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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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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A Case for Male Authority? The Fly in the Ointment

“This is a faithful saying: If a man desires the position of a bishop, he desires a good work. A bishop then must be blameless, the husband of one wife, temperate, sober-minded, of good behavior, hospitable, able to teach; not given to wine, not violent, not greedy for money, but gentle, not quarrelsome, not covetous; one who rules his own house well, having his children in submission with all reverence (for if a man does not know how to rule his own house, how will he take care of the church of God?)” (1 Timothy 3:1-4, NKJV).

“Let deacons be the husbands of one wife, ruling their children and their own houses well” (1 Timothy 3:12, NKJV).

“Let the elders who rule well be counted worthy of double honor, especially those who labor in the word and doctrine” (1 Timothy 5:17, NKJV).

The verses I have quoted above are sometimes used to support the view that only men should hold positions of leadership in the church. “Leadership” is defined in various ways, depending upon one’s particular faith community or denomination. Some churches bar women from all of the roles listed. Others allow women to be deacons, but not elders or bishops. Some equate the term “elder” with pastor, and say that this is an office a woman may not hold. Still others only insist that the “senior pastor” be male.

Despite often insisting that the Bible is “crystal clear” with regard to its teaching on the role of women, patriarchal traditions seem unable to come to an agreement on the extent to which a woman’s authority should be limited.

The view that only men should hold positions of authority becomes even more tenuous if we examine what the New Testament has to say about bishops, deacons and elders in its original language. In the New King James Version of the Bible, bishops, deacons and elders are all described as fulfilling the function of “ruling.” Other English translations may render this term as “leading.” In each case, the word translated as ruling or leading is a form of the Greek verb “proistemi.” Many complementarians seem unaware that the noun form of this word is used to describe the church ministry of a woman named Phoebe. According to the apostle Paul she was a “prostatis” in the church at Cenchrea (Romans 16:2). If we translate proistemi and prostatis consistently for men and women,  Phoebe is described as a “ruler” or “leader” there.

So, just as male bishops, deacons and elders fulfilled the role of ruling or leading in the church, so did Phoebe—a woman.

Some complementarians have told me that because deacons must be “the husband of one wife,” they cannot possibly be women.  Women may indeed not be husbands, but I don’t believe the apostle Paul is writing to address questions about women in ministry here. Judging from the evident context of his letter, he is actually prohibiting male polygamy. What does this say about women in ministry? Actually nothing at all.

And Phoebe may also have been a “deacon.”

The same Greek word used to describe husbands who are deacons is also used to describe Phoebe. In addition to calling her a “prostatis,” the apostle Paul refers to her as a “diakonos” in Romans 16 verse 1.

But, some have told me, it is clear that the men who were bishops or deacons were told to “rule their houses well,” to demonstrate that they were fit leaders for the church. Surely this must include authority over wives? On the contrary, all of the verses dealing with a man “ruling his house” specifically indicate that his authority pertains to “his children.” Nowhere in the New Testament is a Christian man commanded to rule his wife.

Children, of course, require adult care and supervision because of their level of developmental maturity. Women, on the other hand, are developmentally equal to men; they do not require adult supervision.

So, the next time someone takes Bible verses about bishops, deacons and elders out of context in an attempt to rationalize a tradition of male authority in the church, you may want to remind them of Phoebe—the proverbial fly in the ointment.1

1 “In English, the phrase fly in the ointment is an idiomatic expression for a drawback, especially one that was not at first apparent” (Wikipedia).

 

 

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Where did things go wrong? An in-depth exploration of the emergence of male authority in the church

Why do some Christian leaders see a male-dominated hierarchy in the creation story?

Why have some Bible translators added commands to the Bible that cannot be found in the oldest Greek manuscripts?

Why have some translators referred to men as “leaders” and women as “servants” even when the same Greek word is used to describe both?

Why do English translations of the Bible say that women may not “teach or have authority” over men?

All of these questions, and other related issues, are addressed in the following video presentation:

Please feel free to share with friends, family, church leaders, and groups for discussion. May the Lord use it to inform and to encourage prayerful reflection.

