The word "pastor" relates to a shepherd, one who tends the sheep. It also named in the list of spiritual gifts--linked closely with a teaching gift. For example I Corinthians 12:28-29 uses "teacher" not Pastor in the list: Apostles, Prophets and Teachers. Ephesians 4:11 includes pastor and teachers. An argument can be made that the pastor/teachers gift is not gender related. We see examples of women involved in shepherding/teaching activities in the New Testament.
The word "elder" is important in that much is said about elders leading the church. The word "overseer" is also used in place of elder in some passages. For example Paul called the "elders" from Ephesus to meet with him. (Acts 20:17) The importance and qualifications of eldership is seen in I Timothy 3, Titus 1 and I Peter 5. The male as "elder" is quite obvious. The main rule of these people is to be godly servants, not rulers.
When the "church" became more political under Rome, various titles were given such as "Bishop". Church leadership assumed a professional and political role. This remains in some form today causing some confusion as we review scripture. In brief I would assume women can be shepherd/teachers. It is quite clear that apostles and elders are men. --Lynn Berntson (former elder) email@example.com)
For more papers on church leadership see Church Leadership.
Questions or comments? The Paraclete Forum.
by Ray C. Stedman
Chapter eleven of First Corinthians has become a great battlefield of the 20th century. It is a very complex chapter that deals with the question, "Are Women Fully Human? or Are They Only Humans, j.g. (Junior Grade)?" This passage will deal with the question of male headship and female subjection, and other issues of today. It used to be that the focus of the chapter was on the question, "Should Women Wear Hats in Church?" but looking over this congregation, I can see that is a long past issue. It has now become a question, not so much of women wearing hats in church, but of whether they are going to wear the pants at home! We shall face these issues that are a part of the swirl of controversy that has escalated into the Feminist Movement of our day. The apostle introduces this with these words in Chapter 11, Verse 2:
I commend you because you remember me in everything and maintain the traditions even as I have delivered them to you. (1 Cor 11:2 RSV)
Not all traditions are bad. We have seen in this letter that Christianity includes not only the revelation of what Paul calls "the mysteries of God," those great, marvelous, insightful unfoldings of truth about humanity, and about life, that are undiscoverable by the natural mind, but it also includes, as this passage makes clear, certain important and essential traditions, i.e., practices that have been handed down from generation to generation. In Chapter 11 there are two traditions the apostle looks at, the tradition of male headship which dates from the creation of mankind itself, from the earliest dawn of human history, and the second one is the tradition of the Lord's Supper dating from the beginning of the church, as it was instituted in the Upper Room. In Verse 3 the apostle declares the great tradition of headship as a principle to govern the people of God for all time. Then in the following verses (4-16), he clarifies the practice of this principle under the conditions that were obtaining in Corinth and the world of the 1st century. Here is the principle:
But I want you to understand that the head of every man is Christ, the head of a woman is her husband, and the head of Christ is God. (1 Cor 11:3 RSV)
When the apostle uses the word head here he is using the ordinary word for the hairy knob that sits on top of the neck, which contains the brain, and the eyes, ears, nose and mouth, and which, even in the ancient world, was understood to be the control center of the body. There are some today who would argue that the ancients did not understand that, but I think it is obvious they did, because four of our five senses are centered in the head. They well knew that to remove the head from the body ended the life and activity of that body. Thus Herodias, the wife of Herod, ordered the head of John the Baptist brought to her on a platter because she knew that would slow John down to a point where she could handle him.
Now when head is used metaphorically, figuratively, as it is here, it refers to priority in function. That is what the head of our body does; it runs the body; it is in charge; it is the direction setter of the body. Used metaphorically, therefore, the word head means primarily leadership, and thus it is used in this passage. This is clear, I think, from the threefold use of it that the apostle makes here. The one in controversy is the second one, "the head of the woman is her husband," but he brackets this with two other examples of headship so that we might understand from them what the middle one means.
The first one is, "the head of every man is Christ." There is the declaration of Christ's right to lead the whole human race. He is the leader of the race in the mind and thinking of God, and ultimately, as Scripture tells us, there will come a day when all humanity, without exception, shall bow the knee and confess that Jesus Christ is Lord (cf, Rom 14:11, Phil 2:11). So whether men know it or not, Christ is their head, and they are responsible to follow him. That is the whole objective of life for any man who wishes to fulfill his manhood. Of course, that is only seen in practice in the believer, and then only to a limited degree, but it is stated very positively here. In the book of Hebrews it says that Christ is "the pioneer of our salvation" (Heb 5:9, 12:2), the one who goes before; the one who opens the way. This is the sense here of this metaphorical use of the word head. Christ is the leader of the race, the determiner of every man's destiny, the One to be followed.
Now move down to the third level of headship mentioned here, "the head of Christ is God." Here we have a manifestation of headship demonstrated for us in history. Jesus, the Son of God, equal to the Father in his deity, nevertheless, when he assumes humanity, submits himself to the leadership of the Father. Everywhere Jesus went he stated this. "I do always those things which please my Father." On one occasion he said, "My meat is to do my Father's will, and to please him who sent me," (cf, John 4:34). On another occasion he said, "I and my Father are one" (John 10:30), i.e., we work together. He adds on still another occasion, "My Father is greater than I," (John 14:28). That does not challenge the equality of the members of the Godhead, but when Christ became man he voluntarily consented to take a lower position than the Father. It is in that sense he says, "My Father is greater than I."
Those two headships help us to understand the meaning of the central one, "the head of the woman is the man." The RSV says, "the head of the woman is her husband" but that is interpretation. The word used is aner, the male. Though the subsequent passage has in view a married woman, this general statement of the principle of headship has in view men and women in the way they function in society. But it must be remembered that headship never means domination. It is a voluntary commitment, carried out in practice out of a conviction that God's will is best achieved by this means.
It is to be most visible in marriage where it manifests that role of support which a woman undertakes voluntarily when she marries a man. He is to be leader and she assumes a support role to help him fulfill the objectives of their life together as Christ, his head, makes clear. Now if she does not want to do that she is perfectly free not to undertake that role. No woman should get married if she does not want to. This is a role that she is perfectly free to forego if she chooses. If she wants to give herself to the pursuit of a career for her own objectives, she has every right to do so. But then she ought not to get married, because marriage means that she desires to help advance the objectives and goals of her husband. He becomes, therefore, the leader of the two.
Now that is the principle of headship, and the apostle has stated it as clearly and as objectively as it can be stated. It does not involve the idea of origin so much as it does direction. This is the way headship is used in other parts of the Scripture as well. In Ephesians we are told that Christ is the head of the church which is his body, by which it means he is its leader and has the right to set the ultimate direction of the relationship. In Verse 4 and on the apostle applies this principle to the practice of the church, especially as it was lived within the Eastern culture of that 1st century world. So he says in Verse 4:
Any man who prays or prophesies with his head covered dishonors his head, but any woman who prays or prophesies with her head unveiled dishonors her head -- it is the same as if her head were shaven. For if a woman will not veil herself, then she should cut off her hair; but if it is disgraceful for a woman to be shorn or shaven, let her wear a veil. (1 Cor 11:4-6 RSV)
Two things are very important to notice in that paragraph: One: The center of Paul's concern is the public ministry of the Word of God. He is talking here about Christians, about the church, the gathering of believers together in a public assembly. In order to properly function in that capacity, a woman should wear a veil, but a man should not. That is the second thing to note. The veil comes in as the symbol of the acceptance and understanding of the principle of headship which he has just declared. Where public ministry is involved it is just as important that man should not be covered as that a woman should. That was the application of headship in the culture and custom of that day and time.
It is significant to note that both men and women were free to exercise ministry. Both could pray and prophesy. As we have seen from other passages of Scripture, and will come to see most clearly in the fourteenth chapter, prophesying is what today we call preaching. It is expounding the Word of God, taking the Scriptures and making them shine and illuminate life. Either a woman or a man could do that, but it was very important how they did it. That is the emphasis this passage makes. They must do it in two different ways, the male as a man, the woman as a woman. That is the central emphasis of this text.
If the man does not pray or prophesy as a man should in that culture then he dishonors his head. It is very remarkable that Paul would say that a man, ministering in public, should not have anything on his head, for the practice among the Jews was for men to wear a head covering when they ministered. In this neighborhood we often see Jewish people walking around, and the men will have the yarmulke (a beanie, we would call it) on their head. It is the prescribed covering for the head, and no orthodox male Jew would ever think of reading the Scripture or ministering in public without it. But Paul the Apostle, raised in Judaism, says that if a Christian man does that he is dishonoring Christ, his head.
On the other hand, if a woman does not have a covering (in this 1st century Christian setting) she dishonors her head, her husband. The reason for that was dramatically obvious in Corinth. In this city, the most licentious city of the 1st century, the only women who did not wear a veil were the temple prostitutes. Any woman, therefore, who appeared on the public streets without a veil was opening herself up to the suspicion that she was available to any man who wanted to pay the price, that she was nothing more than a temple prostitute. It was indeed disgraceful, shameful, for a woman to appear in public, and especially to minister the Word in a Christian assembly, without that sign of acknowledgment of the principle of headship in her life.
Notice that Paul says, "if it is disgraceful for a woman to be shorn or shaven, let her wear a veil." Mark the if. In some cultures it would not be disgraceful for a woman to be uncovered. It is not today. It is no longer shameful that a woman does not wear a hat in church. She is not open to abuse or suspicion of her moral character is she does not. It is only where it is disgraceful, where that is the usual interpretation put upon being uncovered, that this applies. If it is not disgraceful then it is another matter. But where it is disgraceful, as in Corinth, then Paul says that if she does not want to wear the sign of a relationship under headship, then she ought to go the whole way and shave her head like a prostitute because that is what she is proclaiming herself to be by her refusal to wear the veil and submit to custom. Now, immediately, the apostle follows this with an explanation. Here we come to the very heart of the passage. He tells us why all this is true.
For a man ought not to cover his head, since he is the image and glory of God; but woman is the glory of man. (For man was not made from woman, but woman from man. Neither was man created for woman, but woman for man.) (1 Cor 11:7-9 RSV)
That is a very crucial paragraph, and one that we must note carefully and understand fully. You will notice the apostle does not base his reasons on any local custom. He goes back to creation to establish this. The principle of headship is something true from the beginning of mankind. Paul does just as Jesus did on the subject of divorce. He does not bother with the interpretations and amendments that came by the Law of Moses, but he goes back to God's original created order. So does the apostle here. He says that, in the beginning, man was made in the image and glory of God. Image is the full manifestation of something. In this case it is God himself. Man was made in God's image in order that any creature, looking at a man, would see the likeness, the very nature of God. That is the dignity of humanity.
What we must bear clearly in mind is that, when Genesis states the man was made in the image of God, it was made before the two sexes were separated. Adam was first created, and it was of Adam, before Eve was separated from him, that it is said that man is the image and glory of God. This means that after the separation woman shares the image and the glory of God equally with the male. They are both included when it is said that man was made in the image and the glory of God. That is why in Genesis 5 (not Genesis 1 now, but Genesis 5) it says that God created them in the beginning male and female and he named them Adam (Gen 5:1-2). He did not name them the Adams's, he named them Adam. Therefore, the woman bears equally with the male the image and glory of God. That is very important. The male, however, is called upon to manifest a certain aspect of the glory of God different from that of the woman. We shall understand that better when we understand the meaning of glory.
What is glory? As it is used here, the word refers to something in which one takes delight. We have often sung the hymn, In the Cross of Christ I Glory. What do we mean by that? We mean the cross is something in which we find supreme delight. It is that principle of life by which we see ourselves cut off from the old Adam life and freed from the control of sin and death; thus set free to be the men and women God intended us to be. Understanding that we sing quite properly (along with the Apostle Paul), "In the Cross of Christ I Glory." Paul could write to the Thessalonians and say, "Who is our crown of rejoicing? Are you not our glory and our joy?" (cf, 1 Th 2:19). So used, this verse tells us that, when man was created, he was made to reflect the nature of God, and, in that, God takes great delight. He delights in mankind and this is what the male is to represent. That glory of God is to be publicly and openly manifested and that is why the man must not wear a veil. He is not to cover God's creative glory. He is to be unveiled so that the glory of God in creation should be visibly manifest to everyone.
You see this beautifully in the life of Jesus. Everywhere he went he demonstrated the love of God for mankind. Even though the race had turned aside and was far from what it ought to be, everywhere in the ministry of Jesus you see him pouring forth the love of God for man. That is what drew people by great multitudes to hear his words. In him they caught a glimpse of the glory and delight that God takes in humanity and they longed to find the way back to the enjoyment of that delight. Thus in the opening words of John's gospel it says, "the Word became flesh and dwelt among us," and "we beheld his glory," (John 1:14). This is the glory that a man, a male, is called upon to manifest in the ministry of the Word. He is not to be veiled because he is proclaiming that open delight which God takes in the creation of mankind.
But woman is the glory of the man. It is in the woman that the man finds his delight, and, if you do not believe that, just watch a couple of teenagers in love. Woman is the delight of man. The apostle is now dealing with the woman as having been separated from the man. The distinction which obtained when God took Adam's rib and made of it a woman and brought her to man now comes into focus. It involves a private, intimate glory, that intimacy which a man finds in his wife, the intimacy of sexual relationship and of shared love. It is something hidden and private, therefore it is to be symbolized by a veil. It marks something protected, something marked out for a single individual's use. Thus the veil is not a mark of subjection, as many of the commentators say of this passage, it is a mark of intimacy, of privacy, voluntarily assumed by the woman. She is not forced to give herself to the man, she deliberately chooses to do so, but from then on she is marked out as belonging to him.
The nearest equivalent of this in our day is the wedding ring. A wedding ring marks a woman as belonging to another, already claimed. She has given herself freely and voluntarily to a man and she is his, not in a mechanical or merely legal sense, but because she has already surrendered her right to herself to him. That is always the meaning of the veil in the Eastern World. It still is today. A veiled woman walks down a street of an Oriental city today and she is telling the whole world "I am not for sale; I do not belong to anyone but my husband; I am his."
In wearing a veil a woman also gives testimony to the existence of another aspect of the glory of God, the intimacy of delight that is achieved only through redemption. When we enter, by faith in Jesus Christ, into the new birth we discover a glory of God beyond creation. It is redemptive glory. We all have experienced it, if we are Christians. We know the ecstasy of fellowship with God, of worship, of experiencing the beautiful and intimate love relationship of a bride with her bridegroom, described in that marvelous passage in the fifth chapter of Ephesians. That is what a woman manifests in her public ministry when she wears a veil. She is symbolizing that intimate delight which God has in a redeemed mankind. I cannot now dwell on that, though I think it very important, but this is surely why Paul goes on to point out the unique purpose for the creation of woman. "For man was not made from woman, but woman from man. Neither was man created for woman, but woman for man."
Woman was taken from man in order that she might share fully his nature. Man and woman are not two different kinds of beings. They do not represent two species of human life. They have differences, but they are of the same basic nature. This is what is meant by 'woman being taken from man.' But, in addition, she is brought to man. She was brought to him that she might be 'for' him. This, I think, is the key thought involved in headship. She is for her husband; she is behind him, backing him up; she is supportive of him; she wants him to succeed and she is deeply involved in the process. She is undergirding him in every way she can, and finding delight in doing so, that together they might achieve the objectives which his head, Christ, has set before them. Now, that is God's ideal of marriage.
In turn, the male is to discover the secrets God has put into his wife, and seek to develop her, so that she will be all that she is capable of being. In doing so he is but advancing his own objectives. This is the argument of Ephesians 5. They are one and no man hates his own flesh. If he hurts his wife he hurts himself; if he ignores her, he is ignoring half of his own life. There is no way that he can achieve the fullness of his manhood in marriage apart from working at developing and encouraging his wife to utilize all the gifts and abilities God has put in her. Thus, the reciprocal relationship so frequently appearing in Scripture on marriage. It is this that creates the beauty of every wedding. When a man and a woman stand together to be married, the marriage ceremony has for centuries recognized that she is giving herself to him, and he promises to treat that gift with kindness, tenderness and loving care. He is not giving himself to her; she is giving herself to him: That is the point. He is responsible to cherish that gift as the most valuable gift that any human has ever given him, and to protect it and guard it. She is basically saying to him those beautiful words in the book of Ruth, "Where you go I will go. Where you live I will live. Your people shall be my people and your God, my God," (cf, Ruth 1:16). Now, if you do not want to do that, then do not get married -- because that is what marriage means. If man or a woman is not willing to assume his or her proper role in marriage, then, by all means, stay single, but when marriage occurs that is what is meant. Paul goes on to add two more important words here from the argument of creation, first:
That is why a woman ought to have a veil on her head, because of the angels. (1 Cor 11:10 RSV)
What does he mean by that? Unfortunately the RSV editors have obscured this by translating the word Paul uses as veil. But here he changes the word. He does not say "veil on her head" -- literally it is the word "authority." "That is why a woman ought to have authority on her head, because of the angels." Authority to do what? Surely it is what he has already mentioned, what the whole passage is about: A woman ministering the Word in public. The authority for her to do so is her recognition of the principle of headship. She is to declare that she does not pray or preach apart from her husband, and thus she is to wear a veil which, in that culture, was the sign of such a voluntary partnership.
She is to do so, Paul says, "because of the angels." Now that is somewhat obscure and difficult to interpret, but, in a culture where unveiled women were regarded as idolaters and prostitutes, it would be an offense to the angels present in a Christian service for a woman to openly flaunt custom and deny the principle of headship. Angels, we are told, are "ministering spirits, sent forth to minister to those who are heirs of salvation," (cf, Heb 1:14 KJV). They were present at creation, and thus understand the principle of headship. Isaiah 6 indicates that they veil their faces when they worship before the throne of God (cf, Isa 6:2), and so are concerned to preserve the worship of humans from any practice that would deny the distinctives which the sexes are to manifest. In the next two verses Paul balances all this with a strong statement of the equality of men and women in marriage.
(Nevertheless, in the Lord woman is not independent of man nor man of woman; for as woman was made from man, so man is now born of woman. And all things are from God.) (1 Cor 11:11-12 RSV)
Here is a very positive statement of the full equality (as persons) of men and women. There is no inferiority involved. No matter what distortions may have crept in to reduce woman to an inferior status, nevertheless, in the Lord, the original intent of God is restored. Paul carefully declares that man and woman cannot exist without each other. They are equal as persons, distinct as sexes, functioning in a divinely given order which is to be freely accepted by the woman, in order to demonstrate to all the delight of God in his creation and redemption of mankind. If we will carefully think that through we shall find it is a very powerful argument for equality of persons and distinctives of role. Now let me quickly handle the problem of hair.
