I was going to wait until I finished this series of posts before I addressed this issue. But the Holy Spirit won’t leave me alone, so here goes: What does The Bible really say about women as teachers, pastors, or preachers? As with all these posts about the influences of cultural biases and how these biases may be keeping us from seeing “the truth, the whole truth, and nothing but the truth so help me God”. I am not expecting anyone to change their view, and especially on this one. So let’s take a deep dive on this controversial subject.
Here is the approach I am taking. I am using the Bible IN its contexts AND looking at the whole picture of the narrative the Bible tells, not just bits and pieces to backup my position. Much of the Bible is written in light of its current context and culture. I believe what some see as biblical approval and biblical disapproval of certain issues are really passages about how to navigate in a culture that does not reflect the original intention of God in creation. For example, slavery was not a part of God’s Original Design. So how do we live faithfully as God’s people in the midst of something He clearly never intended? And could it be that the role of women, in a culture that clearly does not honor them as being image bearers of God, can be misinterpreted as well?
Here are some of the passages I typically hear from those who say it is unbiblical for women to be pastors and preachers, and my response from looking at the contexts:
11 Women should learn quietly and submissively. 12 I do not let women teach men or have authority over them. Let them listen quietly. 13 For God made Adam first, and afterward he made Eve. 1 Timothy 2:11-12
Seems pretty clear, doesn’t it? Until you look at the classical Greek and the original meaning of those words. The Greek word Paul used is authenteō and it means one who acts on his (or her) own authority, autocratic. Could it be that Paul is warning against women, or anyone for that matter, to do things that God has not called them to do? The context is about order in worship. Worship should not be chaotic and Paul chastised the church at Corinth for some of their ways of making worship more about them and thus, less about God.
And when Paul wrote this letter Timothy was leading the church at Ephesus. Did someone just think, “So what? What’s that got to do with anything?” Glad you asked! Ephesus was the home to the Temple of Artemis and was considered one of the 7 wonders of the world. Artemis was considered, among many things, to be the goddess of fertility, and you know how fertility normally occurs–SEX! When women went to the Temple of Artemis they would adorn themselves with signs of sexuality–beautiful, seductive dresses, jewelry, hair fixed just all, all to seduce men by exerting power over them through sex. There’s more to say about Artemis’ Temple, you can Google that for yourself. Suffice it to say, “Couldn’t Paul be telling Timothy that church at Ephesus shouldn’t look or act like those going to the Temple of Artemis, that celebrates sexuality?” I’m just saying….
Well, let’s look at some more passages
21 And further, submit to one another out of reverence for Christ. 22 For wives, this means submit to your husbands as to the Lord. 23 For a husband is the head of his wife as Christ is the head of the church. He is the Savior of his body, the church. 24 As the church submits to Christ, so you wives should submit to your husbands in everything.
25 For husbands, this means love your wives, just as Christ loved the church. He gave up his life for her 26 to make her holy and clean, washed by the cleansing of God’s word. 27 He did this to present her to himself as a glorious church without a spot or wrinkle or any other blemish. Instead, she will be holy and without fault. 28 In the same way, husbands ought to love their wives as they love their own bodies. For a man who loves his wife actually shows love for himself. 29 No one hates his own body but feeds and cares for it, just as Christ cares for the church.30 And we are members of his body. Ephesians 5:21-30
I just heard someone say, “Aha, you radical liberal, you just sunk your own ship!” In the immortal words of Sheriff Andy Taylor, “Now hold on just a minute, Barney.” Context! The context is verse 1, NOT verse 22: “Imitate God, therefore, in everything you do, because you are his dear children.” And imitating God hits the high point in verse 21, NOT verse 22: “And further, submit to one another out of reverence for Christ.” It is all about how we honor God by submitting to each other regardless of status or gender. The Greek word used is hypotassō and it means to arrange under, to subordinate; to subject, put in subjection.
If you expect women to submit to men, then men should submit to women, if Paul is correct in verse 21. The remainder of these verse are about how do we honor each other, respect each other by showing humility to each other. It certainly isn’t by being lords and dictators over anyone. Now, just hold on to that thought about imitating God, OK?
Let’s look at another passage that people believe disqualifies women from being pastors and preachers.
34 Women should be silent during the church meetings. It is not proper for them to speak. They should be submissive, just as the law says. 35 If they have any questions, they should ask their husbands at home, for it is improper for women to speak in church meetings. 1 Corinthians 14:34-35
Someone was just thinking, “Would you like for me to throw you a float. Your ship just sank.” Now wait a minute Barney! Context, if you don’t mind. There was a lot of chaos and confusion in the Corinthian worship. Paul is speaking about order in worship, again. That word for silent means just that–silent–to not disrupt the worship service, which was happening at Corinth. Here is their cultural context–not that God designed it that way–it was just the way they did it. People were segregated in meeting places, and one way was by gender. Women were placed in the area farthest from where the speaker was–just like in the Temple. Mr. Peavy hasn’t been born yet, so could it be that the women who could not hear whoever was speaking, so they shouted from the rear of the room, “We didn’t hear that, would you mind repeating that?”