 

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1 Timothy 2:12-15: Paul’s Original Language, Timothy’s Original Context

Throughout history, the institutional church has been characterized by a male-dominated social hierarchy. Still today, some religious leaders insist that men must hold authority over women at church and in the home. This worldview has been so pervasive in the church that some even consider it to be “God’s created order.” In light of the prevalence of this pattern, some people have asked me, “Has there ever been a female-dominated culture?” Frankly, the answer is “yes.”

A 1st century B.C. historian by the name of Diodorus Siculus provides us with the following information:

“Beside the river of Thermadon, therefore, a nation ruled by females held sway, in which women pursued the arts of war just like men…. To the men she [the nation’s Queen] relegated the spinning of wool and other household tasks of women. She promulgated laws whereby she led forth the women to martial strife, while on the men she fastened humiliation and servitude. She would maim the arms and legs of male children, making them useless for service in war.” (as cited in Murphy, 1989, p. 58)1

Another historian from the 1st century B.C., Pompeius Trogus, supplies us with additional information about this “nation ruled by females”:

“They also dismissed all thought of intermarriage with their neighbours, calling it slavery rather than marriage. They embarked instead upon an enterprise unparalleled in the whole of history, that of building up a state without men and then actually defending it themselves, out of contempt for the male sex…. Then, with peace assured by their military success, they entered into sexual relationships with surrounding peoples so that their line would not die out. Males born of such unions they put to death, but girls they brought up in a way that adapted them to their own way of life….

After conquering most of Europe, they also seized a number of city-states in Asia. Here they founded Ephesus.” (as cited in Yardley, 1994, p. 29)2

Historians Ferguson and Farnell write extensively about the religious traditions of this female-dominated culture in Asia Minor. They worshiped “the mother of the gods,” whose oldest name was Cybele. When the Greeks immigrated to the shores of Ephesus in Asia Minor, they began to call her by the name of one of their own deities; they called her Artemis.

The hierarchy of her priesthood was dominated by women. Men could become priests, but only if they first renounced their masculinity for life, through the act of ritual castration. Once they were castrated, they would periodically enter into trance-like states and become spokesmen for the goddess.  In addition to being castrated (and celibate), they also abstained from certain types of food.

A historian from the 1st Century A.D., Josephus, observed that some of the Jews who had been exiled to Asia Minor in the second century B.C. began to incorporate some of the religious traditions of the native culture into their brand of Judaism. Like their Asian counterparts, they shunned marriage, viewing it as a form of slavery. To avoid experiencing bodily passions, they avoided women altogether. They also fasted from meat and wine, believing that this kind of food and drink might stir their passions. They believed that their denial of the body gave them the special ability to interpret what they described as the allegorical meanings behind Mosaic law. These allegorical meanings were referred to as the true knowledge of God’s law. They justified their unique interpretation of the Torah by referring to seemingly endless genealogies through which they claimed to be the descendants of Zadok. (see references to Farnell, Ferguson, Jones, and Cook, as cited in Edwards, 2013)3

The epicenter for this form of religious asceticism in Asia Minor was Ephesus, the city where Timothy preached the gospel. It was to Timothy, in Ephesus, that Paul wrote his letter warning against: false teaching, doctrines of demons, endless genealogies, forbidding marriage and the eating of certain foods. He urged Timothy to guard the gospel against that which was falsely called knowledge, and protect the church from people who claimed to be teachers of the Law, but did not know what they were talking about (1 Timothy 1:3-7, 4:1-5, 6:20-21). Given the history of the region we have just reviewed, his warnings were well-deserved.

In his letter to Timothy, the apostle Paul also warned against “a woman” teaching and practicing something he called “authentein” against “a man” (1 Timothy 2:12).

