On Monday of this week we hosted another one of our tasting nights for Communion Wine Co. At the event, we’ve been doing a Q&A about wine/Jesus/the Bible/Christianity/the Church, etc. We received twenty questions and one of them was voted on as the number one question by a long shot. Here was the question:
Why were the women in Corinth not allowed to speak in church? Is it due to false prophets taking advantage of women not being taught to read or write?
I’m guessing this question comes from a place of personal pain and struggle. In my two decades in church ministry, I’ve noticed that sometimes this can be a very difficult subject for church leadership to tackle. They may want to empower women, but the pushback you get on this can be surprising.
(Fun fact: when I was a Lead Pastor, someone once told me that although they appreciated how I was including women in our church, I had taken it too far. I was never quite sure where the “line” was that I crossed, but the point is that women often get intentionally excluded in the church and this question gets to one of the reasons why).
In case you’re confused as to where the question comes from, it’s found in Paul’s letter to Timothy.
“Women should learn quietly and submissively. I do not let women teach men or have authority over them. Let them listen quietly. For God made Adam first, and afterward he made Eve.” 1 Timothy 2:11-13
As you can imagine, this is a killer argument for any male church leader who doesn’t want to give women a seat at the table. Some churches even make a male be present on stage for his leadership and authority to “cover” when a woman talks.
But was Paul really against women? I suspect not.
I’ve heard lots of different explanations for this verse over the years. But recently I heard one I find more compelling than any other. I’ll offer a quick summary of the argument and then point you in the direction of a female who can explain it better.
According to Beth Allison Barr in her incredible book The Making of Biblical Womanhood (see: Amazon link), essentially Paul was quoting a common belief in Roman thought and then refuting it. Paul does this elsewhere as well. When read in this context, these verses take on an entirely different application (namely one opposite to how they have often been used).
When you hear Barr explain her argument, it makes the entire conversation feel a bit silly. Have we dramatically missed the point on this? It would be funny if it were not for all the abuse and harm and neglect it has created for countless women in the church. Thankfully, we don’t have to keep operating in that paradigm. I’m encouraged by numerous churches that are proactively finding ways to engage, empower, and platform women no matter what it costs them as a church.
If Paul’s argument to Timothy has ever been used against you, or has ever bothered you, or has ever kept you from using the gifts God gave you for the benefit of others… please read this book and see how women are an essential element of any healthy church.If Paul's argument to Timothy has ever been used against you, or bothered you, or kept you from using your gifts for the benefit of others… please read this book and see how women are an essential element of any healthy church. Click To Tweet
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