With that in place, let’s look at Scripture in this sense. So warning: LOTS OF SCRIPTURE REFERENCES AHEAD.
The modern view of human personality does not come from a Scripture focused place – i.e., an individual with free will (maybe, maybe not!) making decisions. That personality from Scripture tells us that men and women alike are fallen, that they need redemption. We, further, find that we think of ourselves in that sense as a solitary individual within a community of people – the Church. Our uniqueness contributes to the whole, but we remain nonetheless particular in our composition by the Creator. There’s no escaping this with even a cursory look at Luke 12:
4 “I say to you, My friends, do not be afraid of those who kill the body and after that have no more that they can do.5 But I will warn you whom to fear: fear the One who, after He has killed, has authority to cast into hell; yes, I tell you, fear Him! 6 Are not five sparrows sold for two cents? Yet not one of them is forgotten before God. 7 Indeed, the very hairs of your head are all numbered. Do not fear; you are more valuable than many sparrows.
And why do we appear more valuable than a host of sparrows? Because God made up specially for the purpose of stewardship, relationship, and (by definition) multiplication. Genesis 2 says it straight:
7 Then the Lord God formed man of dust from the ground, and breathed into his nostrils the breath of life; and man became a living being.
God fills us with His breath. That’s quite a heady notion at base; we’re created in the image and stuff of God. That does not mean we ARE God, but we do reflect Him in some sense. Yet we remain fallen, broken, and (big bad word ahead) sinful. Sin affects us to the very core; we cannot even trust ourselves, as Proverbs 28:
26 He who trusts in his own heart is a fool,
But he who walks wisely will be delivered.
So we cannot trust ourselves due to sin; we cannot trust others because they sin. So who do we trust? God. God reforms and renews the mind so that it thinks rightly about reality. By thinking like this, we end up making sense of…well, nearly everything except those things which God chooses to withhold. This isn’t rocket science, but it is Christianity. And Christianity’s meant for all people, not just the academic in his ivory tower or the poor man on the street. It exists in a model of complete egalitarian inclusion, yet complementary gender roles. Why complementary, and not egalitarian? Because men and women are different. Not better, not worse; just different. They each have their role to play, and that role remains essential to the Christian faith. We see this in Genesis 2:
18 Then the Lord God said, “It is not good for the man to be alone; I will make him a helper suitable for him.” 19 Out of the ground the Lord God formed every beast of the field and every bird of the sky, and brought them to the man to see what he would call them; and whatever the man called a living creature, that was its name. 20 The man gave names to all the cattle, and to the birds of the sky, and to every beast of the field, but for Adam there was not found a helper suitable for him. 21 So the Lord God caused a deep sleep to fall upon the man, and he slept; then He took one of his ribs and closed up the flesh at that place. 22 The Lord God fashioned into a woman the rib which He had taken from the man, and brought her to the man. 23 The man said,
“This is now bone of my bones,
And flesh of my flesh;
She shall be called Woman,
Because she was taken out of Man.”
Man needed a helper – and that IS the word used – so God created women. This seems obvious enough, and we know women did not conceive of children until after the Fall. Even then, both become distinct by virtue of their roles and biology. One leads, the other helps. This isn’t a notion of “men rule over women” or something to that effect; not only would that not reflect reality, but it makes an entirely uncharitable interpretation. Rather, they are different.
Men retain their masculinity, women retain their femininity. Each is beautiful in its own right, especially if implemented in a Godly way. We can list off a bunch of names in the Bible, from Deboarh to Ruth to Esther, where women display their own forms of exemplary power and wonderful abilities that remain distinct to their gender – reason and thinking being chief among them! Is the story of Ruth’s faithfulness and “submission” to Boaz a trope? Does Deborah the prophetess’ command of Barak make here a stereotypical “man in a woman’s body”? Does Esther’s quick wit also do the same? Men do a similar thing in regards to their skills – i.e., apparently the ability to resolve conflict through violence. I’m being cheeky, here, but the point’s made.
