A Question About Head Coverings: Paul’s Response to the Church in Corinth

“Now, to deal with the matters you wrote about” (1 Corinthians 7:1). These are the words of the apostle Paul, written to the church at Corinth. Paul then begins to first mention and then comment on a number of issues that were evidently brought to his attention.

He begins his letter by explaining that the Corinthian church should not be divided about which Christian teacher they should follow. He mentions himself, Peter and Apollos specifically (c.f. 1 Corinthians 3:22). Apollos taught in the Jewish synagogues (Acts 18:26); Peter was rebuked for deferring to Jewish traditions at the expense of Gentile believers (Galatians 2:11-14). Paul was known as the apostle God had sent to the Gentiles (Ephesians 3:8).

It’s not surprising, then, that Paul feels a need to clarify issues related to Jewish beliefs and traditions. He touches on circumcision, meat offered to idols, hair covering, and whether or not women may speak in the congregation (c.f. 1 Corinthians, chapters 7, 8, 11 & 14).

On each issue, Paul shows that he is intimately acquainted with the traditions, and sympathetic to people’s concerns. Overall, it appears that he attempts to balance freedom, with love and responsibility to others. He encourages maturity, unity and the use of the Spirit’s gifts by Christians, in loving service one to another.

Concerning circumcision, he acknowledges the longstanding sign of the covenant revealed through Moses; AND YET, he says the following to believers in Christ:

“Each of you should go on living according to the Lord’s gift to you, and as you were when God called you. This is the rule I teach in all the churches. If a circumcised man has accepted God’s call, he should not try to remove the marks of circumcision; if an uncircumcised man has accepted God’s call, he should not get circumcised. For whether or not a man is circumcised means nothing; what matters is to obey God’s commandments. Each of you should remain as you were when you accepted God’s call.” (1 Corinthians 7:17-20)

Must Gentile believers now follow the Jewish rite of circumcision? In a word, “No.” The outward sign was pointing ahead to a circumcision of the heart, accomplished by God’s Spirit, for all who are united with Christ by faith (c.f. Romans 2:25-29).

Concerning food offered to idols, Paul is aware that some would view eating this as an act of actually worshiping an idol. Others recognize that an idol “stands for something that does not really exist.” They could eat any food offered at the market with a clear conscience. What does Paul counsel? Freedom of conscience, alongside love and consideration for those who might misunderstand and thereby stumble (c.f. 1 Corinthians 8:4-13).

Concerning head coverings, Paul would be well aware of the oral traditions that have been preserved for us by 1st through 4th century A.D. Rabbis (e.g. R. Yishmael, R. Yehuda, R. Yohanan, R. Assi; as cited in “Tradition: A Journal of Orthodox Jewish Thought, Hair Covering and Jewish Law, by Michael J. Broyde) These traditions stated that a Jewish woman would “cover her hair” in public as an expression of proper “modesty” (Broyde, p. 99). A married woman who did not abide by this custom could be divorced by her husband (Broyde, pp. 99-100). Jewish wives were similarly prohibited from “spinning in the marketplace, or conversing with every man” (Broyde, p. 99). Though not explicitly stated in the Bible the principle of publicly “covering the hair” was “inferred” by Rabbi Yishmael (born 90 A.D.) from Numbers 5:18: “’And he shall uncover her head’…from the fact that we disgrace her in this manner, commensurate to her act of making herself attractive to her lover, [by uncovering her head] we can infer that it is forbidden” (Broyde, p. 100).

Referring to Paul’s comment in 1 Corinthians 11:10, why would Jewish women cover their heads, “because of the angels”? Tertullian cites the tradition (inferred from 1 Enoch) in the following comment:

“For if (it is) on account of the angels — those, to wit, whom we read of as having fallen from God and heaven on account of concupiscence after females… So perilous a face, then, ought to be shaded, which has cast stumbling-stones even so far as heaven” (On the Veiling of Virgins, http://biblehub.com/library/tertullian/on_the_veiling_of_virgins/chapter_vii_of_the_reasons_assigned.htm)

Having read 1st Enoch, I’m aware that angels are said to have left their proper place in heaven to explore sexuality with human beings. These angels are actually referred to in the book of Jude:

“And the angels who did not keep their positions of authority but abandoned their proper dwelling—these he has kept in darkness, bound with everlasting chains for judgment on the great Day. In a similar way, Sodom and Gomorrah and the surrounding towns gave themselves up to sexual immorality and perversion. They serve as an example of those who suffer the punishment of eternal fire.” (verses 6 & 7)

Neither Jude nor Enoch blames women for “causing” the angels to stumble. Rather, the angels themselves are held fully responsible for their actions, and “bound with everlasting chains for judgment” as a result. The attribution of blame to women is inferred by male theologians.

So what does Paul say about this tradition? A woman should not be ashamed of her hair. It is her “glory” (1 Corinthians 11:15); and she is the most glorious aspect of God’s glorious creation. (Paul uses this language of “glory” to contrast traditions that are rooted in shame.) When God looked upon this glory of glories he had created, what was his response? “Then God looked over all he had made, and he saw that it was very good!” (Genesis 1:31)

In addition to promoting shame, the traditional notion that a woman should wear a “symbol” of authority on her head is not even present in the Greek text of the New Testament.  English translations such as the ESV add this language, and falsely portray Paul as condoning male authority.

And what would Paul say about the tradition that it is “shameful” for a woman’s voice to be heard in church? (c.f. 1 Corinthians 14:34-35)  Once again, he acknowledges the tradition, but then proceeds to correct it. Concerning women prophesying or speaking in tongues in Christian assemblies, Paul’s instructions are, “Forbid not” (1 Corinthians 14:39).

As with the issue concerning a woman’s hair, Rabbinical tradition held that the female voice is inherently sexually provocative:

“A woman’s voice is a sexual incitement, as it says, ‘For sweet is thy voice and thy countenance is comely.’  R. Shesheth said: A woman’s hair is a sexual incitement, as it says, ‘Thy hair is as a flock of goats.'” (http://www.come-and-hear.com/berakoth/berakoth_24.html)

Once again, a restrictive tradition is not explicitly stated in the biblical text.  Rather, it is inferred from romantic poetry, written in the context of the attraction shared by a groom and his bride (c.f. The Song of Solomon).

For a more in-depth exploration of 1 Corinthians 14 as it relates to the roles of women in church, please feel free to read the following article:

https://equalityinchrist.wordpress.com/2014/05/13/must-women-keep-silent-1-corinthians-14-the-apostle-paul-and-the-traditions-of-men/

The oral traditions of Paul’s day insisted that women be kept quiet and covered.  For them to be seen and heard publicly–especially in a religious context–was viewed as a threat to male purity.  Did the apostle Paul agree with this viewpoint?  Did Jesus?

No, neither Paul nor the Savior would agree with a theology of shame that holds women accountable for the actions of men or angels.  A woman’s hair is her “glory,” and God both calls and empowers women to proclaim his message in the church and in the world.

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Fact Check, Examining Complementarian Claims in “Women in the Church: An Interpretation and Application of 1 Timothy 2:9-15, 3rd Edition”

Numerous New Testament scholars encourage us to interpret the Apostle Paul’s letters in light of their historical and cultural context.  The authors of the complementarian text entitled, “Women in the Church, 3rd Edition,” have a very straightforward response; according to them, this context simply did not exist.  In their minds, Paul is not warning the early church about idol worship, mythology, false teaching, asceticism, prostitution, mandatory circumcision or other forms of ritual violence against men.  He is mainly, if not exclusively, concerned with protecting the church from “female authority.”

To see if these complementarians are correct, I’d like to check some of their claims against available historical evidence:

Claim #1, No cult prostitution in the Greco-Roman World

S.M. Baugh: “…there was no sacred prostitution in the Greco-Roman world” (Women in the Church, 3rd edition, p. 46).

