Have you believed that the bible says women are not to speak and teach in church? A friend of mine recently sent me a link to a sermon on this topic. This friend knows my heart for abuse victims (especially women) in the church, and how misunderstanding the intent of certain bible verses has kept women oppressed for years. Here is the sermon. It was given by Associate Pastor Bill Vanderbush on September 7, 2014 in the Cathedral of Praise in Austin, Texas.
Bill believes that the incorrect translation of certain passages in the bible has allowed men to oppress women in a way that God never intended. These passages are all written by the Apostle Paul. Paul (and through him, the Bible) gets a bad rap as an oppressor of women because of these misunderstandings.
Understanding Who Paul Was Writing To
To begin with, Bill explains that in New Testament times, Paul wrote to three different groups of people, the Jews, the Romans and the Greeks. People in those days didn’t have the entire bible nicely bound, with the Old Testament laws, and all of Paul’s letters. His individual letters were not meant for all the church, but were written specifically to the church in certain regions. Each of these regions had different needs because they had vastly different cultures.
The Jews: In the Old Testament, at the time of the Judges, women were prophetesses and judges; and at times lead the entire nation of Israel. When the kings began to rule, women were more oppressed. After the last book of our Old Testament was written, there were 400 years called the “silent years.” During those 400 years, Jewish laws regarding women became more and more oppressive. These weren’t God’s laws, they were laws created by men. By the time the Apostle Paul came along, the Jewish nation was very oppressive to women.
The Romans: Women in Rome were slightly less oppressed than their Jewish sisters. Women were allowed to hold property in their own names, and were allowed to be Vestals (priestesses).
The Greeks: Greek women had more status than those of the other two cultures. The Greeks elevated women to the level of gods. There were both male and female gods, but the female gods were more powerful than the male gods. We picture today’s prostitutes as being on the low-end of our society. In those days, temple prostitutes were at the top of Greek society. A man who was able to have sex with a temple prostitute was considered immensely blessed by the gods. Greek women, especially those who were wealthy, had more freedom than those in Israel and Rome.
Paul’s Supposed Oppression in 1 Corinthians
One of the letters in the Bible where Paul supposedly oppressed women was 1 Corinthians. Paul wrote this letter in response to a letter he received from the Corinthian (Greek) church. In I Corinthians 7:1 Paul says:
Now for the matters you wrote about: “It is good for a man not to have sexual relations with a woman.”
This is a quote from the letter the Corinthians wrote to Paul. The new Greek Christians were reacting to the ways other Greeks practiced their religion, i.e. with prostitution in their temples. They saw that this was not of God, and began thinking that to be really godly, Christians should not have sexual relations at all, including husbands and wives. Paul responds with:
But since sexual immorality is occurring, each man should have sexual relations with his own wife, and each woman with her own husband. The husband should fulfill his marital duty to his wife, and likewise the wife to her husband. The wife does not have authority over her own body but yields it to her husband. In the same way, the husband does not have authority over his own body but yields it to his wife. Do not deprive each other except perhaps by mutual consent and for a time, so that you may devote yourselves to prayer. Then come together again so that Satan will not tempt you because of your lack of self-control. (1 Cor 7:2-5)
In this passage, Paul, a former Jewish Pharisee, does something astonishing. He gives women (traditionally seen only as the property of their fathers and husbands) equal footing with men in the bedroom. This was heretical in those days.
The heart of God is to set all people free. Tweet This
In the Jewish culture at that time, men could divorce their wives for any reason, but women could not divorce their husbands. Later in 1 Corinthians 7, Paul essentially gives women the right to divorce:
But if the unbeliever leaves, let it be so. The brother or the sister is not bound in such circumstances; God has called us to live in peace. (1 Cor 7:15)
In Chapter 11, Paul talks about both men and women praying and prophesying in worship.
