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Based on what we discussed previously, what then do we make of the troubling verses (1 Corinthians 14:34 and 1 Timothy 2:11-12) that command women to be silent in the churches? First of all, we must interpret those verses in light of what we have established—that there were women in leadership position of the church. Obviously, Paul is not writing to them so he must be addressing another issue entirely—the women who were loud and unruly during the service, causing disorder and confusion.
Let’s talk about the Church at Corinth – It seems that every large city has at least one pocket where prostitutes, strippers, gamblers, and drug dealers hang out. In New York, it may be Times Square; in San Francisco, the North Beach district; in New Orleans, Bourbon Street; and in Las Vegas, it’s probably everywhere. In the ancient world, the whole city of Corinth was known for that kind of lifestyle. Romans made the Corinthians the butt of dirty jokes, and playwrights consistently portrayed them as drunken brawlers. The Greek verb “to Corinthianize” meant to live shamelessly and immorally. Everyone knew what the Corinthians worshiped: money and the kinky things it could buy. Money flowed freely, for Corinth straddled one of the Roman Empire’s most vital trade routes. This city was a sprawling open-air market, filled with slaves, Orientals, Jews, Greeks, Egyptians, sailors, athletes and gamblers. Yet Corinth was no blue-collar town. It had a population of 700,000, second only to Rome’s, and as the capital of a large province, the city hosted a parade of Roman diplomats and dignitaries. For their religious ideal, the fun-loving Corinthians adopted Venus, the goddess of love. A temple built in her honor employed more than 1,000 prostitutes.
Because of all these influences, Corinth loomed as the one city “least likely to convert” to the Christian faith. What crazy cults and new religions did spring up there quickly gave in to the prevailing good-time atmosphere. The mighty Paul, reeling from one of his most difficult missionary assignments in Athens, came to Corinth “in weakness and fear, and with much trembling” (1 Corinthians 2:3). He knew its strategic importance: if the gospel could take root there, it could transplant anywhere. Paul worked in Corinth 18 months. To everyone’s surprise, the church he founded became one of the largest in the first century. But several years later, he heard reports that the church, true to its city’s heritage, had broken out in a series of spiritual ills.
When Paul wrote the Corinthians, he was dealing with a church that was very disorderly in their services. Much of the letter was spent correcting excesses and abuses. Some of these pertained to women in particular and some were to the entire church. Paul is not being prejudiced against women when he instructs the Corinthian women to keep silence. In the early church the seating arrangement was quite different from our modern day churches. Men were seated on one side of the church while the women and children were seated on the opposite side. This is still practiced in many cultures today.
The women of Christ’s day were generally uneducated and usually only the men were privileged with an education. Due to this situation, when the church met the women were tempted to shout across the room and ask their husbands the meaning of whatever was being taught. This disturbed the service.
Paul was simply saying during the service, “Women, keep your children quiet and you be quiet, and if you have anything to ask your husbands, wait until you get home.” Because of the new equality that Christianity brought to women, it could be that some of them were taking their freedom too far, to the point of being obnoxious.
When Paul wrote to Timothy, he gave him a similar directive. Again, it is important to understand the context in which the letter was written. In 1 Timothy, a careful reader becomes aware that many severe heresies and false teachings that were being dealt with. We can draw a conclusion here that many of the proponents and victims of the false teachings were women.
Timothy pastored in Ephesus, and it has been suggested that goddess worship might have played a large part in Paul dealing so severely with the women. Ephesus was a primary center of the worship of Diana or Artemis. The heresies being taught might have suggested that women were authoritative over men and had higher access to spiritual knowledge than men did. Regardless of the particulars, in both cases we can see Paul is dealing with specific incidents in specific churches for very particular reasons.
We must understand that many of Paul’s epistles dealt with local problems and his commandments are not meant to be taken as “commandments” across the board for all situations. Rather, we are to seek God for the basic principal that needs to be incorporated in our churches. Because of Old Testament precedents that had already been set, apparently it never occurred to Paul to re-establish the case for women in ministry. Why would he need to? The early church took it as a matter of course that Jesus would call and ordain anyone He chose—and that settled it! As a matter of fact, the Bible mentions a prophetess who was in the Temple when Jesus was brought there as a baby (see Luke 2:25-36).
Paul’s writings are sometimes misunderstood today because we do not know all of the details that led him to write as he did. We must rely on the Holy Spirit, and the rest of the testimony of Scripture to interpret how we are to apply these things to our everyday lives. Scripture should always be compared with other Scripture and the context taken into consideration. Even in Paul’s day, there were those who tried to twist the meaning of his words.
