In Part 1 of “Women Praying Allowed,” I introduced the context of women’s expanded roles in leadership at our Garnett Church of Christ, set parameters of the discussion, and looked at Old Testament passages, Psalms in particular since in 2010 we were in a series based on a book I helped Lynn Anderson finish while he was going through cancer treatment. The book is titled, Talking Back to God. It is really hard for me to imagine that my daughters cannot also talk back to God aloud. That’s the kind of church I believe God desires: one where we His creation, men and women, all people are talking and listening to Him.
As I said in Part 1, Garnett Church of Christ is committed to the Bible, and I mentioned several of our local Bible teachers who help us dig into the Word of the Lord. I’m indebted also to Mike Cope, Sara Barton, Scot McKnight, and many others who helped to open my eyes to new things in the Word, in particular, some of the things that we’re going to talk about today. We hear God’s Voice though the Word and through these people.
In Part 1 we looked at Old Testament WDWD (What Do Women Do) passages. Now, let’s go to the New Testament to look at both WDWD passages but also the WKSP (Women Keep Silent Passages). In the New Testament, what did women do? The third female psalmist that we’ve mentioned…we’ve mentioned psalmists Miriam and Deborah and now Mary. Mary is credited with a psalm, we call it the Magnificat. It’s sung a lot of times around Christmas.
It’s found in Luke 1:46-55. Mary’s Magnificat not only magnifies God, but also proclaims that future generations will call Mary blessed.
Frankly, because of the Protestant churches looking at the Catholic church and being nervous about exalting Mary and we don’t want to do quite what Catholic churches seem to do and exalt Mary.
But we need to pay attention to Mary and her influence. She was a very influential woman. She carried the Lord in her body.
The image of God himself was in her. She delivered the Messiah and she cared for him. She brought him up and she taught him how to pray. She had a great influence on the Messiah.
We also believe that she was a major source of information for Luke’s Gospel and also a major influence on her son James, Jesus’s brother. He was another New Testament writer.
Mary was an incredible influence in the early church. Anna is another prophet. She’s described as a prophet in the New Testament in Luke 2:36-38. She fasted and prayed and prophesied in the temple. It says in verse 38 that she proclaimed, that she spoke out about this Messiah when Joseph and Mary brought young Jesus into the temple.
Now, Romans 16 is a who’s who of church leaders written by Paul. At least three of those people are women. First, in Romans 16:1 is Phoebe. Phoebe is described as a deacon in Cenchreae and a benefactor and patron of the apostle Paul.
A benefactor would have been tasked with taking a letter of someone like Paul, a teacher. It’s understood that Phoebe took the letter to the Romans to the church in Rome.
She would have been expected to read it aloud and to explain it. Phoebe likely would have been the first commentator of Romans.
She was called a deacon and as such, she would visit the sick and relieve the poor and work on finances. Those are described in 1 Corinthians 3:5-9, and 1 Timothy 3:8-12.
In verse 3 of Chapter 16, we meet Priscilla. But Priscilla and her husband Aquila are mentioned throughout the New Testament several times.
Priscilla with her husband Aquila are co-workers of Paul who risk their lives. In Acts 18:26, it records that Priscilla and Aquila explain the Gospel more adequately to a man named Apollos.
Priscilla is mentioned first in most of the references including the one in Romans 16:3. With just a few exceptions, Priscilla is mentioned first. Which is possible in New Testament in the times, the writings, a woman could be mentioned first but not always. There’s some significance to her role in the early church.
In Romans 16, further down, I believe it’s in verse 7, there’s another mention verse 7 of Andronicus and Junias. Some of your Bibles say Junias and some of them say Junia.
There’s been some discussion about whether that’s a man or a woman. If it renders Junias, that interpreter or that translator, figures that it’s a man. But some of your Bibles say Junia, J-U-N-I-A.
It’s corroborated by Saint Chrysostom, an early church father, who writes of Junia as a woman and one of the great early apostles, albeit one of the lesser known apostles like Barnabas, not one of the original apostles who is with Jesus.
What did women in the New Testament do? At least these examples that I’ve given you. They’re deacons. Junias may be an apostle. Influencers of Christ and the gospel writers. James, they’re prophets, theologians, readers, prayers, risking their lives, pasturing churches, helping to plant churches, coworkers of Paul.
Do we permit in our church today in the 21st century what the Old Testament and the New Testament permitted for women to do? No, we don’t, not in our church.
Because of these “Women, Keep Silent” passages, they’ve gotten us to a point where we’re not quite sure how to work that. We fear sometimes opening the circle wider.
What really is the context of these “Women Keep Silent” passages? Because to take this discussions seriously, we need to look at what do women do in the Old Testament and New Testament, but to take it very seriously, we also need to look at these “Women Keep Silent” passages, so let’s look at those.
