Recently a question has been raised here concerning the science of genetics
and homosexuality. Some have asked, "If God was opposed to homosexuality why
would He have made some people with what appears to be a genetic
predisposition to homosexuality?" That "science related" question has not
interested me much. For it seems to me that we all have our own personal
"genetic predisposition" toward one form or another of unhealthy behavior
which God expects us to do our best to overcome.
However, this "science related" question has encouraged me to ask another
similar "science related" question. This one: Why did God give women brains
which are just as capable of teaching the Bible to others as men's brains
are, if He did not want women to teach the Bible?
Several of the sciences now tell us something which most of us do not need
any "science" to tell us. Women are just as smart as men and are just as
capable as men of teaching any subject matter. Today in major universities
all over the world female Professors instruct their students in extremely
complex subject matters, ranging alphabetically from Archaeology to Zoology,
and every subject in between including many which involve religion,
spirituality and the Bible. And, as most of us know, women do just as good a
job teaching all of these subject matters as men do. Yet on Sunday mornings
these same highly qualified teachers are not allowed to lead a discussion of
the Lord's prayer in most Christian Churches.
Those who forbid them to do so say that it is God's will that women never
teach in Church. In fact, some say that it is God's will that women never
even speak in Church. They often point to some of the words written by the
apostle Paul to support their position. But since their understanding of
scripture seems to clearly conflict with how science tells us God created
women, I believe we have good reason to believe that those who understand
some of Paul's words in this way misunderstand them.
My recent study of the scriptures has convinced me that the words written by
the apostle Paul which are most often criticized as being "sexist" and
"chauvinistic" did not actually reflect the apostle Paul's own beliefs about
how women should be treated in the Christian Church. The words written by
Paul which I was referring to are those recorded in 1 Cor. 11:3-10, 1Cor.
14:34,35 and in 1 Tim. 2:8-15.
These words in the New International Version of the Bible read as follows:
"Now I want you to realize that the head of every man is Christ, and the head
of the woman is man, and the head of Christ is God. Every man who prays or
prophesies with his head covered dishonors his head. And every woman who
prays or prophesies with her head uncovered dishonors her head--it is just as
though her head were shaved. If a woman does not cover her head, she should
have her hair cut off; and if it is a disgrace for a woman to have her hair
cut or shaved off, she should cover her head. A man ought not to cover his
head, since he is the image and glory of God; but the woman is the glory of
man. For man did not come from woman, but woman from man; neither was man
created for woman, but woman for man. For this reason, and because of the
angels, the woman ought to have a sign of authority on her head." (1 Cor.
"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)
"I want men everywhere to lift up holy hands in prayer, without anger or
disputing. I also want women to dress modestly, with decency and propriety,
not with braided hair or gold or pearls or expensive clothes, but with good
deeds, appropriate for women who profess to worship God. A woman should learn
in quietness and full submission. I do not permit a woman to teach or to have
authority over a man; she must be silent. For Adam was formed first, then
Eve. And Adam was not the one deceived; it was the woman who was deceived and
became a sinner. But women will be saved through childbearing--if they
continue in faith, love and holiness with propriety." (1Tim. 2:8-15)
Many Christians have long had a very hard time understanding how the apostle
Paul could have written words such as these. Why? Because Paul encouraged
Christians to, "Follow my example, as I follow the example of Christ." (1
Cor. 11:1) And the Bible reveals that Jesus always treated women with respect
and gladly discussed spiritual things with them. ( Luke 10:36-42; John
4:7-27) And because Paul was the same man who said that, "There is neither
Jew nor Greek, slave nor free, male nor female, for you are all one in Christ
Jesus." (Gal. 3:28) And because we know that Paul accepted both women
prophets and women deacons. (Acts 18:26; 21:9 Romans 16:1) And, we can't help
but ask, how did Paul expect women to serve as prophets if he did not allow
them to teach or even speak in church, as 1 Cor. 14:34 and 1 Tim. 2:12 would
seem to indicate?
With these things in mind, I will here discuss what I believe is strong
evidence which clearly indicates that Paul was, in these passages, actually
citing false teachings then being promoted by others for the purpose of
correcting those false teachings.