The Evidence,

Pompeius Trogus, 1st century B.C. historian:“The Cypriots send their young women before marriage to the seashore to get money by prostitution.”  This is a reference to the prostitution associated with sanctuary of Aphrodite at Paleopaphos. (as cited in Justin, Epitome of History 18.5)

Strabo, 1st century A.D. historian:“Now the sacred rites of the Persians, one and all, are held in honour by both the Medes and the Armenians; but those of Anaïtis are held in exceptional honour by the Armenians, who have built temples in her honour in different places, and especially in Acilisene. Here they dedicate to her service male and female slaves. This, indeed, is not a remarkable thing; but the most illustrious men of the tribe actually consecrate to her their daughters while maidens; and it is the custom for these first to be prostituted in the temple of the goddess for a long time and after this to be given in marriage; and no one disdains to live in wedlock with such a woman. Something of this kind is told also by Herodotus in his account of the Lydian women, who, one and all, he says, prostitute themselves.” (11.14.16)

At Corinth there were “more than 1000 sacred prostitutes whom both men and women dedicated to the goddess.” (8.6.20)

In Phrygia, where Rhea became identified with Cybele, she is said to have purified Dionysus, and to have taught him the mysteries (Apollod. iii. 5. § 1), and thus a Dionysiac element became amalgamated with the worship of Rhea. Demeter, moreover, the daughter of Rhea, is sometimes mentioned with all the attributes belonging to Rhea. (Eurip. Helen. 1304.) The confusion then became so great that the worship of the Cretan Rhea was confounded with that of the Phrygian mother of the gods, and that the orgies of Dionysus became interwoven with those of Cybele.” (Athen. xii. p. 553 ; Demosth. de Coron. p. 313)

“And again, ‘happy he who, blest man, initiated in the mystic rites, is pure in his life, ((lacuna)) who, preserving the righteous Orgia (Orgies) of the great mother Kybele (Cybele), and brandishing the thyrsos on high, and wreathed with ivy, doth worship Dionysos. Come, ye Bakkhai, come, ye Bakkhai, bringing down Bromios, god the child of god, out of the Phrygian mountains into the broad highways of Greece.’ And again . . . ‘the triple-crested Korybantes in their caverns invented this hide-stretched circlet [the tambourine], and blent its Bacchic revelry with the high-pitched, sweet-sounding breath of Phrygian flutes, and in Rhea’s hands placed its resounding noise, to accompany the shouts of the Bakkhai, and from Meter (Mother) Rhea frenzied Satyroi (Satyrs) obtained it and joined it to the choral dances of the Trieterides, in whom Dionysos takes delight.’” (Geography 10. 3. 13)

“But the Berecyntes, a tribe of Phrygians, the Phrygians in general, and the Trojans, who live about Mount Ida, themselves also worship Rhe, and perform orgies in her honour; they call her mother of gods, Agdistis, and Phrygia, the Great Goddess; from the places also where she is worshipped, Idaea, and Dindymene, sipylene, Pessinuntis, and Cybele.  The Greeks call her ministers by the same name…  These same ministers are also called by them Corybantes.” (B. X. C. III. S 12.)

Pausanias, 2nd century A.D. Historian: “The people of Dyme have a temple of Athena with an extremely ancient image; they have as well a sanctuary built for the Dindymenian mother and Attis. As to Attis, I could learn no secret about him, but Hermesianax, the elegiac poet, says in a poem that he was the son of Galaus the Phrygian, and that he was a eunuch from birth. The account of Hermesianax goes on to say that, on growing up, Attis migrated to Lydia and celebrated for the Lydians the orgies of the Mother.” (7.17.9-12)

“These are those whom nowadays at Rome they call galli—they serve the mother not of the gods but of demons—because the Romas freed som priests of this race who were deprived of their sex-drive in honor of Atys, whom the harlot goddess made a eunuch.  On this account therefore men of the Gallic rae are made effeminate, that those who seized the city of Rome might be struck by this disgrace.” (St. Jerome, 4th century A.D.; as cited in N. Lane’s “Cybele, Attis and related cults,” p. 123)

Justin Martyr, in his 2nd century A.D. Apology refers to male and female prostitutes in the service of “the Mother of the Gods.”  The male prostitutes had been “openly mutilated for the purpose of sodomy.” According to Justin this practice was subject to taxation by the Roman Senate. (http://www.newadvent.org/fathers/0126.htm)

Apostle Paul’s 1st letter to Corinth: “Do you not know that your bodies are members of Christ himself? Shall I then take the members of Christ and unite them with a prostitute? Never!  Do you not know that he who unites himself with a prostitute is one with her in body? For it is said, “The two will become one flesh.”  But whoever is united with the Lord is one with him in spirit.” (1 Corinthians 6:15-17)

Was their cult prostitution in the Greco-Roman world?  Yes, prostitution and sexual orgies often accompanied the worship of fertility goddesses throughout the Roman Empire.

Claim #2, No Eunuch Priests in Ephesus

S.M. Baugh:  “The whole notion of a Megabyzos eunuch priest is irrelevant for Pauline Ephesus and will accordingly draw no more notice” (Women in the Church, 3rd Edition, p. 41).

Citing Strabo and Pausanias, Florence Mary Bennet describes both the eunuch priests of Artemis Ephesos, and the eunuch priests of Cybele:

She [Artemis Ephesos] was served by eunuch priests, called Megabyzi, and by maidens. Presumably these priests are the same as the Essenes, whom Pausanias mentions as servitors for one year, who were bound by strict rules of chastity and required to submit to ascetic regulations of dietary and ablution. 160 The virgins associated with them passed through three stages: Postulant, Priestess, Past-Priestess. 161 There is nothing to indicate the length of their term of service. The Megabyzi were held in the highest possible honour, 162 as were the Galli at Pessinus. (http://www.sacred-texts.com/wmn/rca/rca04.htm)  Though the castration of Artemis’ priests may have been replaced with strict rules of celibacy and fasting during the 1st or 2nd century A.D., the castration of Cybele’s Galli continued through to the 4th century A.D., when the Emperor Julian celebrated the ritual as a “holy and inexpressible harvest.” (Oratio V, 168 D)

Strabo: The Galli, [priests of Cybele] who are eunuchs, enter the enclosure with impunity, approach even the opening or mouth, bend down over it, and descend into it to a certain depth, restraining their breath during the time, for we perceived by their countenance signs of some suffocating feeling.  This exemption may be common to all eunuchs, or it may be confined to the eunuchs employed about the temple, or it may be the effect of divine care, as is probable in the case of persons inspired by the deity, or it may perhaps be procured by those who are in possession of certain antidotes.”  (B. XIII. C. IV. S 15-17)

Encyclopedia Brittanica, concerning the eunuch priests of Cybele: “Galli, singular Gallus, priests, often temple attendants or wandering mendicants, of the ancient Asiatic deity, the Great Mother of the Gods, known as Cybele, or Agdistis, in Greek and Latin literature. The Galli were eunuchs attired in female garb, with long hair fragrant with ointment. Together with priestesses, they celebrated the Great Mother’s rites with wild music and dancing until their frenzied excitement found its culmination in self-scourging, self-laceration, or exhaustion. Self-emasculation by candidates for the priesthood sometimes accompanied this delirium of worship.” (http://www.britannica.com/topic/Galli-ancient-priests)

Though Cybele was indeed worshiped through the New Testament period, and though her mysteries were indeed associated with orgies and fertility offerings (male genitals), some complementarians question whether or not Cybele’s cult could properly be associated with 1st century Ephesus.

According to the notes attached to the following archaeological photograph of Cybele in Ephesus, the goddess was indeed worshiped here, “from Classical through Roman times.”  Votive offerings to the goddess in Ephesus were dated to the New Testament period.

