Restrictive passages, part 2 — 1 Corinthians 14:34

“For God is not a God of disorder but of peace—as in all the congregations of the Lord’s people. 

Women should remain silent in the churches. They are not allowed to speak, but must be in submission, as the law says. If they want to inquire about something, they should ask their own husbands at home; for it is disgraceful for a woman to speak in the church.” (1 Corinthians 14:33-35).

This is the second of two NT passages in which Paul restricts the roles of women. Whereas in 1 Timothy 2:12 Paul writes that women should be “quiet” (ASV, NASB, NIV, NLT, MSG), in this passage Paul calls for “silence” (ASV, KJV, NASB, NIV, NLT). Let’s consider two possibilities for reading this passage.

The first reading: Paul is restricting women in all congregations to silence. If the women have questions, they are to ask their husbands at home.

The second reading: Paul is restricting to silence the talkative women who are disrupting the gathering. This would apply not only to the church in Corinth, but to all congregations because God is not a God of disorder, but of peace. Rather than interrupting the gathering (perhaps due to not understanding the language – remember, this is a tongue-speaking context), they are to ask their husbands (who apparently do understand) when they get home.

Take a moment to imagine how church gatherings would change if reading number one were accepted. No altos or sopranos singing because women are silent. No comments. No questions. No greetings. No talking. No shushing the babies. No whispering to explain the bread and cup to children. Just silence.

But our reading (understanding and practice of the passage) needs to be determined by something greater than how it affects our current practice. Crucial in the decision as to how to read this passage is seeing how the two reading options fit with the immediate and broader contexts. For example: how do you square the first reading with what is happening in 1 Corinthians 11 where women are praying and preaching (prophesying) in what seems to be a mixed gender gathering (after all, they are told to wear their head coverings which would seem to rule out a female-only gathering)? For that matter, how do you square Paul calling for “silence” in 1 Corinthians 14 when he calls only for “quiet” in the other restrictive passage – 1 Timothy 2:12?

As for the broader context, it seems we have a decision to make. Put one way: are the two restrictive passages an indication of how God always intended for men and women to relate or are they exceptional restrictions based on specific problems in the congregation or church gathering?

Or put another way: are the examples through scripture of women leading, teaching, singing, preaching, and praying the exceptions and women being quiet or silent the rule? Or are the examples through scripture of women leading, teaching, singing, preaching, and praying the rule while the two restrictive passages are the exceptions?

Restrictive Passages: 1 Timothy 2

“A woman should learn in quietness and full submission. I do not permit a woman to teach or to assume authority over a man; she must be quiet” (1 Timothy 2:11-12).

This is one of two NT passages in which Paul restricts the roles of women. Some say 1 Timothy was not written by Paul and should not be included in our Bibles. Others suggest this is an example of a flawed Paul’s misogyny and should be ignored. After giving both positions consideration, I am not convinced. I suggest we treat 1 Timothy as being of Paul and belonging in our Bibles. I reject the notion that Paul is a misogynist. Without a doubt, Paul is restricting women in 1 Timothy 2. The question for us to determine is what exactly is being restricted by Paul? Let me suggest two possible readings for this passage that should be considered in light of how they read in the context of 1 Timothy as a letter and the Bible as a whole.

The first reading: Paul is restricting all women in all places for all time from teaching or assuming authority over men. Paul explains his position by referring to the order of creation and deception.  Adam was formed first, before Eve; therefore men have authority over women.  Eve was deceived first, before Adam; therefore all women need to be led by men. God never intended for women to teach or assume authority over men. God always intended men to exercise authority over women.

The second reading: Paul is restricting unlearned women at Ephesus (or anywhere else) from teaching or assuming authority over men. Paul begins the passage by urging women to learn (a radical, non-traditional position in Paul’s day). Paul explains his instruction by referring to the order of creation and deception. Adam was formed first, so Adam had more time to learn from God than Eve. As a result, Eve was deceived first. Women in Eve’s position (unlearned women) should quietly learn rather than teach or assume authority over men.

Do churches choosing reading number one practice a more restrictive view than Paul taught even assuming reading one? In what way does a woman greeting the church or making an announcement violate the restriction regarding teaching a man or assuming authority over a man?  The same question should be asked with regard to passing trays, praying, reading scripture, sharing personal reflections at communion, or leading songs. Do any of these involve authoritative teaching? Do they necessarily involve assuming authority over a man?  What if men ask women to serve in these ways? How is passing a tray from front to back more authoritative than passing a tray from side to side? If we conclude leadership should be male rather than shared, and we think passing trays is an act of leadership, perhaps we need to rethink our view of what constitutes leadership. What did Jesus do or teach that would lead us to conclude something like passing trays was an example of Jesus-style leadership?