I believe that Paul's words in 1 Cor.11:3-10 described a teaching promoted by
some in Corinth which the Corinthians sent to Paul for his critique. Paul's
words in verse 2 serve as an obvious tip-off that Paul was about to directly
quote and then comment upon a false teaching that was then circulating in the
Church. For in that verse Paul wrote to the Corinthians, "I praise you for
remembering me in everything and for holding to the teachings just as I
passed them on to you."
I believe the next words he wrote, recorded in verses 3-10, were those in
which Paul then quoted the false teaching which the Corinthians had sent to
Paul for him to comment on. That teaching was this: "Now I want you to
realize that the head of every man is Christ, and the head of the woman is
man, and the head of Christ is God. Every man who prays or prophesies with
his head covered dishonors his head. And every woman who prays or prophesies
with her head uncovered dishonors her head--it is just as though her head
were shaved. If a woman does not cover her head, she should have her hair cut
off; and if it is a disgrace for a woman to have her hair cut or shaved off,
she should cover her head. A man ought not to cover his head, since he is the
image and glory of God; but the woman is the glory of man. For man did not
come from woman, but woman from man; neither was man created for woman, but
woman for man. For this reason, and because of the angels, the woman ought to
have a sign of authority on her head."
The contents of the next several verses, 11-16, clearly show them to be
Paul's rebuttal to the false teaching he had just referenced. For the words
in these verses clearly rebut the arguments advanced in verses 3-10. Thus
they can only be understood as being Paul's own explanation of the true
Christian position on this issue, the position which Paul was really
promoting. That position was this: "In the Lord, however, woman is not
independent of man, nor is man independent of woman. For as woman came from
man, so also man is born of woman. But everything comes from God. Judge for
yourselves: Is it proper for a woman to pray to God with her head uncovered?
Does not the very nature of things teach you that if a man has long hair it
is a disgrace to him, but that if a woman has long hair it is her glory? For
long hair is given to her as a covering. If anyone wants to be contentious
about this, we have no other practice--nor do the churches of God."
After quoting those who demanded that women wear head coverings to show their
submission to men Paul said, "Judge for yourselves: is it proper for a woman
to pray to God with her head uncovered? ... LONG HAIR is given to her AS a
covering." So, Paul was saying women do not need head coverings as some false
teachers were demanding. Furthermore, Paul clearly pointed out that men and
women were equal in the faith. "For as woman was made from man, so man is now
born of woman. And all things are from God." (verse 12). This argument by
Paul clearly refuted the false teachers' statement made in verses 3 and 8
that, "The head of woman is man," because "man did not come from woman, but
woman from man."
I am convinced that the now common "male chauvinistic" understanding of
Paul's words developed in large part due to the way in which Paul wrote.
Paul's use of sharp contrasts in place of clear transitional phrases is
largely responsible for causing some of what he wrote to be widely
misunderstood. However, Paul's words would have been perfectly understandable
by those to whom he originally addressed his letters. For they knew what Paul
had previously taught on such matters. And they knew the teachings of others
which they had asked Paul to comment on. However, when a third party, such as
ourselves, reads the letters which Paul wrote they do not have such "inside"
knowledge. And without it, it is sometimes difficult to recognize when
exactly Paul was quoting false teachers and when he was actually setting
forth true Christian teachings. Because of such difficulties in understanding
Paul's letters many of the words Paul actually wrote for the purpose of
refuting false doctrine later became widely used to promote false doctrine.
And in the process Paul, God and the New Testament have acquired very
undeserved reputations as being "anti-woman."
I'll now comment on 1 Corinthians 14:34 and 35. Though I normally use the
NIV, I'll use the KJV here because in this passage the NIV is missing an
important element. (The Revised Standard Version and others may also be used
here. For they contain the same important element.) There we read: "Let your
women keep silence in the churches: for it is not permitted unto them to
speak; but they are commanded to be under obedience as also saith the law.
And if they will learn any thing, let them ask their husbands at home: for it
is a shame for women to speak in the Church."