Judge for yourselves; is it proper for a woman to pray to God with her head uncovered? Does not nature itself teach you that for a man to wear long hair is degrading to him, but if a woman has long hair, it is her pride? For her hair is given to her for a covering. (1 Cor 11:13-15 RSV)
This is really a second argument the apostle gives to support the matter of wearing a veil. He argues now from nature. Not only does God's intent in creation sustain the principle of headship, but nature also illustrates it. Many have struggled over this passage. I have myself, for many years. What is there about nature that indicates that a man with long hair dishonors himself while a woman with long hair is honored? It is not mere intuition, as some suggest, for such an intuition is not universal. But there is a principle that science has come to recognize as true, and it has been true from the very beginning of the race, as far as we can tell. That is the factor of baldness. Geneticists tell us that it takes two genes in a woman to produce baldness, but only one in a man. Some women do get bald, but it is very rare.
Here is a natural factor that has been functioning since the race began which does, indeed, display the very thing that Paul declares. Did you ever see a bald old man with long hair? It is a disgrace! Long hair is usually stringy when it is sparse and with his shining dome sticking up above it makes him look ridiculous. Almost all men, as they grow older, tend to show some degree of baldness, and the older they grow the more ridiculous long hair looks. A young man can get away with long hair, but an older man cannot. Thus there is a factor in nature which demonstrates what Paul claims. Tradition tells us that Paul himself was bald and perhaps this statement comes out of his own experience.
But a woman is a different story. Many of you know that my wife's mother lives with us. She turned 91 last August, and like anyone of that age her skin has lost its tone and its beauty. Many wrinkles have lined her face and she displays all the signs of aging, yet her hair (which she usually wears in a bun), when let down, falls well below her waist. It is a beautiful thing and is her pride and glory. At 91 her hair is as beautiful as it was when she was a young girl. In fact it has only a few streaks of gray in it. This is exactly what the apostle claims here. Nature demonstrates that a woman has been given more beautiful hair than men in order that she might more easily manifest the principle of headship. It is remarkable that this was written after all Paul's insistence about wearing a veil in Corinth. Now Paul says that her hair was given to her for a covering. Here is the beauty of the Scripture. This was not written just for Corinth, or even for the 1st century, but for any and every age. This is what the apostle means. In a culture where the wearing of veils is not a custom, then a woman's long hair (longer than her husband's), is an adequate expression of the principle of headship. Surely this will help us today when the wearing of veils has lost all its original significance. But, because in the Roman world veil-wearing was still the custom, he concludes the passage with these words.
If any one is disposed to be contentious, we recognize no other practice, nor do the churches of God. (1 Cor 11:16 RSV)
There is no need to argue the point, he says. The universal custom in the Roman world was for the woman to declare this principle of headship by wearing a veil, therefore there is no point in arguing about it. It was such a widespread custom among the churches that anybody not doing so was immediately opening themselves up to disapprobation, yet where that was not the case then the woman's hair, longer than her husband's, was adequate testimony to the principle of headship. Now what does this passage say to us? Let me gather it up very quickly. It says: First, men, by all means take your responsibility as spiritual leaders in the home. You have a responsibility to your head to know the Word of God and to see that it shapes and molds the atmosphere, the climate of your home. That is your responsibility. Women, your responsibility is to follow your husband in these matters, and to support him and encourage him. If you are unwilling to do that, do not get married, but if you marry, support your husband's efforts toward a godly family. Back him up when he moves in those directions. Let him know you are behind him, for him, and supportive of him. That is the way you will find fulfillment in marriage. Consider this remarkable testimony from a well-known authoress. In a recent interview of Taylor Caldwell by Family Weekly, the authoress was asked if the nine-hour TV production of her book, Captains and Kings, would bring her solid satisfaction. Her answer was, "There is no solid satisfaction in any career for a woman like myself. There is no home, no true freedom, no hope, no joy, no expectation for tomorrow, no contentment. I would rather cook a meal for a man and bring him his slippers and feel myself in the protection of his arms than have all the citations and awards and honors I have received worldwide, including the Ribbon of Legion of Honor and my property and my bank accounts. They mean nothing to me. And I am only one among the millions of sad women like myself." Third, when women minister the Word in a public place let them do so with humility and respect for the leadership of the church. That is what is involved in the principle of headship.
Lord, we thank you for the faithful teaching of your Word.
We pray that we may remember that our views of life are often
shallow, superficial and inadequate, but whenever we conform to
the divinely given order we find ourselves opening a door into
joy and love and peace such as we never dreamed of; that your
yoke is easy and your burden is light. We pray that we may indeed
discover this and as men and women together fulfill the demands
of the headship given to us. Let us remember that the head of
every man is Christ, the head of the woman is her husband. In
Jesus' name, Amen.
by Ray C. Stedman
In our previous studies in this series (http://raystedman.org/genesis/) we have seen that the matter of pain, toil, subjection, and death are the inevitable consequences of human disobedience to God. They were in the beginning, they are yet today. These are what the Bible speaks of as "death," in its widest and largest sense. When Romans 6:23 says "the wages of sin is death," it is not talking about a corpse; it is talking about this kind of death, the sense of pain, sorrow, toil, and subjection. It is true that with these things we receive a temporary pleasure. Indulgence in sin is an ego-satisfying thing, and therefore we engage in it because we like the temporary pleasure it gives. But, as we have already seen, it is all a package deal. We cannot omit the bad parts and take only the good. It all goes together, and, thereby, contributes to the sense of loss familiar to all, a sense of emptiness within, the restlessness of our race.
Now we come to God's word to Adam and Eve after the Fall. We must now give closer examination to these four factors of pain, subjection, toil, and death, to see what they involve and why they were given to the race. We need greatly to understand this, because to understand it properly is to change us from grumbling, complaining critics of life to grateful, thankful optimists, fulfilling that definition of Christians we have so often quoted: completely fearless, continually cheerful, and constantly in trouble! Let us listen to God speak to the woman:
To the woman he said, "I will greatly multiply your pain in childbearing; in pain you shall bring forth children, yet your desire shall be for your husband, and he shall rule over you." (Gen 3:16 RSV)
There is something very interesting here. God's approach to the woman is always different than to the man, and certainly than to the serpent. Notice that he says to the serpent, "Because you have done this," and, in Verse 17, to Adam. "Because you have done this," but to the woman he makes no such charge of responsibility. This is very significant. There are consequences that follow sin in her life, but he does not charge her ultimately with being at fault and we shall see why when we come to the word to Adam. In each of these cases, the serpent, the man, and the woman, there are two consequences that follow for each. The serpent was to experience humiliation and defeat -- continual humiliation and ultimate defeat. In the case of the woman the consequences are pain and subjection. These are factors arising out of her nature and we need to look more closely at them.
First, there is the factor of pain. Undoubtedly this verse does refer to the pain and danger of childbirth which women alone can experience. No man knows what a woman goes through in the birth of a child, but every mother here understands. But the word refers to more than mere physical pain; it is basically the Hebrew word for sorrow. In Hebrew there is no word for pain but sorrow is the word universally used. It comes from a root which means "to toil," i.e., "heart-breaking toil." This is perhaps why there has come into our language a description of birth pains as "labor," toil of a heart-breaking variety. It is evident, in view of the way the whole context has been developed, that this means more than simply physical pain; it refers also to the heartbreak associated with having children. This is woman's primary experience as a result of the fall, the presence of heartbreak in rearing children. It means that a mother's sense of success or failure in life is related to her children. A threat to a child is pain to a mother's heart. Perhaps every mother feels more sharply than the father does any sense of danger to or failure in her children. Mothers' hearts are bound to their children. We know this from experience, and it is in line with what this passage suggests. The mother becomes so involved in the life of her children that what they feel, she feels; if they fail, she feels the heartbreak of it particularly strongly. All this helps to explain a very troublesome passage in the New Testament which has bothered many at times, found in Paul's first letter to Timothy, Chapter 2, beginning with Verse 12:
I permit no woman to teach or to have authority over men; she is to keep silent. For Adam was formed first, then Eve; and Adam was not deceived, but the woman was deceived and became a transgressor. Yet woman will be saved through bearing children, if she continues in faith and love and holiness, with modesty. (1 Tim 2:12-15 RSV)
You can immediately see how difficult the passage is; no wonder many have struggled with exactly what it means. We will need to correct a few things in the translation of it, but if we lay the corrected passage alongside the passage in Genesis 3, we are immediately helped to an explanation:
In the first place when First Timothy speaks of the woman being saved, it must be clearly understood that this has no reference to her being regenerated, or born again. It is not talking about the entrance into the Christian life. Women and men alike are saved in that sense on the same terms, by faith in Jesus Christ. "In Christ there is neither male nor female," (Gal 3:28); all come on the same basis. This is clearly not talking about that but rather about how a woman finds fulfillment, a sense of satisfaction in life, the area of her fulfillment. You find the same use of this in First Timothy 4:16, where the apostle says to Timothy, "Take heed to yourself and to your teaching; hold to that, for by so doing you will save both yourself and your hearers," (1 Tim 4:16 RSV). Obviously here he is not talking about redemption, in the sense of regeneration, he is talking about saving his life, i.e., making it worthwhile, rendering it useful and purposeful. This is the sense in which it is used in the second chapter about women. Women will find their lives fulfilled through bearing children.
Then it is not "if she continues" but, as it is literally in the Greek, "if they [the children] continue in faith and love and holiness, with modesty." That is in exact accord with what we find in Genesis where it is suggested that a mother's heart is wrapped up with the life and career of her children. She lives in and by her children. The meaning of her life is revealed in them, and if they succeed, she has succeeded, but if they fail, she has failed. Every mother here will understand fully what I mean. But this is not all that is part of woman's experience as a result of the fall. We read further,
...yet your desire shall be for your husband, and he shall rule over you." (Gen 3:16b RSV)
The phrase your desire, is interesting. It comes from the Hebrew word, leg, and means, "to run after." Her desires run after her husband. This is not primarily a reference to passion but to the hunger for approval. It is speaking of the fact that a woman finds her fullest sense of satisfaction in gaining her husband's approval. No other person can approach his approval in its significance to her. There can be no substitute for it. Others can be pleased and happy with her, but if he is not, she is distressed. He can be happy with her, and she doesn't care a fig what others think about her. Her desire thus finds its fulfillment in her husband -- she longs to be important to him.
I want to point out that this desire is not in itself a consequence of sin. This relationship of woman to man was present before the Fall as well. The headship of the man was a fact from the creation. It is the latter phrase of the sentence that marks the result of the Fall, "he shall rule over you." If, in imagination, we can put ourselves back with Adam and Eve before the Fall, in that blissful scene in the Garden of Eden, then we can see that the relationship of the woman to the man consisted of a natural desire to follow. She came out of man and was made for him, to be his helper and to work toward his goals. It was a natural yielding to which she opposed no resistance, but found herself delighting in the experience of following the man. But now as a result of the Fall, a perverse element enters into this. A struggle occurs, a tension ensues, in which the woman is torn between the natural God-given desire to yield to her husband, and at the same time, the awakened desire to exert her will against his, a perverse urge to rivalry or domination. This is what creates tension in women, as a result of the Fall.
It means that in order to exert proper male leadership, men must sometimes do so against the will of their wives. This constitutes ruling, in the sense intended here. The struggle and tension produced in women's lives creates what sometimes ensues in marriage, which we call tyranny, where the man rules with an iron hand. This is never justified in Scripture. Husbands are exhorted to love their wives and to deal kindly with them, as the Lord Jesus does the church. But in fallen man it results in the tyranny of man over woman, as a result, often, of the struggle within her. Perhaps a woman herself can describe this most accurately. I have here a quotation which describes this very reaction, written by a woman. She says, "Millions of words have been written on how a man should love a woman. I would like to give you my reflections on the things a man should not do in loving a woman. First, don't yield your leadership, that's the main thing. Don't hand us the reins, we would consider that an abdication on your part. It would confuse us, it would alarm us, it would make us pull back. Quicker than anything else it would fog the clear vision that made us love you in the first place. Oh, we will try to get you to give up your position as number one in the house-that's the terrible contradiction in us, we will seem to be fighting you m the last ditch for final authority on everything, for awhile, but in the obscure recesses of our hearts we want you to win. You have to win, for we aren't really made for leadership. It's a pose." Would you like to know who wrote that? Judy Garland. This is why a woman can never find happiness in marriage until she takes seriously the words of Scripture:
Wives, submit yourselves to your own husbands in everything as unto the Lord. (cf, Eph 5:22, Col 3:18)
One of the two major factors producing the terrible breakdown in marriage in our country today is this failure of women to understand this principle: that it is their privilege, under God, to find fulfillment in submission to their husband's leadership. They are not to resist it, or try to rival him in this matters. I am continually amazed at how much this needs to be asserted these days, especially so among Christians. I heard recently of three Christian wives who raised the question in a discussion: If a woman feels the Lord wants her to do certain work at church or something else in connection with the Lord's work, and her husband objects, doesn't want her to do it, what should she do? They answered by agreeing that she should go ahead anyway and if the husband objected, or raised a fuss, it could be interpreted as "suffering for Christ's sake."
I don't think I could think of a more classic example, repeating the pattern of temptation found here in Genesis 3. There is the same subtle desire for an ego-satisfying activity, coupled with a rationalization that, in effect, cancels out the Word of God, thus permitting an activity that is contrary to what God wants. It is God who said. "Wives, submit yourselves to your own husbands for the Lord's sake" (cf, 1 Pet 3:1), therefore he cannot be, and is not, pleased by wives who will not do so. No amount of justifying this on the ground of the nature of the work being done will cancel out that disobedience. It usually results from a subtle form of desire for domination.
I would like to bring, in that connection, another interesting quotation, this time from the then Governor Mark Hatfield of Oregon (now Senator from that state) who, in a very interesting article, recently gave some of the inside story of his own marriage. He tells how surprised the newspapers were when they reported his marriage, that his wife had included the word obey in her marriage vows. He went on to discuss how he and his wife had come to the conviction that this word should be used and he says this, "I can recall the very evening that Antoinette first broached the subject. We had been invited to spend an evening at the home of married friends. Because we were considering marriage ourselves, perhaps we were sensitive to the relationship between this couple. At any rate, something about them puzzled us. Then, driving home, we suddenly put our finger on it. The wife, and not the husband, had taken charge of the evening. 'Charles, dear,' she had said as we came through the door, 'won't you take their coats to the bedroom?' And later, 'The phone is ringing, Charles.' And still later, 'Charles, don't you think it's time for some refreshments?' And each time Charles jumped up from his chair and dutifully did her bidding. Oddly, Charles is not a Mr. Milquetoast: he is an aggressive businessman with a reputation as a go-getter. Nor is his wife mannish or overtly bossy. They are normal, average, likable people. In fact, I think it was the normalcy of the situation that alarmed us. The wife was the head of that household and nobody, least of all Charles, saw anything wrong with in it. As I drove home that night, Antoinette suddenly said, "When I get married, I want a husband, not a partner." I looked at her in surprise. "What do you mean?" "Perhaps I mean that I don't think there can be a real partnership in marriage," she replied. "It's like this car. We're traveling along together going to the same place, but you're driving. Both of us can't drive. And I don't think there can be two drivers in a marriage either. One person's got to be at the wheel, and, when, it's the woman, I don't like what it does to her -- or to him. But it hurts her most."
Those are wise words, reflecting exactly the position of Scripture in this matter. Some of you women are saying, "What a raw deal we've been handed. Talk about cruel and unusual punishment, this is it." But is it? Is this intended to be punishment? This is a question I wish to face as we look at these verses, because oftentimes these words are interpreted as though all this is a punishment dealt out by God upon the race, and woman's lot is the heaviest of all. But it is not punishment and was never intended to be punishment. If you will wait a moment until we can look together at Adam's word, you will see why.
And to Adam he said, Because you have listened to the voice of your wife, and have eaten of the tree of which I commanded you, 'You shall not eat of it,' cursed is the ground because of you; in toil you shall eat of it all the days of your life; thorns and thistles it shall bring forth to you; and you shall eat of the plants of the field. In the sweat of your face you shall eat bread till you return to the ground, for out of it you were taken; you are dust, and to dust you shall return." (Gen 3:17-19 RSV)
In these verses we learn for the first time the nature of the sin that caused the Fall of the human race. It was not merely that Adam ate the fruit in disobedience to God. There was something before that, and God records it, "Because you have listened to the voice of your wife." That was the sin that began the Fall of Adam and brought the misery of death upon the race. Now, there are times when the wisest thing a man can do is to listen to the voice of his wife. Many a woman gives excellent advice to her husband, and a man is foolish who does not pay attention to what his wife says. Surely Pontius Pilate would have saved himself uncounted grief if he had listened to the voice of his wife when she sent word to him, "Have nothing to do with this just man for I have been greatly troubled in a dream because of him," (cf, Matt 27:19). But he ignored his wife's voice which would have saved him.
But here Adam is charged with guilt because he listened to the voice of his wife when it was different than the voice of God. That is the point. It was wrong for him to take his leadership from her. It was a denial of the headship which God had established. Paul gives us the order of headship when he says, "Christ is the head of the man, the man is the head of the woman, and God is the head of Christ," (cf, 1 Cor 11:3). It was also the Apostle Paul who tells us that Adam was not deceived in the Fall. The woman was deceived. She was deluded, for she believed the Enemy. She thought he meant it when he said they would become like God if they ate the fruit. But Adam was not fooled, he was not deceived. He knew that if they ate the fruit the Fall would follow; that they would lose their relationship to God, and that death would occur. He knew it, but he deliberately disobeyed God and set his wife above God. He denied the headship of Christ over himself and surrendered his own headship over the woman. This has been the major failure of man in marriage ever since.
The second major cause producing chaos in marriage today is right here -- a man who refuses to lead, a man who turns over to his wife the ultimate responsibility of the family, how the children turn out, what their problems are, etc. He views his sphere as that of making a living and gives to her the job of making a life. He refuses to make decisions, refuses to give direction or to show concern over the way the family is going, or to enter into the problems of child discipline and training. All this constitutes failure and the breakdown of the headship of man over woman and of God over man.