While sorting through this passage to determine which reading best fits and to examine our own practices, we need to remember the importance of humility, grace, and love. All of us, me included, need to be submissive learners.

God and Gender

Have you ever heard God referred to as “the big guy upstairs” or “the old man in the sky?”  These statements may reveal something about people’s perception of God. Throughout my ministry I have been surprised (shocked may not be too strong a word) at the times when people have told me they think God is actually “male.”

I mistakenly had thought everyone understood God is not a human and so not male or female. God is a spirit. God is, well, God. Jesus was a male, but the great mystery of the incarnation is not just that God has taken on a male body, but that God has taken on any human body at all (Philippians 2:1-11). God…in a human body? Wow! 

Without question, scripture uses male metaphors to present God to us in language we can understand. The best known example of a male metaphor being used to reveal God would probably be God as our “father”.  While there are few references to God as father in the Old Testament, this imagery is frequently used by Jesus and elsewhere in the New Testament. While we are familiar with male metaphors and imagery used to reveal God to humans, for some reason we are not as familiar with female metaphors and imagery used in scripture to reveal God. For that reason, I ask you to consider these few examples:

  • Numbers 11:12  Moses asks, “Did I conceive all these people? Did I give them birth? Why do you tell me to carry them in my arms as a nurse carries an infant…?” The obvious answer is, “no.” Moses did not, but he is making the point that God did. God conceived them. God gave them birth. God carried them.
  • Deuteronomy 32:18  In this passage God is pictured as both father and mother; and, I suppose it is worth noting, God also is pictured as a “rock.”
  • Job 38:8, 29  The Lord uses feminine birth imagery to describe God’s creating the universe.
  • Psalm 131:2  David describes putting his hope in the Lord as being like a weaned child cuddling with its mother. A weaned child does not seek its mother to demand food. A weaned child wants its mother for comfort and assurance.
  • Luke 15:8-10  In Luke 15 Jesus tells three stories to teach about the nature of God. While two of the stories use male imagery, the second of the stories uses female imagery to reveal God.
  • Matthew 23:37  Jesus describes God’s desire to protect Israel being like that of a hen wanting to protect her chicks.
  • John 1:13; John 3:5; 1 John 4:7; 1 John 5:1, 4, 18  John uses feminine “born of God” images several times.
  • Isaiah 42:14, Isaiah 46:3-4, Isaiah 49:14-15, Isaiah 66:13 These are but a few of many more examples which could be listed. 

Don’t miss the point here, I am not trying to pitch that God is female. Far from it. I am saying while God is God and not human (male or female), scripture uses numerous images and metaphors — both male and female — to reveal the nature of God.

Women in the New Testament Letters, part 3

In order to get an overview of the roles women played in the faith community of the New Testament era, we have looked at women in the ministry of Jesus and women in Acts. This is the third and final part of a survey of all the additional women in the New Testament letters. Some passages highlighted tell about particular women while others include teaching about women.

  • Euodia and Syntyche in Philippians 4:2-9  Euodia and Syntyche are described by Paul as women who “contended at my side in the cause of Christ” and “fellow workers.”  These women also may be the key to understanding the situation addressed by Paul in the letter to the Philippians. Their inability to get along has apparently caused deep problems in their congregation. The entire letter seems to be written with them in mind.
  • Nympha in Colossians 4:15  Nympha is addressed as one who hosts a church in her house. So in this verse Paul recognizes Nympha as both having a house and hosting a church. Both are significant in the first century and significant for our understanding of women in the New Testament churches.
  • Paul’s motherly ministry in 1 Thessalonians 2:6b-9 Paul describes his ministry in Thessalonica as being like a mother: caring, loving, sharing, and working night and day. Paul shows both an awareness of and appreciation for the ministry of mothers.
  • Wives and female servants  in 1 Timothy 3:1-13 (see also Titus 1) In this discussion of church leadership expectations for Ephesus, Paul places a high value on the roles women play.  Wives are very important team-mates in the ministry of elders and deacons.  Paul also writes of women who minister as special servants or “deaconesses.”
  • Older women and widows in 1 Timothy 5:1-16 Paul instructs Timothy to make sure the church in Ephesus values and respects older women and widows. Women are called to be responsible members of the community of faith: washing the feet of the saints, managing their homes, doing all kinds of good deeds, and even financially supporting needy family members. Older women and widows are expected to be workers rather than idle gossips.
  • Lois and Eunice in 2 Timothy 1:5 Paul recognizes Timothy’s mother and grandmother as living out their sincere faith. Their ministry nurtured Timothy and prepared him for his ministry.
  • Healthy teaching for Christian women in Titus 2 The content of healthy teaching (sound doctrine) is outlined for older and younger women in the church at Crete. A healthy church has healthy women.
  • Apphia in Philemon Apphia, considered by Paul to be a dear sister, is thought to be the wife of Philemon and the mother of Archippus. She and her family host the church in their home.