Here again, like 1 Cor. 11:3-10, we can see that Paul was quoting the words
of false teachers for the purpose of rebuking them. How can we see this? By
simply reading the three following verses, 36-38. There Paul wrote: "What?
Came the word of God out from you? Or came it unto you only? If any man think
himself to be a prophet, or spiritual, let him acknowledge that the things
that I write unto you are the commandments of the Lord. But if any man be
ignorant, let him be ignorant."
Paul identifies false teaching with either strong rebuke or by clearly
pointing out the error and correcting it. Or by doing both. But he does so,
as I mentioned earlier, while using minimal transitional phraseology. Here
that transitional phraseology is extremely minimal. In fact, it consists of
only a single word. But for Paul it only took one word to identify a false
teaching. That word was one very strong word of rebuke. In case you missed
it, that word was, "What?"
Though missing from the NIV, this "particle of distinction between two
connected terms," as Strong's Greek dictionary defines the Greek word used at
the beginning of verse 36, is translated as "What?" in the KJV and the
Amplified Bibles and as "What!" in other translations of the Bible. By Paul's
use of that Greek word to begin his thoughts recorded in verse 36 it
certainly appears that Paul was expressing both shock and outrage at the
blatant sexism which some false teachers were then promoting as Christian
doctrine. For those who question if that is truly the sentiment which Paul
meant to convey by the first word he used in verse 36, the many words of
rebuke which followed Paul's "What?" show beyond a doubt that he was
disgusted that such chauvinistic teachings were being promoted in Christian
congregations. And he reminded the Corinthians that, unlike the false
teachers who were demeaning Christian women, "The things that I write unto
you are the commandments of the Lord." (verse 37) One of the things to which
he obviously here referred was his consistent teaching that in Christ, "There
is neither Jew nor Greek, slave nor free, MALE NOR FEMALE, for you are all
one in Christ Jesus." (Gal. 3:28)
It is also worth noting that the content of this passage (1 Cor. 14:34,35)
itself clearly indicates that the sentiments expressed therein could not have
been those of Paul. For verse 34 says that women "are commanded to be under
obedience as also saith the law." But, as I am sure you know, Paul was the
apostle who continually preached Christian freedom and how Christians were
not under either the Mosaic law or the pharisaic oral law, to which Paul must
have here referred since the Mosaic law contains no such commands. Thus the
idea that Paul would have used the authority of Jewish law to support his
teachings seems, to put it mildly, most unlikely. So it seems quite clear,
that when discussing here and elsewhere the idea that women should be treated
differently than men within the Christian Church, Paul was citing the false
teaching of some legalistic Jewish Christians. He was not presenting his own
beliefs and teachings.
This also raises an interesting question. How was the text in Paul's letters
originally formatted? I do not believe the actual text of any of Paul's
letters has been corrupted over the years, I do believe it is entirely
possible that Paul may have formatted, italicized or bolded his original
written words. (As I understand it, the Greek language in Paul's day did not
use punctuation marks.) I believe he may well have done so in a way that made
it perfectly clear to any who read his original letters, when exactly he was
writing his own words and when he was quoting the false teachings of others.
Imagine, for instance, if Paul had written:
let your women keep silence in the churches
for it is not permitted unto them to speak .......
WHAT was it from YOU that the word of God first went forth or has it come
to YOU ONLY
Though the words have not changed, it is much harder now for us to miss what
Paul was clearly saying to such false teachers. And I tend to believe Paul's
original letters employed a similar means of making his meaning quite clear,
a means which was lost, not in translation but in transcription.
The evidence also indicates that 1 Timothy 2:8-15, like 1 Cor. 11:3-10 and
14:34 and 35, were words written by Paul quoting false teachers. In the last
verse of 1 Timothy chapter 1 the apostle Paul was explaining to Timothy about
Hymenaeus and Alexander, whom he "handed over to Satan to be taught not to
blaspheme." Thus we have reason to believe that in the early part of 1
Timothy chapter 2 Paul was actually refuting some of the teachings of these
men. Then in verse 7 Paul pointed out forcefully that, "I am telling the
truth, I am not lying - and am a teacher of the true faith to the Gentiles."
