That Silly Woman Issue

Ooh! I just noticed that the title of this message may confuse you. You might be expecting me to discuss the issue of Silly Women, which could indeed be a troubling issue, but that is not the case. You see, recently on Facebook, I had stated that Carly Fiorina and Ted Cruz would make a perfect combination for our future President and Vice President (It doesn’t matter to me who gets top billing). And a couple of people jumped on me, quoting Paul’s instructions to Tim, that women should never have authority over men, that they should be silent and sit quietly in church. And I will be honest, my first reaction was to ask if they had to remain barefoot and pregnant, too? No, I didn’t say that, but this whole issue and mindset has always troubled me. I first pointed out that my original comment had nothing to do with leadership within our churches, but even then, their comment was a complete misunderstanding of what Paul wrote to Tim. It is also a complete misinterpretation of Paul’s teaching and admonishments to the Church as a whole.

Read the verse that throws everyone into a tizzy:

I don’t allow a woman to teach or to have authority over a man. Instead, she should be quiet (I Timothy 2:12)

Whoa! That actually sounds pretty clear. So maybe I am wrong . . . oh my! Well, before we jump to such wild accusations (lol), we need to understand the language, the context and usage of the language. THEN we will have a better understanding what Paul was actually telling Timothy. But, right from the beginning, I have no intention of twisting the Scriptures, but, at the same time, I fully recognize that some passages in the Bible do frustrate us when we try to understand them.

Once we dig into this, we will find that Paul’s instructions, his primary concern, was false teaching, rather than making a broader statement about restricting women’s roles. You see, Paul was addressing a problem that was occurring in Ephesus, and being spread by some women in their congregation. Craig Keener wrote an excellent book on this entitled, “Women, and Wives: Marriage and Women’s Ministry in the Letters of Paul.”

Now, we need to think about this rationally, and without any emotional feelings we might have. Because as Dr. David Thompson of Asbury Seminary once asked, “Do we read the entire Bible in light of these two problematic texts, or do we read these two texts in light of the rest of the Bible?” Good question! If Paul was teaching the women were to always be quiet, it would contradict I Corinthians 11:2-9 where Paul instructed women about praying and prophesying in corporate worship. Also, in Colossians 3:16 where Paul wrote “Let Christ’s word with all its wisdom and richness live in you. Use psalms, hymns, and spiritual songs to teach and instruct yourselves about God’s kindness. Sing to God in your hearts.” So it appears that Paul never expected women to be quiet in the church all the time.

We often forget that women were the last disciples who remained at the cross, and were the first at the empty tomb. They also remained integral to the work of the church in its early centuries. One of the best-kept secrets in the history of the Church is the enormous role that women played in the early church.

If you read much of the writings of Christian and secular writers from the time of the early Church, many times, they comment on how women made such a significant roll in early growth of Christianity.

For instance, Celsus, a 2nd-century detractor of the faith, once ridiculed the church, saying that it attracted only “the silly and the mean and the stupid, with women and children.” Ouch! Then, in the same time-period, Bishop Cyprian of Carthage, acknowledged in his Testimonia that “Christian maidens were very numerous” and that it was difficult to find Christian husbands for all of them. This should help to give us a picture of a church, which was (and in many cases, still is) disproportionately populated by women.

We also discover that the “high-society” women often converted to Christianity while their male relatives remained pagans. Why? Because they didn’t want to lose their senatorial status. This probably explains why there was such an inordinate number of women in the church, particularly with the upper-class women. Callistus, who was the bishop of Rome c. 220, attempted to resolve a severe marriage problem by allowing women of the senatorial class permission to marry slaves or freedmen — even though Roman law prohibited it.

We also find that these high-born Christian women loved to study the Bible, as well as Hebrew and Greek. The circle of Roman women who studied with Jerome in the late 300s showed such scholarship that he referred to some church elders in Marcella to resolve a hermeneutical problem. By the early 400s, Augustine declared that “any old Christian woman” was better educated in spiritual matters than many a philosopher.

The women’s spiritual zeal exploded into social service. Fabiola founded the first Christian hospital in Europe. Many other church women experienced severe opposition from their families for spending their wealth so generously in helping the poor. Such selfless ministry became a trademark of Christian women.

In a letter to his wife, Tertullian gives us a glimpse into some of the ministries of church women in his time. He told her, that in case he died, not to marry a pagan.

“Who would be willing to let his wife go through one street after another to other men’s houses, and indeed to the poorer cottages, in order to visit the brethren? Who would like to see her being taken from his side by some duty of attending a nocturnal gathering? At Easter time who will quietly tolerate her absence all the night? Who will unsuspiciously let her go to the Lord’s Supper, that feast upon which they heap such calumnies? Who will let her creep into jail to kiss the martyr’s chains? Or bring water for the saints’ feet?”

