Another look at the challenging Scriptures on women (part 1)

One of the main reasons that women are so restricted within the church is that certain Scriptures apparently forbid their taking any role of significance.  And all of us, both men and women, want to obey the Bible.  But these challenging verses can, with integrity, be understood differently. 

Let’s take, for example, this passage from 1 Corinthians 14.  At first reading it is quite clear: women are not to speak in church!

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 to ask, let them ask their husbands at home, for it is improper for women to speak in church meetings (verses 34-35).

The first clue that there might be some other interpretation than the obvious one is the fact that nowhere does the Old Testament talk about women being submissive. 

The context of these verses is a letter, a response by Paul to some questions posed to him by the believers in Corinth (1 Corinthians 7:1).  Other passages, however, make it clear that women are not expected to keep totally silent.  For example, 1 Corinthians 11 tells us that women are to pray and prophesy with their heads covered.

There are actually three sets of people who are told to be silent (Greek sigao) in 1 Corinthians 14.  In each of the other two situations, the problem is mentioned, they are told to be silent, and then a solution is given.  The first occurs when someone wants to speak in a tongue but there is no one present to interpret (verses 27 and 28).  The solution?  They are to be silent and to speak to God privately.  The second happens when more than one person has a prophecy (verses 29 and 30).  Solution?  The first person is to be silent and the second deliver what God has given them.  However, in the verses about women, Paul doesn’t describe the problem, perhaps because he thought it was obvious from his answer.  Presumably some women were causing a disruption by asking questions loudly in the meeting.  Solution?  Rather than cause a disruption, they were to ask their husbands at home.  No one assumes in either of the first two situations that the instruction to be silent was for every situation and for all time, but these verses on women have been used to keep them silent for centuries.

The verses in 1Timothy 2 can be equally interpreted in a different way.  Clarity comes in the singular and plural uses of the word “woman.”   There are certain instructions given that apply to women (plural), but the challenging verses apply to a woman (singular).  A good explanation would be that there was one particular woman who was causing problems with wrong teaching, and a description of some disciplinary action taken to stop her is described in this passage. 1  This would be similar to the discipline prescribed for an unnamed man in 1 Corinthians 5.

Could it be that the attitude of the church in the West towards women is actually preventing the move of God we all long to see?  Could a fresh look at the challenging passages with an open mind change this situation?

7 thoughts on “Another look at the challenging Scriptures on women (part 1)”

  1. ((Could it be that the attitude of the church in the West towards women is actually preventing the move of God we all long to see? Could a fresh look at the challenging passages with an open mind change this situation?))
    Yes, yes, and yes! Amen!

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  2. Or, could it be that our whole method of interpreting the Bible by comparing one passage against another using our knowledge of Greek and Hebrew grammar is wrong? That treating the Bible as a set of legalistic rules is wrong?
    Could it be that when Jesus promised the Holy Spirit would guide us into all truth, he meant just that? That we should be collectively praying and asking the Spirit to show us how he wants us to understand the Scriptures today?
    Could it be that your seeking an alternative way to interpret the grammar is a sign that the Spirit is wanting to show you a new way? Could it be that no-one really interprets absolutely strictly, we just all think we do and don’t see the places where we re-interpret because intuitively we feel sure that is correct?
    Such a view could be abused, but so can every other way of interpreting. The remedy for abuse is unity in the Spirit, not being afraid of the Spirit.
    Thank you for sharing your journey with us.

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  3. Could it be that Prof. Gordon Fee was right and this passage was added in and should be left out as it doesn’t fit with the rest of Pauls writings let alone with this this letter?

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  4. Hi—this article by Andrew Perrimen is very good indeed. Rather than just getting into the interminable lexicographical discussion over the meaning of “authentein” he looks (unlike many scholars) at the literary structural clues as well as the social factors and lexicographical and concludes it was dealing with a specific local issue and does not forbid all women everywhere in every way from teaching. It’s a very thorough article and lacks no integrity:- http://98.131.162.170//tynbul/library/TynBull_1993_44_1_08_Perriman_EveITim2.pdf

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  5. Last night, my wife asked me if there was a scriptural reason why women could not baptize others. Our daughter (Age 17) is coming close to a commitment, and she has asked if Mom can perform the baptism. I told them that the scriptures did not speak to the matter specifically, and that generally it was fine. I then told her that in our congregation the men lead in assembly, and our congregational leaders would probably prefer . . . maybe even insist on a male performing the baptism . . . if it is done in the assembly. (We live in Texas). But that there would be nothing to prevent them from doing it outside of the asssemply. It was perfectly acceptable to the Lord.
    I then told my wife that in the early church period the believers were baptized in the nude. Upon hearing this my wife said that was all she needed to hear to settle the matter. She is certain that women would have baptized the women . . . that they would not have had a man baptize a nude woman. The men would have baptized the men and the women would have baptized the women.
    Of course, I know of nothing in the patristics that speaks to this, but it sounds like a reasonable assumption. As my wife thought about it, she then said that what probably happened was that as male church leaders (priests) took over the practice of baptizing others, that garments were worn by the women . . . and then the men . . . and that the practice of women baptizing other women was lost.
    Now let the fun begin. I get to ask our leadership if they will accept this. And they better say yes.
    I found your blog today. I enjoy the material you have presented. Keep up your work. May the Lord fill you will joy as you work for kingdom purposes.

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  6. Great comments everyone!
    To add a little on Brent’s comments, in many nations, where a man is not allowed to touch a woman who is not related to him (eg India) the women baptize other women. (In more traditional circles in these countries often the women refuse baptism by a man because of this custom). I’ve never heard before the idea that people were baptized in the nude though.
    There is nothing in the Scriptures to say that baptism should be done either by a man or by a “professional.”

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