It’s okay if you disagree with me, but I think there may be something seriously wrong with the way my fellowship underutilizes the gifts of women, especially in public worship.
I’m not keen on using the term “women’s role” as I find it pretty much extra-scriptural.
“Gifts,” however, is a perfectly scriptural term and I’m quite comfortable using it.
Many writers with far keener scholarship than I can point out to you that in the New Testament, women served as prophets, fellow workers, deaconesses (female servant-ministers), instructors, encouragers, and hosts of church assemblies in their homes. You can look them up in your own Bible, and I won’t bother to proof-text the citations for you.
All that evidence notwithstanding, we find ourselves setting all the precedent for our fellowship policy by a couple of New Testament scriptures. One is a single verse in the first of two personal letters from the fatherly mentor Paul to his young protege Timothy:
A woman should learn in quietness and full submission. I do not permit a woman to teach or to have authority over a man; she must be silent.
Well, it says what it says, doesn’t it?
(Except maybe the “silent” part. Surely it’s okay for women to sing, isn’t it?)
Yes, it does say what it says. But to say that it applies universally in all situations, in all churches, in all eras, with all women and men, requires what I like to call “skinchwise logic.”
First of all, there’s nothing wrong with advising women to learn in quietness and full submission. Men should, too. Women may be the recipients of this advice from Paul to Ephesus through Timothy (and Corinth by letter) because they were disrupting the assemblies, possibly with questions they should have waited to ask later. (Just as men, a few verses earlier in I Timothy, were the target of Paul’s wish that they lift holy hands in prayer without arguments and disagreements … evidently because they were praying while holding grudges, possibly even “praying against” each other.)
Think about what has happened in both of these cities.
Corinth, a center of pagan worship that involved many female priestesses engaging in (maybe riotous) sexual activity with male “worshipers,” and Ephesus – where Artemis/Diana was the primary goddess of choice – were cities where Christians were being converted from among such belief systems.
Both men and women of these Gentile milieus were being drawn into the very gender-stratified and conservative surround of a synagogue-like church. The earliest Christian churches comprised mostly Jewish men and some women who were not perhaps even used to sitting with men in the same room while worship and teaching was going on, though probably on a different side of the room or in the back. (In Corinth, the church originally met in a synagogue – until evicted, when it moved next door to the home of Titius Justus. In Ephesus, Paul originally taught in a synagogue – until he was evicted and moved to the lecture hall of Tyrannus.)
So it’s rowdy Gentile meets contemplative Jew in these houses of worship.
We have something of a clash of cultures.
The pagans have absolutely no background in scripture, and scripture reading is almost certainly an important part of the assembly. (The Bereans, remember, were checking the prophecies daily to see if what was being taught among them about Jesus was true.)
So questions will arise.
And in the Greco-Roman culture, where dialogue is encouraged (see Paul’s address on Mars Hill in Acts), the questions are likely to be asked on the spot. In the new church with the synagogue heritage, scripture was read and explained and everybody listened (pretty much like our churches today; you disagree with the preacher afterward in the foyer).
There were no Roberts’ Rules of Order for the early church, so the Holy Spirit moved Paul to write some.
Second, the pagan religion involved a multiplicity of gods and goddesses. In the Jewish faith, there was and is one-and-only-one God. Storytelling was an intrinsic part of both cultures, but in paganism, embellishment and creativity and outright originality in adding to the richness of the Mount Olympus saga was encouraged. In Jewish belief, storytelling was done with scrupulous regard to accuracy.
Pagans would have found the Jewish stories a delightful addition to their panoply of pantheist story culture. Fallen angels and their gods and goddesses could easily live in the same story together. And pagans would have begun integrating them right in. Jewish Christians would not have appreciated this, and would have discouraged it.
So the creation of pagan stories would go underground, become secret; become secret knowledge; become gnosis.
Pagan stories, some emphasizing the superiority of feminine gods over masculine ones, would rewrite interesting Jewish stories such as the creation narrative. So goddesses Pistis and Sophia and others would empower Eve over Adam, sometimes even giving life to Adam through Eve. To a pagan used to idolizing (literally) Diana, it made a better story than the rather male-heavy Jewish version.
I’m not making this up. Read a few of the narratives of the Hypostasis of the Archons or On the Origin of the World or The Apocryphon of John or other Gnostic works. I know scholars say these works came later than the time of Timothy or Paul, but there is no proof of that assertion – and the fact is, many writings come a long time after the origin of stories’ verbal traditions, even in the Old Testament.
I’m suggesting that the verbal versions of these stories may well have originated in the time of Paul and Timothy.
And if so, they would definitely help explain the mysterious verses which immediately follow the two cited above from that first letter between them:
For Adam was formed first, then Eve. And Adam was not the one deceived; it was the woman who was deceived and became a sinner. But women (literally, she) will be saved through childbearing – if they continue in faith, love and holiness with propriety.
I think it’s quite possible that Paul was refuting what he calls in the first chapter “endless genealogies” and would later in the letter call and “godless myths,” “chatter” and even “old wives’ tales” – refuting it by retelling the simple truth. If bold converted-pagan Christian women were teaching these stories that they had made up and preferred, their audience needed to be reminded that it didn’t require generations of goddesses to create man; that gods did not immediately ravish an image of Eve created by the goddesses to protect her; that Eve was not superior to Adam in intellect and courage because she craved the secret knowledge of the forbidden fruit and was bold enough to gobble it down – or any of that other goofy pagan stuff.
God made Adam, then Eve.
She was deceived by the serpent, because Adam didn’t speak up to assert the truth.
Eve sinned as surely as Adam.
And anyone who taught otherwise, Paul says, should shut up and sit quietly and listen and learn the truth. You have to learn before you can teach. As nearly as I can tell, in Ephesus, some of those who were teaching before they learned were very likely the mostly younger single/widowed women who were supported by the church to do good works but who had become “gossips and busybodies, saying things they ought not to” (later in the letter) – some of whom, “… have in fact already turned away to follow Satan.” That’s a harsh reproof, indicating a serious offense – like false teaching; not just idleness or gossip. So Paul directs the advice quoted above to Timothy about these women specifically.
Paul doesn’t permit them to teach falsehood or to teach in a way that usurps authority over the men, claiming that women are better rather than equal to them. The truth is, God created them male and female; side-by-side (though, yes, one was first). I wouldn’t permit women to teach otherwise, either. Nor would I permit men to teach such tripe.
Neither gender has an edge in God’s sight.
When Adam and Eve disobeyed, God never cursed one over the other. In fact, He didn’t curse either one.
He cursed the ground, to make Adam labor. And since neither of them had chosen to eat of the tree of life, they would have to perpetuate their species through childbirth, and that would be the labor of Eve. It’s not a curse. It’s a consequence.
Just like death itself, about which He forewarned them.
But He put an end to death through the Offspring of heaven and earth, Who has brought the kingdom of heaven down to earth.
That is the gift He gave us all. That should bring gratitude and worship to the lips of each person. That’s good news that everyone should tell.
Even the Samaritan playgirl who has encountered Someone extraordinary at a well.
Even Mary of Magdala at the sight of her beloved, risen Lord.
Even Priscilla, when explaining baptism more fully to Apollos.
Even the head of a household of believers like Lydia.
Even Junia and Euodia and Syntyche and all the others.