Throughout the centuries, women have been muzzled by the church because of a few key and challenging Scriptures. Over the next few posts, I plan to look at some of these.
Photo Credit: Katie Tegtmeyer (Creative Commons)
All of the challenging Scriptures that appear to limit women’s activity in the church were written by Paul. Was he a misogynist? Were his statements purely cultural?
What does one do with a Scripture like this:
Women should be silent during the church meetings. It is not proper for them to speak. They should be submissive, just as the law says. If they have any questions, they should ask their husbands at home, for it is improper for women to speak in church meetings. (1 Corinthians 14:34-35)
At first glance, these verses are totally clear. Women are to keep silent in the church. I know of churches where the women literally don’t open their mouths because they take this passage so literally. And I don’t believe, for the most part, that men are being deliberate misogynists when they limit what a woman can do in church. All of us want to obey the Scriptures.
For me, it’s extremely important that we interpret these challenging Scriptures with integrity. If I don’t like what they say, that is not so important as living with what God asks of me. But what if verses like these have been misunderstood?
In 1 Corinthians 11:1-16, (no matter what one thinks about head coverings), it gives instructions on how both men and women are to wear their hair when they pray and prophesy. The 1 Corinthians 14 passage, therefore, cannot be taken literally in all circumstances. Women can pray and prophesy in church meetings.
In an earlier verse in chapter 14:26, the word adelphoi meaning brothers and sisters is used:
Well, my brothers and sisters, let’s summarize. When you meet together, one will sing, another will teach, another will tell some special revelation God has given, one will speak in tongues, and another will interpret what is said. But everything that is done must strengthen all of you.
Most modern versions of the Bible accurately translate adelphoi as brothers and sisters although it technically means brothers. However, where this word is used in the context of community, it is generally taken to mean both genders. For example, in Romans 16:17, adelphoi is used again and in this context, it obviously refers to both men and women.
So what do these challenging verses mean? In 1 Corinthians 7:1 Paul notes that his letter is an answer to various questions they have posed him through a letter the Corinthians wrote to him. This is going to become important as we look at this passage more closely in the next post.