Cybele grotto in EphesusFurther evidence of the persistence of Cybele worship in Ephesus can be found in the 4th century A.D., when the Emperor Julian was initiated into “the mysteries” in “the caverns of Ephesus.”  He composed the now famous, “Hymn to the Mother of the Gods”; namely, Cybele.

 

Ephesus mysteries Caverns Eleusis

 

The following quotation provides a summary of Cybele worship as it existed throughout the Roman Empire, and throughout the New Testament era.  Note the references to “orgies,” “castration,” and the connection of the goddess with childbirth:

“Around 200 BC the holy black rock of the goddess [Cybele] was moved from the Phrygian city of Pessinos, which had been the previous centre of her worship. Rome became the new centre, and her cult grew. The Romans identified Cybele with the Greek Rhea, and called her Magna Mater, the Great Mother. The priests of the cult were men who had castrated themselves in front of her image, but most of the followers were women. The cult was a tumultuous, noisy and ecstatic affair which attracted many people. Only women (and castrated men) were allowed to attend the main celebrations of the goddess, which quickly got the reputation of being less religious ritual and more wild orgies. Much gossip went around about the indecencies and depravities of the cult, but due to the protection of influential people it avoided persecution. The cult was led by the female priestesses and the Archigalli, the high priest of the subordinate Galli; castrated male priests who were responsible for most of the dance, divination and healing of the cult. Many of the worshipers were organised into fraternities, most notably the Dendrophori (“Tree-bearers”) and Cannophori (“Reed-bearers”). Members of these fraternities enjoyed a bit of social status and influence, and many important people flocked to them. The liturgy of the cult was in Greek. Many of the ceremonies commemorated the deeds of Magna Mater and her love to Attis, who represented the fertility and plants of the land. By his castration and death the land was given new life. Many festivals were held, called ludi (“plays”) which were enthusiastic carnivals with banquets and comedic performances.

One of the major festivals was Megalesia the 4-10 April. At the height of the celebrations the taurobolium was performed, as a bull was castrated and sacrificed, and new initiates were baptised in its blood. Another major festival was celebrated the 25th March to commemorate the castration and death of Attis. The Cannophori carried reeds and stalks to the temple together with the idol of Attis. The taurobolium was performed, and the genitals of the bull was thrown into a cave or well consecrated to Magna Mater. After three days of sorrow and grief for Attis, the carnival returned with Hilaria, the Day of Joy as Attis was resurrected and fertility yet again reigned thanks to the power of Magna Mater. Mountains and caves were sacred to Magna Mater, and her temples were often built near them. By sleeping in a temple many women hoped to get help from the goddess, who was said to help mothers and children. Midwifes were tied to the cult, and many priests were healers. The priestesses were more involved with her ecstatic side, celebrating her secret mysteries behind locked doors. Practically nothing is known about them, except that they were exclusively women only.” (http://faculty.cua.edu/pennington/churchhistory220/lectureone/MagnaMater.htm)

Contrary to complementarian claims, was there cult prostitution in the “Greco-Roman world”?  Yes, prostitution was well-known in throughout the Roman Empire from Corinth and Cyprus to Lydia and Phrygia, and it was commonly associated with various cults.  “Orgia” (orgies) were also connected with the “mystery rites” of the Lydian/Phrygian goddess known as Cybele.

Were there “eunuch priests”?  Yes, the priests of the goddess Cybele castrated themselves in her honor.  This practice continued in the Roman Empire through the New Testament era, and into the reign of Emperor Julian, who became an initiate of Cybele’s mysteries, in the caverns of Ephesus.

Was Cybele worship connected to Ephesus?  Yes, one of her most ancient sanctuaries was found there (http://www.sacred-texts.com/wmn/rca/rca03.htm#fn_65).  Archaeologists report that she was worshiped there “from Classical through Roman times.”  Julian was reported to have become an initiate in the caverns of Ephesus, as late as the 4th century A.D..  An excellent history of Cybele worship through the New Testament period can be found in Philip Borgeaud’s book entitled, “Mother of the Gods: From Cybele to the Virgin Mary” (https://jhupbooks.press.jhu.edu/content/mother-gods)

Why is this information significant for understanding Paul?

In 1 Timothy, he warns against an ascetic false teaching based on myths that threatened to corrupt the gospel.  He addresses concerns about women being “saved in childbearing.”  He prohibits “authentein andros.”  In the Greek Septuagint, “authentas” were those who sacrificed their young to the fertility gods and goddesses of the Canaanites, in connection with sexual orgies.

The mythology of Cybele did in fact influence the emergence of numerous ascetic movements throughout Asia Minor:

The Essenes, whom Philo Judaeus compares to Cybele’s attendants, the “Corybantes.”

Essenes Corybantes

 

One sub-sect of the Essenes insisted upon the circumcision of Gentiles who wished to speak of the Jewish God or his law.  If the Gentiles refused, they were “slaughtered.” (c.f. Hippolytus, Against All Heresies, Book 9)

The Naassenes, A Gnostic cult that based their denial of the body upon the castration of Cybele’s priests.  (Hippolytus, Against All Heresies, Book 5)

The Valesians, An ascetic cult in the early church that literally imitated Cybele’s priests by castrating themselves. (https://www.jstor.org/stable/1583869?seq=1#page_scan_tab_contents)

Neoplatonism, The Emperor Julian compares the ascetic philosophy of Neoplatonism to the mythology of Cybele and her eunuch consort Attis. (https://en.wikisource.org/wiki/Hymn_to_the_mother_of_the_gods)

Christians Throughout Asia Minor, St. Basil of Ancyra petitioned the church to take action against the growing number of clergy and laity who were imitating the priests of the goddess Cybele and literally castrating themselves in pursuit of ascetic purity. (https://www.jstor.org/stable/1583869?seq=1#page_scan_tab_contents)

Did the Apostle Paul really write to Timothy to protect the church from female authority, as complementarians suggest?

OR

Did Paul write to Timothy to protect the gospel from a false teaching rooted in mythology that had already affected Judaism and would later form the basis of Gnosticism in the early church?

When the evidence is not denied, I believe the answer to this question becomes readily apparent.  Perhaps that is why some complementarians work so hard to deny it.

Appendix

S.M. Baugh claims there is no evidence of cult prostitution or eunuch priests in New Testament Ephesus.

Where does he look for this evidence?

“Civic institutions” of “Hellenic city States.” (Women in the Church, 3rd Edition, p. 32)

Cybele worship was a “mystery cult.”  Information about its beliefs and practices would not be found through an examination of the civic institutions of Hellenic city States.  As Lynn Roller states, ”Her cults most often were funded privately, rather than by the polis, and her ‘vivid and forceful character’ and association with the wild set her apart from the Olympian gods” (Roller, L., in Lane, E. (ed), 1996, p. 306).

Also, Cybele was not to be found in the state-sponsored “Temple of Artemis Ephesos.”  Rather, she was found in the grottos and caverns under Ephesus.  Actually, using that kind of language does the ancient mythology a disservice.  Cybele was the grottos and caverns under Ephesus.  The “mother of the gods,” according to this belief system was “the Earth.”

When complementarians deny evidence of Cybele in Ephesus during the New Testament era, they seem to look for evidence where it likely will not be found, and simultaneously ignore those places where it does in fact exist.

