There are certain issues I have avoided debating or arguing because I recognize the futility of those topics. They may not all be worth the energy, and the outcome may not produce any real change in myself or anyone else. I have always said that I choose my battles wisely, carefully deciding which flag to raise and defend.
Meanwhile, women continue to be treated as second-class, oppressed, silenced, raped, sex-trafficked, tortured, and murdered just for being women.
That being said, the women’s rights issue is a flag I have finally chosen to raise and waive proudly. I am going to make two blanket statements that may already be obvious, but set the stage for why this issue is very serious:
1. Females are the most oppressed, discriminated against, mistreated people group in all of history.
2. Religion is the biggest culprit.
As an ordained minister and graduate with a Master of Divinity, I could remain on neutral ground, making theological arguments and defending multiple positions on whether or not women should be in leadership, but I won’t. Not anymore. Why?
Because the world needs to change.
The church is on the struggle bus.
And it saddens me.
After centuries of progress, women have been allowed to buy and sell property, hold public office, judge court cases, fight in wars, serve as dignitaries and ambassadors, become CEOs, rule empires, and run for President.
Yet in 2016, the church still says they should not be allowed to preach. I realize that many churches, including my own, ordain women to teach, preach, and even be senior pastors. But the majority of churches do not. The two statements I listed earlier should be followed up by these two questions:
2. What are the consequences of believing what I believe on this issue?
Too often we don’t stop to question why things are the way they are. We don’t challenge systems, especially ones that have been in place for centuries. We don’t think about the consequences of our beliefs, not knowing they can be very dangerous.
We don’t realize that for some issues, silence is still a vote.
The following blog is a small introduction to a problem that must be solved in the church, but can have a major impact on the entire world if we get behind it. If you are ready to dig deep, I mean really deep on this issue, you will discover some powerful truths that can change your life. I strongly suggest you read this blog and the resources listed at the end.
If you’re on the fence regarding women’s rights, now is the time to get off that fence and raise the flag. I did.
- Chris Foreman
In honor of August 26th: Women's Equality Day, I want to share some empowering information regarding women in the church.
Growing up as a Christian woman I have seen specific scriptures get twisted to silence and undermine women in the church and in the home. Men are elevated to being the head of the household and leaders of the church, while women are suppressed and typecast into a “servants role.”
“40 authors authored the Bible. 39 of them empower women. ONE of them spoke to specific situations in which they restricted – or seemed to restrict women. One author. Three scriptures. and we’ve made a whole culture out of it. For 2,000 years.” - Kris Vallotton. The Theology of Empowering Women: Part 2
Not too long ago, a friend of mine had me listen to a podcast given by Kris Vallotton, (author and leader at Bethel Church.) My mind was absolutely blown at how mistaken the church has been in taking these seemingly restricting verses and just running with them. In the podcast and in his book entitled Fashioned to Reign, Vallotton tackles those scriptures, giving us their true meaning and context so that we might be free of this oppression which is enforced in the name of “Christianity.”
After all, besides all the female teachers and prophetesses mentioned in the Bible, there was a female Judge who ruled over all of Israel named Deborah. As Vallotton says in his podcast:
“Does it make sense that a woman in the Old Testament, by God’s call could be the leader of a country, but she couldn’t be an elder in a church of 50?”
I’ll be referencing his podcast and book throughout this blog, which I strongly recommend you read and study for yourself.
My objective is to make a case that the Bible is not restricting to women, but empowering to women as part of the Kingdom of God. I'll be talking about specific, (seemingly restrictive,) verses and will hopefully give some helpful insight as to why they were never meant to oppress all Christian women.
In between the book of Mallachi, (the last book of the Old Testament,) and Matthew, (the first book of the New Testament,) 400 years passed and during that period of silence, a new religion was developed: Judaism. This culture would have been very different from that of the Old Testament. New religious leaders (Pharisees & Sadducees) created more laws. There were now 613 laws, and 100 of those laws were written against women.
“In first century Israel, there was no people group more oppressed than women. They were considered second – class citizens akin to slaves; they had virtually no rights, no respect, and they had no voice.
They were the property of men – literally the property of men – like you would buy a house. They were allowed little or no formal education; if a family had young boys and girls, the boys would go off to school to be educated while the girls stayed home with their mother.
Like the women of Afghanistan; Jewish women were forbidden to speak to men in public and were required to veil their faces whenever they left their homes. If a woman was caught unveiled in public, it was grounds for divorce.
They kept house, took care of their children, and served the will of their husbands. If a man came over to the house for dinner, the women had to eat in another room.
Their fathers arranged most of their marriages so they rarely married the man of their dreams. The best they could hope for is that someone would treat them better than their fathers.
