For a long time now, modern Churchgoers have questioned the motive and, even more seriously, the guiding Hand of the Holy Spirit behind Paul’s descriptions in 1 Corinthians 14 and 1Timothy 2 regarding the proper role of women in Church. Was Paul a misogynist, as some have claimed? Was he really listening to the voice of God when he wrote those passages?

“Let your women keep silence in the churches; for it is not permitted unto them to speak, but they are commanded to bed under obedience, as also saith the law. And if they will learn anything, let them ask their husbands at home; for it is a shame for women to speak in the church.”

“Let the woman learn in silence with all subjection. But I permit not a woman to teach, nor to usurp authority over the man, but to be in silence. For Adam was first formed, then Eve.”

Given Paul’s beautiful description of the marriage between Christ and His Church in Ephesians 5:22-33, it is highly doubtful that Paul was a misogynist.

“Wives, submit yourselves unto your own husbands, as unto the Lord. For the husband is the head of the wife, even as Christ is the head of the church; and he is the savior of the body. Therefore, as the church is subject unto Christ, so let the wives be to their own husbands in everything. Husbands, love your wives, even as Christ also loved the church, and gave himself for it, that he might sanctify and cleanse it with the washing of water by the word; that he might present it to himself a glorious church, not having spot, or wrinkle, or any such thing; but that it should be holy and without blemish. So ought men to love their wives as their own bodies. He that loveth his wife loveth himself. For no man ever yet hated his own flesh, but nourisheth and cherisheth it, even as the Lord the church; for we are members of his body, of his flesh, and of his bones.

“For this cause shall a man leave his father and mother, and shall be joined unto his wife, and they two shall be one flesh. This is a great mystery, but I speak concerning Christ and the church.

“Nevertheless, let every one of you in particular so love his wife even as himself; and the wife, see that she reverence her husband.”

It is inconceivable, to my mind, that Paul could have written the above passage under an attitude of disdain toward women, or worse, a rebellious streak of independence from God. It is far more likely that here, as well as in the two passages cited earlier, that Paul wrote under the guidance of the Holy Spirit, who had something more profound to impart to the reader of Scripture than we have so far been able to grasp.

The problem with attempting to attribute Paul’s discussions of the woman’s role in Church to going off the reservation is that he was not the only one in Scripture to say what he did. Isaiah 3:12 and 1 Peter 3:1-5 have much the same to say:

“As for my people, children are their oppressors, and women rule over them. O my people, they who lead thee cause thee to err, and destroy the way of thy paths.”

“In the same manner, ye wives, be in subjection to your own husbands that, if any obey not the word, they also may without the word be won by the behavior of the wives, while they behold your chaste conduct coupled with fear; whose adorning, let it not be that outward adorning of braiding the hair, and of the wearing of gold, or of putting on of apparel, but let it be the hidden person of the heart in that which is not corruptible, even the ornament of a meek and quite spirit, which is in the sight of God of great price. For after this manner in the old time the holy women also, who trusted in God, adorned themselves, being in subjection unto their own husbands.”

There is a rather commonplace answer to this issue that seems to be more female-friendly than a first reading of Scripture would suggest, and without overtly contradicting the Bible. It was stated quite nicely by James Rutz on page 122 of his book Mega Shift, and reflects the consensus of many theologians:

“We are told that ‘it is a shame for women to speak in the church.’ (1 Corinthians 14:35) Paul was not expounding on the topic of qualifications to be a pulpeteer; he was discussing orderliness vs. confusion in meetings. He was referring to the annoying, idle chatter (lalein, lalein) that occurred when illiterate first-century women were clumped together and left to figure out what on earth was going on by themselves. This word for ‘speak’ can also mean ‘an extended or random harangue,’ and who needs that?”

In a double-asterisk footnote on page 125, James Rutz also comments on legitimate Church gatherings where circumstances preclude the attendance of menfolk. To that, I respond by pointing to Scriptural examples of women legitimately performing male roles when the men fail to step up to the plate. Look, for example, at the story of the prophetess Deborah (Judges 4) for confirmation of that notion.

If that answer is satisfactory to the reader, I won’t argue to the contrary. Go for it, with my blessings.

But, knowing from 2 Peter 1:20 and 21 and from Paul himself in 2 Timothy 3:16 and 17 that all Scripture is inspired of the Holy Spirit and applies to all generations, I sense that something much more profound and supportive of the dignity of womanhood than a simple irritation is in play here. Perhaps a major clue to our understanding of Paul’s words is encapsulated in Ephesians 5:33: “. . .let every one of you. . .so love his wife even as himself; and the wife, see that she reverence her husband.” Notice in this sentence the different roles played by the man and his wife: the man loves, even sacrificially, while the woman reverences him. This difference harmonizes with the difference in roles spelled out for male and female from the very beginning in Genesis 2:

“And the Lord God said, It is not good that the man should be alone; I will make him an help fit for him. . . And the Lord God caused a deep sleep to fall upon Adam, and he slept: and he took one of his ribs, and closed up the flesh instead thereof; and the rib, which the Lord God had taken from man, made he a woman, and brought her unto the man. And Adam said, This is now bone of my bones, and flesh of my flesh; she shall be called Woman, because she was taken out of Man. Therefore shall a man leave his father and his mother, and shall cleave unto his wife, and they shall be one flesh.”

Out of this passage one can quickly discern a significant differences in roles: the man is to be the initiator, and the woman the responder. We can directly understand this difference today in a more practical and earthly setting, merely by observing the two genders in their actions and interactions among others. This difference is more basic than cultural: it is the way that we were designed by God. It has nothing to do with equality; male and female have exactly the same standing before God, as Paul noted in Galatians 3:28:

“There is neither Jew nor Greek, here is neither bond nor free, there is neither male nor female; for ye are all one in Christ Jesus.”

Scripture also is quick to point out that the man’s role involves the burden of responsibility, to the point of sacrifice, and that should a man fail to assume his proper role, it is perfectly acceptable for a woman to take his place. To back that statement up, I again refer the reader to the example of Deborah in Judges 4.

God made male and female different for the purpose of harmony: the woman serves as a complementary other to the man. A responsive woman performs that purpose as a complementary other to the initiator man.

In my opinion the issue extends beyond the complementary way that God designed men and women. According to Genesis 1:26 and 27,

“And God said, Let us make man in our image, after our likeness; and let them have dominion over the fish of the sea, and over the fowl of the air, and over the cattle, and over all the earth, and over every creeping thing that creepeth upon the earth. So God created man in his own image, in the image of God created he him; male and female created he them.”

This passage, along with the story of Eve’s creation out of Adam in Genesis 2, appears to point back to the very form in which the Godhead exists, with the Holy Spirit interacting with the Divine Will that we know as the Father as His responsive Other, the Divine Means. If in fact there is truth to this perceived connection, and if indeed the Holy Spirit is functionally feminine as I strongly suspect, Paul’s demand of women that they remain silent during Church services represents nothing less than the call for women to behave as proper types of the Holy Spirit.

What an honor it would be for Christian women to represent the Holy Spirit! If such is the case, as I believe with my heart, the passages in Paul cited above, rather than maligning womanhood, exalts this gender with an awesome connection to God.


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