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July 7th: The Vindication of Joan of Arc

Remembering Joan of Arc’s second trial, July 7th, 1456:

“The process to right the wrongs done to Joan [called the Maiden] was begun on November 7, 1455. [Jone’s mother], Isabelle Romée, who was now somewhere between sixty and seventy years old, her two sons and a group of friends from Orleans, came to the Cathedral of Notre-Dame. Tearfully and filled with emotion, Isabelle approached the Pope’s representative judges and began to recite her request for justice for her daughter:

‘I had a daughter born in lawful wedlock who grew up amid the fields and pastures. I had her baptized and confirmed and brought her up in the fear of God. I taught her respect for the traditions of the Church as much as I was able to do given her age and simplicity of her condition. I succeeded so well that she spent much of her time in church and after having gone to confession she received the sacrament of the Eucharist every month. Because the people suffered so much, she had a great compassion for them in her heart and despite her youth she would fast and pray for them with great devotion and fervor. She never thought, spoke or did anything against the faith. Certain enemies had her arraigned in a religious trial. Despite her disclaimers and appeals, both tacit and expressed, and without any help given to her defense, she was put through a perfidious, violent, iniquitous and sinful trial. The judges condemned her falsely, damnably and criminally, and put her to death in a cruel manner by fire… I demand that her name be restored.’

Joan’s mother, overcome with grief, had to be escorted to the sacristy of the cathedral and thus began Joan’s Trial of Nullification. The court took testimony in the cities of Paris, Rouen and Orleans as well as the towns of Domremy and Vaucouleurs. A total of one hundred and fifty witnesses came forward to tell the court of their memories of Joan. Finally on July 7, 1456, the court rendered its official decision.

[The verdict]: ‘In the case concerning the honest woman, widow Isabelle d’Arc, mother, Pierre and Jean d’Arc, brothers, against the late Lord Pierre Cauchon then Bishop of Beauvais, Jean Lemaitre, then Vice-Inquisitor and Jean d’Estivet, the promoter of the criminal proceedings against the late Jeanne d’Arc, of good memory, commonly called the Maid. (Isn’t it interesting that the only Churchmen mentioned were all dead.) In consideration of the information and juridical consultations…in consideration of the facts, in consideration of the defamatory articles… We, with Apostolic authority as the Papal representative judges and having God only before our eyes, say, pronounce, decree and declare that the said trial and sentence of condemnation were tainted with corruption, cozenage, calumny, fraud, malice, iniquity and manifest errors of fact as well as in law, including the abjuration, execution and all their consequences. We declare that Joan the Maid’s trial and condemnation have been and are null, invalid, worthless, without value or effect. We break them, annihilate them, annul them, and declare them void of effect. We declare that Joan did not incur any mark of infamy. We also declare her as far as necessary, entirely purged of such.’

In the name of the Holy and Undivided Trinity, Father, Son and Holy Ghost, Amen!”

This decree was read in the great hall of the Archiepiscopal palace of Rouen, in the cemetery of Saint Ouen and finally in the Old Market Place where Joan was burnt to death.” (http://www.stjoan-center.com/novelapp/joaap01.html)

As I reflected on the historical events of July 7, 1456, the following Bible passages came to mind:

“Blessed are those who have been persecuted for the sake of righteousness, for theirs is the kingdom of heaven. Blessed are you when people insult you and persecute you, and falsely say all kinds of evil against you because of Me. Rejoice and be glad, for your reward in heaven is great; for in the same way they persecuted the prophets who were before you.” (Jesus to his disciples, Matthew 5:10-12)

“He will swallow up death forever. The Sovereign LORD will wipe away the tears from all faces; he will remove his people’s disgrace from all the earth. The LORD has spoken.” (Isaiah 25:8)

As we reflect on this important day in church history, we can be confident that patriarchy and every other oppressive ideology will be brought to an end by God. All who stand for the justice of God’s Kingdom will be vindicated.

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Tipping Point

Did you know that 3rd and 4th century Christian leaders decided that women were responsible for the downfall of humanity?

I didn’t…

Did you know that these men believed women were less intelligent than men, by nature?

I didn’t…

Did you know that these men believed that wives must be ruled over by husbands as punishment for sin, and to keep them safe from further deception by the devil?

I didn’t…

Did you know that in the middle ages women were accused of being in league with the devil when men felt “irresistibly” attracted to them? Did you know they were then blamed for men’s sins, and sometimes even put to death as punishment?

I didn’t…

Did you know that some of the men responsible for the demonization of women worked to translate the Latin Bible that became known as the “word of God” for centuries to come?

I didn’t…

Did you know that some of their errors were carried over into some of today’s English translations?

I didn’t…

Now I do.

As a result, I cannot accept that “authority” is simply a “role” that God lovingly created men to fulfill. Similarly, I cannot accept that “submission” is simply a “role” that God lovingly created women to fulfill.

It’s a prejudice,
It’s arrogant,
It’s abusive,
And it’s wrong.

And I won’t be silent when I see this injustice carried out in the name of God,
Who made us—male and female—in the divine image,
So that we might know and share his love,
In our homes,
In our churches,
In this world,
And in the world to come.

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Confusing Sexism with “the Gospel”

The following is an excerpt from an article shared on the website for a complementarian organization known as “Together 4 the Gospel”:

“The future of the church lies in reaching young men. I think it was Mark Driscoll who recently said or wrote something like that. And he is not alone in making such observations. Given the way that God has made us, men do have a leadership role to fulfill in the church, and our not fulfilling it will be to the detriment of the churches.”  (http://t4g.org/2006/08/man-less-christianity/)

Who does the author of this article reference to support his view that “the future of the church lies in reaching young men,” so that they can fulfill their allegedly God-given responsibility of providing leadership in the church? Mark Driscoll. Here are Mark Driscoll’s much publicized views on male and female roles. (Trigger alert—I personally find this material very disturbing; you may as well. Please read the following quotations at your own discretion):

“Without blushing, Paul is simply stating that when it comes to leading in the church, women are unfit because they are more gullible and easier to deceive than men. Before you get all emotional like a woman in hearing this, please consider the content of the women’s magazines at your local grocery store that encourages liberated women in our day to watch porno with their boyfriends, master oral sex for men who have no intention of marrying them, pay for their own dates in the name of equality, spend an average of three-fourths of their childbearing years having sex but trying not to get pregnant, and abort 1/3 of all babies – and ask yourself if it doesn’t look like the Serpent is still trolling the garden and that the daughters of Eve aren’t gullible in pronouncing progress, liberation, and equality.”(http://thewartburgwatch.com/2012/07/05/danger-flee-churches-which-teach-that-women-are-easily-deceived/)

and,

“Men, I am glad to report to you that oral sex is biblical…The wife performing oral sex on the husband is biblical. God’s men said, Amen. Ladies, your husbands appreciate oral sex. They do. So, serve them, love them well. It’s biblical. Right here. We have a verse. ‘The fruit of her husband is sweet to her taste and she delights to be beneath him.’

She [the wife] says, ‘I’ve never performed oral sex on my husband. I’ve refused to.’ I said, ‘You need to go home and tell your husband that you’ve met Jesus and you’ve been studying the Bible, and that you’re convicted of a terrible sin in your life. And then you need to drop his trousers, and you need to serve your husband. And when he asks why, say, ‘Because I’m a repentant woman. God has changed my heart and I’m supposed to be a biblical wife.’ She says, ‘Really?’ I said, ‘Yeah. First Peter 3 says if your husband is an unbeliever to serve him with deeds of kindness.’ [Laughter from audience] How many men would agree, that is a deed of kindness. He doesn’t want tracts. Those won’t do anything. What we’re talking about here could really help.  (http://www.patheos.com/blogs/christianpiatt/2013/04/mark-driscolls-oral-fixation/)

Also cited in the article on Together 4 the Gospel’s website is David Murrow, author of a book entitled, “What Your Husband Isn’t Telling You.”  Here are the views on male and female roles that he shares in his book:

“If a man is not allowed to be the spiritual leader in his home, he won’t know what role to play because men are hierarchical thinkers” (p. 152).

“Men are like ‘chocoholics’ when it comes to sex. If a man is unable to come home after work and ‘indulge [his] fantasy,’ he will believe his wife is saying, ‘get your ya-yas somewhere else, buddy.’ Wives shouldn’t be surprised to later find their husbands ‘engaged in masturbation, porn, or an extramarital affair.’ Men, according to Murrow, need wives to be ‘generous with the chocolate’” (p. 118).