2 Peter 3:15-16 – “And account that the longsuffering of our Lord is salvation; even as our beloved brother Paul also according to the wisdom given unto him hath written unto you; As also in all his epistles, speaking in them of these things; in which are some things hard to be understood, which they that are unlearned and unstable wrest, as they do also the other scriptures, unto their own destruction.” What Peter is saying is that Paul’s letters contain some things that are hard to understand, which ignorant and unstable people distort, as they do other Scriptures, to their own destruction.
Another associate of Paul’s Lydia (Acts 16:14-15), a seller of purple dye, opened her home for ministry (Acts 16:40), as did many other Christian women in the Roman Empire, including the “elect lady” to whom John addressed his second epistle. Close examination of 2 John would suggest that she was functioning in a pastoral capacity, as would also have been the case of Lydia (Acts 16:40), Nympha was also Pastor of a Home Church (Colossians 4:15), and Chloe (1 Corinthians 1:11).
It is a fair conclusion that the testimony of the bulk of Scripture, church history and God’s anointing upon them, all speak plainly for women being able to fulfill all positions of the five-fold offices of apostle, prophet, pastor, evangelist and teacher.
Hasn’t it always been a strange doctrine that will allow women to go to foreign mission fields and teach heathen men, but will not allow “heathen” men at home to be taught by the same women! It makes absolutely no sense to think that a female who is learned in the Scriptures cannot teach a male who is unlearned. Additionally, it is acceptable for many women to teach Sunday school to children, and for mothers to teach their sons. Where do we draw the line and say to women that they can no longer teach a male once they reach a certain age? This may seem like a ridiculous scenario, yet there are those in the church who teach along these lines. In fact, church people caused all of the problems during Jesus’ day. What does that tell us today”
At this point, you may be thinking to yourself, I understand what you are saying, but there are still some questions that need answers. For example, if Jesus wanted women to minister, how come all of His disciples were men? This question is actually raised from a misunderstanding of the word “disciple.” A disciple is a follower, supporter, believer, pupil, etc. An apostle is a messenger; the persons Jesus originally ordained to go spread the gospel.
John 11:1-4 – Jesus had many women disciples. These include Mary and Martha (John 11:1-4), and many other references as well. Mary and Martha, along with their brother Lazarus, were among Jesus’ closest friends.
Luke 8:1-3 – “And it came to pass afterward, that he went throughout every city and village, preaching and showing the glad tidings of the kingdom of God: and the twelve were with him and certain women, which had been healed of evil spirits and infirmities, Mary called Magdalene, out of whom went seven devils, and Joanna the wife of Chuza Herod’s steward, and Susanna, and many others, which ministered unto him of their substance.”
In John 1:1-42, we see that it is a Samaritan woman who leads a large population of her community to Jesus.
Why didn’t Jesus choose any women to be among His twelve original apostles? It is my belief that Jesus could not chose women to be among the 12 for a variety of reasons. (1) During that time, it was difficult for men to preach the gospel without being beaten so what kind of a problem would it have created if women were doing it? (2) Women were not considered equal to men and it was hard enough getting men to listen to other men, let alone trying to get them to listen to a woman. (3) He could not choose women to be among the twelve because it would not be wisdom for men and women to be traveling about together when any of them were single. It just wouldn’t look right.
Although the scriptures are not very clear, some believe that the 12 apostles fulfilled the “type and shadow” of the twelve patriarchs, so they had to be equal to men (Revelation 21:12). The twelve patriarchs I am referring to are the sons of Abraham – Reuben, Simeon, Levi, Judah, Issachar, Zebulun, Dan, Joseph, Benjamin, Naphtali, Gad and Asher (1 Chronicles 2:1-2).
Just in case there is still a little doubt about God’s calling of women in the ministry, Acts 2:17-21 contains the promise from the Prophet Joel. This prophesy was initially fulfilled at Pentecost, and as we draw closer to the End, we can expect to see it fulfilled in even greater measures.
Acts 2:17-21, “And it shall come to pass in the last days, saith God, I will pour out my Spirit upon all flesh and your sons and your daughters shall prophesy, and your young men shall see visions, and your old men shall dream dreams. And on my servants and on my handmaidens I will pour out in those days of my Spirit, and they shall prophesy. And I will show wonders in heaven above, and signs in the earth beneath; blood, and fire, and vapor of smoke: The sun shall be turned into darkness, and the moon into blood, before that great and notable day of the Lord come: and it shall come to pass, that whosoever shall call on the name of the Lord shall be saved.”
Well, that’s my take on Women in Ministry.
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