There are two major ones that discuss the silence of women. The first is 1 Corinthians 14:34-35 and I’ll read both of these. The other is in 1 Timothy 2:8-15
“Women should remain silent in the churches. They must be in submission as the law says. If they want to inquire about something, they should ask their husbands at home. For it is disgraceful for a woman to speak in the Churches.”
1 Timothy 2: 8-15, says “Therefore I want the men everywhere to pray, lifting up holy hands without anger or disputing. I also want the women to dress modestly, with decency and propriety, adorning themselves not with elaborate hairstyles or gold or pearls or expensive clothes, but with good deeds appropriate for women who profess to worship God.”
Verse 11, “A woman should learn in quietness and full submission. I do not permit a woman to teach or assume authority over a man. She must be quiet, for Adam was formed first, then Eve. Adam was not the one deceived. It was the woman who was deceived and became a sinner. Women will be saved through childbearing if they continue in faith, love and holiness, with propriety.”
These are hard passages. They’re hard to read. They’re hard to interpret. They’re hard to understand.
The church has had no uniform view over the centuries but has made a lot of attempts to try to understand these passages because of what these texts say. As a result, to suppress women in some form or fashion because of what these texts say.
Why? For two major reasons the church has tried to do this over the years. First of all, we haven’t really fully understood what being in Christ does to our relationships, specifically male and female relationships.
There’s a difference between living under the fall and living under the redeemed in Christ life. Christ came to redeem every relationship, including the ones between male and female.
We’ll get into that just a little bit more when we look at chapter in Genesis.
The second reason is just plainly that we’ve had trouble interpreting these “Women Keep Silent” passages. We’ve done what we can to try and do what’s right. I applaud the church over the years that’s tried their best.
We’re trying our best. We do it however imperfectly. Let’s look at the context of the “Women Keep Silent passages.” That’s so important.
The context, and one of the big problems that we’ve found in these Women Keep Silent passages is they’ve been extracted from their context. They’ve been used and made into law rather than used in the context and history of Paul’s letters to specific churches in specific times.
Many of you know the commentator named F. F. Bruce. He has written commentaries over many years in the 20th century.
The conversation was recorded by a friend of mine Scott McKnight, a writer who was speaking with F.F. Bruce late in his life, who said that Paul would probably roll over in his grave if he knew that we were making his letters into Torah, into law.
They were written for specific churches, for specific times. We have problems when we try to extract pieces and patchwork and make law out of it. That’s one big problem. It’s important for us to look at the context.
Do we imagine that Paul here in what I just read all of a sudden out of the blue in left field decided to stop talking about jewelry? Do you think he had something against jewelry?
Do you think he had something against braided hair and he just didn’t like the sound of a woman’s voice? I don’t think so. There has to be a context.
Reading scripture is like listening to one side of a phone conversation as an observer. We do this every day. It’s quite annoying in some way. In public places with cell phones. But we hear one side of the conversation, even with our spouses sometimes. We even know their voice. “OK, you’re talking to your mother, right?’
We know certain things intuitively, but we still can’t interpret everything because we can’t hear what? We can’t hear the other side of the conversation.
Reading the Bible, particularly these letters of Paul, is like listening to one side of the conversation on a phone. It takes hanging up and that person explaining the context for us to fully understand.
Let me give a crack at this, the context of these passages in the early church in Rome. The new church was mixed with Jews and Gentiles. It was a huge concern with Paul to help them get along and advance the gospels. That was the top of his list of concerns.
Helping Jews and Gentiles and they had all different practices. Romans behaved differently from Jews. Imagine a liberated woman, braided hair and jewelry, coming in, in all the kinds of ways that they act and dress, and a Jewish woman, who would never show her hair, never braid it, never do those things, meet up with a Roman woman.
Imagine the looks. Imagine the stares. Imagine the immediate friction that would be there and it was. Paul spends lots of time, if you read his letters over, you’ll see these conflicts, this Jew and Gentile conversation going on.
It was at the heart of the gospel for Paul, because if the gospel was for all, it had to be for all. They had to find a way to get along and be unified. That was at the top of Paul’s concerns.
That explains some of why he talked about things like jewelry and braided hair and tried to bring peace and a practice for the church.
One concern was respectability of the new church movement, not to look like the surrounding culture and fertility cults. These cults were doing all sorts of things, immoral things. In the good Jewish style, the church wanted to distinguish themselves. Why do you think Paul was talking about the childbirth in this passage? It seems from left field. It seems strange, but these cults were abhorring marriage, and abhorring childbirth. They were discovering abortion, and practicing it openly.
Paul had to address that. He didn’t want the church to be like that. They had to distinguish themselves from these cults that were going right along. The critics were saying, “You’re just another one of those cults.” You can begin to understand, with the background, why Paul had to write some of these things. When people were coming from so many different world views.
They needed to learn the way of Christ. Women would have been less educated in Rome, and Jewish circles. They didn’t get dibs on the education. The men did. The boys did. It’s been that way through a lot of history. Contemporaries of Paul — writers, historians, theologians, rhetoricians — make fun of women who were trying to be learned, who were trying to speak up.