“Men actually get a cocaine-like shot of pleasure from looking at a beautiful woman. So here’s your assignment: Give your husband as many cocaine shots as possible. Satisfy his addiction by looking your best” (pp. 163-164).

“And why are looks so important to men?” “Men compare. Men compete. Men size each other up by their spouses” (p. 164).

“Having a knockout wife raises your social standing at work, among your relatives, and even a bit at church” (p. 165).

One of the leaders and organizers for Together 4 the Gospel is well-known preacher and author, John Piper. His views on women are as follows:

“Yet in passing through ‘helpful’ animals to woman, God teaches us that the woman is a man’s ‘helper’ in the sense of a loyal and suitable assistant in the life of the garden.”  (http://www.wacmm.org/Piper-Grudem-50-Questions.html)

“And God intends for all the ‘weaknesses’ that characteristically belong to woman to call forth and highlight man’s strengths.”

“God created man first…and then created woman as his partner and assistant…” (http://www.desiringgod.org/sermons/affirming-the-goodness-of-manhood-and-womanhood-in-all-of-life)

Another complementarian leader and speaker at Together 4 the Gospel Conferences is Owen Strachan. Here is a sample of his views on women:

“To be a woman is to support, to nurture, and to strengthen men in order that they would flourish and fulfill their God-given role as leaders.” (http://www.9marks.org/journal/genesis-gender-and-ecclesial-womanhood)

In summary, what are the messages regarding men and women that are being shared by these participants in “Together 4 the Gospel”?

Men are hierarchical,
-Men need sex; it is the cornerstone of their psyche,
-The future of the church depends on male leadership.

Women are not fit to be leaders,
-Women are more gullible than men,
-Women are obligated to perform oral sex on their husbands as an act of Christian service,
-Women are obligated to perform oral sex on non-believing husbands to win them to Christ,
-If wives do not provide enough sex, husbands will inevitably sin,
-A woman’s role is comparable to that of a “helpful animal,”
-Women are not able to share authority with men because of their “characteristic weaknesses,”
-To “be a woman” is to help men become leaders, as God allegedly intends.

Many words come to mind as I reflect on these messages. “Gospel” isn’t one of them.

Simply put, the gospel is the “good news” that God loves us. In his love he sent Jesus Christ to die on a cross to take away the sins of the world. Every person, male or female, is welcome to receive from God the gift of salvation. Practically speaking, that means we can each know that we are loved by God and forgiven for any hurtful choices we have made in our lives. We can also know that God sends the Holy Spirit to us, to help us know his love, and be loving towards one another. Jesus taught his disciples that knowing the love of God and loving one another is something that we can do in this life, and in the life to come—in heaven—for eternity.  (John 3:1-21, 1 John 4:7-21)

That’s “the gospel” according to Jesus Christ and the authors of the New Testament, as I understand it.

Furthermore, contrary to what the supporters of “Together 4 the Gospel” claim (see above), the Bible tells us, “There is neither Jew nor Gentile, neither slave nor free, nor is there male and female, for you are all one in Christ Jesus” (Galatians 3:28, NIV).

Those who believe in “the gospel” are not compelled to follow any culturally prescribed gender-stereotypes. We are simply encouraged to express God’s love through the gifts and talents he has given us (1 Corinthians 12).

Insisting that God made men to be hierarchical rulers over women who must submit to male authority isn’t “the gospel.” It is sexism.

Insisting that women are not fit to share leadership responsibilities with men, but rather that they are obligated to cater to a man’s sexual preferences is not “the gospel.” Blaming a woman for a man’s sinful behavior isn’t “the gospel.” Insisting that women are more gullible than men or that they should follow the example set by “helpful animals” is not “the gospel.” In my opinion, these statements are examples of outright misogyny.

Sadly, sexism and misogyny have been part of church tradition for centuries:

“It is the natural order among people that women serve their husbands and children their parents, because the justice of this lies in (the principle that) the lesser serves the greater…. This is the natural justice that the weaker brain serve the stronger. This therefore is the evident justice in the relationships between slaves and their masters, that they who excel in reason, excel in power.” (St. Augustine, Questions on the Heptateuch, Book I, § 153, http://www.womenpriests.org/traditio/august.asp)

“Augustine is so wholly with me, that if I wished to write a confession of my faith, I could do so with all fullness and satisfaction to myself out of his writings.”  (John Calvin, http://blog.logos.com/2012/01/5-things-you-didnt-know-about-john-calvin-and-should/)

“Let the woman be satisfied with her state of subjection, and not take it amiss that she is made inferior to the more distinguished sex.” (John Calvin, in Oliphant, J. (2011). AQA Religious Ethics for AS and A2. New York, NY: Routledge.)

Sexism and misogyny are not “the gospel.” They are examples of sinful attitudes and behavior that grieve the heart of God.

“You have let go of the commands of God and are holding on to human traditions.” (Mark 7:6-8, NIV)

“Every word of God is flawless; he is a shield to those who take refuge in him.  Do not add to his words, or he will rebuke you and prove you a liar” (Proverbs 30:5-6, NIV).

 

Endnotes:

gos•pel (g s p l)
n.
1.
Gospel The proclamation of the redemption preached by Jesus and the Apostles, which is the central content of Christian revelation.

2.
a. Gospel Bible One of the first four New Testament books, describing the life, death, and resurrection of Jesus and recording his teaching.
b. A similar narrative. (http://www.thefreedictionary.com/gospel)

sex•ism (s k s z m)
n.
1.
Discrimination based on gender, especially discrimination against women.

2.
Attitudes, conditions, or behaviors that promote stereotyping of social roles based on gender. (http://www.thefreedictionary.com/sexism)

mi•sog•y•ny (mɪˈsɒdʒ ə ni, maɪ-)
n.
hatred of or hostility toward women.
[1650–60; < Greek mīsogynía= mīsogyn(ēs) a woman-hater (mīso- miso- + -gynēs, adj. derivative of gynḗ woman) + -ia -y3]

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Rationalizing Inequality

I’ve recently become acquainted with what has been called a prayer of repentance that is posted on the website for the Council on Biblical Manhood and Womanhood (CBMW). In the prayer, the author makes the following declaration:

“We repent for the sins of our chauvinist brothers, covering up abuse in the name of authority and male leadership.” (reference)

Is it good to repent of “covering up abuse in the name of authority”? Of course. Is “covering up abuse,” however, an accurate definition of what it means to be a chauvinist? Actually, no it’s not.  The term has a much broader meaning.

According to the Oxford dictionary, male chauvinism is “male prejudice against women; the belief that men are superior in terms of ability, intelligence, etc.” (reference)

Another post on the CBMW website explains why they believe all women are supposed to function as subordinate “helpers” to men:

“Yet in passing through ‘helpful’ animals to woman, God teaches us that the woman is a man’s ‘helper’ in the sense of a loyal and suitable assistant in the life of the garden.” (reference)

Men, apparently, are to look at how the first man, Adam, related to “helpful animals” in the Garden of Eden to understand how men should relate to women.

One of the earliest members of the Council on Biblical Manhood and Womanhood, John Piper, offers the following explanation for what he sees as the necessity of male leadership in the church:

“And God intends for all the ‘weaknesses’ that characteristically belong to woman to call forth and highlight man’s strengths.”  (reference)

Helpful animals? Characteristic weaknesses? Are these comments evidence of an attitude that is prejudiced against women? In my opinion, yes they are. In other words, they are examples of male chauvinism.