Most modern Bibles translate the word “authentein” to mean “exercise authority.”  This particular meaning can be traced back to earlier English, German and Latin translations of the Greek manuscripts. In the 4th Century, for example, St. Jerome translated “authentein” as “dominari,” which means to dominate or exercise dominion over a man. While “dominate” suggests an abusive form of authority, most recent translations remove all negative connotations from the Greek word “authentein.”

Throughout the history of Greek Literature, particularly from 200 B.C. to 200 A.D. however, authentein represented something notoriously violent. Leland Wilshire documents this in his book entitled, “Insight into Two Biblical Passages: The Anatomy of a Prohibition, 1 Timothy 2:12, the TLG Computer, and the Christian Church.” According to Wilshire, authentein had the following meanings:

– “doer of a massacre”
– “author of crimes”
– “perpetrators of sacrilege”
– “supporter of violent actions”
– “murderer of oneself”
– “perpetrator of slaughter”
– “murderer”
– “slayer”
– “slayer of oneself”
– “authority”
– “perpetrator of evil”
– “one who murders by his own hand”
(Polybius, Diodorus Siculus, Philo, Appian of Alexander, Irenaeus, Harpocration, Phrynicus, as cited in Wilshire, 2010).4

Similarly, in the Wisdom Literature of the Septuagint, “authentas” (the noun plural form of authentein) referred to the murder of children in worship to false gods.5

Given an accurate understanding of “authentein” as it was most commonly used from 200 B.C. to 200 A.D., and given the religious history of Ephesus–the intended destination of Paul’s letter–is it likely that Paul was warning simply against women (in general) “exercising authority” over men in the church? Frankly, I don’t think the evidence supports this opinion.

It is much more likely that along with his warnings against false teaching, deceiving spirits, mythology, forbidding marriage and the eating of certain foods, he is also warning against an abusive form of power, traditionally held by women, that was historically expressed through acts of violence against men—ranging from murder to ritual emasculation.

Furthermore, women who worshiped Artemis or Cybele in Ephesus called upon her to “save them in childbirth.” For centuries, the church has wrestled with Paul’s reference to being “saved in child-bearing” in 1 Timothy 2:15. Understanding the language and context of Paul’s letter seems to shed important light on this mystery.

Similarly, the church has questioned why Paul makes reference to the creation narrative in 1 Timothy 2:13-14. In the religious culture of Ephesus, all life and purity had its origin in Cybele, a woman. All sin originated with various male gods, including Cybele’s unfaithful consort, Attis. Women were viewed as life-giving and pure. Men were seen as evil, simply because they were men. To this female-dominated hierarchical culture, Paul explains that Adam–the first man–was also a source of life; and Eve–the first woman–also played a role in humanity’s downfall.  According to Chapman (as cited in Edwards 2013) there is evidence that by the second century A.D.  the cultural norms of Asia Minor had begun to distort the creation narrative in some faith communities calling themselves Christian.6

So, is it Paul’s intent to replace a historically violent female-led hierarchy with a male-dominated system of governance? Would he agree with some of the early church fathers that women rather than men should be blamed for the problem of evil? Absolutely not.

Rather than reinforce the social injustice of a hierarchy dominated by either gender, Paul penned words of resounding equality: “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) In Christ, the gender wars can finally come to an end.

Endnotes:

1Murphy, E. (1989). A Translation with Notes of Book II of the Library of History of Diodorus Siculus.

2Yardly, J. (1994). Epitome of the Philippic History of Pompeius Trogus. Atlanta, GA: Scholars Press.

3 Edwards, B. (2013). Let My People Go, A Call to End the Oppression of Women in the Church, Revised and Expanded. http://www.amazon.com/dp/B00DV2JRHQ

4Wilshire, L.E. (2010). Insight into two biblical passages: Anatomy of a prohibition 1 Timothy 2:12, the TLG computer, and the Christian church. Lanham, MD: University Press of America, Inc.

5The Wisdom of Solomon (2013). In The Greek Old Testament (Septuagint). Retrieved April 28, 2013, from http//www.ellopos.net/elpenor/greek-texts/Septuagint/chapter.asp?book=29&page=12.

