The church has used Paul’s words in the following passages to silence women for centuries:
- 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, NIV).
- A woman must quietly receive instruction with entire submissiveness. But I do not allow a woman to teach or exercise authority over a man, but to remain quiet (1 Timothy 2:11-12, NIV).
Did Paul mean to apply these statements (and others like them) to all women for all times or could Paul have been speaking to a particular group in a particular church at a particular time in history to address a particular problem? Women along with children, slaves and the poor assembled in great numbers wherever the gospel was preached. The gospel represented a new message that affirmed their human dignity and worth. Women were not educated beyond their domestic duties in the home during this time so obviously they had no formal training in interpreting the Scriptures. The “women” in the Corinthian Church would have been zealous over their new freedoms in attending church and began disrupting the meetings with their questions and opinions. Paul asked them to quiet down and speak with their husbands at home. He was actually encouraging them to learn and participate, but he wanted order not disunity and disorder.
The Epistles are letters written thousands of years ago. At the time Paul was writing these letters, he was living in a patriarchal society and women held the legal status of slaves; they were not considered worthy to even hear the law read or explained and could not enter the inner courts of the Temple. Although the Bible was written for us, we were not the original audience. If we want to understand what application the Bible has for our lives today, we must approach it responsibly so we do not dishonor the original intent of the message.
Paul was not restricting women, he was giving them opportunities to sit quietly and learn; something not previously available to them. Paul had a high view of women and acknowledged them as deacons (Romans 16:1), co-workers (Romans 16:3) and apostles (Romans 16:7). Women were vital in Paul’s ministry and were leading, teaching and prophesying in the community at the time Paul was writing these letters. Women were fulfilling Peter’s prophetic words, “In those days I will pour out my Spirit even on my servants- men and women alike- and they will prophesy” (Acts 2:18, NLT). Paul had full knowledge of these female leaders and they had his blessing.
Every Bible study I’ve been a part of used the words of Peter and Paul as the gold standard for a “biblical marriage.”
- Wives, submit yourselves to your own husbands as you do to the Lord. For the husband is the head of the wife as Christ is the head of the church, his body, of which he is the Savior. Now as the church submits to Christ, so also wives should submit to their husbands in everything (Ephesians 5:22-24, NIV).
- Wives submit yourselves to your husbands, as is fitting in the Lord. Husbands, love your wives and do not be harsh with them (Colossians 3:18-19, NIV).
- Wives, in the same way submit yourselves to your own husbands so that, if any of them do not believe the word, they may be won over without words by the behavior of their wives, 2 when they see the purity and reverence of your lives (1 Peter 3:1-2, NIV).
At the time these letters were written there were Greco-Roman household codes in effect that recognized the hierarchy of male authority in the home. These household codes were part of the Pax Romana law. These teachings from Peter and Paul would have aligned with the laws of their day. We do not have to mirror Greco-Roman culture; we live in America and a marriage model from ancient Middle Eastern culture should not be our standard just because it is biblical. After all, it is biblical to force a woman to marry her rapist (Deuteronomy 22:28-29), it is biblical for a man to have multiple wives (Exodus 21:10), and it is biblical to sell your daughter as a servant (Exodus 21:7).
If you want to know what a God-designed marriage should look like, you only need to go as far as Genesis 1 & 2. In Genesis 2:18 & 20, God made for Adam an ezer kenegdo translated as “strong power.” Eve was created as Adam’s perfect match, neither superior nor inferior. Eve, God’s first daughter was named after our Heavenly Father. Ezer is a name God uses for himself numerous times in the Old Testament in the military context when he is rescuing Israel. So in the context of marriage, the ezer kenegdo is to stand shoulder-to-shoulder with her husband and her brothers in ministry. When women are silenced, forced to take a back seat, minimized or downplayed, they are not functioning in the way God intended.
I have a definitive moment in time when God called me to ministry as a minister of the gospel. I have preaching and teaching gifts that have been affirmed by the Church. I have an education and I am ordained. I am an ezer kenegdo, a strong power- a warrior! How can I not preach or teach? I don’t know about you, but when any human organization, church included conflicts with God, I am going to obey God rather than man (Acts 5:29). If you know a female pastor, please encourage her- she needs it! If you are a female pastor, God bless you richly!
Bessey, S. (2013). Jesus feminist: An invitation to revisit the Bible’s view of women. Howard Books: New York, NY.
Evans, R.H. (2012). A year of biblical womanhood: How a liberated woman found herself sitting on her roof, covering her head, and calling her husband master. Thomas Nelson: Nashville, TN.