I am no longer living in Chicago. I woke up one morning and found myself down by the train station. Well long story short, I am now in Canada eating a brisket. (JUST KIDDING). Seriously, Biblicaly, What is the role of women in the church? And how do we relate it to our current culture?
As you know, this is an extremely controversial question. Some strong "biblicists" stand firmly by keeping women out of leadership in the church, while other "compassion and justice" folks insist that Paul's comments on women in leadership are antiquated and so we should ignore them and just look at the more positive statments about women, such as "there is no male or female in Christ."
Both of these notions I find to be looking at only part of the Biblical story.
For one, in the New Testament, there are women in all the leadership positions of the church, including a disciple of Jesus (Luke 10), the leader of a congregation (I Corinthians 16 and II John), deacon (I Timothy 3) and apostle (Romans 16). And there are women teaching men (Acts 16). And it is interesting that Paul was involved in many of these instances. So does Paul contradict himself? Even if we were talking about just a normal joe, I don't think that Paul would say and do one thing and then say the opposite. And if it is divine Scripture, I find that less likely.
There are two passages that give the basis of understanding that Paul is opposed to women in leadership roles, despite the evidence in the NT that he held the opposite view: I Corinthians 14 and I Timothy 2. Let's examine both of them.
I Corinthians 14:29-38
Let two or three prophets speak, and let the others pass judgment. But if a revelation is made to another who is seated, the first one must keep silent. For you can all prophesy one by one, so that all may learn and all may be exhorted; and the spirits of prophets are subject to prophets; for God is not a God of confusion but of peace, as in all the churches of the saints. 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. Was it from you that the word of God first went forth? 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.
In the context, Paul is speaking about order in prophecy, and how to be both spiritual and polite in the speaking of prophecy. First of all, someone is in charge-- the one who is seated, for everyone stood except for the teacher-- over the group of prophets and they had to listen to that one. And everyone takes their turn.
Then Paul seems to say that women could not prophesy, or "not speak". In the context, he might only be talking about prophecy, but if so, that is strange since it seems that he said that women could prophecy if their heads were covered in chapter 11 (which I think he did not say, but that's for another day, but at least he was accepting women prophets speaking in the church). So, again, is Paul contradicting himself? And why is he reacting so strongly after this statement to... what? He is giving a command and then immediately rebuking the Corinthians? Why?
Well, the broader context, from Chapter 7, Paul has been responding to the Corinthians about "that which you wrote." In other words, he received a letter from the Corinthians to which he is responding. This explains the many changes of subject he does in the letter. And it also explains many of the seeming "contradictions" in the text. Why? Because he is quoting from the letter he received from the Corinthians. This is why, in chapter 7, it is quoted "A husband shall not touch a wife" and then Paul contradicts it immediately. Because he was quoting a Corinthian position and then refuting it. Later on, in chapter 8, he quotes that "idols are nothing," and then in chapter 10 he says that "idols are demons." He is not contradicting himself, but the Corinthians.
Even so, here in this passage, he is speaking about orderliness in prophecy and how the lesser prophets need to pay attention to authority ("he who is sitting") and then he quotes a prophecy that was given to the Corinthians "Women are to keep silent in the churches..." etc. Paul recognizes this as the opposite practice of the rest of the churches, which he already spoke about in I Cor 11:19, that they can't have a standard practice or command that isn't accepted by all the other churches. Here, a prophet in Corinth is saying, "All women IN ALL THE CHURCHES must remain silent." Paul is responding by saying, "Who do you think you are? Are you the primary apostle that can tell all the churches what to do?" Then he says, "Instead, pay attention to what I'm telling you-- and I'm telling you to listen to the authorities in your church, do what they say and SHUT UP!"
So rather than Paul saying "women should be silent" Paul is actually saying, "Prophets who say that women should be silent should shut up themselves."
Then we've got the ever popular I Timothy 2
First of all, then, I urge that entreaties and prayers, petitions and thanksgivings, be made on behalf of all men, for kings and all who are in authority, so that we may lead a tranquil and quiet life in all godliness and dignity. This is good and acceptable in the sight of God our Savior, who desires all men to be saved and to come to the knowledge of the truth. For there is one God, and one mediator also between God and men, the man Christ Jesus, who gave Himself as a ransom for all, the testimony given at the proper time. For this I was appointed a preacher and an apostle (I am telling the truth, I am not lying) as a teacher of the Gentiles in faith and truth. Therefore I want the men in every place to pray, lifting up holy hands, without wrath and dissension.
Likewise, I want women to adorn themselves with proper clothing, modestly and discreetly, not with braided hair and gold or pearls or costly garments, but rather by means of good works, as is proper for women making a claim to godliness. A woman must quietly receive instruction with entire submissiveness. 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.
First of all, I want to firmly agree that this was probably written by Paul and not some misogynist years after Paul. But I want us to understand clearly what Paul is saying here. First of all, he is not speaking to men and to women, but rather to husbands and to wives. This passage is a brief version of a "household text" of which we have many examples in Scripture, such as Ephesians 6, where instruction is given to different parts of a household. Husbands are commanded to go to the synagouge and pray with other husbands. This is specifically given to husbands because they are the head of the household and it is a part of their responsibility as the authority of the house.
Wives, however, have their own work to do. First, they aren't to be distracted by fleshly things such as beauty and cosmetics. This doesn't mean ANY braiding of hair, but the common practice of spending half of one's day caring for hair and beautifying oneself. The work they are to to is twofold-- first of all, submissiveness, and secondly childbearing. Who is the wife to be submissive to? Why, her husband, of course, as Paul says in I Corinthians 11. Women are not to submit to ALL men. Rather, wives are to submit to their husbands.
Thus, Paul is not speaking of church leadership here, but household leadership. Can women be leaders in the church? Yes, because there the kingdom standards apply instead of the standards of the world. But even there, wives should be submissive to their husbands, even as children should submit to their parents if they are living with them. So a wife should not think to teach her husband, but it is fine if she can teach other men. If men want to see in this passage all women submit to them, it is just a part of some patriartic fantasy. Let's face it, women often know better than us. And if any man is worth anything, they will ask women-- especially their wives-- to teach them.
And what about childbearing? I think its shorthand for the raising of children, even as it is in Genesis 3, where it says that women will bear children in pain. It is hard labor, raising children, especially the younger ones and, let's face it, it is almost always the mothers who do that job, even in todays "balanced" society. And note, Paul doesnt say that women will just be saved through the raising of children. Rather, he says that the raising of children will be enough to save them if they do it with gentleness and faith. In other words, whatever work God gives us, let's do it with Christlikeness. That is what will save us, not a specific work by itself.