Women of the NT Letters, part 2

In order to get a good overview of the roles women played in the faith community of the New Testament era, we have looked at women in the ministry of Jesus and women in Acts. This is part two of a survey of women in the New Testament letters. Some passages highlighted tell about particular women while others include teaching about women.

Chloe in 1 Corinthians 1:10-12
While we do not know the exact role of Chloe in the church at Corinth, we do know that she was aware of and concerned about the divisions in the church. Paul obviously trusted her input to the point he wrote a letter to the church to address her concerns.

Wives in 1 Corinthians 7:1-16
As Paul addresses marital problems in the church at Corinth he uses parallel instructions for men and women. For example: The wife’s body belongs to her and her husband. The husband’s body belongs to him and his wife. This revolutionary language (for the world at the time) shows Paul’s view of the equality of husbands and wives. This view of equality agrees with that presented in Genesis 1-2, by Jesus, by Paul in Ephesians, and by Peter.

Women preaching and praying in 1 Corinthians 11:2-16
Paul addresses problems in the worship assembly by writing of the interdependence of men and women and the wearing of veils by women. Often overlooked (as we struggle to understand the strange – to us –  world of veils in the first century) is that women are pictured both preaching and praying in the assembly.

Where are the women in 1 Corinthians 15:5-9?
I find it curious that Paul does not mention women when listing the witnesses to the post-resurrection Jesus. The gospels present women as the first witnesses (Matthew 28:9-10; John 20:11-18). Had Paul not heard the stories about the women? Did Paul omit them because of the Mediterranean culture wherein the testimony of women was not respected or trusted? Did Paul emphasize the appearances to men so as to make the story more convincing?

Male and female in Galatians 3:26-29
In trying to bring together Christians in the churches of Galatia, Paul teaches there is neither “Jew nor Greek, slave nor free, male nor female” in Christ; rather all are “one in Christ Jesus.” All who belong to Christ (regardless of ethnic, social, or gender status) are heirs according to the promise.

Hagar and Sarah in Galatians 4:21-31
As Paul teaches in response to his concern that the Christians in Galatia are being led away from grace and back to the law, he uses an illustration from the Old Testament. In this illustration, Paul uses the two women – Hagar and Sarah – as representatives of the two covenants.

To be continued….

Women of the NT Letters, part 1

The New Testament includes the stories of numerous women. We already noted the important role women played in the life and ministry of Jesus and in Acts. Before moving on to the letters of the New Testament, perhaps we should pause and reflect on the significance of Jesus allowing Mary to sit at his feet, “listening to what he said” (Luke 10:39). Jesus offered this woman something that others denied – time to sit and learn at the feet of a rabbi.

But there are so many other noteworthy women in the New Testament. That being said, here is some information about a few more of the women and some additional passages about women in the New Testament letters.

  • Romans 5:12-21 The apostle Paul, writing about the importance of Jesus to all who have sinned, tells of how sin entered the world. Worth pondering is that Paul points to the disobedience of Adam (as opposed to Eve).
  • Romans 7:1-6 The apostle Paul uses an illustration about marriage to make his point about the law. Interestingly, he uses the rights of women as the heart of his illustration.
  • Phoebe in Romans 16:1-2 Paul commends Phoebe to the church in Rome. Phoebe is a deaconess or servant who has been helpful to a great many people, including Paul.
  • Priscilla in Romans 16:3-5 and 1 Corinthians 16:19 Paul describes Priscilla and her husband Aquila as his “fellow workers.” Paul mentions that they had risked their lives for him, and in so doing, had blessed him and all the Gentile churches. They are also described as hosting a church in their house. Previously in Acts, Luke had introduced us to Priscilla and Aquila as teachers with knowledge and skills to more fully teach Apollos, known to be a learned man with a thorough knowledge of scripture.
  • Mary in Romans 16:6 Paul described Mary as a woman who “worked very hard” for the church at Rome.
  • Junias in Romans 16:7 Paul writes of his relatives Adronicus and Junias who were followers of Jesus prior to his conversion. While the language can be argued, Paul seems to refer to the two of them as “apostles.”
  • Additional women in Romans 16 Paul mentions a number of other women in Romans 16. Clearly, these women played a significant role in the life of the early church and were coworkers who blessed Paul.