There are basically two false concepts in marriage which this highlights for us: One of them is that man, when he gets married, is to please his wife by doing whatever she wants to do. Usually this results in the chinless, spineless, supine Casper Milquetoast kind of individual. But it is a widespread approach to marriage today, and sociologists are telling us it is rapidly producing in our country a matriarchal society when boys, raised at home, do not have a male image to relate to; they do not know what a father is supposed to be, they never see one, so they relate to their mother and the mother becomes the dominant factor in the family. This turns society upside-down and produces the weakness, conflict, and violence we are seeing so widely today. The second major false concept in marriage is for the man to regard himself as the head and to interpret this to mean he is to do whatever he wants; that he is to run the home to suit himself and his pleasure is the determining factor of what occurs. What he likes, that's the important thing. He becomes a tyrant, a dictator. This is equally wrong as the first view and equally contrary to the Word of God. The truth is, he too is under authority. He is to submit to the headship of Jesus Christ. He is to follow him. If a man refuses to do that, then his home is bound to go on the rocks one way or another, either in internal conflict or in the actual outward breakup. He is to follow the Lord Jesus Christ as he is revealed in the Word of God and by prayer. Man is to follow him whether he, or his wife, feels like it or not -- that's the whole issue. He is kindly but firmly to insist that they are to do what God wants.
Because Adam refused to do that, and listened rather to the voice of his wife, letting her determine the course of the marriage, the Fall resulted. Two things came from it: First, toil: "The ground was cursed," we read. Thorns and thistles were to appear and to cover the ground. This suggests an immediate lowering of fertility. Nature produces only in response to God's continuing manifestation of power. All God needs do to change the course of nature is to reduce the flow of power to it and lower fertility results. Nature then goes out of balance, and the result is an increase in strong plants, such as thorns and thistles. The presence of these, on a widespread scale, indicates that nature is out of balance. It is a reflection of the eccentricity which has come to man: Nature is out of balance because man is out of balance.
This is why we must struggle so to make a living. Man is reduced to unending toil and sorrow. It is interesting that the word toil is exactly the same word in Hebrew that is translated pain for the woman: It is heartbreaking sorrow, caused by labor and toil. This is the reason for the so-called rat-race of life, why we are constantly under pressure to get more out of a reluctant nature. Work is not the curse given to man; work is a blessing. It is toil that is the curse. If you do not have work to do, you are of all people most miserable. Work is a blessing from God; but hard, grinding, toiling work is the result of the Fall. It is sweat, anxiety, and pressure coming constantly upon us to create the endless rat race of life.
Then the second factor which resulted from Adam's failure to observe his headship is death. God said, "In the sweat of your face you will eat bread till you return to the ground, for out of it you were taken; you are dust, and to dust you shall return." Is it not this sense of death, lurking at the boundaries of life, that gives us a feeling of futility about life? Remember what God said to the rich man who built barns and filled them up and then said to himself, "Soul, take thine ease, for you have all you need." God said to him that night, "You fool! This night your soul shall be required of you," (cf, Luke 12:19-20). Then he asked this question, "Then, whose shall these things be?" Yes, that is the question death forces us to face. You struggle to amass property, all the good things of life, and then what a sense of futility there is in having to pass them along to somebody else, someone who didn't turn a finger to gain them.
Years ago a young friend of mine said to another, "My uncle died a millionaire." The man replied, "He did not." The young man said, "What do you mean? You didn't know him, how do you know he didn't die a millionaire?" "Because," the man said, "no one dies a millionaire." The young man said, "What do you mean?" And the older man replied, "Who has the million now?" The young man said, "Oh, I see what you mean." No, we never die millionaires. Naked we came into the world and naked we shall leave it. We have nothing that we can take with us but must leave it all behind. We are dust, and to dust we shall return. There is the sentence of God -- pain, subjection, toil, and death. Is this punishment?
I promised to face this question with you. Is it punishment? Is this the result of our folly for which we must grind our teeth and struggle with all our life, a curse for what Adam did? No, it is not. It only appears to be punishment when we refuse it and resist it or rebel against it. But these things were never intended to be any kind of punishment. They are instead intended to be helps to us, means by which we are reminded of truth, means intended to counteract the subtle pride which the enemy has planted in our race which keeps us imagining all kinds of illusory things, things that are not true at all -- that we are the captain of our fate and the master of our soul; that we are capable of handling and solving all the problems of life; these arrogant pretensions we constantly make, that we have the knack and know how to make gadgets that can solve all the basic problems of existence.
But we are constantly being reminded that these things are not true. Death, pain, toil and subjection are limits that we cannot escape. They are there to cancel out constantly our egocentric dreams and reduce us to seeing ourselves as we really are. We are dust. We are but men. We are limited, dependent. We cannot go it alone -- we desperately need other people, and we desperately need God. The hour of greatest hope in our lives is when our eyes are opened to this basic fact and we say, "Lord, I can't make it without you. I need you desperately." These are the things that remind us of that. Who of us has not had a loved one suddenly pass away and in the presence of death we sensed that we were facing a hard, stark, naked fact which could not be explained away or covered up or shoved under the rug? There it was, facing us every time we turned around. It was to remind us of what we are, and where we are. You will find this principle running all through the Bible: Jacob limped upon his leg for the rest of his life after wrestling with the angel at the brook of Peniel. It was to remind him that he was a man, nothing but a man, dependent upon God; it was to turn him from reliance upon his own craftiness and the cleverness of his own wit.
Moses was denied the right to enter into the land, because of his failure. It was a reminder to him, who had been given great prestige and power before God, that he was nothing but a man and he must live within the limitations of God. A sword came upon David's house because of his sin. It was a reminder to him, constantly, that though he was the king he could not do his own will, or act as he pleased. He was a man, dependent upon God. Paul had a thorn in the flesh given to him, and he cried out against it. But God reminded him that it was given to him to keep him humble in order that he might be a useful instrument in God's hands, dependent upon his love and grace. Out of that experience comes the great, triumphant cry of the apostle's heart, "I will glory in my infirmities." I am glad of these things. Thank God for them. "For out of weakness am I made strong," (cf, 2 Cor 12:9-10). Remember the closing words of the 23rd Psalm:
Surely goodness and mercy shall follow me all the days of my life; and I shall dwell in the house of the LORD for ever. (Psa 23:6 RSV)
Some quaint commentator has said that those two words goodness and mercy are God's sheep dogs. This is the Shepherd's Psalm. David wrote it when he was but a lad, keeping sheep. In referring to the goodness and mercy of God, he is referring to the sheep dogs that nip at the heels of the flock and keep them in line, driving them into place. "Surely Goodness and Mercy shall follow me all the days of my life," nipping at my heels, humiliating me, turning me back from that which looks good but is really evil, keeping me from getting what I think I need, and what I think I want. But in the end we must name these what God names them -- goodness and mercy!
No, these things are not punishment; these are the disciplines of grace. They are what Paul refers to in Hebrews 12. If you are not chastised, disciplined by God, you are not a child of his. These things are given to bring you into subjection, for God loves you, and he wants you to be what he made you to be -- and what your own heart longs to attain. Your pride needs to be crushed, humiliated; your ego smashed; your dependence upon yourself broken; your reliance upon your abilities, your background, your education, pulled out from under you -- until you depend upon the God who made you and who is able to supply all that you need. When you do that, you will discover that "he who saves his life shall lose it; but he who loses his life shall save it," (cf, Matt 10:39, 16:25, Mark 8:35, Luke 9:24, 17:39, John 12:25).
Our Father, we pray that we may take seriously these words. How much of the time we have ignored them, to our own despair and folly. But Lord, you have called us to listen to them, to heed them, to regard them as truth and to act upon them. We pray that you will help us to do so, not only in this quiet moment when our hearts are touched by your Spirit, but also tomorrow, and all through this week. That we may learn to walk in this way and thus to understand what life was intended to be-as you designed it. In Jesus Christ. Amen.
ADAM'S RIB OR WOMEN'S LIB?
by Ray C. Stedman
We are approaching one of the major battlefields of Scripture, the controversial passage from Chapter 2 of Paul's first letter to Timothy. Many have fought and still are fighting over this section. We have to approach it with great care, and yet deal with it thoroughly. I want to remind you of one fact which we must hold clearly in mind: The subject under discussion in this passage, as well as in this entire chapter, is prayer. Paul is writing about the worship of the congregation when they come together, especially as that worship centers on and focuses in prayer. So the passage that touches on women and on their ministry among us grows out of that subject.
Paul has already given us a brief description of the different kinds of prayer. We have looked at his word on whom we should pray for, and the helpful statement he gave us about the results of congregational prayer. Prayer permits us to live peaceful and godly lives; it affects the community; it reduces violence, opens up understanding, and enables relationships to be developed. We must never forget that God has placed the Christian church in a very relevant position in the world regarding these matters. Then, second, Paul tells us that prayer becomes an instrument for the salvation of all kinds of people. He says, God "desires all men to be saved and to come to the knowledge of the truth" (Verse 4). The word "all" means all kinds of men and women without distinction.
In Verses 8-10, the apostle continues on that subject of prayer, discussing the atmosphere in which prayer is to be made, i.e.. the specific attitudes both men and women should have when they pray in a congregational meeting. This is what he says:
I desire then that in every place the men should pray, lifting holy hands without anger or quarreling; also that women should adorn themselves modestly and sensibly in seemly apparel, not with braided hair or gold or pearls or costly attire but by good deeds, as befits women who profess religion. (1 Tim 2:8-10 RSV)
When Paul says he desires that "in every place the men should pray" (Verse 8), he does not mean that only men should pray. In some denominations and churches this verse has been taken that way, so that only men are permitted to pray in public or to lead the congregation in prayer. But that is not what the apostle means. He is not saying that only men should pray, but that when men pray in every place they should do so in a two-fold way -- lifting up holy hands, and without anger or quarreling in their hearts. In other words, Paul's concern is not who prays here, but how they pray.
The first characteristic is that men should "lift up holy hands." That was the usual posture of prayer, derived largely from the Jewish synagogues, where the Jews prayed while standing with their arms lifted up, and led the congregation that way. All Paul is saying is that when men pray that way there ought to be two things that are characteristic of them:
One, the hands lifted up should be holy hands. That does not mean that something religious has to be done to them -- that they should be sprinkled with holy water or something like that. Rather, this is a figure of speech which means that these men's actions, symbolized by the hands, should be right actions. These are men who ought to have a record of rightful behavior, who are recognized as honest, whose actions reflect their faith. Second, their attitudes toward one another must be "without anger or quarreling." Their relationships have to be right. They must not be bitter or resentful against somebody, angry about something that has never been brought out or discussed. Those are the ones who are to lead in prayer.
When I was growing up as a boy in Montana, we used to have Methodist services only once a month because there was no Methodist church in town. Each month when the service was held you could count on the fact that a lean, tall man would always lead in prayer. His prayer was anywhere from ten to fifteen minutes in length, Almost everyone went to sleep on him. But what made it worse was that he was widely known in the community as the biggest rascal in town. His sharp business practices had turned everybody off, so that his prayer was hypocrisy, and he was despised in that community as a hypocrite. All the apostle is saying here in this verse is that when men pray in public they must live in private what they pray.
But Paul goes on to say also that women should pray. Now I recognize that the actual wording of this section about women does not say that they should pray, but this is part of the passage where Paul is dealing with prayer. He is designating how men should pray and how women should pray, so that the words, "should pray" (pertaining to women) are implied in the word "also." That is really a very weak translation. The word in the original language is very strong. It is translated in some versions, "likewise," or "similarly," or "so also," "in like manner." The clear implication is, "in like manner, women are to pray." But, like the men, they too are to be characterized by godly lives, not merely outward display. So this passage clearly implies that as men are to pray with right actions and right attitudes, so likewise women should pray with proper and modest dress, and with a record of a life of good deeds.
Taken that way, this passage agrees exactly with what Paul says in First Corinthians 11 about women in the congregation. There he acknowledges that women could "pray and prophesy" in the church ("prophesy" means "to comment on the Scripture, to expound it") but they must have their heads covered as a demonstration of their agreement with the principle of headship. (This principle is discussed more fully there in that chapter in First Corinthians. It also comes in here in the words that follow.)
Paul is not trying here to regulate women's dress. If you read it that way you have misunderstood this passage. When Paul says women should not have "braided hair or gold or pearls or costly attire," he is not attacking the way women dress, except as it is a display of what their heart attitude was. God looks at the heart; he does not pay any attention to the outward man. But oftentimes the way we dress and the way we conduct ourselves is a vivid revelation to others around of what our hearts are like. So that if a woman comes with her hair done up in the latest fashion, wearing the latest low-cut dress and flashy jewelry, she is obviously not trying to get God's attention; she wants men's attention. Her choice of clothing, etc., reveals her heart. This is what the apostle is talking about.
Years ago I saw a woman come into our congregation who was really a sight. (It is one thing to call a woman a vision, but quite another thing to call her a sight -- and she was a sight!) She had on one of those revealing gownless evening straps; her face was heavily painted and her hair was done in the very latest coiffeur. It was obvious that her heart at that time was committed to keeping up with the latest styles. At least it appeared that way, but actually she proved to be hungry of heart, wanting something more. She came to Christ, and it was interesting to watch how, without a word from anyone, her whole behavior and dress changed, as it reflected what was going on in her heart.
On the other hand, some women have taken this word of Paul so literally that they have gone to the other extreme. They come to church frumpy and dowdy, in their dullest dress, with their hair hardly made up at all, or pulled straight back in a bun, with no lipstick or makeup on, and imagine that they are thus being pleasing to God. But actually, all they are doing is trying to attract attention too. They want to be known as "spiritual women," so they dress that way. But that is just as much a violation of this principle as any flashy dress would be.
It is not what happens on the outside that God is impressed with, rather, it is with the inward. Sometimes you cannot change the outward very much. (I heard Phyllis Diller say that she spent three hours in a beauty shop -- and that was just for the estimate!) Here the apostle is stressing the fact that a woman's impact, spiritually, in a congregation will arise out of the fact that her dress conveys that she is not seeking attention or trying to be sexy, but rather that her life of good deeds is making her respected by that congregation and having great influence among them. Out of this discussion on church prayer the subject now very naturally turns to public teaching -- and especially the role of women in teaching. Having dealt with the matter of a woman praying (how she should pray and what will complement that prayer) Paul now says (Verse 11):
Let a woman learn in silence with all submissiveness. I permit no woman to teach or to have authority over men; she is to keep silent. For Adam was formed first, then Eve; and Adam was not deceived, but the woman was deceived and became a transgressor. (1 Tim 2:11-14 RSV)
Here is the area of great controversy: "What part can a woman play in a church service, in its leading, its speaking, and its teaching?" According to this translation, women should be "silent" in church. That word occurs twice in this passage: that a woman should "learn in silence" (Vs. 11), and, she is to "keep silent" (Vs. 12). I have been in churches where this was taken so literally that women were actually prohibited from even saying "Hello" to anybody in the auditorium; they could not even open their mouths, literally, when they entered into the sanctuary or auditorium.
But that is obviously a very extreme and wrong translation. The reason I say that is because the same word that is translated "silent" here occurs also in adjectival form in Verse 2 of this same chapter. There we read that we are to pray for "kings and all who are in high positions, that we may lead a quiet and peaceable life." The word "peaceable" is the same word which is translated "silent" here. But surely Verse 2 does not mean that we may lead lives of absolute silence. It clearly means that we are to live an undisturbed life, i.e., without a great deal of hassling, etc., but a "peaceable" life. That is a good translation for this word, which, if carried over here to this section we are studying, changes the thought entirely.
Furthermore, if you look at Second Thessalonians 3:12, the apostle uses this same word again. He says of certain persons who were busybodies, "Now such persons we command and exhort in the Lord Jesus Christ to do their work in quietness." There is the same word which is translated silent here. Paul is not telling people to work silently but to be peaceful about it, to not make a big to-do about it, to work privately, without a lot of public notice. So when we read this translation in that sense, then all that Paul is saying is, "Let a woman learn in a 'peaceful' way; she is to keep herself 'peaceful' and 'peaceable.'"
What Paul is really talking about, of course, is her attitude. Just as he has all through this section, the apostle is dealing with the attitudes which men and women are to have when they pray. Women are not to have an attitude of argumentative aggressiveness, assertiveness, or stubborn insistence on having their own way or their own view recognized. Rather, their attitude is to be one of reasonableness, patience, and a willingness to listen to others.
Now when Paul says, "let a woman learn in peace [or peaceableness] with all submissiveness," he does not mean to imply that women are always and only to be the learners, while men are always and only to be the teachers. These are very artificial understandings of this verse. Rather, he means that when women are learners, they are to learn in a spirit of quietness -- as are men. But women are not always learners. We have a great many well-taught women in our congregation here, some of whom have learned a lot more than many men have. (In an ultimate sense, of course, all Christians are always learning and are always learners.) All the apostle means by this is that when women are in the role and position of learners, they are to do so without aggressive reaction and challenging in a loud and assertive way. (It may be that this reflects something of the cultural pattern of Ephesus. In those great Greek cities women often participated in government. They perhaps carried this over into the affairs of the church and were aggressive and vociferous about their points of view. This is what the apostle is correcting here.) Verses 12-14, however, are the key verses:
I permit no woman to teach or to have authority over men; she is to keep silent. For Adam was formed first, then Eve; and Adam was not deceived, but the woman was deceived and became a transgressor. (1 Tim 2:12-14 RSV)
As we have already seen, this is not an absolute prohibition against teaching. Paul does not say, "I permit no woman to teach, anywhere, anytime, to anyone, period!" -- although this passage has been taken to mean that. It is clear from other passages in the New Testament that women did teach. In fact, in his letter to Titus, Paul tells the older women to teach younger women how to love their husbands and rule their children, etc. So women were expected to teach. Also, there are instances in Scripture where women taught men.
One notable case was when Aquila and his wife Priscilla took Apollos, the eloquent orator of the early church, aside and instructed him further in the doctrines of Jesus. Priscilla is linked with her husband as one of those instructors. So clearly, women did teach. Paul is not saying they cannot teach, period.
The key to this passage is the word translated, "to have authority over." It governs both the teaching and the attitude of the woman. This Greek word, authentein, means "to domineer, to usurp authority, to take what is not rightfully yours," and to do so (is the implication) by the process of teaching. In other words, women are not to take over in a church and become the final, authoritative teachers.
It is true that this passage makes no mention of eldership, yet I think it answers the question that many are asking today: "Should a woman be an elder or a pastor of a church?" As far as the latter is concerned, it depends upon how you are using the word pastor. If you use it in a biblical sense, in which it means, "a shepherd of a flock," then women have been pastors for centuries. In every church there are women who teach Sunday School classes. A little flock gathers around the teacher, who is the leader, the guide and the guardian of that flock. In that sense she is a biblical pastor. But if you use that word in the conventional sense, in which a woman is to be the final voice of authority as to what the Scriptures mean (this is what Paul is talking about), in that sense a woman is not to be a pastor or an elder.
This interpretation of women as being excluded from eldership is confirmed by one incontrovertible fact: There were, in the New Testament, no women apostles and no women elders! Jesus could have settled this controversy at the very beginning by appointing Mary Magdalene as an apostle, but he did not do so. Neither Paul, nor any of the apostles, ever chose a woman to be an elder of the churches they founded, though they could easily have done so if it were right. There were many godly and capable women available, but none was ever put in the office of elder.
