As for the last statement, that is blatantly false.  The entire New Testament shows that there is a correct understanding of Jesus–Messiah and God in the Flesh–and there is a wrong understanding of Jesus–prophet who was killed and stayed dead.  This is seen in the Gospels books.  It is seen over and over again in the Church’s work in Acts, where some would not accept the truth and others would.  It is seen in the letters, correcting false understandings.  And it is seen in Revelation, where the main message is to hold on to the faith and not let anyone or anything turn you away.

As for how to determine whether the different denominations have truth or falsehood in them, the first thing to remember is that no denomination or faith fellowship will be perfect.  This is not an excuse to put up with something you know in your gut is not right or true (see here).  Having said that, one of the best ways to get at some obvious errors is to look at how the Church has understood a particular issue over the last 2000 years.  With that much time on our side, and the guiding of the Holy Spirit to help us, chances are if something is a relatively new belief (250 years old or less), there is a good chance it is false.  This is not a blanket statement, but a good guideline.

Beyond this, the only thing that will help in making this kind of decision is prayer and study.  Find someone who is knowledgeable, has a strong faith, and is someone you trust, and talk to her or him about this issue.  Together you will probably find the answer you need, because after all, Jesus promised to be wherever two or three are gathered in his Name.

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:

GODISNOWHERE

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.

Proverbs 31:10-31 and A Woman of Worth

TBW2_small-coverI have heard many different people in churches have a very bigoted and sexist view of women. In some congregations (and even in some denominations) women are second-class citizens that are not quite as important as men. There are verses in the New Testament that are taken out of the context of the letters within which they are found to justify this and seem to give divine support to the notion that women are not equal to men in the eyes of God–which is blatantly not true.

What is also frustrating to me is when some of these same people turn to Proverbs 31 to show women what kind of wife and mother they ought to be. The image that is projected or preached out of this passage is a woman who dutifully takes care of her house, her children, and her husband. It is the perfect “little homemaker” who could slip into a Donna Reed episode. Yet an honest reading of this passage does not give that idea at all:

A competent wife, how does one find her?
    Her value is far above pearls.
11 Her husband entrusts his heart to her,
    and with her he will have all he needs.
12 She brings him good and not trouble
    all the days of her life.
13 She seeks out wool and flax;
    she works joyfully with her hands.
14 She is like a fleet of merchant ships,
    bringing food from a distance.
15 She gets up while it is still night,
    providing food for her household,
    even some for her female servants.
16 She surveys a field and acquires it;
    from her own resources, she plants a vineyard.
17 She works energetically;
    her arms are powerful.
18 She realizes that her trading is successful;
    she doesn’t put out her lamp at night.
19 She puts her hands to the spindle;
    her palms grasp the whorl.
20 She reaches out to the needy;
    she stretches out her hands to the poor.
21 She doesn’t fear for her household when it snows,
    because they are all dressed in warm clothes.
22 She makes bedspreads for herself;
    fine linen and purple are her clothing.
23 Her husband is known in the city gates
    when he sits with the elders of the land.
24 She makes garments and sells them;
    she supplies sashes to traders.
25 Strength and honor are her clothing;
    she is confident about the future.
26 Her mouth is full of wisdom;
    kindly teaching is on her tongue.
27 She is vigilant over the activities of her household;
    she doesn’t eat the food of laziness.
28 Her children bless her;
    her husband praises her:
29     “Many women act competently,
    but you surpass them all!”
30 Charm is deceptive and beauty fleeting,
    but a woman who fears the Lord is to be praised.
31 Let her share in the results of her work;
    let her deeds praise her in the city gates.

This is a successful businesswoman! This is someone who has financial resources to purchase land, start business ventures, and provide for the home just as much as the man does. This is not a woman who is subordinate to her husband, but one who works diligently just as he does in order to have a successful home.

This kind of work can take several forms. For some it is being engaged in the business world, either by choice or necessity. For some it is having a home business. For some it is staying home with little ones because the cost of daycare (which can be huge) cancels out the potential income from working. For some it is homeschooling because that, in essence, earns the tuition of the best private schools in America (which, again, can be huge). And there are others.

The take-away, though, is that the woman is just as much a decision-maker and just as much a provider for the home as the man. They are equally tasked with doing what they can to have a home that is not in want. This is the vision of a Woman of Worth.

Luke 10:38-42 and Greatness

Imacon Color ScannerOne of the most interesting scenes in the life of Jesus for me is the interaction with Mary and Martha.  It is so real. Having three daughters of my own, I have seen similar arguments around our house.

While Jesus and his disciples were traveling, Jesus entered a village where a woman named Martha welcomed him as a guest.  She had a sister named Mary, who sat at the Lord’s feet and listened to his message.  By contrast, Martha was preoccupied with getting everything ready for their meal. So Martha came to him and said, “Lord, don’t you care that my sister has left me to prepare the table all by myself? Tell her to help me.”  The Lord answered, “Martha, Martha, you are worried and distracted by many things.  One thing is necessary. Mary has chosen the better part. It won’t be taken away from her.”

One explanation of this I have recently seen is that Jesus is approving of Mary’s rejection of traditional gender roles.  This is a danger of allowing our own culture and our own perspectives to control how we approach the text.  Gender roles have nothing to do with this passage.

(I should say here, however, we all bring who we are and what we have experienced to the text.  And those experiences and knowledge do inform how we understand the Bible.  Yet it is through the witness of the Holy Spirit down through the ages and across the churches that help us understand how to properly interpret Scripture.  Otherwise we come up with radically different ideas, some of which may be valid and some of which may just be goofy.)

What Mary is doing in this passage is being a disciple, learning at the feet of Jesus.  Luke has already shown that there were many women who followed Jesus (8:1-3) and the Greek in these verses say these women ministered to Jesus.  None of the apostles are ever said to minister to Christ.  So there is precedent for women being around Jesus in this capacity.

What Martha is doing in this passage is being the greatest among them of all.  Remember, Jesus said that the greatest disciple of his will be the servant of all (see Matthew 23:11, Luke 9:48, Luke 22:24-27).  Martha is being the quintessential disciple, serving all.  In Chapter 22, Jesus will even mimic Martha’s servanthood as an example to the disciples of how they should treat one another.

The problem in this passage is not that Martha is doing “woman’s work” while Mary is broadening her mind.  No, the problem is that Martha is being a disciple, but is not singularly focused on Jesus.  Therefore, she is double-minded, frustrated, and angry.  When those emotions creep into our service to Christ, we might as well stop what we are doing.  We are no longer doing what we are doing out of love for Jesus and for the sake of his kingdom.  We are no longer truly being disciples.  We are focused on ourselves and how we are being wronged because of the perceived unfairness of the situation.

Mary had the better part not because she was not working, but because she was singularly focused on Jesus.

How is your service to Jesus?  Are you singularly focused on him, so that all that you do is joy because it is done out of love for your Savior and Lord?  Or are you bitter and angry because no one else seems to be working or helping, focusing on yourself and your situation rather than Jesus?

Serving all only leads to greatness if we do it because we know we are really serving Jesus and we are doing so with an attitude of love and joy, singularly focused on him.