To be continued….




Men, Women, and Marriage, part 3

“Wives, in the same way be submissive…” (1 Peter 3:1).

“Husbands, in the same way be considerate…” (1 Peter 3:7).

The context of mutual submission in which Paul teaches about marriage in Ephesians 5 plays a big role in understanding the role of both husband and wife. Similarly, Peter’s teaching about marriage in 1 Peter 3 is presented within a larger context about Jesus and submission (1 Peter 2:13-3:23).

Jesus is held up as the model for Christian behavior, whatever one’s place in life. Christians are to be followers of Christ.

Peter uses the words “in the same way” when addressing both wives (verse 1) and husbands (verse 7). A look at the larger context reveals that these words point back to the previous chapter’s discussion of Jesus. Peter reminds his readers: Jesus suffered unjustly, committed no sin, did not retaliate when insulted, made no threats, entrusted himself to God, and was killed on the cross for the benefit of others (1 Peter 2:21-25).

If you want to learn how to be a wife, look at Jesus. If you want to know how to be a husband, look at Jesus. Jesus was more concerned with giving of himself than he was with taking. Jesus was submissive and deferential. Jesus laid down his life for others. Jesus’s submission is the model for Christian husbands and wives. Christian wives are reminded of submissive women like Sarah who were loyal to their husbands (and we should not forget there were times when God reminded the men to listen to their wives, such as Genesis 21:12).

Wives are to be followers of the submissive Jesus who are not only submissive, but more interested in inner beauty and purity than outward adornment.  Wives are to have a gravitas about them because of their Christ-like behavior.  Husbands are to be followers of the submissive Jesus who are considerate, respectful, and gentle as they relate to their wives.

Peter may not quote from Genesis 2, but he tells Christian husbands that their wives are “your equal partner in God’s gift of new life.” It is worth noting that Genesis, Jesus, Paul, and Peter are in agreement on husband and wife being equals.

Men, Women, and Marriage part 2

“Submit to one another out of reverence for Christ” (Ephesians 5:21).

With these words about submission, Paul begins teaching the church at Ephesus about a lifestyle of following Jesus, with a sizeable portion of that teaching focused on marriage. Discussions about submission are often limited to how women are to be submissive to men. Paul teaches something different: all Christians are to be submissive to one another.

Can you imagine what a church looks like when each member seeks to defer to the others? Can you imagine what a marriage looks like when rather than seeking to rule over one another the husband and wife are mutually submissive?

Like Jesus in Matthew 19, when Paul teaches about marriage, he turns to and quotes from Genesis 2. Marriage is characterized not by ruling over, but by being united as one flesh. Man and woman are created under God, over the earth and side-by-side. In marriage they are no longer two, they are one.

A woman who follows Jesus will be submissive, deferring to her husband. Rather than trying to rule or dominate her husband, she submits to him. The husband is the head of the wife, which could be understood as “leader” or “source.” Convincing arguments can be made for both readings. But rather than spending a lot of time arguing over the meaning of the word, we might be better off looking at Paul’s instructions to husbands about how they are to be like Jesus. These instructions help us understand the meaning of “head.”

A husband can demonstrate submission (a concept taken from the topic sentence in verse 21 and continuing throughout this lengthy teaching) by loving his wife like Christ loved the church. This context connects “head” more with sacrifice rather than authority. A husband who follows Jesus will lay down his life for his wife. So however you understand the word “head” in verse 23, a man’s headship is lived out through deferring to his wife, even to the point of laying down his life.

Submission. Love. Sacrifice. Deference. Respect. Unity. Oneness. These are the words that describe a marriage in which the husband and the wife are followers of Jesus.  Genesis, Jesus, and Paul are in agreement on the nature of Christian marriage.

Men, Women, and Marriage

Much can be learned about how God intends for men and women to relate by looking at passages about marriage. Confession: I have found it difficult to read these passages without reading my culture into them. A close and careful reading of some basic passages about marriage has left me surprised and somewhat disturbed that the passages do not say what I have always been told they say. We must be careful not to read our cultural biases into the passages. This is difficult to the point of being almost impossible and is best done in community.