Many churches today are unbiblical in that they have a single pastor or a single elder in final authority. The churches in the New Testament knew nothing of that. They always had pastors (plural) and elders (plural). No one person was ever given a final voice of authority. Elders reached unanimous decisions after much prayer and deliberation as to what the final teaching of the Scriptures meant. It is that role which is denied to women by the apostle here.
There are two reasons why. Notice that Paul does not take these reasons from culture, but from creation. This is a very important point. Many of the comments you read on this passage will make it appear that Paul is prohibiting women from this kind of authoritative teaching because of the cultural patterns of that day. That is not true. Paul says there are things that stem right from creation that are different about men and women, and which have application to this problem here.
One: "Adam was formed first, then Eve." That is all he says, but evidently that prior creation of man before woman is very important in his mind. In the account in Genesis it was obviously also important in the mind of God. He deliberately formed a male first and gave him a job to do before the woman ever came along. Adam may have been living for a considerable period of time before Eve was taken from his side and brought to him. The task Adam was given was to name all the animals, which means that he was involved in a research project. He had to investigate all the animals, because in the Bible names reflect nature. This was a long task, as there were many animals (later, the ark was filled with them).
So Adam had a large task at hand. How long he took we do not know, but we do know that while he was working at this task, he was looking for something; Scripture tells us he was searching. He noted that the animals came in pairs; that there were two kinds of each species -- a male and a female kind -- and that they seemed to belong together. He was looking for that for himself all through creation. When he had finished he had not yet found anything to correspond to himself.
At that point God performed the first surgical operation, complete with anaesthesia. He put Adam to sleep and took a rib from his side, made of it a woman, and brought her to Adam. The first word Adam said was, "At last!" (Men have been saying that about tardy women ever since!) But what Adam meant, of course, was, "Finally, I have found that which completes me, corresponds to me, is equal with me, is sent to help me fulfill the task which God has given me to do." The implication the apostle seems to draw from this is not that men are always the leaders (because I do not think they always necessarily are), but that when they lead they are to do so in a certain "male" way, while women, when they lead, are to do so in a certain "female" way. The two complement one another, but that peculiar quality which is given to the male is that of initiation. That is why he was sent first into the world; he had something to do first.
The remarkable testimony of history is that males have a strange restlessness to discover, to explore, to climb to the highest mountain, to plumb the depths of the deepest sea, to get out into space, to find something. Very rarely do you find names of women among the great explorers of history. It is almost always men who do so, because that is their nature. Occasional individual examples of women who have an urge to explore may be found, but in general this is not true. Paul carries that over into the church. He says, in effect, that in this realm of discovery, of investigation into the mind and the thinking of God, and the hidden mysteries of Scripture, the male is the one who is to make that initial venture. The woman is to be there to fulfill, to console, to comfort, to complete. Women do have a part in this, but in the ultimate role of decision making in the realm of theology the male is given this task.
Paul's second argument comes also from the difference created in nature. He says, "Adam was not deceived, but the woman was deceived and became a transgressor." Paul implies that the reason woman was deceived was because her nature made her more vulnerable in this area. We ought to remember that Adam was more culpable, he was a worse sinner than Eve, because, not being deceived, he still deliberately sinned, while Eve thought she was doing the right thing, something which would benefit her husband and herself. The apostle seizes on this as an indication of a difference between man and woman, suggesting that this is not a matter of inferiority at all, rather, it is just a difference.
It is the glory of woman that she is more responsive than man to what is around her. That is what makes life beautiful. How dull and cold and barbarous life would be if only cold-blooded men were here to confront the world of creation! Women add that quality of tenderness, softness, empathy, sympathy and comfort to the world. They add something that no man can give, and yet, because of that role in life they are prohibited from making final decisions in the church. Paul is not talking here about secular life. He is talking about the church and of this final role of investigation of the mind and thought of God. The difference Paul is referring to is the difference between a knife and a fork. They do not perform the same functions, yet we use them at the same time while we are eating. But we do not insist that they be employed the same way. (Although some people do use knives to pick up food. I remember a little jingle that goes:
I eat my peas with honey,
I've done it all my life.
It makes the peas taste funny,
But it keeps them on the knife!
I have met people who do eat their peas with their knife, but that is not what knives are for; forks are for that.) Yet we do not get upset because people use their knives and forks in distinctive ways. We do not claim the knife is inferior to the fork or the fork is inferior to the knife. Neither should we with men and women. They are made to do different things. Today, after a lot of discussion and controversy in this whole area, even secular thinking is coming around to recognizing that there are these distinctive, created differences between men and women.
What the apostle is saying, then, is that women are not given the role of final decision on doctrinal issues. They are not to be the authoritative teachers of the church. They are to teach, they are to pray, they are to prophecy. They can fill these roles in very helpful and wonderful ways since they have been given spiritual gifts the same as men; they can add ingredients and qualities that no man can give. But as for the final determiners of teaching, they are to leave this to the male, because a woman's empathy and natural tendency to respond is sensitive at this point. The major problem of the church, as we see in this letter, is to detect error and not to be deceived by it. We are up against a clever, skilled and ruthless Deceiver, who presents truth in ways that look right and real. Men can be deceived too, but the apostle's argument is that they women are less likely to be deceived than women. Paul then adds this rather strange word in Verse 15:
Yet woman will be saved through bearing children, if she continues in faith and love and holiness, with modesty. (1 Tim 2:15 RSV)
That is a rather garbled version. Unfortunately, it is difficult to understand what was originally said here because the transmission is faulty at this point, and many of the scholars have argued over this. There are two things we need to ask ourselves here: What is meant by the word saved? and, "What is meant by this reference to bearing children? If this latter means that women are promised to be kept safe through labor, then this is a promise that is not always fulfilled, because many godly women have died in childbirth. I do not think this verse means that.
The verse literally says, "She will be saved through the childbearing." Because of the emphasis of the article, some have taken this to be a reference to the virgin birth of Jesus -- that women will be saved through the childbearing that Mary accomplished when Jesus was born. It is possible that it means that, but again, this does not seem to be very significant, because if that is true, what else is new? Everybody is saved that way. There is only one Savior. Paul just said so in Verse 5 of this chapter: "There is only one mediator between God and man." Why should Paul single out women and give particular attention to them if both men and women are saved through the One who was born of the virgin? (Strictly speaking, of course, we are not saved by his birth, but by his death and resurrection. That is the gospel. Paul has said so in Verse 6 of this same chapter: "Christ Jesus gave himself as a ransom for all.") No, I do not think that is the meaning of this verse at all.
This does refer to bearing children, but what we need to understand is the word saved: "She will be saved through bearing children." Now surely that does not mean that a woman is actually regenerated when she has a child. I could point out a lot of women who are not regenerated who have children; their lives give ample testimony of that. No, we must understand that the word saved is used in a different sense than usual here. It does not mean "regenerated," or "born again." It is being used in the sense in which it is also used later in this letter about Timothy himself. In Chapter 4, Verse 16, the apostle says:
Take heed to yourself and to your teaching; hold to that, for by so doing you will save [the same word] both yourself and your hearers. (1 Tim 4:16 RSV)
Timothy did not need to be saved in the sense of regeneration because he was already regenerated. Nor could his hearers be regenerated by Timothy's obedience to the faith, because that would be salvation by works. That cannot be the meaning here. Here the word saved means "fulfilled," "to find significance." When used in that same sense, in this word about women, it makes perfect sense. Paul is saying to women, "The role God has given you is not the be the final, authoritative teachers in a church" (that is clear), "but that does not mean you cannot find great significance as Christian women. Your significance, your sense of fulfillment, will come as you bear children and they continue in faith and love and holiness,with modesty."
The interesting thing is, that is exactly what the Greek text says: It says, "they," not "she." It is the editors who have put in the word, "she." Everywhere, in every version, the Greek text says, "they." It refers to the children. It is simply recognizing that a mother's unique contribution to life is to pour herself and all her values into her children, in order that as they come to manhood and womanhood they touch life and change it because of their mother's helpful influence. The old proverb, "The hand that rocks the cradle rules the world" is still true -- both for bad and for good. Abraham Lincoln's famous quotation about his own mother, "All that I am or ever hope to be I owe to my angel mother," is apropos here. She died when he was just a boy, but the impress she made upon his life influenced him throughout his career.
Now Paul is not addressing this passage to non-married women. There are other passages in Scripture which deal with the subject of how a single woman can find fulfillment and significance. Even in that case it involves, oftentimes, qualities of motherhood for women are the mothers of the world. It is a quality that they alone possess. Men cannot do this. It is denied them, just as this matter of making authoritative pronouncements on the final meaning of Scripture is denied to women. Each has his or her own role. These are differences before God. When those differences are observed in love and respect and recognition of each other's unique and equal contribution to the value of life, life is joyful and filled with peace and effectiveness and good influence. That is what the apostle is talking about. The impact of the church upon the world comes about when men and women walk in the character and in the conduct that God has prescribed for them.
Thank you, our Father, for the great practicality of Scripture, for the insights it gives us into the nature of our lives. Give us obedient hearts that quickly and readily respond to what you say, hearts that do not argue, fight and resist, but know that your great loving heart has chosen for us, both men and women unique contributions which the other sex cannot make but which are necessary to life and its fulfillment. In Jesus' name, Amen.
Rib or Women's Lib?
Series: Studies in First Timothy
SHOULD A WOMAN TEACH IN CHURCH?
by Ray C. Stedman
The social movements of every age seem to be used by God to force Christians to re-examine (and clarify) their understanding of what the Scriptures teach. Painful as they may be, every such re-examination results ultimately in stronger and clearer statements on the subjects in question than the church has ever had before. This is certainly the case in the matter of the woman's role in the church. The secular Women's Liberation movement is forcing church leaders everywhere to distinguish carefully between attitudes toward women derived from customs and traditions of the past (often strongly macho-dominated) and what the Bible actually teaches and what the early church actually did.
In the scope of this brief article it is not possible to answer all the questions which are being raised today. But we would like to examine the specific question being asked by many Christians today: Should a woman teach the Scriptures, and especially, should she teach men or when men are present? We can say at once that the New Testament clearly indicates that both men and women receive the gifts of the Holy Spirit without distinction in regard to sex. Included among these is the gift of teaching, and other related gifts, such as prophesying (basically, preaching), exhortation, and the word of wisdom and of knowledge. Women prophets are referred to both in the Old and New Testaments, and older women are instructed by the Apostle Paul to teach the younger women.
A somewhat oblique reference in First Corinthians 11:4-5 suggests that both men and women were free to pray or prophesy in the open meeting of the church, though the woman must do it in such a way as to indicate that she recognizes the headship role of her husband. If she does so, there seems to be no objection to the fact that men would be present in the congregation, or any limitation placed on her for that reason. From the viewpoint of spiritual gifts it seems clear that "in Christ there is neither male nor female" (cf, Gal 3:28c( and God expects every woman to have a ministry as much as he expects every male to have one.
Though the ministry of women in the New Testament churches is not prominent in the record, nevertheless, there are certain references which indicate they were frequently and widely used in various capacities. Almost all commentators agree that Priscilla and her husband Aquila were side-by-side companions of the Apostle Paul in his work both in Corinth and in Ephesus, and that of the two, Priscilla was the more gifted and capable teacher, since her name is most often listed first. They were, together, the instructors of the mighty Apollos in his early preaching efforts. Here is a clear-cut case of a knowledgeable woman being used in the teaching of a man with no hint of an objection from Paul. Further, in Paul's letter to the church in Philippi he urges an unnamed fellow-worker (probably Epaphroditus) to "help these women who have contended at my side in the cause of the gospel," (Phil 4:3 NIV(.
In the letter to the Romans he mentions other women who labored with him "in the Lord," (Rom 16:1-2, et al.( Perhaps no question would ever have arisen about the propriety of women's ministry were it not for two passages from Paul's hand which seem to lay severe restriction upon them. In First Corinthians 14 he says,
As in all the congregations of the saints, 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 Cor 14:33b-35 NIV)
Again, in First Timothy 2 he says,
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. (1 Tim 2:11-12 NIV)
Taken by themselves, apart from their contexts, these two passages do seem to prohibit any kind of teaching ministry for women, especially in any public way, within the church. But let us look at some guidelines of interpretation which will help us in understanding just what the apostle means: Nothing in the above quoted passages can be taken in such a way as to contradict what the apostle himself permitted, or referred to with approval, in the practice of the church. He surely did not teach one thing and practice another. If, in First Corinthians 11, he speaks with approval of a woman praying or prophesying in public, as he does, then, surely, in First Corinthians 14 he does not contradict himself by forbidding women even to open their mouths in any circumstance in the public meeting of the church. We must, therefore, read the prohibition of Chapter 14 as applying to something other than the ministry of women permitted in Chapter 11.
We must note that the immediate context of both passages quoted above has to do with the problem of disorder, and even some degree of defiance, in the actions of the women involved. In both passages, though widely separated as to recipients and locality, the word submission appears: In Corinth the problem was one of so conducting the meeting that edification of all present would be central; therefore tongues were to be controlled and limited, and so was the exercise of prophesying. Furthermore, they were to remember that "God is not a God of disorder but of peace," and then follows the warning against women speaking in the church. It is clear from this that the apostle was not concerned about women who properly exercised their gifts in prophesying or in praying, but was greatly concerned about women who disrupted the meetings with questions and comments, and perhaps even challenged the teaching of apostolic doctrine with contrary views. This is what he prohibited, as Verse 37 makes crystal clear:
If anybody thinks he is a prophet or spiritually gifted, let him acknowledge that what I am writing to you is the Lord's command. (1 Cor 14:37 NIV)
He then closes the whole section with the admonition, "But everything should be done in a fitting and orderly way," (1 Cor 14:40 NIV(. The word to Timothy (who was probably living at Ephesus) is similar in character. The general context in which these words about women appear is concerned with regulating the behavior of Christians at meetings, as 3:14 makes clear:
Although I hope to come to you soon, I am writing you these instructions so that, if I am delayed, you will know how people ought to conduct themselves in God's household, which is the church of the living God, the pillar and foundation of the truth. (1 Tim 3:14-15 NIV)
In line with this purpose, Paul tells the men how to pray (without anger or disputing), and the women how to adorn themselves (not with fine clothing but with good works), and from this he moves to the words of prohibition against a woman teaching or having authority over a man. These words cannot be taken as an absolute (no woman should ever teach a man) for if that were true Paul should have rebuked Priscilla for having a part in instructing Apollos. The words "have authority over" provide us the key to understanding this passage. Women should not be permitted the role of authoritative definers of doctrine within the church. They must not be permitted to do this, even though they may mean well, for the role of authoritative interpreters is given by the Holy Spirit to the apostles and elders, who, in the New Testament, were invariably men. This is supported by Paul's references to Adam and Eve which follows.
From this we are warranted in drawing certain conclusions to guide our conduct today: Women certainly can teach. They are given the gift of teaching as freely as it is given to men, and they must exercise those gifts. Women can teach within the context of church meetings. They are certainly free to teach children and other women without question, but are free to teach men as well if what they are teaching is not a challenge to the understanding of doctrine held by the elders of the church.
Many godly and instructed women know far more about the Scriptures then many men, and it would be both absurd and unscriptural to forbid such men to learn from such women. Even the elders should recognize the often unique and godly insights of gifted women teachers and should seek their input in arriving at an understanding of the Scriptures. It is, however, the duty of elders to make the final decision of what is to be taught. No woman may participate in this. It is my hope that this brief survey will help many in understanding the difficulties involved in answering the question with which we began. I, personally, thank God for the gifted woman teachers among us at PBC and rejoice that we have little or no problem with the question of proper authority in this matter.
Title: Should a Woman Teach in Church?
A WOMAN'S IDENTITY
by Elaine Stedman
In Ibsen's A Doll's House Helmer says, "Before everything else you're a wife and a mother." Nora says, "I don't believe that any longer. I believe that before everything else I am a human being just as much as you are. At any rate I shall try to become one." In a Life magazine article entitled Women are Learning to Express Outrage a writer who attended numerous meetings of Women's Liberation describes her reactions: "These experiences unnerved me, despite reminders that I should not take it personally, and an understanding of what lay behind the fear and hostility. The negative reactions toward me expressed a great deal of what Women's Lib is about: women's long-suppressed anger at being used, women's sense of vulnerability and defenselessness, women's suspicion and mistrust of other women, women's insecurity, lack of confidence in their judgment, the secret fear, as one girl put it, that maybe we are inferior." All of the above aptly describes woman's identity crisis. It is not simply a modern anomaly, but an age-old dilemma familiar to each individual. Eventually each of us recognizes the need to know who we are.
Much attention has been given to this identity crisis. Both women and men have grappled with our struggle to be equally human. Dorothy Sayers wrote an interesting little book entitled Are Women Human? A man named Freud wrote about 26 volumes trying to identify the problems of humanity. There are many intelligent definitions in his works, but no identity emerges from all these efforts. Many images have been projected of the female: the temptress, the waif, the matriarchal aggressor, earth mother, etc., but now that Sue, Gloria, Betty, and Germaine have become, shall we say, "household names", now that we have learned to express our outrage and define our hangups, are we any closer to having security and identity?
We were never intended to have a self-centered identity. We were expected to have a God-centered identity. When my car malfunctions I don't take it to the neighbor's car for analysis and repair. I refer it to the manufacturer. He has a manual (it's awkward to say "femanual") which describes his intention for that particular car and how it operates. There is a manual that goes with woman, issued by her Maker. Too often in approaching God's word, where we should expect to find our identity defined, we labor under a cultural preconditioning which gives a negative connotation to what God is saying. In no way does God intend to strike at us with his word. He does not think negatively toward us; we have his full acceptance. Let's trust him and approach his word from a positive stance. It is refreshing to return to the Bible after reading much of the current literature. His word is so simple and uncluttered, so concise, and yet infinitely profound---as profound as God himself.
Genesis 1:27 says, so simply: "So God created man in his own image, in the image of God he created him; male and female he created them." Genesis 5:1, 2 says: "...when God created man, he made him in the likeness of God. Male and female he created them, and he blessed them and named them Man when they were created." In those simple, concise words we have the summation of our equality, the duality and mutuality of our humanity. We see in those few uncomplicated words that we project the image of God as male and female, since God is male-female in his totality. It is necessary therefore to encompass both the male and the female in order to have a balanced projection of who God is.