Women were trying to attempt that. They were taking the mic, although there was no mic. They were taking the stage. They were trying to break into leadership circles, and that wasn’t taken so well by a lot of the men. That hasn’t changed in a lot of history. Contrast that with Paul. Paul seems to us, on the surface, as chauvinistic.
It seems that he has no reason for saying that women should be silent. Listen while I attempt to explain what I think, and what Scott McKnight, and others think was happening in the early church. I think we’ll begin to see Paul differently. I have. Paul wants women to learn. Why does he ask them to be quiet, then?
If women had not had the educational opportunities, and they were loose. In some ways the Roman women were loose morally, and loose tongues. They were coming into the assemblies, and they were confusing things. They were bringing chaos.
In 1 Corinthians, the whole bit of 1 Corinthians 11 and forward, about tongues, and everything, was all about Paul bringing a sense of order into their assemblies, the church could grow. That was Paul’s concern. He was concerned that their assemblies not descend into that cult-like atmosphere. Rather, they should be the body of Christ.
Paul spent a lot of time talking about the body of Christ. Paul asked these new, Christian, Roman women to be quiet until they learned the way of Christ. When they learned and understood the gospel, there’s many examples of Paul interacting as co-workers with people like Priscilla. He mentions her in Romans 16 in very glowing, and honorable terms as a co-worker in Christ.
She explained to Apollos, with her husband Aquila, how Phoebe was such a deacon, and a servant. If they were given gifts of the Holy Spirit to evangelize, and to teach, how could they possibly be quiet while they did it? When someone was quiet for a time, coming into a new church, until they could learn. They could be like Priscilla, and Phoebe, Junia, and Anna, and Mary. These women of influence.
It’s not whether they are a man, or a woman. It’s if they’ve listened, and learned, and humbly received the gifting by the Holy Spirit. That’s what matters to Paul. They can go forward, and become missionaries. If the Holy Spirit gift them with evangelism, they have to speak. Perhaps this silence was temporary.
Perhaps it was not for all women, but for those who were coming in as learners from a new culture, and they needed that temporary learning time in silence. Paul’s principle was this — teach, but before you teach, you need to learn. Be quiet, learn, and then you can go forward in serving, and leading. For a particular group of women, it seems like that’s what Paul was doing.
He didn’t really have to say this to the men, because they had the privilege of learning, but I think that principle applies to everyone. It applies to youth. It applies to adults. It applies to men. It applies to women. It applies to Jews. It applies to Gentiles. Learn in submission before you teach. That was the principle.
The best explanations of scripture are usually the ones that make the most sense. We’ve been part of a bunch that tries to take the plain, literal sense of the bible, but it still leaves you with all kinds of quandaries that don’t make sense, that don’t add up. I’ve got to tell you, this one for me does not add up.
That women should be totally silent. It just doesn’t. It doesn’t make sense. It doesn’t make plain horse sense, for one, because of the, “What do women do?” passages. Then, when you don’t just take it and extract out something, you look at it in a context, it begins to make more sense.
In terms of good theology, good doctrinal teaching about who God is, and his character, and how he wants all people, from all time, from the very creation. It all got messed up. He’s been trying to get it back to what he created in the first place, a mutuality and oneness, instead of enmity and rivalry that the fall has brought.
When you look at it from all those different standpoints, it begins to make more sense. Paul comes out looking a little better, he doesn’t look so much like a chauvinist to me. That’s good news, because I didn’t want to think of him that way, but I didn’t know how else to think of the guy.
Keep in mind that Paul — his main concern was not silence, per se, specifically, but his concern was for the order in the churches. This gave them respectability, new people could hear, and believe the gospel of Jesus Christ. That was Paul’s desire. He was a missionary.
He told us, in his letter he told the Corinthians in 1 Corinthians 9:22-23, “I will do anything to advance the gospel.” Believe me, and he did. Even if it meant telling a group of women to be quiet for a while. I truly believe, according to 1 Corinthians 9:22. I’ll read that.
“To the weak I become weak. To win the weak I have become all things to all men, so that by all possible means I may save some. I do all of this for the sake of the gospel, that I may share in its blessings.” I believe Paul would have done whatever it took to honor, and to advance the gospel. That was his main concern.
Make sure that the Jews and Gentiles get along. That they have order in their assemblies, and that those assemblies can receive new visitors, and that they too can share in the blessings of Jesus Christ, and be a part of the body. That the church could go into other places, and advance into new cultures. In Spain, and in different languages.
They would have to figure it out there, but where they were, they needed to have certain cultural guidelines in order to advance the gospel, and that was Paul’s concern. This huge concern, the gospel preached, and Jesus known in all of the world. The great irony today, is the way we have limited women has in many ways served to stagnate and repel people from the gospel, rather than advancing it.