6Edwards, B. (2013). Let My People Go, A Call to End the Oppression of Women in the Church, Revised and Expanded. http://www.amazon.com/dp/B00DV2JRHQ

Edwards, B. (2013) cites the following sources:

Chapman, J. (1911). Montanists. In the Catholic encyclopedia. New York, NY: Robert Appleton Company. Retrieved March 28, 2013 from New Advent: http://www.newadvent.org/cathen/10521a.htm.

Cook, K. (1886). The fathers of Jesus: A study of the lineage of the Christian doctrine and traditions. London, GB: Kegan Paul, Trench & Co.

Farnell, L.R. (1977). The cults of the Greek states: Volume II. New Rochelle, NY: Caratzas Brothers, Publishers.

Ferguson, J. (1970). The religions of the Roman Empire. Ithaca, NY: Cornell University Press.

Jones, A.H. (1985). Essenes: The elect of Israel and the priests of Artemis. Lanham, MD: University Press of America, Inc.

 

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Is Mutual Submission Really a Myth?

In a CBMW journal article entitled, “The Myth of Mutual Submission,” Wayne Grudem asks, “How do egalitarians avoid the force of Ephesians 5:22, ‘Wives, be subject to your husbands, as to the Lord’?”

He then goes on to explain what he sees as the significance of Paul’s alleged command to wives:

“For a wife to be submissive to her husband will probably not often involve obeying actual commands or directives (though it will sometimes include this), for a husband may rather give requests and seek advice and discussion about the course of action to be followed (compare Phlm. 8-9). This is probably why Paul used the broader term “be subject to” when speaking to wives…”

What Wayne Grudem apparently fails to recognize here is that Paul did not in fact use the term “be subject to” when speaking to wives.  The oldest known manuscript evidence for Paul’s letter to the Ephesians does not contain this command.  It has evidently been supplied by scribes and translators.  Grudem erroneously attributes the command to Paul, and he attaches great significance to it.

So what does the earliest manuscript evidence say?  Simply put, Paul commands all Christians (including husbands and wives) to “be submissive one to another out of reverence for Christ” (Ephesians 5:21). This is the only occurence of the verb “submit” in Ephesians 5:21 and 22.  In verse 22, we have only the words, “wives to your husbands as to the Lord.” There is no additional imperative verb here.  In fact, verse 22 is not even a complete sentence.  There is only one command addressed to all believers found in verse 21. “Wives to your husbands” is one example of this form of submission. Later in the chapter, Paul encourages husbands to follow the example set by Jesus when he took upon himself the form of a servant and died on the cross for our sins. “Be submissive one to another.”

Wayne Grudem is so bent on commanding wives to “be subject” to husbands that he even redefines Ephesians 5:21 in light of the non-existent command in verse 22. Instead of translating the passage, “Be submissive to one another,” he insists that it should be read, “be subject, some to others.” Who is supposed to be subject? Wives, and wives alone.

“How do egalitarians avoid the force of Ephesians 5:22, ‘Wives be subject to your husbands’?”   We recognize that this command is not found in the earliest Greek manuscripts of the New Testament.  Evidently, it was added later by scribes and translators.  We are also aware that the only command to all believers regardless of their sex or marital status is, “Submit one to another out of reverence for Christ.”

Furthermore, we recognize that Paul does not tell husbands to “lead their wives as Christ led the church.” Rather he tells husbands to “love their wives as Christ loved the church and gave himself up for her” (Ephesians 5:25).

What should this love look like?

The apostle Paul tells us:
“Have this attitude in yourselves which was also in Christ Jesus, who, although He existed in the form of God, did not regard equality with God a thing to be grasped, but emptied Himself, taking the form of a bond-servant, and being made in the likeness of men. Being found in appearance as a man, He humbled Himself by becoming obedient to the point of death, even death on a cross.” (
Philippians 2:5-8)

How then should husbands love their wives?  By humbling themselves, and taking on the form of a bond-servant:  “Submit one to another out of reverence for Christ.”  Mutual submission is not a myth.  It is a biblical command.

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