We have heard a lot of complaints and seen a lot of cartoons about the use of the masculine pronoun for God. Actually the Hebrew language has no neuter gender, so, it is said the male theologians arbitrarily assigned to God the masculine gender. Lady Julian, who wrote in the 14th century, was not threatened by the masculine pronoun. She wrote a prophetic theological pronouncement in a book called Sixteen Revelations of Divine Love: "God Almighty is our kindly Father; God All-Wisdom is our kindly Mother." She picked up what Genesis is saying---that God is Father-Mother, male-female. In this we find the definition of our roles and the assurance of our equality. (Interestingly, Wisdom is personified in the female gender in the book of Proverbs.)
The father is to represent leadership, authority, and objective truth. The mother's role is nurturing life in the framework of subjective truth: love, compassion, submission. These attributes are necessary to the role of nurturing life. In each of the sexes is the shadow of the other---in the male the female; in the female the male. Each contributes to and fulfills the other by being wholly other. The wholeness of our mutual sexuality is the true expression of the image of God. We need to be concerned, then, with being whole women, as well as with what being whole women contributes toward making whole men. It is the two in complement which reflects the image of God. This is the definition of our humanity.
With this concept of spiritual equality all the Scriptures harmonize. All the Scriptures---even the Pauline epistles! In a recent issue of Christianity Today a cartoon depicted some women holding signs reading, "Women of Corinth Unite" and "Paul is a Chauvinist Pig". Paul was pictured as saying, "I see you got my letter!" Hopefully this was a spoof. I am a staunch defender of Paul and am convinced that he is greatly misunderstood. Consider his statement in Galatians 3:28: "There is neither Jew nor Greek, there is neither slave nor free, there is neither male nor female; for you are all one in Christ Jesus." Let's be fair---Paul has made a crystal clear declaration of our spiritual equality.
It is Paul who says in Ephesians 5:21,22: "Be subject to one another out of reverence for Christ. Wives, be subject to your husbands, as to the Lord." He recognizes that our equality is spiritual and that it comes from our relationship to Jesus Christ, in whom we have absolute equality. Submission is our spiritual commitment, for which we are answerable to the Lord. Peter agrees, in 1 Peter 3: 7: "Likewise, you husbands, live considerately with your wives, bestowing honor on the woman as the weaker sex, since you are joint heirs of the grace of life." Our spiritual equality is never in question; we have no need to picket for it.
The unity of mankind is symbolized in God's intention for the marriage relationship. Jesus says in Matthew 19:4-6: "Have you not read that he who made them from the beginning made them male and female, and said, 'For this reason a man shall leave his father and mother and be joined to his wife, and the two shall become one?' So they are no longer two but one. What therefore God has joined together, let no man put asunder." The oneness of the marriage relationship signifies, and is possible because of, our spiritual equality. It is to be an unbroken and unbreakable relationship for the very reason that therein is depicted our spiritual oneness and equality. Jesus reiterates this theme in Mark 10:6: "But from the beginning of creation, 'God made them male and female.' 'For this reason a man shall leave his father and mother and be joined to his wife, and the two shall become one. So they are no longer two but one.' What therefore God has joined together, let not man put asunder." God planned the unity of our humanity from the beginning, when he created us male and female.
Paul says in 1 Corinthians 11:7: "For a man ought not to cover his head, since he is the image and glory of God; but woman is the glory of man." This passage is sometimes used to demonstrate Paul's alleged prejudice against women but I simply cannot comprehend how it can be so used. To say that woman is the glory of man is to me one of the most beautiful things that can be said about woman! Notice he does not say that she is the image and glory of man. She is the image of God, and that is why and how she may be the glory of man. Paul knows that it is our God-likeness that makes us truly and wholly woman. It is in bearing his image that we find our identity and our security. If Paul had said that we are to be the image and glory of man he would have been inconsistent with his affirmation of our spiritual equality in other passages. In this passage he is not dealing with our equality, our basic humanity, but with our womanhood, our femaleness. The issue here is one of authority in human relationships---authority, not equality.
In verse 8 Paul says: "(For man was not made from woman, but woman from man. Neither was man created for woman, but woman for man.)" There is no problem here, as some have suggested, of "double jeopardy" for the woman. To use the old philosophical argument about the chicken and the egg, when God states that the chicken comes first he does not therefore suggest that the egg loses status. Let's not impose upon this passage our own cultural prejudices and thus infer what is not intended. The fact that the male was created first gives priority, but not pre-eminence!
Genesis 2:18-25 is a beautiful, moving account of the tenderness and intimacy with which God harmonized the sexes in his method of creation: "Then the Lord God said, 'It is not good that the man should be alone; I will make him a helper fit for him.'" Doesn't that say volumes about God's concept of the woman he would create? She was to be suitable for the man. "So out of the ground the Lord God formed every beast of the field and every bird of the air, and brought them to the man to see what he would call them; and whatever the man called every living creature, that was its name." And why do you suppose he did that? He was going to psyche Adam out! He would take him through the entire animal kingdom so that he could establish for himself that there was no suitability in any of the beasts. Then when he saw the woman God prepared he would recognize the uniqueness of God's creative purpose in her. He would then see at once the fitness and equality in this one created for mankind's duality. God is the Great Psychologist!
"So the Lord God caused a deep sleep to fall upon the man, and while he slept took one of his ribs and closed up its place with flesh; and the rib which the Lord God had taken from the man he made into a woman and brought her to the man." While Adam slept God removed the final barrier to his heart, the rib, and from it made the woman. Now the man was prepared to say: "This at last is bone of my bones and flesh of my flesh; she shall be called Woman (Hebrew: ishshah) because she was taken out of Man (ish). Therefore a man leaves his father and his mother and cleaves to his wife, and they become one flesh. And the man and his wife were both naked, and were not ashamed." Sin had not yet defiled their humanity and so their nakedness was not an issue. And since their relationship with God was unbroken, and their identity therefore unthreatened, they had no need to mask their humanity nor to support it with contrived trappings.
In this tender account of our creation we see the harmonizing of the sexes and, as Paul declares, we also see the authority structure. He first created the man because it is in maleness that God's authority is portrayed. Paul reminds us that this is loving authority. In the male is invested the responsibility of leadership. But so that man would not mistake priority for pre-eminence God uses this carefully detailed process of creation to assure our understanding of equality and worth. In the words of Scripture "for the man there was not found a helper fit for him" we understand that Adam was carefully prepared to comprehend the fitness of the woman, that God had prepared for him a "thou", a complement to his maleness.
It is possible, I think probable, that our perception of time since the fall is different from that which preceded the entrance of sin in Eden. The Scriptures are not explicit but, as Peter reminds us, a day is with the Lord as a thousand years, and a thousand years as a day. So we might infer that hat God gave plenty of time to the creation of the man and the woman. I firmly believe that he gave equal time to Eve's creation. And isn't it interesting that he put the man to sleep while he formed the woman? He gave each a time to be alone with him.
This is highly significant. It is in this time alone with him that we find our identity---in that intimate alone---with-God relationship. It is an absolute necessity for each individual to establish initially, primarily, and as life's first cause, our relationship with God, our Creator and our Redeemer. We enter and we exit life alone. The personal intimacy of our relationship with God cannot and must not be mediated or interpolated by any other person. We must learn to confront life as his creatures, and in terms of his expectations, in order to understand life's demands. This basic commitment to God's activity and authority in our lives will require an habitual dying to pseudo and secondary relationships. We must keep him pre-eminent and our relationship with him inviolate. This is essential to our sense of identity. It is the manna of life, the daily necessity from which we receive our perspective, our purpose, and our power. It is the only thing that will save us from becoming entangled in confused and naive relationships, and it is the only thing that will save us from ourselves!
When we come to know the Lord Jesus Christ as he is, then we will understand who we are. If we try to take our identity from another person we will simply exchange insecurities and weaknesses. When we take our identity from Jesus Christ he teaches us that without him we are empty vessels, forlorn of purpose, but with him we are totally adequate for life. In our relationship with him we have everything necessary to meet any demand life can place upon us. This realistic appraisal of him and of ourselves gives us balance in our identity.
This is the meaning of the greatest commandment: "You shall love the Lord your God with all your heart, with all your soul, with all your strength and with all your mind, and your neighbor as yourself." The cycle begins with God. Our love relationship with him teaches us to love ourselves from his perspective, and this gives us freedom to love ourselves and others with self-detachment, and that is the only genuine love. Knowing that we are loved by God, and that he loves us unconditionally, gives us our sense of worth. This frees us from the futility of trying to become something that pleases God, with the accompanying duplicity and pretense of trying to be something we are not and cannot be. Before God we need no masks. We can be what we are and rest in his unconditional acceptance. That is the only source of security which is invulnerable.
When we have this security we no longer need to use other people to sustain our sense of identity. When we have a self-centered identity we are always dependent on others to support it. We then make unreasonable and unreasoning demands upon them, maneuvering and exploiting in every way known to woman. For instance, in a search for identity a woman will exploit a man with her body in a vain effort to establish relationship with him, debasing both her womanhood and his manhood. Or we can assume a spiritual pose---it's much more subtle---again trying to be what we are not in order to gain approval and thus hope to find security. But the game will be lost in self-deception before it is played. When we lie to ourselves we have already sacrificed our identity. Meanwhile we have violated another's humanity.
Sometimes this kind of dependency is called submission. That is one of the things submission is not. It is a fraudulent use of submission, and is not in fact submission at all, but rather a masked aggression. Closely related to the identity issue is the problem of authority. Both must be settled ultimately and finally in our relationship to Jesus Christ. Once we have settled the question of whether God is going to be God in our lives, once we have submitted ourselves to his sovereign control, then we ha have settled the authority issue. The human relationships will fall in line naturally from that perspective. Our equality, our identity, and our relationship to authority are all resolved in our understanding of God's creative intent for humanity.
The Scriptures assure us that spiritual equality between the sexes was God's creative intention, and his stated perspective never varies, whether through Moses, Peter, or Paul. His intention for humanity is that he, the Lord of creation, be exactly that, to the end that his image be seen in his universe. This is God's world! It is not mine---it took me a long time to figure that one out.
A frightened young lady called me this week to tell me about a friend of hers who had been shot and was not expected to live. She wanted me to tell her what God was going to do, and she reminded me that her friend had only begun her life, with the implied suggestion that God had better do right by her! I just didn't happen to have a fresh scoop from heaven that day on what God's plans were, so I had to confess that I didn't know what he was going to do. But I did say further that it was really up to him, that he gives life and it is his prerogative to take it. What we need to figure out as early as possible is that life belongs to God, not to us. My life belongs to him. He is entitled to it. He designed it and made it. He has a purpose for it. He died for it! He has full rights to the title of my life, and I need to yield to---that authority. And when I do I am set free from self-authority and can say with Martin Luther: "A Christian is the most free lord of all, and subject to none. A Christian is the most dutiful of all, and subject to everyone."
It is in the male-female unity of our humanity that God's Truth and Life are propagated and conveyed to the world. When the male-female relationships are in balance, Truth and Life are seen in balanced perspective, because it is the role of the male to present Truth and the role of the female to interpret that Truth into Life. That is why the woman has been given the sensitivity that is so uniquely female. This is pictured analogously in the physical relationship in which the sperm is introduced by the male and the female "interprets" it into the fetus. And this is why the final authority in human relationships is invested in the man. Authority is the necessary vehicle for Truth.
It is for this reason the woman must have God's perspective on the authority issue. And this is resolved when we, the clay, say "Yes" to the Potter, when we, the vessel, invite the indwelling Presence of Life, and when we change our "Whys?" into "Whatever, Lord." When we exchange self-authority for God's lordship and choose to be submissive to his sovereign, loving, omniscient authority---then we've come a long way, baby!
From this perspective we no longer read the Scriptures defensively. because we see that God's design from Genesis to Revelation is loving and purposeful. We see that, far from discriminating against the woman, God has set up deliberate safeguards to protect her delicate femininity. Genesis 3: 14 -19 is sometimes referred to as "the curse", but read without negative preconditioning it is evident that the curse was given to the serpent and to the ground; it was not applied to the man or the woman. Actually, God here imposed a new regime which would protect us from ourselves. He gave woman the authority needed to shield her from her own femaleness. He gave man,the therapy and discipline of work. In her assignment of motherhood, woman is given the framework for the expression of her creativity. She is to be "mother of all living"; that is the meaning of the name Eve. She is to be the glory of man, the demonstration of the life of God, and this is explicit in her femaleness. Her qualities of tenderness, compassion, perception, and submission are appropriate to her motherhood and complementary to maleness. Her contribution is so valuable that to protect it God, in the Levitical code for instance, strictly governs her moral behavior and permits her far less deviation that the male because she is to be the glory of humanity, and when she fails the whole structure crumbles! The very stringency of God's controls, which sometimes provoke our hostility, is evidence that in God's sight we are valuable!
When we see God's disciplines from the perspective of his love it makes such a difference! He wants to protect us from ourselves because it is his goal to make us the glory of humanity. It is interesting that the Scriptures place the woman in the same relationship to man as the Son is to the Father. The Son is said to be the glory of the Father. This helps us to understand the importance of our role to humanity. Hebrews 3:1 tells us that Jesus Christ reflects the glory of God's image, and John tells us in his gospel that in beholding Jesus Christ we behold the reflected glory of the Father. In Ephesians 3: 21 Christ is said to be glorified in the Church, and the Church is symbolized by the wife in the marriage relationship.
Quoted in Time magazine, film critic Sandra Chevey says, "The consistencies of a patriarchal society are science, reason, and law, and in a matriarchal society they are art, magic, spirituality, and mystery." Even those who are so intent upon emphasizing our equality recognize that there are essential differences in our roles. And as Christians we can see that these are specific roles that God has assigned us. We can feel secure in that assignment because it comes from him, and we can find excitement and fulfillment in being thoroughly woman.
"The man called his wife's name Eve." The name, in Hebrew, resembles the word for living, a marginal reading in my Bible tells me. He named her thus because, he said, she "is the mother of all living." Who was living at this time? Apparently, according to the biblical account, only Adam and Eve and the animal world. Her name was prophetic, of course, because she would bear physical children. However, it seems evident that her motherhood was far more extensive and of deeper significance than the merely physical. I am convinced that the physical, sensory life is a parable of the spiritual. Eve was mankind's mother. Ecologically speaking, she was mother to all living. This concept has even helped me to accept the hamsters in our house by reminding me that as women we are in unique relationship to all living things by Divine assignment. He has specially equipped us for sensitivity toward life in all forms. But this also means that we don't have to marry and/or produce physical children in order to accommodate the role of mother to humanity. This is the basic, essential role of the woman in society.
Dr. John Wakefield, an outstanding industrial psychiatrist who within recent months has become a committed Christian, told me in a recent conversation that he has observed in business that when a woman executive functions as a mother she does not compete with the males and she does not intimidate other females. In this way she can maintain harmonious relationships and excel as an executive. It is also true, he says, that a male executive needs to relate as a father. If either attempts to reverse roles, relationships suffer and their executive function is jeopardized.
An understanding of our motherhood role necessitates a definition of "mother" because we have all sorts of caricatures in our minds, and they are not all good by any means. I pursued this with Dr. Wakefield and he fully agreed that the role of mother means "nurturing life". The role of motherhood is intended for every woman. Obviously, this is not physical motherhood alone, but spiritual motherhood. Spiritual motherhood is woman's assignment, of which physical motherhood is a symbol. An interesting corroboration of this is found in John 19:25-27. The Lord spoke to his mother from the cross: "Woman, behold your son," indicating John the disciple. Then, to John: "Behold your mother." John was of course not Mary's son, but the Lord, addressing her as "Woman" and thus acknowledging her womanhood, then assigned her to John as his spiritual mother. The task, then, is to discover what constitutes true motherhood.
The process of motherhood is, first, receptivity---not the initiation of life, but the receiving of life, both in the physical and spiritual birth. Motherhood involves receiving the lives that are sent to us, not as projects, but as God-given persons whom he assigns to us for the purpose of nurturing his life in them. This makes a big difference in our attitude toward people. When we make mere projects of others it reveals the perspective we have of ourselves.
The next step in the motherhood process is response, so beautifully symbolized in physical birth by the way in which the body of the mother responds to the demands of the new life within, nurturing that life by means of adaptation and availability. In this way we are to respond with our whole being to the new life within, the person of Jesus Christ. God has infused us with his own life, and we are to nurture that life, not the old Adamic life. It needs to be fed with the proper nutrient, the word of God, by the consent of our will. Then we may nurture his life in others, by means of his life in us, so that it becomes a cycle of life unto life---but always his life, not ours.
The third step, or principle, is that of release. As in the case of physical pregnancy there is always an appropriate moment for cutting the umbilical cord. This demonstrates so well that the God-given life within us is not intended to be hoarded to ourselves but is intended for release to others. And in turn our relationship with others is to the end that they may become dependent not upon us but on the life of Jesus Christ. We are responsible to nurture his life in others by means of his life in us.
Science tells us about the law of biogenesis: "life comes only from life." This principle is true in every dimension of human experience. Physical life is produced only by physical life. Life begets life. Spiritual motherhood is a whole vast dimension of spiritual reproduction. We may give to others only as we receive from the Lord Jesus Christ, the source of Life. We need to learn that the flesh can only reproduce the flesh. But when we are instruments in the totality of our humanity---body, soul and spirit---of the Life of Jesus Christ, we will find that his life is nurture to every dimension of human experience. His life within us will equip us to minister to others as he ministers to us, physically, emotionally, and spiritually. When we relate to others in terms of his life, not ours, this detaches us from need for self-aggrandizement, and we then know the fulfillment of living for the glory of God, the very purpose for which we were created! In this context, every activity and every expression is truly creative, because it is generated by his life. "What a way to go!" [Catalog No. 3626S, A SPECIAL PAPER, July 1972]
The Role of Women in Worship in the Old Testament
by Dr. Bruce Waltke
In this lecture (1) I aim to offer a broad survey of the role of women in the Bible, with particular emphasis on the Old Testament, to help the Church appraise critically the impact feminism has had upon it. I offer these theological reflections to encourage and to assist the Church to retain what is good from the feminist legacy and to reject what is bad. Feminism has significantly impacted society at large, our churches and our homes. Mary Kassian in her penetrating analysis of the feminist perspective, which she once embraced, wrote:
"We encounter and interact with the feminist perspective daily on issues such as gender roles, affirmative action, reproduction technology, abortion, rape, abuse, day care and pay equity. Feminist ideology is also visible in the Church. Many books and articles have been published that Scripture supports undifferentiated roles for men and women. The ordination of women to leadership offices is common place. Denominational women's task forces, women's studies courses in seminaries, feminist theology, inclusive language, revised inclusive lectionaries and feminist rituals are well accepted in many denominations." (2)
It is this legacy as it applies to the Church which I aim to appraise in order to sift the wheat from the chaff and thereby edify the Church.