These words of his in verse 7 indicate that he was there contrasting his
position as a teacher of truth with the false teachers he had just been
discussing and whom he would now quote.
With this in mind, Paul's words in 1 Tim. 2:8 through the end of Chapter 2
can be seen to be a false teaching he was quoting for the purpose of exposing
it as such. There Paul wrote, "I want men everywhere to lift up holy hands in
prayer, without anger or disputing. I also want women to dress modestly, with
decency and propriety, not with braided hair or gold or pearls or expensive
clothes, but with good deeds, appropriate for women who profess to worship
God. A woman should learn in quietness and full submission. I do not permit a
woman to teach or to have authority over a man; she must be silent. For Adam
was formed first, then Eve. And Adam was not the one deceived; it was the
woman who was deceived and became a sinner. But women will be saved through
childbearing--if they continue in faith, love and holiness with propriety."
In the very next verse (1 Tim 3:1), in referring to what he was next to
write, Paul wrote, "Here is the trustworthy saying." With these words, "Here
is the trustworthy saying," Paul clearly indicated, as he did elsewhere when
using that same phrase (1 Tim. 1:15; 4:9; 2 Tim. 2:11), that he had
previously been referring to either people or ways of thinking which were not
As mentioned earlier, Paul's scant use of transitional phrases, clearly
distinguishing his own teachings from the false teachings he sometimes cited
for comment, is largely to blame for the problems we now have in
understanding the passages we are here discussing. And Paul's use of such
transitional phrases is certainly quite scant in this passage of scripture.
Fortunately, however, we here have additional reason to understand that Paul
must have here been citing the doctrine of false teachers. What reason is
that? We know that Paul could not have here been presenting his own beliefs
because he had already shown in 1 Cor. 11:12 that the argument, "Adam was
formed first, then Eve," (1 Tim. 2:13) in no way proves that man is superior
to woman. For, as Paul there pointed out, "As woman came from man, so also
man is born of woman." So, why would Paul present an argument which he
himself had previously shown to be flawed? ( 1 Timothy was written after 1
Corinthians ) The evidence shows that he would not and that he did not.
Thus we must conclude that 1 Timothy chapter 2:8-15 contain the false
teachings of Hymenaeus and Alexander, and that Paul there quoted their
teachings for the purpose of indicating to Timothy that he considered them to
be neither "true" nor "trustworthy."
Something which also helps us to identify the teachings recorded in 1 Tim.
2:8-15 as being those of false teachers is the fact that they are full of
regulations and restrictions typical of legalistic Jewish-Christian sects
which were already beginning to spring up in the first century. Such sects
promoted a form of prayer, during which the men only raised their hands,
common to the first century Jewish religion. They also promoted a dress code
for women but not for men and in effect dictated a women's lifestyle,
(leaving more money for the men or contributions for the leaders by
eliminating expensive jewelry) all on the pretense that God was being served
As I read the words of 1 Tim. 2:11,12, "A woman should learn in quietness and
full submission. I do not permit a woman to teach or to have authority over a
man; she must be silent," I remember the movie "Yentyl" with Barbra
Streisand. Anyone who saw that film can appreciate the effect such doctrine
had and has on women and why Paul would condemn those who promoted it.
But why would Paul have quoted false teachers by writing, "I desire" and "I
do not permit"? Isn't it reasonable for Bible readers to assume that with
each use of the pronoun "I" Paul was speaking of himself, that these were
things HE taught or felt proper? No, it is not. For the Greek from which
Paul's words have been translated into English contains no such pronoun.
Translators have merely inserted the pronoun "I" into this passage, either
two or three times depending on the translation you are reading, in order to
create proper English sentences. However, I believe that they should have
inserted the pronoun "We" in those places instead of "I." For, as I have
said, the context of Paul's words clearly shows that he was quoting the words
of more than one false teacher ( Hymenaeus and Alexander ) which he had been
asked to critique.
These are the passages in the New Testament which are most often criticized
for allegedly containing "sexist" thinking. Other passages which are
sometimes attacked as being sexist are, I believe, very unfairly criticized.