Should the Council on Biblical Manhood and Womanhood repent of chauvinism? Yes, I believe they should. Rather than inaccurately limiting their understanding of chauvinism, however, I believe they should acknowledge and forsake their prejudiced belief that women may not share authority with men because of alleged “characteristic weaknesses.” I believe they should also ask forgiveness for suggesting that men should pattern their relationships with women based on how they may relate to “helpful animals.”

A similar form of rationalization can be found on a website for Mars Hill churches. The website claims that they are not a hierarchical institution. They then proceed to define what it means to be “hierarchical” very narrowly: “Women are not permitted to be an elder or deacon, serve Communion, teach men, lead worship, pray or speak in the church service, etc.” (reference)

If women are not allowed to be elders, deacons, serve communion, teach men, lead worship etc., would this be an example of a hierarchical institution? Yes, certainly. Are all of these restrictions necessary, however, for a church organization to accurately be referred to as hierarchical? No, they aren’t.

According to an online dictionary a hierarchy is “any system of persons or things ranked one above another.” (reference)

In Mars Hill ministries are men ranked above women? Yes, they are. According to their website, “only qualified men should be elders-pastors.” (reference)

Only male “elders preach, enforce formal church discipline, and set doctrinal standards for the church.” Mars Hill insists on a model of “male leadership in the governments of home and church.”  (reference)  Is this an example of a hierarchy based on sex? Evidently, yes. It is therefore a “hierarchical” model of governance, despite the organization’s claims to the contrary. An organization that is governed exclusively by men is properly referred to as a patriarchy. (reference)

In the case of both websites (CBMW and Mars Hill), the same rationalization strategy is used to obscure the reality that women may not share authority with men, simply because they are women. Definitions of social injustices such as chauvinism and a male-dominated hierarchy are artificially narrowed to apparently exclude these organizations.

In my experience as an educator and a psychotherapist, it tends to be the case that those who attempt to rationalize their own hurtful or offensive behaviour largely succeed in deceiving only themselves. My hope is that both the CBMW and Mars Hill will stop pointing fingers at someone else’s brand of chauvinism and inequality, and finally someday recognize and repent of their own.

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Must Women Keep Silent? 1 Corinthians 14: The Apostle Paul and the Traditions of Men

Let your women keep silence in the churches: for it is not permitted unto them to speak; but they are commanded to be under obedience as also saith the law.  And if they will learn any thing, let them ask their husbands at home: for it is a shame for women to speak in the church” (1 Corinthians 14:34-35, KJV).

In some churches today, these words written by the apostle Paul continue to be viewed as a prohibition against women in pastoral ministry. This particular viewpoint has a long and well-documented history.

One of the earliest commentaries on Paul’s first letter to the Corinthians can be attributed to a 3rd century theologian by the name of Origen. He concluded that while a woman may pray or prophecy in private, it would be wrong for her to do so as a form of public ministry in the church.i

John Chrysostom, the Bishop of Constantinople in the 4th century A.D., arrived at a similar conclusion. He believed that “the law” requiring the silence of women could be found in Genesis 3:16b: “Your desire will be for your husband, and he will rule over you” (NIV). The “silence” of women in the church, in his mind, was an expression of a woman’s submission to her husband.ii

A parallel viewpoint can be found in the commentary work of Protestant Reformer, John Calvin. This is not surprising, in that Calvin frequently drew inspiration for his own commentaries from the work of the early church fathers, including St. Augustine, St. Jerome and John Chrysostom.iii “In his commentary on 1 Corinthians 14:34, Calvin notes the incompatibility of women exercising a teaching role when commanded to ‘be in subjection.’ He writes, ‘… the task of teaching is one that belongs to someone with oversight, and is for that reason inconsistent with being in subjection.’ ‘How unsuitable,’ he declares, ‘it would be for a woman, who is in subjection to one of the members, to be in an authoritative position over the whole body! It is therefore an argument based on incompatibilities; because, if the woman is under subjection, she is therefore debarred from having authority to teach in public.’”iv

Another Reformer, Martin Luther, similarly concluded that women should be excluded from public ministry in the church as an expression of respectful submission to their husbands. Like John Chrysostom, he viewed Genesis 3:16b as the source of this prohibition: “Luther clearly regards the subjection of women as the result of judgment that came upon Eve and her female descendants at the fall (cf. Genesis 3:16). He writes, ‘If Eve had persisted in the truth she would not only not have been subjected to the rule of her husband, but she herself would also have been a partner in the rule which is now entirely the concern of males.’”v

Contemporary theologians who believe that women may not occupy positions of public authority in the church continue to look to the creation account found in the book of Genesis to support their views. Rather than focusing on Genesis 3:16, however, they conclude that the subjection of all women to male authority is suggested in the creation narrative found in Genesis chapter 2:

“Luther saw the submission of women as a punishment resulting from the fall rather than part of creation order resulting from God’s design. However, the fact that Adam was created before Eve (Gen. 2:7, 1 Tim. 2:13), charged with keeping the garden (Gen. 2:15), and named Eve “woman” (Gen. 2:23) suggests that God intended Adam to exercise leadership and authority over Eve before the events of the fall. While the ability of women to submit to authority was no doubt aggravated by the fall (Gen. 3:16), the basis for female submission has its roots in creation order rather than the tragic events of Genesis 3.”vi

From the 3rd century A.D. to the present, some theologians and commentators have concluded that “the law” referred to in 1 Corinthians 14:34 is God’s law, and that it can be found in the creation narrative found in the book of Genesis. I’d like to examine these conclusions by looking first at the assumption made by Chrysostom and Luther that Genesis 3:16b, “Your desire will be for your husband, and he will rule over you,” can appropriately be referred to as a “law of God.”

In his book entitled, “Married for Good,” R. Paul Stevens explains that Genesis 3:16b is “not what God intended for humanity.”vii Rather, it is a statement that depicts what will transpire in the relationship between Adam and Eve as a result of their decision to turn away from God. Today’s complementarians like John Piper agree that Genesis 3:16 does not represent God’s plan for men and women. Rather, it is a description of the manner in which male/female relationships will now be distorted because of sin: “It is a description of misery, not a model for marriage. This is the way it’s going to be in history where sin has the upper hand.”viii

If Genesis 3:16b is not God’s intention for humanity, if it is a description of the misery that results from sin, can it properly be referred to as “God’s law”? I don’t believe so.

This brings us to an examination of the viewpoint that “the law” referred to by the apostle Paul can best be found in the creation narrative of Genesis chapter 2. An article found on the website for The Council on Biblical Manhood and Womanhood (CBMW) states that the law or principle of male authority is suggested by the following details from the creation story:

-Adam was created before Eve,

-Adam named Eve,

-Adam was charged with “keeping the garden.”ix

John Piper uses similar language to this article when he says that male leadership and feminine submission are “clearly implied” in Genesis chapter 2.x

According to the Genesis account, was Adam created before Eve? Yes (Genesis 2:21-22).

Did Adam name Eve? Yes (Genesis 3:20).

Was Adam charged with taking care of the garden? Yes (Genesis 2:15).

In any of these verses, does the writer of the book of Genesis state that any of these facts mean that Adam was created by God to exercise authority over his wife? No.

This meaning is being inferred by John Piper and the Council on Biblical Manhood and Womanhood.

According to an article on critical thinking, an “inference” can be defined as follows:

An inference is a step of the mind, an intellectual act by which one concludes that something is true in light of something else’s being true, or seeming to be true. If you come at me with a knife in your hand, I probably would infer that you mean to do me harm. Inferences can be accurate or inaccurate, logical or illogical, justified or unjustified.xi

John Piper and the Council on Biblical Manhood and Womanhood infer that because Adam was created first, he must have had authority over Eve. This inference seems to contradict the words of the apostle Paul found in 1 Corinthians 11:11-12: “Nevertheless, in the Lord woman is not independent of man, nor is man independent of woman.  For as woman came from man, so also man is born of woman. But everything comes from God” (NIV). In light of Paul’s comments, it would seem that inferring male authority from the fact that “woman came from man” is unjustified, since “also man is born of woman. But everything comes from God.”