History of feminism. To provide a context for this assessment I will avoid the briar-patch of defining feminism, which is not essential for our purposes, but instead present Kassian's insightful analysis of its history. Probably basing herself on Mary Daly's thesis that to exist humanly is to name the self, to name the world, and to name God, (3) Kassian analyzes its history into three periods roughly congruent with the nineteen sixties, seventies, and eighties.
In the sixties feminism was called "women's liberation," a time when feminists disallowed men to define their identity and called upon women to define themselves. Kassian brings her discussion of this decade to the conclusion:
"As the first decade of the women's movement ended, women all across the continent began to claim the right to name and define themselves. By August 26, 1970, on the fiftieth anniversary of women's suffrage in America, 20,000 women marched proudly down New York's Fifth Avenue identifying themselves as part of the women's liberation movement. Freedman summed up the tenor of the movement, when at the conclusion of the march she blazed: 'In the religion of my ancestors, there was a prayer that Jewish men said every morning. They prayed, "Thank thee Lord, that I was not born a woman." Today all women are going to be able to say, "Thank thee, Lord, that I was born a woman...."' After tonight, the politics of this nation will never be the same again. There is no way any man, woman or child can escape the nature of our revolution. (4)
According to Kassian, when in the seventies women took it in hand to define the world (i.e., psychology, sociology, marriage and so forth) from their perspective, the movement shifted from Women's Liberation to feminism. She summarizes:
Women were different from men, but this fact was not a source of shame, but rather a source of pride. Feminism taught that women aught to be proud of their different bodies and their different perceptions. The 'male' interpretations of the past were therefore boldly rejected and replaced with interpretations reflecting a feminist definition of reality. The feminist view was so widely accepted in some circles that it became the mode and norm for truth. Women had not only claimed the right to name themselves, but also the right to name and define the world around them. (5)
During the eighties feminism shifted to defining God. Kassian cites Rosemary Radford Ruether as an example:
If we are to seek an image of God beyond patriarchy, certain basic principles have to be acknowledged. First, we have to acknowledge the principal that the male has no special priority in imaging God. Christian theology has always recognized, theoretically, that all language for God is analogical and metaphorical, not literal. No particular image can be regarded as the exclusive image for God. Images for God must be drawn from the whole range of human experience, from both genders and all social classes and cultures. To take one image drawn from one gender and in one sociological context (that of the ruling class) as normative for God is to legitimate this gender and social group as the normative possessors of the image of God and representatives of God on earth. This is idolatry. (6)
The phenomena of inclusive language recognized and further served to reinforce the paradigm offered by feminist theology. It, more than theological rhetoric, brought the feminist debate to the level of the ordinary believer as women's studies had done. Feminist theology was thereby translated from an academic philosophy to the level of practical daily worship of the Christian community. Feminists had named themselves and world, and now, through inclusive language, they and their Christian communities began to name God. (7)
With that historical context I now turn to appraise by Scripture the impact of the feminist perspective upon the church both positively and negatively. I originally entitled this lecture "The Role of Women in Worship" because from the biblical perspective believers offer their entire lives as an act of worship to him, even as Adam and Eve offered theirs in the Garden of Eden. However, for most the term has the more restricted sense pertaining to liturgy.
Hermeneutical issues and the method of criticism. Before looking at specific texts, however, the hermeneutical question of how texts conditioned by historical particularity can be normative for the contemporary Church must be addressed.
The order of creation is normative. To transcend the historically particular and culturally conditioned situation in which Scripture is given and to find what is normative for the practice of the covenant people I first examine the role of women before the Fall. The two creation accounts, Genesis 1:1-2:3 and 2:4-25, represent God's design for men and women, husbands and wives. The rest of Scripture recounts a sacred story that to a large extent is moving toward the restoration of this ideal. (8) It treats this charter for humanity as normative for the covenant community, though sometimes concessions are made because of the hardness of the human heart (Matthew 19:8). In the light of this ideal I will examine the rest of the Old Testament and, in addition, note some of its continuities and discontinuities with the New Testament.
The order of creation, which is set forth in these two accounts, stands behind the order of redemption, which is represented in the rest of Scripture. For example, the Fourth Commandment (Exodus 20:8-11) to refrain from work on the Sabbath is based on the first creation account that God ceased his own work on that day (2:2-3). The Seventh Commandment (Exodus 20:14) to not commit adultery is founded on the institution of marriage in the Garden of Eden according to the second account (Genesis 2:18-25). The Sixth Commandment (Exodus 20:15) protects innocent life because every life is created in God's image (Genesis 1:26-28; cf. 5:1-3; 9:6).
Moreover, our Lord aimed to recapture for his Church the Creator's original intention for marriage (Matthew 19:1-9), and the Apostle Paul based on these accounts his arguments concerning the roles of husbands and wives in the home and in the Church (1 Corinthians 11:3-12:1; 1 Timothy 2:12-15).
In sum, the Bible is a story of Paradise lost in the first Adam and being regained in the Second. The Garden of Eden symbolically represents the ideal culture that was lost and that Moses restored in the old Israel through the law given at Sinai and that Christ restores more perfectly in the new Israel through the law written on the heart.
Furthermore, the historically conditioned texts in the rest
of the Old Testament cannot be ruled out of hand as not normative
practices of the Church in its worship before God for at least
God ordained Israel's culture. First, God sovereignly ordained the culture in which he became incarnate. The roles played by godly woman in ancient Israel are due to his design, not to chance. The Sovereign God, not Lady Luck, is Israel's Lord. Since his sovereignty extends even to assigning the pagans their gods and their cultures (Deut 4:19), we may rightly suppose that the Sovereign did not hand over to Chance either his representation of himself as Father, Son and Spirit, or the form of government for the nation that he chose to bless the world by embodying and disseminating his teaching (cf. Genesis 18:18-19).
Orthodox theology cannot consent to Krister Stendal's comment, made while he was still dean of Harvard Divinity School, that God's numerous and strong masculine metaphors for himself is largely an accident. (9) According to him, "the masculinity of God and of God-language, is a cultural and linguistic accident, and I think one should also argue that the masculinity of Christ is in the same order. To be sure, Jesus Christ was a male, but that may be no more significant to his being than the fact that, presumably his eyes were brown." (10) In truth, however, the Bible, in contrast to other biographies, curiously does not mention anything about our Lord's physical appearance apart from his masculinity, suggesting it has theological relevance. His incarnation occurred at the right time and in the right way according to God's own sovereign purposes (Gal. 4:2-4).
Prophets critique Israel's culture but not patriarchy. Second, Israel's prophets, God's mouth, were iconoclasts, not traditionalists, who called Israel into the dock for numerous injustices. Abraham Heschel in his justly praised work, The Prophets, makes the point:
"They challenged the injustices of their culture. The prophet is an iconoclast, challenging the apparently holy, revered and awesome, beliefs cherished as certainties, institutions endowed with supreme sanctity. They exposed the scandalous pretensions, they challenged kings, priests, institutions and the temple." (11)
However, not one of these cultural revolutionaries regarded patriarchy as an unjust or oppressive form of government. Quite the contrary. They interpreted the rule by women as God's judgment against the sinful nation. Isaiah, for example, ridicules it: "Children are their oppressors, and women rule over them" (Isaiah 3:12). They inveighed instead against abuse of power that oppressed women: "The women of my people you cast out from their pleasant homes" (Micah 2:9). They gave a voice for those too weak to have a voice, especially the fatherless and widows: "They do not defend the fatherless, nor does the widow's cause come before them" (Isaiah 1:23).
Practice of Christ Jesus confirms patriarchy. Third, our Lord was a revolutionary in his age own with regard to the role of women in worship. He amazed his disciples by conversing with a woman because he violated the prejudice of both the Jews and the Romans against women (John 4:27). The Son of God bestowed dignity upon this Samaritan adulteress, "unclean" by Jewish standards, by revealing to her for the first time that worship would now be directed toward the Father in heaven, not toward "mecca-like" Jerusalem on earth (John 4:21-25). Moreover, our Lord entrusted women to be the original witnesses to his resurrection, the cornerstone of the Christian faith, though their testimony would have been discounted in a Roman court (Luke 24:1-4). He rewarded the devotion of Mary of Magdala, out of whom he had cast seven demons, by allowing her to be the first person to meet him after his resurrection (Mark 16:9-10; John 20:14-18). His disciples refused to believe Mary's report of the risen Lord. In fact, they dismissed it as an 'idle tale' (Mark 16:11; Luke 24:11). Later, Jesus rebuked them for their unwillingness to believer her (Mark16:14) Yet he implicitly confirmed the Old Testament patriarchy by not appointing a woman as an apostle, though women followed him, ministered to him, and were his close friends. It is nonsense to argue that the counter-cultural Jesus appointed only male apostles because he was culturally conditioned. Is it not plausible to think that had he intended to empower women to have equality with men in leadership he would have called a woman to be an apostle, either before or after the resurrection?
II. Forbidden Fruit
If Kassian's analysis of the history of feminism is accurate, those forms of feminism which base their perspective about women, the world, and God on human autonomy, apart from the Bible's teaching, is fundamentally flawed. Elsewhere I have argued that an adequate epistemology must be based on revelation, not on human reason, experience (e.g., so-called "callings") (12) , and/or tradition (cf. Deuteronomy 8:3; Ezekiel 28:6, Ezekiel 15-17). (13)
This truth is symbolically represented in the Second Account by God's prohibition not to eat of the "tree of knowledge and good and evil." "The tree of knowledge of good and evil" represents knowledge that is God's prerogative. As Christians we know that the only accurate description of reality is that which is known to God. He is the maker of reality and our only clear interpreter of it. Therefore only the good Creator and moral Sovereign of the universe can legislate inerrantly what promotes life and social well-being and what harms them. Our first parents, by seizing this prerogative for themselves in order to become equal with God, died spiritually and lost Paradise. To be sure eating the forbidden fruit (i.e., living independently from God's revelation) appeared good for food (i.e., of practical value), pleasant to the eye (i.e., having aesthetic appeal), and desirable to make one wise (i.e., provided intellectual gratification). The price, however, was too high. They lost a relationship both with God, symbolized by hiding among the trees, and with one another, symbolized by putting a barrier of clothing between them.
Biblical feminists acknowledge the authority of the Bible, but they tend, I suggest, to interpret Scripture in a way that favors their social agenda, viz: the equality of women in authority and leadership. Regarding their zeal to ordain women leaders, we need to ask, are they projecting their system upon the Bible, as a better system, and thereby inflicting their own will for power against God's design? Until the twentieth century the Church universally understood Scriptures to teach male rulership in the Church, (14) but I observe that many evangelical churches, certainly not all, have overthrown that heritage on the superficial basis that scholars are divided on the issue. The truth is scholars are divided on most theological issues, including the Bible's trustworthiness. On that basis no doctrine is safe, and the more liberal perspective must prevail. Like the Bereans, we need to examine "every day" the Scriptures for ourselves to see what is the truth. Thistelton, citing Robert Morgan, rightly advised pastors to be on guard that "some disagreements about what the Bible means stem not from obscurities in the texts, but from conflicting aims of the interpreters." (15)
III. Marriage and Motherhood
Feminism is also flawed in tending to give priority to fulfillment in careers outside of the home over against fulfillment in childbearing within the marriage structure. Recently I counseled a female student who felt guilty in wanting to marry and bear children because her church wanted her to remain single and minister to its needs.
According to the first creation account God created humanity as male and female (Genesis 1:26-28; cf. Matthew 19:4), whereupon he blessed them (i.e., filled them with potency to reproduce life and to triumph over enemies (cf. Genesis 22:17) and commanded them to be fruitful and multiply. He intended that they procreate his image and similitude (cf. Genesis 5:1-3), thereby affording the opportunity to as many people as possible to sit at his banquet table of life. Humanity is grounded in being male and female, an immutably fixed, natural reality. Feminism in its desire for freedom and power depreciates this fundamental design. "Grace," as Pope John Paul II noted in his remarks to Roman Catholic bishops, "never casts nature aside or cancels it [nature] out, but rather perfects it and ennobles it." (16)
In the second creation account God gives Adam his bride and thereby institutes marriage, defining them now as husband and wife. By instituting marriage in the Garden of Eden, God represents marriage as an ideal and holy state, an act of worship (Hebrews 13:4). Recall the Church restores the Garden. Therefore, believers commit themselves in marriage to one another in the presence of God. Marriage is the only social institution that precedes the Fall, and the homes established through marriage provide the foundation stones for society. After the Fall God instituted the State to protect society from criminals and the Church to promote a new community of love in a world of hating and being hated (Titus 3:3).
The Gift of the Bride story emphasizes the goodness of marriage. The Lord's statement that Adam's singleness "is not good" (2:18) is highly emphatic. Instead of saying "it is lacking in goodness," a normal Hebrew way of saying that a situation is less than ideal, he emphatically calls it in effect "bad." This account, with no trace of male chauvinism, ends with the coda that the man leaves his parents to cling to his wife (2:24).
The rest of the Old Testament also defines marriage as a holy
and an ideal state. The most holy people in the Old Testament
were married. The High Priest, who alone could enter once a year
with awe and trembling into God's presence in the Most Holy Place,
was married. He had to marry a virgin, not a widow or divorcee,
to guarantee that the successor to his high and holy office was
Aaron's offspring (Leviticus 21:13-15), not because a formerly
married woman was discarded as used property. In fact, the Old
Testament looks with compassion on both (Malachi 2:13-16, 3:6).
The Nazirite, the most holy person in the Old Testament by choice, not by birth as in the case of the high priest, likewise was married (see Numbers 6:1-21). By definition he or she was "separated" to God, but Nazarites never fasted sexually. They showed their separation to the Creator by not cutting their hair, just as an orchard was set apart to God by not pruning it and an altar dedicated to God was not made of cut stones. They symbolized their separation from earthly pleasures by not eating the fruit of the vine that cheers both gods and people (Judges 9:13), and they showed they belonged to the God of life by a total separation from death. However, they did not show their separation to God by celibacy. Marriage was part of their consecration, worship, and holiness.
Paul, however, elevates singleness for "gifted" individuals to an even higher state (1 Corinthians 7). His design, however, is not to favor women's careers outside the home over motherhood within it but partially to enable them to be fully devoted to Christ without distraction. He teaches as normative behavior that older women teach younger women "to love their husbands and be busy at home, to be kind, and to be subject to their husbands, so that no one will malign the word of God" (Titus 2:4-5).
God elevates godly mothers to the highest status after the Fall. In sovereign grace he changed the fallen woman's affection against Satan and by so much toward himself (Genesis 3:15). By his promise to give this new woman a triumphant, though suffering, offspring, he implicitly assigned this new woman the role of bearing the seed that would destroy the Serpent, the Adversary of God and humanity. The quintessential expression of that seed is Christ who defeated Satan on the cross, but the mandate finds its fulfillment in every covenant child: "The God of peace," says the Apostle to the Church at Rome, "will soon crush Satan under your feet" (Romans 16:20). In response to the promise to give the woman seed to defeat Satan, believing Adam named his wife Eve, "because she would become the mother of all the living" (Genesis 3:20). Every Christian mother by being in Christ bears his holy children (1 Corinthians 7:14; cf. Isaiah 53:10). If a woman has suffered any loss of leadership through her creation (1 Timothy 2:12--13; cf. Genesis 2:18-25) and her historical guilt in connection with the Fall (1 Timothy 2:14; cf. Genesis 3:1-14), says the Apostle-if I understand him correctly-she will be saved from that loss through bearing children in Christ, if the children continue in the faith, love, and holiness with propriety (Genesis 3:15; 1 Timothy 2:15). In short, the Apostle is saying, "the hand that rocks the cradle rules the world." Pastors need to hold before the women of their churches Mary's response to the angel's announcement that she would be with child: "I am the Lord's servant. May it be to me as you have said." Mary models for Christian women a most important aspect of woman in worship and ministry.
IV. The Equality of Men and Women
Most debated issues have the heuristic value of enabling one to see truth in a new way. Feminism, as the history sketched above shows, has had the heuristic value of reasserting the equality of women with men. Unfortunately, as has been documented many times, both the synagogue and the Church have not only failed to proclaim this glad truth but have shouted it down. It is black mark in sacred history.
The error, however, lies in the interpreters of Scripture, not in the Holy Bible itself. In the First Creation Account both men and women are created in God's image. An image of the deity in the ancient Near East, as D. J. A. Clines has shown, entailed dominion. (17) He cites a cuneiform text dated about 675 B.C.: "It was said to Esarhaddon [the Assyrian king], 'A free man is as the shadow of god, the slave is as the shadow of a free man, but the he is like unto the very image of god.'" (18) God crowned men and women as queens to rule over his entire creation, including the mysterious serpent who "was more crafty than any of the wild animals the LORD God had made" (Genesis 3:1). Together, as his image, they share this derivative authority to be culture makers.
The Second Account reinforces this equality and clarifies it. When the Lord says, "I will make for Adam a helper suitable to him," he means, he will form a woman who is equal to and adequate for the man. She stands opposite him in her sexual differentiation and equal with him in her personhood and dignity. Adam's repose to her formation from his own body are a human being's only words preserved from before the Fall. Untouched by envy and/or a desire to dominate and control her, he celebrates with admiration her equality with him in elevated poetry, "This is now bone of my bones and flesh of my flesh." At the same time he recognizes her sexual differentiation from him: "She shall be called 'woman' for she was taken out of man" (Genesis 2:23).
The rest of the Old Testament reinforces woman's equality in
nature and in dignity with men. Let me cite a few of many illustrations
to make the point. After Sarah over-reacted to the arrogance of
her maidservant, Hagar, and had driven her out of the house, the
angel of the LORD found the run-away at a well. He said, "Hagar,
servant of Sarai...." The modern reader misses the significance
of that address. This is the only instance in all of the many
thousands of ancient Near Eastern texts where a deity, or his
messenger, calls a woman by name and thereby invests her with
exalted dignity. Hagar is the Old Testament counterpart to the
Samaritan woman (see John 4). Both were women, both were not of
Abraham's family, and both were sinners, yet God treated both
with compassion, gave them special revelations and bestowed on
them unconventional dignity.
In the Old Testament women were called to be "prophetesses," God's mouth in the world, on an equal footing with prophets. Miriam (ca. 1400 B.C.) (Exodus 15:20f) was the first of several who are named, including Deborah (Judges 4:4-7), Isaiah's wife (725 B.C.) (Isaiah 8:3), Huldah (640 B.C.) (2 Kings 22:13-20), and the false prophetess, Noadiah (ca. 450 B.C.) (Nehemiah 6:14). Joel (2:28) predicts that in the last days the LORD will fulfill Moses's prayer that all the Lord's people, men and women alike, become prophets (Numbers 11:29). At Pentecost the Holy Spirit was given to both men and women, young and old alike, to enable them to proclaim boldly the triumphant news, Jesus is Lord of all, and to build his Church.