In such passages women are encouraged to be good wives and mothers and are
instructed to willingly submit to their husbands at home and in their own
personal lives. By doing so it is said Christian wives might be able to help
win over their unbelieving husbands and be a good example of Christian
humility to all. However, women are never told that they must submit
themselves to men within the Church. Wives willingly submitting themselves to
their husbands within their homes and women submitting themselves to men in
general are two very different things. It should be remembered that Christian
slaves were also encouraged to continue willingly submitting themselves to
their masters. (Eph.6:5, 1 Pet.2:18) This did not mean that Paul and Peter
considered slave masters to be superior to their slaves in any way. For
within the Christian Church Paul said there was "Neither slave nor free."
Paul's intent in instructing Christian wives to continue submitting
themselves to their husbands and Christian slaves to continue submitting
themselves to their masters was to cause Christians and Christianity to
become well spoken of among the nations. Paul asked Christian wives and
Christian slaves to willingly surrender outside of the Church what they were
given inside of the Church, full equality with their husbands and their
masters. He asked them to do so in order to help spread the good news of
Jesus Christ who he and the other apostles reminded them also suffered
unjustly for them. (See 1 Pet. 2:18-21)
The scriptures reveal that in the early Church men usually took the lead in
most matters, as they still tend to do today. And Paul's letters were written
with that fact of life in mind. But this does not mean that women were then
or should be today excluded from being appointed as servants in their
Churches. This can be seen by reading 1 Tim. 3:8,11. There Paul wrote,
"Deacons are to be men worthy of respect, sincere, not indulging in much wine
.... In the same way, their wives (or "deaconesses" as in some manuscripts-
see footnote in some Bibles) are to be women worthy of respect, not malicious
talkers but temperate and trustworthy in everything." This, of course,
reminds us of what Paul wrote to the Romans: "I commend to you our sister
Phoebe, who is a servant (or "deaconess") of the Church which is at
Cenchrea." (Romans 16:1)
Some use Paul's words in 1 Tim. 3:2, where he said that "an overseer must be
... a husband of but one wife," to support their teaching that, though Paul
may have permitted women to serve as "deacons" in their congregations, he did
not permit them to serve as "elders." To this I say, Bunk! Why? Because it is
obvious from their context that Paul's words in 1 Tim. 3:2 did not exclude
women from serving as "elders." How is this fact obvious from that verse's
context? Because the context of 1 Tim. 3:2, namely verses 1-7, clearly shows
that Paul's words in 1 Tim. 3:2 were meant to be understood only in a very
We can see this by the fact that he said, "An elder must be ... the husband
of one wife." Thus those who say that this verse proves that an "elder" must
be a man must also say that an "elder" must be married. However, very few of
those who say that this verse proves Paul only permitted men to serve as
elders say that it proves that Paul only permitted married men to do so. For
those who say that would also have to believe that Paul did not permit
widowers to serve as elders. For a widower is not "the husband of one wife."
Also to be considered is the fact that Paul said that an elder must have
"children who obey him." (verse 4) So, according to the "an elder must be a
man, because Paul said they must be husbands" logic, all elders must also
have children, but not just any children, children who still live at home.
For only such children are required to "obey" their parents. But is it really
reasonable to believe that in 1 Tim. 3:1-7 Paul was saying that all elders
had to be married men with young children? No, it is not. For to believe this
we would also have to believe that Paul required that elders give up their
positions in their congregations when and if their wives ever died and when
and if their children ever died or grew up and moved out on their own. For
then those elders would no longer be "husbands of one wife" and then they
would no longer have "children who obey them."
These things show that the only reasonable way to understand 1 Timothy 3:2 is
to understand that in that verse Paul was simply indicating that the majority
of the time elders were going to be men. Why? Because at the time Paul wrote
his letter to Timothy few women had enough education to be "able to teach,"
which is what elders largely did. (verse2) Also in the first century, before
the advent of birth control, disposable diapers, clothes washers and dryers,
dishwashers and TV dinners, the vast majority of women were far too busy at
home to be able to take on the responsibilities of teaching and shepherding a
congregation. Because of such things Paul knew that few women in the first
century would be able to serve as "elders." However, as I have here shown,
Paul's words in 1 Tim. 3:1-7 no more disqualify women from serving as elders
than they disqualify widowers and men without small children from serving as
With these things in mind we have no reason to believe that women were
prohibited by Paul from serving as elders in early Christian Churches. And,
that being the case, we have no reason to believe that they did not do so.
