In Praise of Female Pastors Part IV: The Interpretation

Silence

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, 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!

References:

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.

In Praise of Female Pastors Part II: The History

 

In the history of mankind, women represent the most discriminated against population in the world. Across every culture, race and nation, women have been viewed as second class citizens. They have been denied education, the right to own property and the right to vote (until 1920 in the U.S.). Some cultures have viewed a woman’s sole purpose in life as that of bearing children and attending to every demand of her husband. Women have been treated as property to be bought, sold or cast aside when they were no longer needed or wanted.

Even today in some Middle Eastern countries, women are required to wear veils that cover their facial features and hair. In yet another culture there exists female infanticide due to the existence of a one-child policy. Male babies are preferred over female babies so much so, that parents opt for the termination of their female fetus through selective abortion. Nicholas Kristof and Sheryl Wudunn, authors of Half the Sky (2010) write “It appears that more girls have been killed in the last fifty years, precisely because they were girls than men were killed in all the wars of the twentieth century” (xvii).

Thankfully, in 21st century America, women have gained equality in nearly every facet of society. The exception; however, seems to be in the local church. Several Protestant denominations continue to hold to a patriarchal leadership system, restricting church leadership positions and ordination to men only. Churches in holiness denominations such as the Church of the Nazarene affirm women in leadership positions, including pastoral roles.

The fact that certain holiness denominations allow women all the rights and privileges in leadership has created a divide among Christians. I have witnessed arguments concerning this issue on social media that ultimately led to pressing the “unfriend” button and “blocking” the contact permanently. The controversial issue of female leadership in ministry has long been debated. It is rooted in various Old Testament Scriptures and statements made by the Apostle Paul in the New Testament. But, is it really as simple as reading these passages in the Bible and taking them so literally?

A responsible person approaches the Bible with the understanding that it is not an American book and is about as far removed from ancient Bible culture as you can get. When we approach the Bible through our Western eyes only, its message tends to lose some of its clarity. In a sense we are unaware and culturally blind; guilty of tunnel vision, yet absolutely sure without knowing anything about ancient biblical culture that we are able to explain the Bible’s message to ourselves and others.

Jewish women in Jesus’ day held the legal status of a female slave; heads were covered, faces veiled. Women were the property of their fathers until marriage and then ownership transferred to the husband. Only the husband had the right to divorce his wife and he could do so for any reason, including finding more pleasure in another woman. Women were forbidden to enter the inner courts of the temple and were not considered worthy to hear the law read or explained because it was a woman (Eve) who was deceived and brought sin into the world. The Bible is replete with examples of male patriarchy with women under the dominion and rule of men. That model however, was not God’s design. God’s original design is seen in Genesis 1:27-28:

So God created mankind in his own image, in the image of God he created them; male and female he created them. God blessed them and said to them, “Be fruitful and increase in number; fill the earth and subdue it. Rule over the fish in the sea and the birds in the sky and over every living creature that moves on the ground” (NIV).

The Bible speaks clearly here of Eve’s fundamental equality with Adam. They shared the same essential nature, she was in no way inferior to him and she was not made to serve him. She was his spiritual counterpart, his intellectual equal and his perfect mate and companion. There isn’t a hint of superiority in this text. Eve was given the same instructions as Adam: to have dominion and rule over the earth. I am familiar with the argument that Eve was subordinate to Adam because God created Adam first, but if we follow that logic then Adam is subordinate to the seed bearing plants, trees (Gen. 1:11) and animals (Gen. 1:20-25) that were created before him. This argument simply does not make sense.

Genesis 2:18 tell us that the Lord God said, “It is not good for the man to be alone. I will make a helper suitable for him” (NIV). The word “helper” used here and again in verse 20 in the Hebrew language means ezer; a term God uses at least 16 more times in the Old Testament to describe himself and how he always comes through for his people in times of great need. If Eve was Adam’s subordinate, why would God use the term ezer,  a term he used for himself meaning “strong power” to describe Eve?

Things begin to change; however, in chapter 3 after the couple eat from the tree God commanded them not to eat from. In Genesis 3:14, the consequences of disobedience begin and in verse 16 he said “I will make your pains in childbearing very severe; with painful labor you will give birth to children. Your desire will be for your husband, and he will rule over you” (Genesis 3:16, NIV). This was a prophetic statement from God that meant, the relationship status between a man and a woman would now change. The great news is; however, that what was turned upside down in the Garden of Eden was turned right side up in the Garden of Gethsemane. Jesus not only reconciled the relationship between God and people, he reconciled the relationship between men and women!

Stay tuned for more good news in part III of In Praise of Female Pastors.

References:

Burden, S., Sunberg, C., & Wright, J. (2014). Reclaiming Eve: The identity & calling of women in the kingdom of God. Beacon Hill Press: Kansas City, MO.

Cowles, C.S. (1991). In praise of women preachers: An analysis of Paul’s position of women in ministry. Retrieved from http://www.ccel.us/place.praise.html.

James, C.C., (2010). Half the church: Recapturing God’s global vision for women. Zondervan: Grand Rapids, MI.

Kristoff, N.D., & WuDunn, S. (2009). Half the sky: Turning oppression into opportunity for women worldwide. Random House: New York, NY.