Huldah is a most remarkable prophetess with regard to the question of women's roles in worship and ministry. During the reformation of Josiah, his workmen, who were repairing the temple, found the Book of the Law, which King Manasseh had neglected during the previous generation. Josiah directed five leaders to inquire of the LORD about the book. They went directly to the married prophetess to verify the book, not to her famous contemporaries, Jeremiah and Zephaniah. Clarence Vos in his doctoral dissertation on our topic comments:
"That officials from the royal court went to a prophetess relatively unknown with so important a matter is strong indication that in this period of Israel's history there is little if any prejudice against a woman's offering of prophecy. If she had received the gift of prophecy, her words were to be given the same authority as those of men." (19)
Women and men were also equal in prayer. Covenant women prayed directly to God without the priestly mediation of their husbands. For example, when carnal Jacob defaulted in his responsibility to pray for his barren wife (Gen 30:1-2), in contrast to his godly forefathers who prayed for their children and wives (cf. 24:7, 12-15; 25:21), Rachel petitioned God directly, and he listened to her and opened her womb (30:22-24). Barren Hannah also sought dignity and worth through child-bearing. She too went directly to God in prayer, independently from her husband, Elkanah, and the high priest, Eli, both of whom were insensitive to her need. In fact, when challenged by Eli, she spoke up and defended her right (1 Samuel 1:15-16). She named her boy, "Asked of God," and dedicated him to the LORD with the prayer that he would introduce kingship into Israel (1 Samuel 2:10B). Hannah's prayer turned Israel around from the nadir of its spiritual history and political misfortune and started it on its upward ascent to its glory under David. A mother's prayer saved Israel and ruled it.
In addition to these prophetesses other women also received direct revelations from God. When Rebekah felt the twins struggling in her womb, she asked the LORD, "why is this happening to me?," a question written large across the page of history. The LORD revealed to her Jacob's triumph over Esau. Isaac, however, gave priority to his sensual appetite over God's revelation, set himself against his wife, and made the holy family dysfunctional (Genesis 25:22-23, 28; 27:1-40). When King Jeroboam wanted a revelation from God he sent his disguised wife to the prophet Ahijah, who entrusted God's word to her, and she in turn mediated it to her husband (1 Kings 14:1-18). Woman sang and danced in worship, expressions of the acme of life. Miriam and Deborah composed the two oldest pieces of literature preserved in the Bible, which are regarded by scholars as literary masterpieces (Exodus 15 and Judges 5). Women celebrated before the LORD with singing, dancing, and tambourines (e.g., 1 Samuel 18:6; Psalm 68:25), but they were not a part of the temple choir.
Mothers stood on equal footing with fathers in teaching children: "She speaks with wisdom, and faithful instruction is on her tongue" (Proverbs 31:26). Israel's sages were also cultural revolutionaries with regard to the role of women teaching in the home. The father's command to the son, "do not forsake your mother's teaching" (Proverb 1:8), seems unexceptional to the modern reader. However, nowhere else in the wisdom literature of the ancient Near East, from the Euphrates to the Nile, is the mother mentioned as a teacher. In order for the mother to teach Israel's inherited wisdom, she herself had first to be taught, suggesting that "son" in the Book of Proverbs is inclusive, not gender specific.
Women in the Old Testament offered sacrifices and gifts along with men (cf. Leviticus 12:6). The laws for ceremonial cleansing in connection with bodily emissions were essentially the same for both sexes (Leviticus 15). Women as well as men consecrated themselves to God as Nazarites (Numbers 6:2). Sarah, when wronged by her female servant and by the apathy of her husband to the injustice inflicted upon her, appealed to God for justice, but she did not issue an ultimatum to Abraham that either Hagar goes or she goes (Genesis 16:5).
The role of women in ministry in the New Testament is better
known. Luke takes pains to stress the important role that woman
played on Paul's second missionary journey when he established
the church in Macedonia and Achaia (cf. Acts 16:13; 17:4, 12,
34; 18:2). The Apostle had a vision of a man of Macedonia begging
him to come and help him (16:9), but when he arrived he found
women in prayer who became his first converts (vv. 11-15). Phoebe,
Prisc(illa), Junia, Euodia, Syntyche are celebrated as "minister"
(diakonos), "co-worker" (sunergos), and "missionary"
The mutual submission of men and women to one another is unique to the New Testament. However, their equality before God in their nature, spiritual gifts, and prayer is found in both testaments. It is a dramatic irony that feminists, who malign the Old Testament for its patriarchialism, opened my eyes to this truth.
The question of the role of woman in worship is not whether women should participate in ministry-they obviously should-but whether they should rule the Church. We now turn to that question.
IV. Male Priority in Government
Feminist, however, universally reject the patriarchal religion of the Bible. Nevertheless, male authority in the home and in the Church is founded on the order of creation and reinforced in the order of redemption.
God established a patriarchy by creating Adam first and the woman to help the man (Genesis 2:18, cited above). As Paul noted in a passage dealing with the role of men and women, one which demands its own study: "For man did not come from woman, but woman from man, neither was man created for woman, but woman for man" (1 Corinthians 11:8-9). Presumably, God designed patriarchy as his ideal form of government. Had he intended democracy he could just as easily have formed Eve and Adam at the same time and have said, "it is not good for the man or woman to be alone, I will make them to be helpers suitable to each other." If he wanted a matriarchy, he would have formed Eve first and created the husband to be a suitable helper to his wife. However, he created a patriarchy in which the husband has authority.
God prepares the husband for leadership before giving him his bride by having Adam name the living creatures (Genesis 2:19-20). In the ancient Near East, as today, naming is a form of leadership. For example, when the Israelites conquered Transjordan, they asserted their authority by renaming the rebuilt cities (Numbers 32:38), and Pharaoh Neco asserted his rule over Eliakim by renaming him Jehoiakim (2 Kings 23:34). After the Lord gave Adam his bride, Adam tactfully used the passive form of construction, presumably not to dominate, to give her generic name: "she shall be called woman..." (Genesis 2:23b) (21). After the Fall, he calls out her personal name, "Eve" (Genesis 3:20). In the rest of the Old Testament both parents name the children. (20)
As a result of the Fall and God's judgment upon them, the woman desires to rule her husband, and he seeks to dominate her (Genesis 3:16B) (21) The solution to this tragic power struggle that divides the home is the new creation in Christ, in which the husband humbles himself and in love serves his wife, and the wife submits herself to him in faithful obedience in everything.
The rest of Scripture sustains patriarchy, not democracy or matriarchy.
God, who is over all, represents himself by masculine names and titles, not feminine. He identifies himself as Father, Son and Spirit, not Parent, Child and Spirit, or Mother, Daughter and Spirit. Jesus taught his Church to address God as "Father" (Luke 4:2) and to baptize nations "in the name of Father, and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit" (Matthew 28:19). God's titles, are King, not Queen; Lord, not Mistress. (22) God, not mortals, has the right to name himself. Its inexcusable hubris on the part of mortals to change the images by which the eternal God chooses to represent himself. We cannot change his name or titles without committing idolatry for we will have re-imaged him in a way other than the metaphors and the incarnation by which he revealed himself. representations and incarnation are inseparable from his being. Moreover, in contrast to male imagery, one cannot introduce feminine imagery without introducing sexual connotations. In Hebrew grammar the masculine form is inclusive (i.e., with reference to animate beings it can be used of male and female), but the feminine form is marked (i.e., with reference to animate beings only the female is in view). (23)
In the mystery of Godhead, in which the three persons are both one and equal, the Son obeys the Father, and the Spirit obeys both. Paradoxically Jesus says both that "I and the Father are one" (John 10:28) and "the Father is greater than I." Jesus veiled his own glory to follow the path of humble obedience (Philippians 2:6-11). The idea that hierarchy is an evil that can be transcended is a failed Marxist notion, not biblical teaching.
Although God gave Israel prophetesses, he did not give them priestesses in contrast to other religions in the ancient Near East. Recall it was the priests duty to the teach the Law of the Lord to the people (Deuteronomy 17:11; 33:10)
A woman has the right to make vows to the LORD independently from her husband, as in the case of Hannah, but the husband, in the case of a married woman, and the father, in the case of a young daughter living in her father's house (Numbers 30:16), had the right to overrule it: "But if her husband overrules her on the day that he hears it, he shall make void her vow which she took ..., and the LORD will release her" (30:8). A wife or daughter cannot overrule the husband's or father's authority in the home by claiming she made a vow to the Lord, a higher authority than her male attachment, which she must obey. The Lord stands behind the authority of a husband or father. This is not because woman is inferior but to protect the government of the home. The vow of a widow or a divorcee is as binding on these unattached women as a vow is upon the man (Numbers 30:9).
It is on the spiritual foundation that husbands and wives submit to one another out of reverence for Christ that Paul commands wives to submit to their husbands: "Wives, submit to your husbands as to the Lord. For the husband is the head of the wife as Christ is the head of the church, so also wives should submit to their husbands in everything" (Ephesians 5:21-24). Peter holds up Sarah as an example of a godly wife. In her self-talk (cf. Genesis 18:12) she referred to Abraham as her lord: "For this is the way the holy women of the past who put their hope in God used to make themselves beautiful. They were submissive to their own husbands, like Sarah, who obeyed Abraham and called him her master" (1 Peter 3:1-6). If we want to be revolutionary, let's put "obey" back in the woman's wedding vows.
There are many texts in both testaments that teach husbands have authority over their wives. For example, "the elder must be the husband of one wife" (1 Timothy 3:2), never "... the wife of one husband." One cannot appoint a wife as a leader of the local church without upsetting this government for if a wife were an elder her husband would be subject to her authority: "Obey your leaders and submit to their authority" (Hebrews 13:7).
Deborah, however, who was married, is one clear exception to patriarchy (Judges 4:4-7). Probably, however, it is the exception that proves the rule. In addition to being a prophetess, Deborah was "judging" (i.e., "ruling") Israel. The narrator, however, makes his intention clear by carefully shaming the Israelite men at that time for their fear so that none dared to assume leadership. Note, for example, how Deborah shames Barak, the military commander of Israel's army, for his failure to assume leadership. After she mediated God's command to him to join battle with Sisera, commander of the Canaanite army, Barak replies: "If you go with me, I will go; but if you don't go with me, I won't go." To which Deborah responds, "Very well...I will go with you. But because of the way you are going about this (i.e., full of fear) the honor will not be yours, the LORD will hand Sisera over to a woman (i.e., to shame him (cf. Judges 9:54). Apparently, the LORD raised up this exceptional woman, who was full of faith, to disgrace the men of Israel for their lack of faith, which is essential to leadership in the holy nation. If so, the story aims to reprove unfaithful men for not taking leadership, not to present an alternative norm to male authority. The story also shows, however, that the Lord is above culture and not restricted by normative patriarchy.
We commend feminists for asserting the equality of women with men as equals in nature, dignity, gifts and ministry. However, we condemn the arrogance of those who autonomously name God, the world and self. We also contend against those who see marriage as a galling bondage and/or who look down upon motherhood within the structure of marriage as a lesser ministry than ministries outside the home. Finally, we find the insistence of feminists on the equality of wives with husbands in authority and leadership as unbiblical.
It is essential to the message of the gospel that husbands love their wives and that wives submit to the authority of their husbands. If husbands and wives are equal in leadership, how does the husband exemplify a new model of leadership wherein the ruler becomes a servant (Matt 20:25-28). And if a woman seeks to become empowered as an equal to her husband in authority, how does she show the submission of the Church to the Lord?
Tragically the elders in the Church and husbands in the home, often out of a distorted emphasis on their headship and their depreciation of the Spirit's gift that empower women to minister, have both consciously and unconsciously suppressed women and quenched the Spirit. The feminist perspective has rightly exposed this abuse.
Again, however, the problem is our failure to interpret the Bible accurately. The model of leadership is that of a servant. Jesus models the servant King who so loved his queen that he died for her. The willingness to do the grand gesture of dying for a loved one becomes a practical reality only to the extent that one practices self-surrendering services as a way of life. The "servant" empowers his wife to use her spiritual gifts to their fullest potential. On the other hand, the Bible instructs the wife to respect her husband as her lord, which entails obeying him in everything. It is important to note the Bible neither instructs the woman to manipulate the man to serve her, to be the proverbial "neck that turns the head," nor the husband to have his wife in subjection, to be the head that lords itself over the body. Serving and obeying in mutual subjection are inward beauties worked in our hearts, consciences, behaviors and customs by the Holy Spirit. These are ideals for which we strive, though recognizing we never fully attain them any more than other perfections of holiness. Our failure to realize them perfectly should be accompanied with repentance and renewed faith, not by cynicism, despair, or seeking new social structures.
I am a member of a church where I submit to women leaders because I am called upon to endeavor to keep the unity of the Spirit until we come to the full knowledge of Christ (Ephesians 4:1-13). It is wrong to divide the body of Christ, which confesses Jesus as Lord and believes in its heart that God raised him from the dead, on such non-moral issues as modes of baptism, eschatology, belief in the continuation or cessation of gifts, or the Church's form of government. However, I ask my church and others like it which I am full persuaded sincerely "want to find out what is acceptable to the Lord" (Ephesians 5:10), to reassess whether their practice of ordaining women to rule them has been impacted by the feminist perspective or by the biblical.
1. This article is an adaptation of a lecture given in Regent Summer School, 1992. By permission.
2. Mary A. Kassian, The Feminist Gospel: The Movement to Unite Feminism with the Church (Wheaton, Illinois: Crossway Books, 1992), p. ix.
3. Mary Daly, The Church and the Second Sex (Boston: Beacon Press, 1968), p. 58
4. Kassian, pp. 67
5. Kassian, pp. 87f.
6. Rosemary Radford Ruether, "Feminist Theology and Spirituality," Christian Feminism, p. 16, cited by Kassian, p. 140.
7. Kassian, p. 147.
8. Revelation 21 and 22 present the end of that history in images representing the Garden of Eden as regained.
9. God uses six feminine similes for himself (e.g., Isaiah 42:14).
10. Cited by Kassian, p. 141.
11. Abraham J. Heschel, The Prophets (New York and Evanston: Harper and Row, Publishers, 1962), p. 10.
12. Religious experience is the common denominator of all religions. See William James, The Varieties of Religious Experience: a study in human nature) (London, Bombay, and Calcutta: Longmans, Green, and Co., 1914).
13. Bruce K. Waltke, "Exegesis and the Spiritual Life: Theology as Spiritual Formation," Crux, 30/3 (September, 1994): 28-35.
14. See Bruce K. Waltke, "1 Timothy 2:8-15: Unique or Normative?" 28/1 (March, 1992) :22-27.
15. Anthony C. Thiselton, New Horizons in Hermeneutics (Grand Rapids, MI: Zondervan Publishing House, 1992), p.588
16. Richard John Neuhaus, "True Christian Feminism," National Review (November 25, 1988), p. 24.
17. D.J.A. Clines, "The Image of God in Man," Tyndale
Bulletin, 19 (1968):53-103.
Ibid., p. 84.
18. Ibid., p84.
19. Clarence J. Vos, Woman in Old Testament Worship (Delft: N.V. Verenige Drukkerijen Judels & Brinkman, 1968), p. 168
20. The naming of children is ascribed to woman 26 times, to men14 times, and to God 5 times.
21. I arrived at this interpretation independently from Susan T. Foh, Woman and the Word of God: A Response to Biblical Feminism (Presbyterian and Reformed Publishing Co., 1979), pp. 68f.
22. In Psalm 123:2 David uses the simile of a maid to a mistress, but none uses "mistress" as a title for God.
23. Bruce K. Waltke and M. O'Connor, An Introduction to Biblical Hebrew Syntax (Winona Lake, Indiana: Eisenbrauns, 1990), p. 108.
WOMEN PRAYING AND PROPHESYING
Our passage of Scripture in this message deals with the public worship life of the church. Let's jump right into some of the practical application of the passage for a moment, without considering any historical context or theological explanation of the issues. First Corinthians 11:4-6: "Every man who has something on his head while praying or prophesying, disgraces his head. But every woman who has her head uncovered while praying or prophesying, disgraces her head; for she is one and the same with her whose head is shaved. For if a woman does not cover her head, let her also have her hair cut off; but if it is disgraceful for a woman to have her hair cut off or her head shaved, let her cover her head." If we take this at face value, the men in our congregation are doing okay, but the women might be in trouble-I don't see many head-coverings.
On the recent trip that our pastors took to Romania, ministering in churches there and in three conferences with Romanian pastors, I realized how culturally determined both our dress and our deportment together in worship services are. In any Romanian congregation you choose to worship with, whether Catholic, Romanian Orthodox, or Protestant, the men are dressed plainly in suits and ties, usually dark colors. The women have their arms covered and their legs covered with long skirts-no slacks. They too are dressed in plain dark colors. Every woman's head in a Romanian church is covered by a scarf, shawl, or hat. The men and the women sit on opposite sides of the aisle in the congregation. Women are completely silent in the worship services. The men do all of the leading, praying, and preaching. Obviously, our lifestyle of worship at PBC is very different. There is no discernible dress code, except perhaps the code of diversity. Our women are not silent. The last two Sunday mornings that we've enjoyed together in worship here, gifted women have led us in music, prayer, worship, and Scripture reading. And just before Christmas, Kathy Means, our pastor for Children's Ministry, taught the word of God from this pulpit on a Sunday morning.
In all three of the conferences that we did with Pentecostal pastors, Baptist pastors, and Brethren elders in Romania, these issues of dress and deportment, specifically head-coverings, came up, for several reasons. For one, we were dealing with a passage in 1 Timothy 2 that talks about women's submitting to headship in the body of Christ, and immediately these pastors would jump to 1 Corinthians 11 and ask about head-coverings in the church. We were also open with them about how our pastoral staff includes both men and women who are spiritually gifted as pastor-teachers. And then these issues came up because some of the women in the Romanian churches are getting sort of feisty and wearing cute, colored hats to church. So the pastors have to deal with these issues.
Now let's back up and get a running start on the passage by putting those three verses we read into historical context, and by understanding Paul's theological explanation of those verses. In the closing section of the passage we looked at in the last message (Discovery Paper 4527), in the first couple of verses of chapter 11 Paul addressed hard issues. He addressed motivation for how we live life, serve one another, and minister. We could also use these verses to examine our attitudes about why we come to church, how we dress, and how we view our participation in our public life of worship at PBC, both as leaders and as members of the congregation, as men and as women.