Every man who prays or prophesies with his head covered dishonors his head. But every woman who prays or prophesies . . . (1 Cor 11:4-5)
Now, we come to the question about women not being allowed to speak in churches. Here are the verses that people use:
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 14:34-35)
What isn’t commonly realized is that this is a quote from the letter sent by the Corinthians to Paul. In the Greek, at the beginning of each of his next sentences, there is a little word “n.” This little word is usually ignored when translating into English. This term shows that the question implies a negative answer – a negation of something that just proceeded it. It would be the equivalent of stating a false statement and then saying “Bunk!” or “You have got to be kidding!” * Paul responds incredulously:
Did the word of God originate with you? Or are you the only people it has reached? If anyone thinks they are a prophet or otherwise gifted by the Spirit, let them acknowledge that what I am writing to you is the Lord’s command. But if anyone ignores this, they will themselves be ignored. (1 Cor 14:36-38)
In essence Paul is saying, “Are you crazy? Did you write the scriptures? Where did you get this idea??” Paul ends this chapter by saying:
Therefore, my brothers and sisters, be eager to prophesy, and do not forbid speaking in tongues. But everything should be done in a fitting and orderly way. (1 Cor 14:39-40).
Pastor Vanderbush says, “There is no excuse for ignorance about the bible anymore. There is no place for using the book of Corinthians to oppress women anymore. This is not Paul talking . . . I get completely jacked up about this concept because when I look in the Old Testament, I see that women could rule the nation under the law. Then I see Jesus dying on the cross so people could be free from the curse of the law. Then I see people reading the New Testament through a lens that is incorrect, to a point where they salivate over a new idea of creating a whole new law that is even more oppressive than the old law that Jesus killed off.”
Paul’s Letter to Timothy in Ephesus
He went on to talk about Paul’s letter to Timothy. Timothy was a pastor in Ephesus (part of the Grecian empire).
A woman should learn in quietness and full submission. I do not permit a woman to teach or to assume authority over a man; she must be quiet. (1 Tim 2:11-12)
The bible has 47 Greek and Hebrew words that are translated to the word “authority” in our English bible. The specific Greek word used here is used only one time in the Bible. This word, when properly translated means “violent dominance,” suggesting murder. Greek women were not as oppressed as women in the other cultures. They tended to be busybodies, and in everyone else’s business. So, in essence, Paul is saying, “I permit the women to learn, but don’t let them be busybodies and be in everyone else’s business. And I don’t allow women to be violently dominant over a man.” (He didn’t allow anyone to be violently dominant over anyone, but in that culture, the women were the ones who were acting violently dominant, so he pointed his remarks to the women). Paul is not saying a woman can’t teach, he is saying she can’t be abusive.
Were women allowed to teach men in the New Testament times? Yes! In the same city Paul is talking about in his letter to Timothy (Ephesus), Priscilla was correcting a male traveling evangelist. Acts 18 says:
Meanwhile a Jew named Apollos, a native of Alexandria, came to Ephesus. He was a learned man, with a thorough knowledge of the Scriptures. He had been instructed in the way of the Lord, and he spoke with great fervor and taught about Jesus accurately, though he knew only the baptism of John. He began to speak boldly in the synagogue. When Priscilla and Aquila heard him, they invited him to their home and explained to him the way of God more adequately. (Acts 18:24-26)
Paul is not saying women cannot teach men. In Galatians 3:28, Paul says:
There is neither Jew nor Gentile, neither slave nor free, nor is there male and female, for you are all one in Christ Jesus.
At the end of 1 Timothy 2, there is one more puzzling verse:
But women will be saved through childbearing—if they continue in faith, love and holiness with propriety.
WHAT?!? Pastor Vanderbush explains that in biblical times, the chance that a woman would die in childbirth was high. The Greeks believed that if they could give birth in Ephesus, the Ephesian goddess Diana would protect them from dying in childbirth. Paul is saying here that they don’t need to travel to Ephesus, that they will be saved through their faith in Christ, not through faith in the goddess Diana.
In all these verses, Paul is equalizing women is not oppressing them. Tweet This
Pastor Vanderbush ended his sermon by stating, “Women are free to be in ministry, just as men are. The heart of God is to set people free.”
Question: Does your church teach that women aren’t allowed to speak or teach in church? Now that you have heard this sermon, what do YOU think?
I pray that Christians will use the technology we now have to investigate random verses that seem to go against the rest of the bible. Give us your wisdom and discernment, please God. Amen
May you feel God’s love and care for you today.
*The explanation of “n” is found in http://www.strivetoenter.com/wim/2008/09/21/who-dared-to-contradict-paul/