Remember context–and in the case of 1 Corinthians 14, it isn’t about women cannot speak, but it is about so many speaking that there is no chance for people to learn about Jesus. I’ve heard several men “preachers and teachers” who spoke in unknown tongues. Oh, they were speaking English, but I didn’t understand a word they said. I’ve also heard several women preachers and teachers who spoke with clarity and wisdom. What if the context was maintaining order and reducing chaos, instead of saying women can’t be preachers? I’m only asking a question…
A couple of paragraphs ago I asked you to hold on to that thought about imitating God, and allow me to pursue it now. The Bible opens up with life as God designed it to be–it reflects His intentionality. But in Genesis 3 we see both Adam AND Eve moving in the opposite direction, against God’s intentionality of creation. From this point forward in the Bible, the narrative is that God seeks to bring us back to His Intended Design. It is also the narrative of humanity continuing to go against His Intended Design.
This resulted in the forming of cultures that God never designed or intended, but that we humans did because of our sinful nature. Part of the narrative is our failings. The rest of the narrative is about God moving to restore His Intended Design to His creation. This movement of God to restore is always counter-cultural; moving in the opposite direction to what the world says is right.
When Jesus came in our humanness it was the final part of how God one day will restore His creation back to His Intended Design, where men and women together reflect His Image–to be restored to being His Image Bearers. That plan not only included the death of Jesus, but also the Resurrection of Jesus. But that ultimate plan included one more step: The Coming Of The Holy Spirit into the hearts of those He is in the process of RESTORING. The prophet Joel described to a fallen people how God would do a brand new work in His people, It is all about restoring what had fallen because of sin–which includes us. We read in Joel 2:28-29–
“Then, after doing all those things, I will pour out my Spirit upon all people. Your sons and daughters will prophesy. Your old men will dream dreams, and your young men will see visions. In those days I will pour out my Spirit even on servants—men and women alike.
According to Strong’s Hebrew dictionary the word prophesy means to speak by inspiration, meaning inspiration of God. Joel said both men and women would prophesy–young and old see visions. He would pour out His spirit on servants–men and women. Is Joel right or did he get the message from God mixed up? Fast forward a few centuries.
The Holy Spirit came to those disciples in that upper room at the Feast of Pentecost. It’s all in Acts 2, but I want to highland, IN CONTEXT, a portion of Peter’s message in verses 14-18–
“Listen carefully, all of you, fellow Jews and residents of Jerusalem! Make no mistake about this. These people are not drunk, as some of you are assuming. Nine o’clock in the morning is much too early for that. No, what you see was predicted long ago by the prophet Joel:
‘In the last days,’ God says, ‘I will pour out my Spirit upon all people. Your sons and daughters will prophesy. Your young men will see visions, and your old men will dream dreams. In those days I will pour out my Spirit even on my servants—men and women alike—and they will prophesy.
There are 2 words with a connectional word: sons AND daughters. Then a few lines down: men AND women alike. What? They will prophesy. Did someone just think, “Oh, that’s not really preaching.” No wonder the North American church is in such a state of decline! Alas, you may be correct–much preaching I have heard was not prophecy in the truest meaning of that word. Prophesy in the Greek means “to be a prophet, speak forth by divine inspiration”. To prophesy doesn’t mean you foretell the future! Prophecy is FORTH-TELLING not foretelling. It is about the present moment, not future moments that truly we do not come close to fully understanding. Oh, it may include something about the future–but it is about the consequences if you do not apply the inspiration of God’s Truth in the here and now.
And even for Paul, who understands the rich extravagance of God’s grace could not fully wrap his mind around this issue of women preachers. He grew up in a culture, actually, 2 cultures that most often demoted women to second class citizens. But an epiphany came to Paul in Galatians 3. The context is being under the influence of the Holy Spirit and living by faith in Jesus. Here are the verses (26-28) that comes out of that context:
26 For you are all children of God through faith in Christ Jesus. 27 And all who have been united with Christ in baptism have put on Christ, like putting on new clothes. 28 There is no longer Jew or Gentile, slave or free, male and female. For you are all one in Christ Jesus.
In the beginning, God chose to reflect His image in 2 unique forms–we call them male and female, men and women. Neither form is better than the other. Truth is, each single form comes up short in revealing the image of God. But when you put those 2 images together, as God INTENDED, the image of God becomes clearer. I know there are those (who shall remain nameless) point out that the responsibility for the Fall rests solely on Eve. Clearly, this is the early Jewish belief, which culture did influence Paul.
But the sole responsibility does not rest on Eve for this tragedy. Adam was present, too. I have a very good friend who insists Adam wasn’t present when the serpent was deceiving Eve. But Genesis 3:6 says: “The woman was convinced. She saw that the tree was beautiful and its fruit looked delicious, and she wanted the wisdom it would give her. So she took some of the fruit and ate it. Then she gave some to her husband, who was with her, and he ate it, too.” Adam should have fought for her against the Serpent, but he didn’t. Adam didn’t do a thing–and that was his first sin.
And when they were confronted by their Creator about what happened, Eve was honest: “I was deceived.” And Adam? He takes no personal responsibility but blames Eve, and thus his second sin: “This woman you gave me made me do it.” Hard truth time: Adam is blaming God. “God, if you had not made her, I would be OK.” So, men are the only ones who can lead in church? If that’s so, men we have a very bad track record on leading, from the very beginning.
Now, back to my beginning. I’m not asking anyone to change their views on this matter. The purpose of this series has been to prod each of us into examining if we are being influenced by our culture. If so, where at? Remember, the Kingdom of God goes counter-cultural to everything this culture thinks is right and true. Now excuse me, I hear a noise outside my office, people shouting something about tar and feathers and something else about a stake and fire…..