Even if male authority cannot be properly inferred from the fact that the first woman “came from man,” complementarian Matt Slick agrees with the CBMW that Adam’s authority was effectively demonstrated by his act of naming the animals, and then later his wife:

“Adam named the animals. Eve did not. Naming them was his first act of dominion, and it is a sign of authority; and it was God who brought the animals to Adam so that Adam could accomplish what God had commanded.  If the egalitarians are correct then, there should be no expression of authority of Adam over Eve in any way–at least not before the Fall.  But, since we see Adam expressing his dominance over the animals by naming them and we see that Adam names Eve, we can then conclude that Adam expressed dominance over Eve by his calling her ‘woman’ before the Fall and ‘Eve’ after it.”xii

Is it true that we know of Adam’s “dominion” over the animals because he named them? Actually, the biblical text tells us otherwise. In addition to Adam having “dominion” over the animals, Eve did as well, even though she did not name them:

“Then God said, ‘Let Us make man in Our image, according to Our likeness; let them have dominion over the fish of the sea, over the birds of the air, and over the cattle, over all the earth and over every creeping thing that creeps on the earth.’  So God created man in His own image; in the image of God He created him; male and female He created them.  Then God blessed them, and God said to them, ‘Be fruitful and multiply; fill the earth and subdue it; have dominion over the fish of the sea, over the birds of the air, and over every living thing that moves on the earth.’” (Genesis 1:26-28, NKJV)

In light of these passages found in Genesis chapter 1, is naming an “act of dominion”? Evidently not, since both “male and female” had “dominion over” all of the animals, yet Eve did not participate in naming them. In other words Adam had authority over the animals, and he named them. He did not have authority over the animals because he named them. It seems as if inferring male authority from the act of naming is unjustified.

This brings us to the CBMW’s last inference about Adam’s authority over his wife. They claim that because Adam was instructed to “tend and keep the garden,” he must have had authority over his wife (Genesis 2:15, NKJV). John Piper believes that because Eve was created to be Adam’s “helper” in the garden, this must mean that she was subordinate to his leadership. He arrives at this conclusion by observing that God first brought the animals to Adam, to be named, before Adam was introduced to his wife: “Yet in passing through ‘helpful’ animals to woman, God teaches us that the woman is a man’s ‘helper’ in the sense of a loyal and suitable assistant in the life of the garden.”xiii

Is it really true that God is teaching us how men should relate to women by first introducing Adam to “helpful animals”? Once again, this conclusion is based on inference; in this case, one that I find especially disturbing.

Should we refer to human inferences as the “law” and thereby confuse them with the will of God? I don’t think so. In fact, this is the kind of thinking that Jesus seems to confront in his following words to the “teachers of the law” of his day: “You have let go of the commands of God and are holding on to human traditions” (Mark 7:8, NIV).

An insightful article on critical thinking adapted from a book by Richard Paul and Linda Elder explains the true origin of human inferences. They arise from our own unquestioned assumptions. The article defines “assumption” in the following way:

“An assumption is something we take for granted or presuppose. Usually it is something we previously learned and do not question. It is part of our system of beliefs. We assume our beliefs to be true and use them to interpret the world about us. If we believe that it is dangerous to walk late at night in big cities and we are staying in Chicago, we will infer that it is dangerous to go for a walk late at night. We take for granted our belief that it is dangerous to walk late at night in big cities. If our belief is a sound one, our assumption is sound. If our belief is not sound, our assumption is not sound. Beliefs, and hence assumptions, can be unjustified or justified, depending upon whether we do or do not have good reasons for them. Consider this example: “I heard a scratch at the door. I got up to let the cat in.” My inference was based on the assumption (my prior belief) that only the cat makes that noise, and that he makes it only when he wants to be let in.”xiv

To help us understand why the early church fathers inferred a male-dominated gender-hierarchy from the creation account, it can be helpful to examine the beliefs through which they evidently interpreted the world around them. All of the early church fathers cited by the CBMW website to support a complementarian view of the creation narrative held deeply prejudiced beliefs about women:

Origen – “It is not proper for a woman to speak in church, however admirable or holy what she says may be, merely because it comes from female lips.”xv

Tertullian – “You are the devil’s gateway, you are the unsealer of that [forbidden] tree; you are the first deserter of the divine law; you are she who persuaded him whom the devil was not valiant enough to attack. You destroyed so easily God’s image, man.”xvi

Chrysostom – “For those things which I have already mentioned might easily be performed by many even of those who are under authority, women as well as men; but when one is required to preside over the Church, and to be entrusted with the care of so many souls, the whole female sex must retire before the magnitude of the task.”xvii

and

“The whole of her bodily beauty is nothing less than phlegm, blood, bile, rheum, and the fluid of digested food… If you consider what is stored up behind those lovely eyes, the angle of the nose, the mouth and cheeks you will agree that the well-proportioned body is merely a whitened sepulcher.”xviii

Today, I believe it would be accurate to refer to these views as a form of “woman-hate.” In their time, however, these statements reflected the cultural norms of Roman law and the dominant Greek philosophies.xix

This culture of woman-hate continued through the middle ages, reaching its zenith in the Inquisition. It continued into the Protestant Reformation, perpetuated by the work of Reformers like John Calvin:

Calvin – “Let the woman be satisfied with her state of subjection, and not take it amiss that she is made inferior to the more distinguished sex.”xx

John Calvin’s deeply held beliefs and assumptions, by his own admission, had their origins in the writings of the early church fathers, including John Chrysostom (see above) and St. Augustine:

Calvin – “Augustine is so wholly with me, that if I wished to write a confession of my faith, I could do so with all fullness and satisfaction to myself out of his writings.”xxi

Augustine, like Chrysostom and Origen, held a deeply prejudiced view of women that he also internalized from the cultural norms of ancient Rome:

Augustine – “It is the natural order among people that women serve their husbands and children their parents, because the justice of this lies in (the principle that) the lesser serves the greater…. This is the natural justice that the weaker brain serve the stronger. This therefore is the evident justice in the relationships between slaves and their masters, that they who excel in reason, excel in power.” (Questions on the Heptateuch, Book I, § 153)xxii

If it is clear that the early church fathers and influential Reformers made sense of the Bible through the lenses of a deeply held prejudice against women, where do the inferences of today’s complementarian theologians like John Piper originate? John Piper describes himself as a “Seven-Point Calvinist.”xxiii In other words, his interpretation of the Bible is strongly influenced by the theological viewpoint of John Calvin.

The belief that Paul’s use of the term “law” (in 1st Corinthians 14:34) refers to a male-dominated gender-hierarchy “clearly implied” in the creation account, is not evidence-based. Rather, it appears to be an inference rooted in deeply prejudiced assumptions about women, dating back to a culture characterized by a tradition of male superiority.

The situation today is not much different than the circumstances Paul was addressing in Corinth. Then, as now, evidence suggests that some men were attempting to impose human traditions on women in the church; traditions that they referred to as “the law.”

According to the Encyclopedia Britannica, this “law” can also be known as the Halakha:

Quite distinct from the Law of the Pentateuch (the first five books of the Bible), Halakhah purports to preserve and represent oral traditions stemming from the revelation on Mount Sinai or evolved on the basis of it.”xxiv

These oral traditions eventually came to be known in written form as the Talmud.xxv It is in the Talmud that we find the following laws regarding women:

A woman’s voice is prohibited because it is sexually provocative” (Talmud, Berachot 24a).

It is a shame for a woman to let her voice be heard among men” (Talmud, Tractate Kiddushin).xxvi

It is not difficult to see the similarities between these prohibitions against women from the Talmud and the “law” Paul refers to in his letter to the Corinthians:

Let your women keep silence in the churches: for it is not permitted unto them to speak; but they are commanded to be under obedience as also saith the law.