Has scripture or culture been the primary shaper of our view of marriage? Has our idea of what Christian marriage looks like been more heavily influenced by scripture or Leave It To Beaver?

Jesus’s response to the Pharisees’ questions about divorce is formative to my understanding (Matthew 19:1ff). The Pharisees want to talk about divorce. Jesus seems to be more comfortable talking about marriage. And when Jesus talks about marriage, he calls them back to Genesis 1 and 2 as teaching how God intended for marriage to be lived out. We need to remember that Genesis 1 and 2 present the humans, male and female, living: under God, over the earth, and side-by-side in unity with one another. From the beginning God intended for humans to be one-flesh in marriage.

But sin enters the picture in chapter three and everything changes. The humans are no longer living in unity with God and one another as God had intended for them to live. They are bucking God’s authority and battling with God and one another for rule and control. But Jesus reminds us that was not how it was intended to be. We need to remember, as Dallas Willard says, “The Bible doesn’t begin in Genesis 3. The fall of man is not the beginning of history.” In discussing marriage, Jesus calls us back to the beginning, Genesis 1-2 rather than Genesis 3.

In response, the Pharisees raise a good question: If God never intended for there to be divorce, why did the law of Moses include divorce law? Jesus explains that divorce is not God’s plan for humans, divorce is a concession to the hardness of human hearts. God understands humans are hard-hearted and will not always live in the unity that comes through submission to God and one another. So God provides for humans knowing their hard hearts. And so Jesus introduces us to the idea that some things you read about in scripture are not representative of what God wills, but are representative of how hard-hearted and self-willed humans can be.

Jesus holds up Genesis 1-2 as foundational to our understanding of how men and women are to relate in marriage. Firmly bonded. One flesh. Unity. May we not grow hard-hearted. May we remember God joins a husband and wife in marriage. “Because God created this organic union of the two sexes, no one should desecrate his art by cutting them apart” (Matthew 19:6 MSG).

Women in Acts

In his well-researched gospel account, Luke emphasizes the interaction of Jesus and women. Women played a major role in the earthly ministry of Jesus. In Acts, Luke records the important role women played in continuing the ministry of Jesus by being the spiritual body of Jesus, the church. From the very beginning women are part of the story as we see them among those gathered for prayer in the upstairs room (Acts 1:12-14). Luke tells of women present for the birth of Jesus in a human body. Acts tells of women present for the birth of the spiritual body of Jesus, the church.

Peter’s gospel sermon on Pentecost quotes from Joel’s prophecy that “sons and daughters” would prophecy. While this may seem strange to our ears, it would not be unexpected to their ears since there were female prophets in the Old Testament (Acts 2:14-39, Joel 2:28).

The sin and subsequent deaths of Ananias and Sapphira (Acts 5:1-11) demonstrate men and women are both capable of sin and are held accountable equally for sin. The response to the neglected widows (Acts 6:1-7) shows that even those considered powerless women were important to the early church. Equal treatment was important for widows whether they were Grecian or Hebraic. Mary’s hosting a prayer gathering with many people, including a servant girl named Rhoda, shows women from different social circles involved in the life of the church (Acts 12:1-19).

In Acts, Luke records women deciding to become followers of Jesus, including Timothy’s mother (Acts 16:1-5) and Lydia, who was described as a worshiper of God and a listener to Paul’s message (Acts 16:11-15). Luke also relates the stories of women who chose not to become followers (Drusilla in Acts 24 and Bernice in Acts 25-26).

Luke introduces us to Priscilla in Acts 18 (we will hear from her in New Testament passages other than Acts). Priscilla and her husband Aquila were forced to leave Rome because of the edict of Claudius. She and her husband worked as tentmakers and as such had something in common with Paul.  Priscilla and Aquila invited to their home and taught  Apollos, described as a learned man with a thorough knowledge of the scriptures. Because of their teaching him the way of Jesus more adequately, Apollos made the transition from being a follower of John the Baptist to being a follower of Jesus.

Luke records the stories of other women in Acts. There are the God-fearing women of high standing (Acts 13:49-52). While not specifically named, women would have been involved in the Jerusalem conference since “the whole church” is involved (Acts 15:1-35). And, perhaps as an example of the fulfillment of Joel’s prophecy quoted by Peter in his Pentecost sermon, Luke mentions the unmarried daughters of Philip the evangelist. These four women were prophets (Acts 21:1-9).