In 11:2 Paul is going to conclude this little opening section with a wonderful word of commendation and encouragement to his Corinthian brothers and sisters. Let's read 10:31-11:2:
Whether, then, you eat or drink or whatever you do, do all to the glory of God. Give no offense either to Jews or to Greeks or to the church of God; just as I also please all men in all things, not seeking my own profit, but the profit of the many, that they may be saved. Be imitators of me, just as I also am of Christ. Now I praise you because you remember me in everything and hold firmly to the traditions, just as I delivered them to you.
This is Paul's motivational context for the discussion that is going to follow. The concern is that men and women worship God together in a way that is glorifying to him. The phrase in both verses 4 and 5 that we read earlier, "praying or prophesying," speaks of the context of corporate worship. Now, Corinth had incredible worship, vibrant with praise. It was probably the most exciting church Paul had a relationship with in all the empire. Every spiritual gift was in full expression, and there was much passion and energy, preaching, and teaching.
But we're going to see beginning here in chapter 11 and going all the way through chapter 14 that Paul was concerned about disorder. There were serious problems in the worship life of this congregation. There were wrong motives at work in some of the people, self-aggrandizement instead of concern for God's glory driving a lot of the participation.
In this message we're going to examine the confusion over women's participation in worship. In the next message we'll look at the problems surrounding the Lord's table. In the following two messages we'll look at chapter 12, where Paul addresses the confusion about spiritual gifting and the nature of the body at work. But here in 11:2 Paul begins with encouragement and commendation. He's not flattering them; his praise is really sincere. There might have been something out of line in their lives when they gathered together, but the love and respect that most of them had for Paul was genuine, and he knew that. And even though there was confusion over some of these Biblical traditions regarding worship that Paul had taught them, he trusted that they really did want to submit to his apostolic authority, and so in these verses he patiently corrects their misunderstandings with spiritual principles from the word of God.
THE SIGNIFICANCE OF THE HEAD-COVERING
Now, as you can tell from verses 4-6, which we read at the beginning, there was confusion in public worship over the freedom that women had to pray and to prophesy. Some apparently were exercising this freedom more than they should have in refusing to wear the head-coverings that were normative in that historical setting.
Let me give you some context for this. The gospel that Jesus offered was revolutionary in terms of the freedom and equality it offered to women, children, and the slave population of the Roman Empire. Christianity proclaimed that all people were on equal footing before the Creator God, and that all believers were one in Jesus Christ. The local church was the only community in the Roman Empire that welcomed all people regardless of nationality, social class, gender, or economic status.
If you think about the study that we've come through to this point in 1 Corinthians, and remember what that church was like, it really isn't surprising to find out that some of the new believers in Corinth would carry this radical freedom in Christ to excess. So some of the women flaunted their freedom in Christ, refusing to cover their heads in public worship. Eastern society at that time was very jealous over its women. And except for temple prostitutes and high-class courtesans of wealthy Corinthian men, women tended to wear their hair long, and out in public they wore a scarf or a shawl-like covering over their head. Mistresses or temple prostitutes might shave their heads or wear their hair close-cropped without any covering at all. Across Jewish and Greek and Roman cultures, the head-covering was a symbol of sexual purity. And for a married woman, it was a symbol of her loyalty to her husband, of her acceptance of his leadership in the relationship. It would be like the wedding bands that a man and a woman wear today. So for a Christian woman in the church to appear in public without that covering, let alone to pray or to share the word in worship, was both culturally offensive, and from Paul's perspective, confusing to nonbelievers who were trying to understand what this new community of faith stood for in terms of values and relationships.
THE SPIRITUAL PRINCIPLE OF HEADSHIP AND SUBMISSION
So Paul responds by explaining a Biblical tradition, or an ordinance or teaching. God has defined a difference between men and women in his economy. Each have a proper place. There are appropriate customs to symbolize the relationships. In verses 3-6 Paul is going to introduce a universal spiritual principle, that of headship and the response of submission. He is going to define the principle in verse 3 and then apply it specifically in Corinth in verses 4-6. Verse 3:
But I want you to understand that Christ is the head of every man, and the man is the head of a woman, and God is the head of Christ.
This principle is foundational for order in the church. There is a divinely ordained pattern for certain relationships in the Christian community, and there is a definite order of headship here. God the Father is head over Christ the Son. Christ is head over the man. And the man is head over the woman. And even though there's a clear difference of function for each person and each place in the order, there's no hint, in either God the Father's relationship to Christ or in the man's relationship to the woman, of inequality or superiority in nature. But this order does imply leadership responsibility and authority.
In the letter to the Ephesians, Paul calls Christ the head (the same word, kephale), of the church, which is his body. It means that Jesus is the leader of the church. He has the right to set the ultimate direction of that relationship. Yet when Jesus was here on earth carrying out his redemptive ministry, he was always in submission to his heavenly Father and did that which pleased his Father, even though he has always been equal to the Father as deity. In the same way, the woman is submissive to the man even though in Christ she has full equality with the man.
Now, if you look carefully at that first phrase in verse 3, it talks about the headship of Jesus Christ over men, and implicitly, our submission to him. He is the Lord. And men are called to exercise their headship, if you will, the same way that Jesus Christ exercises his. In Mark 10:42-45 Jesus explained to his disciples the nature of the leadership they were to have in the church: "And calling them to Himself, Jesus said to them, 'You know that those who are recognized as rulers of the Gentiles lord it over them; and their great men exercise authority over them. But it is not so among you, but whoever wishes to become great among you shall be your servant; and whoever wishes to be first among you shall be slave of all. For even the Son of Man did not come to be served, but to serve, and to give His life as a ransom for many.'" That's the leadership that men are called to: servanthood, slavery, living sacrificially for the good of others.
Now, Biblically, there are really only two spheres in which men have a right to exercise headship. One is Christian marriage, in which the husband is the head of the wife (Ephesians 5; 1 Peter 3). The other is the church (1 Timothy 2-3), in which a group of elders who are men are called to submit to Jesus Christ as Lord and to submit to one another, and then that group of men is to serve the body sacrificially with their leadership.
APPLICATION IN CORPORATE WORSHIP
Paul applies the spiritual principle of headship and submission specifically in verses 4-6 in the context of praying and prophesying in public worship.
Every man who has something on his head while praying or prophesying, disgraces his head. But every woman who has her head uncovered while praying or prophesying, disgraces her head; for she is one and the same with her whose head is shaved. For if a woman does not cover her head, let her also have her hair cut off; but if it is disgraceful for a woman to have her hair cut off or her head shaved, let her cover her head.
The first important point I want to make from those three verses is that men and women were equally free to exercise ministry, to pray and prophesy when the church gathered. The issue Paul was concerned with was that of heart attitude. As we're going to see in chapter 14, prophesying is very close to what we would call teaching or preaching today. It's reflecting or illuminating the word of God. Women in the early church who had the gift of prophecy were free to exercise it. They were also permitted to pray in public meetings. But in 1 Timothy 3, Paul doesn't permit women to be elders. In 1 Timothy 2 he doesn't permit women to usurp authority over the men who were in leadership of the church.
But again, at the heart of Paul's concern here is the ministry of the word in public worship. And so with that setting, how men and women dressed and what they looked like was important. Paul says in that first-century Corinthian setting that men should not have their heads covered, and women should have their heads covered. That conformed to then-current cultural standards, and it was symbolic of their acceptance of the spiritual principle of headship and submission. It expressed the men's submission to the headship of Jesus Christ, and the women's submission to the spiritual leadership of their husbands and to church leadership.
The disgrace Paul mentions that could result if these public conventions were ignored would be (1) a distraction or confusion for other people in worship, (2) the dishonoring of the uncovered woman's husband in his role as spiritual leader, (3) an undermining of the spiritual authority of the elders in the church, and (4) a disappointment to the Lord, who established this timeless principle of headship and submission, and who was reading the hearts of the rebellious men or women who refused to conform. Now what Paul does in verses 7-16 is give an explanation of this spiritual principle of headship and submission. He makes three different arguments to defend this tradition or ordinance. In verses 7-12 he offers a Biblical argument from the order of creation. In verses 13-15 he offers a common-sense argument from the pattern of nature, as he calls it. And finally in verse 16 he offers an argument from apostolic authority.
HEADSHIP AND SUBMISSION IN THE CREATED ORDER
Let's look first at this argument from the order of creation. We'll read verses 7-9, where Paul briefly summarizes God's creativity at work in his purposes for men and women.
For a man ought not to have his head covered, since he is the image and glory of God; but the woman is the glory of man. For man does not originate from woman, but woman from man. For indeed man was not created for the woman's sake, but woman for the man's sake.
This principle of headship and submission has been true since God created the world. And the creation narratives in Genesis show that both man and woman equally bear the image and the glory of God. Genesis 1:26-27: "Then God said, 'Let Us make man in Our image, according to Our likeness'...And God created man in His own image, in the image of God He created him; male and female He created them." Genesis 5:1-2 again summarizes the creation order: "In the day when God created man, He made him in the likeness of God. He created them male and female, and He blessed them and named them Man [Adam] in the day when they were created." But in Genesis 2 when God created Eve, he took her from Adam's rib. So Paul says she was created from the man. Genesis 2 also tells us that God created woman to meet a specific need that man had. There was an incompleteness in man. He created her to be a help, a strength, a corresponding contribution that man was desperately in need of. And because of that, in addition to reflecting the glory of God, Paul says in 1 Corinthians 11:7, she also reflects the glory of man. The woman will glorify God, and she will also bring glory to the man by submitting to God's order. And again, this priority of creation doesn't imply male superiority or female inferiority. We are equal, but we are called to different functions in leadership and response. Because God established this order of creation, it can't be explained away as culturally conditioned. Paul goes on in verse 10:
Therefore the woman ought to have a symbol of authority on her head, because of the angels.
A Christian woman's head-covering is a sign or a symbol of her submission to the principle of headship, and that humility before the Lord and her husband then gives her the spiritual authority to pray and prophesy in church, to exercise ministry in the freedom of the Spirit. I'm honestly not sure what the angels have to do with this, but the Scriptures tell us that angels are attentive observers of church life and practice. In Isaiah 6:2 we're told that angels veil their faces in humility when they worship before the throne of God. Perhaps Paul is encouraging women to worship with that same submissive humility as those angelic ministers.
Now in verses 11-12 there's a wonderful, strong emphasis on the mutuality of men and women in marriage in the church. Paul is still arguing from the creation order, and from the beginning, it was clear that there was mutual interdependence.
However, in the Lord, neither is woman independent of man, nor is man independent of woman. For as the woman originates from the man, so also the man has his birth through the woman; and all things originate from God.
The phrase "in the Lord" in verse 11 clearly envisions Christian marriage and life in the body of Christ (as opposed to relationships in the world). And this mutual dependence of man and woman speaks of full equality in personhood. Peter says that we are "fellow heirs of the grace of life" (1 Peter 3:7). We can't get along without each other. Paul is concerned to promote love between the sexes. Neither of them, because of their different positions or advantages, should consider themselves better, or treat the other with contempt or condescension. Paul says in verse 12 that this mutual dependence of the man and the woman is grounded in creation. The first woman, Eve, was originally created from the man. But from that point on, every single man is birthed by a mother. He says their inter-dependence is also grounded in the Lord himself. All things are from God, which gives us another reason for humility in the relationships between believing men and women.
FEMININE APPEARANCE AND SUBMISSION
Now let's look at the second argument, in which Paul appeals to common sense, or what is readily observable as a pattern in nature. Verses 13-15:
Judge for yourselves: is it proper for a woman to pray to God with head uncovered? Does not even nature itself teach you that if a man has long hair, it is a dishonor to him, but if a woman has long hair, it is a glory for her? For her hair is given to her for a covering.
Now, if I were writing this, I probably wouldn't have appealed to nature. But I'm not an inspired apostle. Paul says that if these Corinthians just looked around them at the natural lengths and styles of men's and women's hair, then they could decide for themselves this issue of how women's head-coverings symbolized their submission to the principle of headship. In this regard, men and women are generally distinguishable. The Greek word in the text for long hair can also mean beautiful hair or beautifully braided long hair. And since the Bible nowhere says exactly how long hair ought to be, I think Paul is just talking about how women naturally tend toward longer, beautifully styled hair. In 1 Timothy 2 and 1 Peter 3, Paul and Peter, respectively, tell about the beautifully attractive qualities of women's hair. Paul says a woman's hair is her glory. He doesn't say a man's hair is his glory. And he says a woman's hair represents a natural head-covering that God has given her, even if she doesn't have on a scarf or a shawl. I think beautifully styled hair is appropriate for women, and inappropriate for men. Women are concerned with beauty, and men are concerned with utility, by and large. There are exceptions, of course, on both sides. But Paul is concerned that there not be confusion of the sexes. He is ruling out androgyny or any kind of unisex appearance that would confuse people. Paul says that it's not only common but good and right for women to wear longer hair than men, and to have distinctively feminine hair styles, because it symbolizes in some way their submission to the lordship of Christ and their willingness to follow the men that God has put in authority in their lives.
We're talking about what's normative, and where custom dictates it, Paul says women ought to wear proper head-coverings to distinguish themselves as submissive to God's principle of headship. As I've traveled to different parts of the world, I've noticed that this basic principle of headship applies in every culture, but the way it's demonstrated differs from place to place. The important thing here is the submission of the heart to the Lord, and the public manifestation of obedience to God's order.
THE AUTHORITY OF THE APOSTLES
The final appeal is to apostolic authority in verse 16:
But if one is inclined to be contentious, we have no other practice, nor have the churches of God.
As in almost every age and every church, some of the believers in Corinth weren't satisfied with God's order of priority. They wanted to disregard it or modify it to suit themselves. Paul anticipates the objection to what he's just taught, and he declares that neither God, who is represented by the apostles, nor the faithful congregations in his churches will recognize any other foundational principles of leadership.
Now let me try to tie this together in conclusion. The churches around the world may share common spiritual problems, and Biblical principles are provided for universal solutions. But the local, historical, and cultural manifestations of the problems are not universal. The ways we live, function, dress, and behave in Palo Alto, California are different from the ways of our brothers and sisters in Cluj, Romania. In our studies in chapters 8-10 Paul gave instruction concerning the eating of meat offered to idols. The spiritual problem there was the use of freedom in Christ. The cultural, historical expression was the idol temples of Corinth. We don't live in an age or cultural setting where we have to deal with meat offered to idols (although there are some Christians who live in Asia who may have to face that issue). But every one of us has to deal with the problem of the exercise of our Christian liberty in our own cultural setting on the edge of the twenty-first century.
And just as with meat offered to idols, there was nothing in the wearing or not wearing of the head-covering itself that was right or wrong. Some of the women in Corinth, to their credit, had come to understand that. The spiritual problem was the rebellion of some women against the God-ordained roles. In Corinth that rebellion was demonstrated by their praying and prophesying with their heads uncovered. Dress and hairstyle are largely cultural, and unless what a person wears is sexually suggestive, or it indicates real gender confusion, it has no moral or spiritual significance. Paul is not laying down a universal mandate that Christian women should always worship with their heads covered. It's the spiritual principle of women's submission to the headship of husbands and to the leadership of the church that Paul is teaching in this passage, not any particular external mark or symbol of that submission. You see, the issue is not what we're wearing on our heads, but what is in our hearts. Remember, the Scriptures say that humans look at the outward appearance, but God is always looking at our hearts (1 Samuel 16:7). What counts is the spiritual reality, not the symbol.
I am very grateful for men and women at PBC who model this beautifully complementary relationship in their marriages and in their participation in the life of the body here. I'm thankful for men who have repented of lording it over women and are learning to serve women sacrificially as Jesus does. I'm really grateful for women here who have repented of competition with men and are learning to creatively give us the strong help that we desperately need, supportively and encouragingly. I've watched many marriages, both younger couples and older couples, and some of them have taught Candy and me how better to submit to each other out of reverence for Christ.
I am very grateful for the spiritually gifted women whom God has placed in leadership here at PBC. We shared, as I said, in all three of the Romanian pastoral conferences the spiritual health and life and blessing God has given us as we've worked together on a pastoral staff of both men and women who are learning the dynamics of complementary relationships, affirming the goodness of being created male and female. When I got here twenty years ago, our staff was a hundred percent male, and the staff meetings were rowdy and rough-and-tumble, having the dynamics of a men's locker room. I loved the first generation of leaders here, and I'm grateful for the years I had as a young man. But the spiritual dynamics at work now among the leadership are much healthier, much more life-giving.
Every one of us needs to re-examine our understanding of God's plan for us as men and women in light of this passage. Remember, above all else we're to be sold out to living to the glory of God. Men and women alike are called to submission to his leadership. As in Corinth, the world is watching us to see how our relationships work, to see if the gospel that we proclaim mediates love and mutual submission in our relationships as men and women. The question is, do the men reflect the loving headship of Christ in their marriages and where God has called them to leadership in the church? And do the women reflect the loving submission of Christ in their marriages and in relationship to the leadership of the church?
I want to close with a reading from Jesus' high-priestly prayer in John 17:17-23. Watch very carefully the fluid movement in Jesus' thinking. He is equal with his Father in nature, in personhood. But we see his submission to his Father in his redemptive ministry on earth, in the saving function that God called him to.
"Sanctify them in the truth; Thy word is truth. As Thou didst sent Me into the world [here is Jesus' submission to the Father], I also have sent them into the world [here he is functioning as the head]. And for their sakes I sanctify Myself [by going to the cross the next day, giving up his life], that they themselves also may be sanctified in truth. I do not ask in behalf of these alone, but for those also who believe in Me through their word; that they may all be one, even as Thou, Father, art in Me and I in Thee; that they also may be in Us; that the world may believe that Thou didst send Me. And the glory which Thou hast given Me I have given to them; that they may be one, just as We are one; I in them, and Thou in Me, that they may be perfected in unity, that the world may know that Thou didst send Me, and didst love them, even as Thou didst love Me."
Catalog No. 4528
May 17, 1998
Above Messages: Copyright (C) 1995 Discovery Publishing, a ministry of Peninsula Bible Church. These data files are the sole property of Discovery Publishing, a ministry of Peninsula Bible Church. They may be copied only in its entirety for circulation freely without charge. All copies of these data files must contain the above copyright notice. These data files may not be copied in part, edited, revised, copied for resale or incorporated in any commercial publications, recordings, broadcasts, performances, displays or other products offered for sale, without the written permission of Discovery Publishing. Requests for permission should be made in writing and addressed to Discovery Publishing, 3505 Middlefield Road, Palo Alto, CA. 94306-3695.
See Also: The Christian Think tank: Glenn Miller: Christian Distinctives: Women in the Heart of God
November 21, 2002. December 28, 2002. May 15, 2003.