To make matters worse, Polygamy was legal for men, not for women, so most women shared their husbands with other wives. If their husbands got tired of them, for most any reason, they divorced them; discarded them like used rags.
Jewish women couldn’t vote, in fact they had no political influence whatsoever; a woman could not even be a witness in a court trial.
Judaism was stricter than the Old Testament with respect to women; women were relegated to the outer court of the Synagogue. The Synagogue had four levels and women could only go to the outer court – they couldn’t come into the Synagogue.
And… they were not allowed to read the scriptures… In fact the most famous first century Rabbi named Eliezer said, ‘I’d rather burn the Torah than teach it to a woman.’ They weren’t even aloud to recite the Morning Prayer, or the prayers at meals.”
- Kris Vallotton. The Theology of Empowering Women: Part 1
This is the culture that Jesus would have grown up in.
Understanding this makes seemingly casual interactions that Jesus had with women now appear extremely radical. To even speak to a woman in public was unheard of, let alone to befriend them & honor them the way Jesus did.
Paul the apostle had formerly been a Pharisee, one of the men who hated women and enforced all the laws written against them. In his words, “I was a member of the Pharisees, who demand the strictest obedience to the Jewish law.” (Philippians 3:5.)
So – for Paul to say in 1 Corinthians 7:4, “For the wife does not have authority over her own body, but the husband does. Likewise the husband does not have authority over his own body, but the wife does,” this is a SHOCKING transformation and extremely radical for that time, especially coming from a former Pharisee. In fact, the book of Corinthians is incredibly empowering to both men and women, as it is addressed to both sexes:
“What then shall we say, brothers and sisters? When you come together, each of you has a hymn, or a word of instruction, a revelation, a tongue or an interpretation. Everything must be done so that the church may be built up.” (1 Corinthians 14:26.)
He does not say “each man.” He says “each one.” Everyone! Men and women both have a “word of instruction.”
Paul wrote to nine people or cities, and in only three geographic locations did he write seemingly restrictive verses towards women: Corinth, Ephesus, & the Island of Crete. Interestingly, In all three of these cities, the people worshiped female deities or goddesses.
Many of us have learned that context matters when considering the New Testament letters, which were written to many different cultures. As you can imagine, the rabbit hole goes deep in studying these passages and there are many complexities. For the sake of this post I want to address two main verses.
1. The City of Ephesus (1 Timothy)
Now the Greeks loved women. Opposite from the Jewish law, the Greeks elevated women to where they ruled over society; women would exercise unequal dominance over men.
In Ephesus, they worshiped the Greek goddess Artemis, or Diana, the god of fertility. In Greek mythology, it was mother god, (the woman) who came first and birthed all of life. Women would travel to this city specifically to have their children because of the high death rate through childbirth during that time. They sought the protection of the goddess Artemis.
When Paul wrote to Timothy, who was appointed to lead in Ephesus, he was speaking to this specific cultural dynamic:
1 Timothy 2:12-15.
“But I do not allow a woman to teach or exercise authority over a man, but to remain quiet. For it was Adam who was first created, and then Eve. And it was not Adam who was deceived, but the woman being deceived, fell into transgression. But women will be preserved through the bearing of children if they continue in faith and love and sanctity with self-restraint.”
Now we know from other New Testament books that women were clearly prophesying, teaching & training men. For example in Acts 18 we read about Apollos, a man who is described as being "mighty in the scriptures," who was teaching in this very city Paul is writing to. Acts goes on to say, "But when Priscilla and Aquila heard him, they took him aside and explained to him the way of God more accurately." Priscilla's name is listed first before her husband's throughout scripture, (a sign of importance.) And clearly, she is teaching a man, one who is already "mighty."
So what are we missing?
In the original language, the word “authority” that we have here is a specific Greek word, αὐθεντεῖν. It is only used this one time in the entire Bible and translates literally as: “to murder with ones own hand, or to commit suicide.”
Interestingly, there are 46 other words he could have used for “authority” if he wanted to say simply “women can’t be in charge.” But he uses this specific word to address the abusive, dominant behaviors women were exercising over the men in this culture. Scholars argue that Paul is not restricting women's "authority" the way you or I would think of it. He is simply setting ground rules for respect and equality in the Greek churches.
Secondly, his mention of Adam being born first is not to say that men are superior. Remember that in this culture the women ruled over society because of their belief that the woman (mother god) came first. He is simply correcting their theology stating that Adam came first, and making a point that the Greek women should not carry over the cultural practice of exercising dominance due to their old belief systems.
Thirdly, when he says “women will be preserved” or saved “through the bearing of children,” he is not setting up a bizarre doctrine here. He is speaking to the fear women had in that time of losing their lives when they gave birth. Women feared converting to Christianity because they wanted the protection of Artemis the fertility god. Paul is simply assuring them that they can trust God to keep them safe as they give birth.