We also know from the rest of the New Testament, and specifically in Acts and Romans 16, that, for instance, Priscilla instructed Apollos. Phoebe was a deacon. That is an important issue, because in Greek, there is no such thing as a “deaconess.” She was also, Paul’s emissary to Rome. He mentions Lydia, who oversaw the church at Philippi. Junia is called an apostle and was imprisoned for her witness. So obviously, there is no way that these things could have happened if women were restricted in the church, and instructed to remain quiet or without any church authority.

In fact, if you ever wanted to actually study church history, you would discover that even into the middle of the second century, women served as church leaders, deacons, teachers and prophetesses. Then, when the Roman leader Constantine declared Christianity the official religion of Rome, the Church adopted the Roman practice of only men holding positions of authority. And, it wasn’t until A.D. 494 that Pope Gelasius declared that women could no longer serve as priests. So apparently, prior to this declaration, both men and women held positions of authority until the early church became influenced by the Romans.

But Church history tells us that women continued to have leadership roles. Argula von Grumbach was a Bavarian noblewoman who became involved in the Protestant Reformation debates going on in Germany. Martin Luther described her as “making a valiant fight with great spirit, boldness of speech and knowledge of Christ.” During the Puritan era, Anne Hutchinson began services in her home with her congregation including Henry Vane, governor of the Massachusetts Bay Colony.

During the seventeenth century, the Quaker movement began accepting women in an equal role in ministry. Mary Fell, who became founder George Fox’s wife, wrote the book, “Women Speaking,” (which sadly, is no longer in print). But she argued against the Puritan ban of women speaking in church, she wrote that the ministry of women was “Justified, Proved, and Allowed of by the Scriptures.”

The holiness movement, in the late eighteenth and nineteenth centuries, declared that sons and daughters would prophecy as they were filled and empowered by the Holy Spirit. John Wesley used women as class leaders and one or two as preachers. Luther Lee, one of the founders of the Wesleyan Methodist Connection of America, preached the ordination sermon of the first woman ordained in America in 1853, and used Galatians 3:28 as his text.

Phoebe Palmer (1807-1874) preached across America and Britain leading thousands to totally commit themselves to the leadership and power of the Holy Spirit — including several bishops. Although she was not formally ordained, she wrote a dozen books and edited the magazine, The Guide to Holiness. In response to those who opposed her preaching, she wrote “The Promise of the Father” in 1859, which inspired thousands of women to go into the ministry!

When William Booth, who founded the Salvation Army, began dating Catherine Mumford, wrote several letters that included her arguments for the full equality of women to minister. In a sixteen-page letter dated April 9, 1855, Catherine wrote:

“I believe woman is destined to assume her true position, and exert her proper influence by the special exertions and attainments of her own sex . . . May the Lord, even the just and impartial One, overrule all for the true emancipation of women from swaddling bands of prejudice, ignorance and custom, which, almost the world over, have so long debased and wronged her.”

After their marriage in June of that year, Catherine Booth became a powerful preacher and advocate for women’s right to serve the Church in equality with men. From the beginning until today, the Salvation Army ordains both husband and wife of married couples and gives them identical ranks, so half of the 17,000 ordained officers are women!

Nowhere in Scripture will you find any teaching that females can never have authority over males. Scripture allows women to have civil authority over men, and to have authority over male children, male teenagers, and possibly others. In fact, Paul wrote to the church in Galatia explaining, “Faith in Christ Jesus is what makes each of you equal with each other, whether you are a Jew or a Greek, a slave or a free person, a man or a woman (Galatians 3:28). Ooh, ouch. We need to find out what situation Paul was dealing with in his instructions to Tim, and whether it applies to the church today.

Now, if we look at the language used, there is a problem with the Greek verb “authentein,” which is mistranslated as authority. I say that because this verb is only found once in scripture and rarely in extrabiblical texts. But in each of those cases, it is associated with aggression. Don’t let that confuse you. It should more appropriately be translated as “domineer,” as it is in the Latin Vulgate and New English Bible and as “usurp authority” in the Geneva and King James Bibles.

Then, you have the word “hesuchia,” which was mistranslated as “silent” for many years in some English versions of the Bible. The more accurate meaning is along the lines of “quietly” or “in quietness.” It is the same word used in II Thessalonians 3:12 where Paul wrote for the people to “settle down” and in I Timothy 2:2 when he tells the church to “live peaceful and quiet lives.” So if Paul intended for women to never speak at all.

I could go on and on, giving you example after example of the impact women have made within the Church. But men of the Church need to get off of their power thing and begin to fully understand what Paul was actually teaching. Learn to understand its context, the language used and the meaning of the language he use. Then, compare it to all of Scripture. Once we do, we will see that women have an important role withing the Church and we need to cease and desist our limiting the move of the Spirit in their lives. Our churches need to have a renewal that will revolutionize our fellowships!

Doulos Studies

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