And if they will learn any thing, let them ask their husbands at home: for it is a shame for women to speak in the church” (1 Corinthians 14:34-35, KJV).

Charles Trombley explains that the oral traditions were not God’s revelation; rather, they were interpretations of God’s revelation, initially made by a group of men known as “scribes.” They began to fill this role when Israel went into Babylonian captivity. During this period of exile, “the Israelites lost their native tongue as a common language. They gradually accepted Aramaic, a common commercial language…. Since Hebrew had almost disappeared from daily use, someone was needed to interpret the Hebrew Scriptures and explain their meaning. The scribes filled that need, reading the law in Hebrew and then explaining it to the people in Aramaic. The laymen depended entirely on these men for their knowledge of what the Word of God actually said and meant.xxvii

As was the case with the early church fathers, and Protestant Reformers like John Calvin, the “laws” pertaining to women were derived from an interpretation of the creation narrative found in the book of Genesis. In the case of the Babylonia Talmud, this interpretation assigned all blame for the fall of humanity to women, who were then rendered subject to male authority, allegedly according to the will of God.xxviii

Also as it was with the early church fathers, the culture of the Jewish scribes was characterized by a deep-seated prejudice against women:

“Several rabbis refused to let women function in any part of Jewish society. Rabbi Eliezar, a first-century teacher, passed along what he had learned in a long unbroken chain of tradition: ‘…Whoever teaches his daughter the Torah is like one who teaches her obscenity.’ Continuing, he said, ‘May the words of the Torah be burned rather than given to women.’”xxix

The reader may note the similarity between these words and those of Origen: “It is not proper for a woman to speak in church, however admirable or holy what she says may be, merely because it comes from female lips.”

Would the apostle Paul appeal to the law to silence women in the church? I don’t believe so. In his letter to the Philippians, Paul depicts his own former righteousness, which was based on the law, as “garbage” (Philippians 3:8, NIV).

Would the apostle Paul agree with the evident prejudices of his day to impose oppressive oral traditions on Christian women? I don’t believe so. In his letter to the Galatians, he wrote, “There is neither Jew nor Gentile, neither slave nor free, nor is there male and female, for you are all one in Christ Jesus” (Galatians 3:28, NIV).

If the apostle Paul is not appealing to the law revealed to Moses in the Pentateuch or endorsing prejudiced traditions for the purpose of silencing women, what is he doing? He is answering a letter, sent to him from Chloe, a woman in Corinth (1 Corinthians 1:11; 7-1). People sent from her alerted Paul that all was not well in the Corinthian church. The letter we now call 1st Corinthians is his response.  Throughout his letter, Paul repeatedly makes reference to the issues brought to his attention.  He then answers them.

When it came to Paul’s attention that some men were attempting to prohibit women from speaking (specifically prophesying and speaking in tongues) in church, this was his response:

What? came the word of God out from you? or came it unto you only? If any man think himself to be a prophet, or spiritual, let him acknowledge that the things that I write unto you are the commandments of the Lord. But if any man be ignorant, let him be ignorant. Wherefore, brethren, covet to prophesy, and forbid not to speak with tongues” (1 Corinthians 14:36-39, KJV).

Forbid not. Rather, allow women to speak in tongues and prophesy. Simply ensure that these things are done “decently and in order” (1 Corinthians 14:40, NKJV).

It was also to this church that Paul wrote: “Nevertheless, in the Lord woman is not independent of man, nor is man independent of woman.  For as woman came from man, so also man is born of woman. But everything comes from God” (1 Corinthians 11:11-12, NIV).

Should Christians today teach that human inferences drawn from the Genesis account are “the law” of God?

Should we continue to see the Bible through the lenses of scribes and commentators who held beliefs that were deeply prejudiced against women?

No, I don’t believe we should.

We should remember that just as the first woman came from man, all men come from women. We should remember that in Christ there is neither male nor female. We should “forbid not” the ministry of the Holy Spirit through our sisters in Christ.

 

Links to Other Helpful Articles on this Subject:

http://www.fullrightsofsons.com/wordpress/2013/11/12/emancipation-proclamation/

http://godswordtowomen.org/Preato2.htm

http://newlife.id.au/equality-and-gender-issues/interpretations-applications-1-cor-14_34-35/

References:

i http://cbmw.org/uncategorized/gender-based-boundaries-for-gathered-congregations/

ii http://cbmw.org/uncategorized/gender-based-boundaries-for-gathered-congregations/

iii Lane, A.N. (1999). John Calvin: Student of Church Fathers (p. 222). Edinbrugh, Scotland: T&T Clark Ltd.

iv http://cbmw.org/uncategorized/gender-based-boundaries-for-gathered-congregations/

vhttp://cbmw.org/uncategorized/gender-based-boundaries-for-gathered-congregations/

vi http://cbmw.org/uncategorized/gender-based-boundaries-for-gathered-congregations/

vii Stevens, R.P. (1986). Married for Good (p. 129). Downer’s Grove, IL: Intervarsity Press.

viii http://www.desiringgod.org/sermons/manhood-and-womanhood-conflict-and-confusion-after-the-fall

ix http://cbmw.org/uncategorized/gender-based-boundaries-for-gathered-congregations/

x Piper J. & Grudem W. (1991). Recovering Biblical Manhood and Womanhood (p. 37). Wheaton, IL: Crossway Books.

xi http://www.criticalthinking.org/pages/critical-thinking-distinguishing-between-inferences-and-assumptions/484

xii http://carm.org/genesis-2-adam-and-eve-and-authority

xiii http://www.wacmm.org/Piper-Grudem-50-Questions.html

xiv http://www.criticalthinking.org/pages/critical-thinking-distinguishing-between-inferences-and-assumptions/484

xv Trombley, C. (2003). Who Said Women Can’t Teach? God’s Vision for Women in Ministry (p. 235). Gainesville, FL: Bridge-Logos.

xvi Trombley, C. (2003). Who Said Women Can’t Teach? God’s Vision for Women in Ministry (p. 237). Gainesville, FL: Bridge-Logos.

xvii http://www.documentacatholicaomnia.eu/03d/1819-1893,_Schaff._Philip,_2_Vol_09_on_The_Priesthood._Ascetic_Treatises,_EN.pdf

xviii http://www.shc.edu/theolibrary/resources/women.htm

xix Edwards, B. (2013). Let My People Go: A Call to End the Oppression of Women in the Church, Revised and Expanded. Charleston, SC: Createspace.

xx Oliphant, J. (2011). AQA Religious Ethics for AS and A2. New York, NY: Routledge.

xxi http://blog.logos.com/2012/01/5-things-you-didnt-know-about-john-calvin-and-should/

xxii http://www.womenpriests.org/traditio/august.asp)

xxiii http://www.desiringgod.org/articles/what-does-piper-mean-when-he-says-hes-a-seven-point-calvinist

xxiv http://www.britannica.com/EBchecked/topic/252201/Halakhah

xxv http://www.britannica.com/EBchecked/topic/252201/Halakhah

xxvi http://doubleportioninheritance.blogspot.ca/2011/10/talmud-forbids-women-from-speaking-in_6434.html

xxvii Trombley, C. (2003). Who Said Women Can’t Teach? God’s Vision for Women in Ministry (p. 30). Gainesville, FL: Bridge-Logos.

xxviii Trombley, C. (2003). Who Said Women Can’t Teach? God’s Vision for Women in Ministry (pp. 35-36). Gainesville, FL: Bridge-Logos.

xxix Trombley, C. (2003). Who Said Women Can’t Teach? God’s Vision for Women in Ministry (p. 40). Gainesville, FL: Bridge-Logos.

(Bolding of text in quotations is mine)

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