The fact is we have some pretty good reasons to believe that they did, in
fact, do so. For the fact that women did at times serve as "elders" (aka
"Bishops" or "overseers") in the early Church is supported by strong
Consider the following: An early mosaic in a Roman basilica portrays a female
figure titled "Bishop Theodora." A Christian inscription from 2nd or 3rd
century Egypt reads: "Artemidoras...fell asleep in the Lord, her mother
Paniskianes being an elder (presbytera)." The bishop Diogenes in the 3rd
century set up a memorial for Ammion the elder (presbytera, feminine form). A
4th or 5th century epitaph in Sicily refers to Kale the elder (presbytis,
Other passages which are sometimes said to brand Paul as a sexist are Titus
2:3-5 and 1 Tim. 5:11-14.
Titus 2:3-5: "Likewise, teach the older women to be reverent in the way they
live, not to be slanderers or addicted to much wine, but to teach what is
good. Then they can train the younger women to love their husbands and
children, to be self-controlled and pure, to be busy at home, to be kind, and
to be subject to their husbands, so that no one will malign the word of God."
These do not appear to me to be sexist remarks. Though I can see that there
here exists an opportunity to take offense, if one is looking for such an
1 Tim. 5:11-14: "As for younger widows, do not put them on such a list. For
when their sensual desires overcome their dedication to Christ, they want to
marry. Thus they bring judgment on themselves, because they have broken their
first pledge. Besides, they get into the habit of being idle and going about
from house to house. And not only do they become idlers, but also gossips and
busybodies, saying things they ought not to. So I counsel younger widows to
marry, to have children, to manage their homes and to give the enemy no
opportunity for slander."
The early Church had the custom of financially supporting widows. Here Paul
was advising Timothy to no longer put young women who had lost their husbands
on the list of widows who would be supported by the congregation. Why did he
so advise Timothy? For one thing, when this was done it gave younger widows
who were fully capable of supporting themselves too much time on their hands,
time which often ended up being used in nonproductive ways. For another
thing, Paul felt that many of the younger widows who were unable to support
themselves were capable of finding new husbands who would support them, and
by so doing they would no longer pose a financial burden to the congregation.
Paul could have, and probably would have, made similar comments about young
widowers, if young widowers were being supported by their congregations. But
they were not. So he did not. With these things in mind, I do not feel it is
fair to label these comments by Paul as "sexist."
The fact is that, despite the efforts of false teachers to the contrary, we
know for a fact that women did serve as teachers in first century Christian
Churches. For Jesus instructed His apostle John to write to the Church in
Thyatira for tolerating the false teachings of a woman named "Jezebel."
Though Jesus said that He was displeased with what that woman was teaching,
He did not say that He was displeased with the fact that a woman was
teaching. That the Church in Thyatira had allowed a woman to hold a teaching
position for what was apparently a long time clearly shows that women were
almost certainly often allowed to teach in first century Christian Churches.
Some have asked, if this understanding of Paul's words is correct, why do the
writings of many of the early "Church Fathers" indicate that they treated
women as second class citizens of the Church? The answer to this question is
that even during Paul's lifetime false teachers were busy trying to corrupt
what Paul taught concerning full equality of the sexes within the body of
Christ. By the time the early "Church Fathers" wrote on this subject the
thinking of the false teachers who had been so busy promoting sexism in
Paul's day had infiltrated most Christian Churches. This should not come as a
great surprise. For the fact that a corruption of Christianity would take
place after Christ and His apostles left the earth was predicted by both
Jesus and Paul. (Matt. 13:24-30, 36-43; Acts 20:29,30; 1 Tim. 4:1,2)
I now firmly believe that the man God used to write much of the New Testament
did not, as is often alleged, promote sexism. Rather, I am convinced that the
apostle Paul was actually a very strong promoter and defender of full
equality of the sexes within the Christian Church.
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