“God created man and woman in His image and gave them both authority to reign over the earth. God appointed a woman judge named Deborah to rule a country. The Lord commissioned Esther to rule as a queen and positively acknowledged the Queen of Sheba. At least ten women are recognized as prophetesses in the Bible, women such as Anna, Miriam, Deborah, Huldah, and Philip’s four daughters. Not to mention that there are several passages in which women teach men the Bible. Apollos, a man who was already mighty in the Scriptures, was more accurately taught by Priscilla and her husband, Aquilla. Add all this to the fact that many of the Scriptures are quotes from women, such as Mary’s exhortation in the first chapter of Luke. Or how about the book of Proverbs, which Solomon’s mother and father taught him? If the apostle Paul’s point was meant to be universally applied to everyone and women were never to teach men, then you’d have to remove a large portion of the Bible or only allow women to read it!”
- Fashioned to Reign. (page 172.)
2. The City of Corinth (1 Corinthians)
1 Corinthians 14:34.
“The women are to keep silent in the churches; for they are not permitted to speak, but are to subject themselves, just as the Law also says. If they desire to learn anything, let them ask their own husbands at home; for it is improper for a woman to speak in church.”
Now, I've been to a lot of churches. And I must say: the women are clearly speaking. We talk in the bathrooms, we talk during the service and outside the service and all over the campus. We are speaking. In the church. So clearly we all agree: there is a little context required here.
From what we’ve learned of Paul and what he is saying throughout the rest of Corinthians, it does not make logical sense that he is putting a restriction on all women not to speak. After all, he just got through telling the men and women, “each of you has a hymn, or a word of instruction, a revelation, a tongue or an interpretation.” How could he then say, "Oh - but no talking"?
It is important to understand that Paul was writing this letter as a response to one that he received from the Corinthians: “Now concerning the things about which you wrote…” (1 Corinthians 7:1.)
Therefore, what many scholars have deduced is that in this passage, he is probably quoting a question, which they sent to him. What’s confusing is that we are eavesdropping in on a conversation without knowing how any of it began; we don’t have the letter of questions the Corinthians sent to Paul and we are unsure as to when he is answering their questions, or quoting them back. However, given all the empowering things that Paul and the rest of the Bible has to say about women, this is a logical conclusion.
For the sake of argument, let's assume this is the case. He is reciting their question. Look how Paul then responds - first with this Greek symbol:
In other verses such as 1 Corinthians 1:13, 6:2, 6:9, 6:16, and many more, Paul uses this symbol as a rebuttal meaning, "What?" or "Nonsense!" or "No way!" Then proceeding he says:
"(ἢ) What?! Was it from you that the word of God first went forth?
(ἢ) Nonsense! Or has it come to you only?
If anyone thinks he is a prophet or spiritual, let him recognize that the things which I write to you are the Lord’s commandment. But if anyone does not recognize this, he is not recognized."
(1 Corinthians 14:36-38.)
In other words, "What?! Do you men think that God's word is meant for you only? No way! I've told you already: you can ALL speak. You can ALL have a word of prophesy."
The full passage now makes cohesive sense, especially in context with the rest of Corinthians, not to mention the rest of the Bible.
"'In the last days,' God says, 'I will pour out my Spirit on all people. Your sons and daughters will prophesy...'"
"The Lord gives the command; The women who proclaim the good tidings are a great host:
Kings of armies flee, they flee, And she who remains at home will divide the spoil!”
I am blessed to have grown up in a church where women are heard and respected. They preach, sing, teach, pray, & prophesy. Sadly though, there are still many other churches that place specific restrictions on their women i.e. they aren't allowed to set foot in the pulpit, they aren't allowed to be elders on the board, and on it goes. In some denominations there are even dress code restrictions forbidding women to wear pants or even paint their nails.
If you are witnessing discrimination in your leadership or in your daily life, I urge you to fight for equality. I am speaking to both men & women. We as the church can't keep fighting with one hand tied behind our back.
The church influences such a vast majority of culture. If we are oppressing our women, what hope is there for the rest of society? We preach freedom in Christ, but still deny liberty in our worship services for half the church body.
If the church can make change towards true freedom, make no mistake that the world will follow.
Again - here are my references below, which I strongly recommend you study for yourself and draw your own conclusion. Obviously all of this is just the tip of the iceberg, but hopefully reading this has inspired a new journey.
Thank you for staying with me! Together, we can all make changes to empower the kingdom of God and continue spreading love.
"There is neither Jew nor Gentile.
Neither slave nor free.
Nor is there male and female.
For you are all one in Christ Jesus."