Of course, these refer specifically to God-chosen women designed for specific roles; the same thing happened with a lot of men in the same time period. They are notable for their methodology as women, and not so much the nature of the call. We see in Titus 2 that there’s a call for women in specific roles, though:
But as for you, speak the things which are fitting for sound doctrine. 2 Older men are to be temperate, dignified, sensible, sound in faith, in love, in perseverance.
3 Older women likewise are to be reverent in their behavior, not malicious gossips nor enslaved to much wine, teaching what is good, 4 so that they may encourage the young women to love their husbands, to love their children, 5 to be sensible, pure, workers at home, kind, being subject to their own husbands, so that the word of God will not be dishonored.
In Ephesians 5, Paul describes the relationship between men and women in positive terms:
Husbands, love your wives, just as Christ also loved the church and gave Himself up for her, 26 so that He might sanctify her, having cleansed her by the washing of water with the word, 27 that He might present to Himself the church in all her glory, having no spot or wrinkle or any such thing; but that she would be holy and blameless. 28 So husbands ought also to love their own wives as their own bodies. He who loves his own wife loves himself; 29 for no one ever hated his own flesh, but nourishes and cherishes it, just as Christ also does the church,
It’s interesting to note the use of the metaphor here: Christ is the head of the household, i.e. the man, while the Church equals the Bride. So we see that they hit different parts of the same tune. There’s two genders for a reason, after all. But then we find ourselves with the more offensive verses that any Christian finds themselves confronting. The right answer, I’d wager, is acceptance of the particular passages, but many choose to either explain/ignore them away. Obviously, that cannot quite work. If we take Scripture as divinely inspired, we don’t get the magic powers of exclusion, nor could we trust our own judgment on it (hence, Proverbs 28:26 above and Scripture being chosen as divinely inspired through objective discussion among church leaders).
Let’s take a look at 1 Corinthians 14:34-35, one of the offending passages. It is written in the context of prophecy (i.e., the gift of telling other people what their problems are, pointing out injustice, and other such things) and revelation in the Church. We usually use the term “Pastor” in our American Protestant context to refer to this kind of person; a prophet leads a church body by convicting it to action, self-reflection, and/or change. Women, according to Paul, do not have this role in the Church:
34 The women are to keep silent in the churches; for they are not permitted to speak, but are to subject themselves, just as the Law also says. 35 If they desire to learn anything, let them ask their own husbands at home; for it is improper for a woman to speak in church. 36 Was it from you that the word of God first went forth? Or has it come to you only?
Paul, ever the one to lack subtley (what with him talking about members and penises and dog crap), then follows up with this:
If anyone thinks he is a prophet or spiritual, let him recognize that the things which I write to you are the Lord’s commandment. 38 But if anyone does not recognize this, he is not recognized. 39 Therefore, my brethren, desire earnestly to prophesy, and do not forbid to speak in tongues. 40 But all things must be done properly and in an orderly manner.
Letting women prophecy in Church (let me be specific with that, a Church meeting) isn’t allowed. I know, I sound like such a counter-culturalist, but there you have it with that white male privilege and all, denying women their rights and so on and so forth. We’ve also got 1 Timothy 2, sure to put someone in a rage:
9 Likewise, I want women to adorn themselves with proper clothing, modestly and discreetly, not with braided hair and gold or pearls or costly garments, 10 but rather by means of good works, as is proper for women making a claim to godliness. 11 A woman must quietly receive instruction with entire submissiveness. 12 But I do not allow a woman to teach or exercise authority over a man, but to remain quiet. 13 For it was Adam who was first created, and then Eve. 14 And it was not Adam who was deceived, but the woman being deceived, fell into transgression. 15 But women will be preserved through the bearing of children if they continue in faith and love and sanctity with self-restraint.
So there you go: women cannot teach in Churches (again, circumstance and context remain everything). That does not mean they cannot teach outside of a Church congregation, or becomes prophets outside of that particular gathering of believers, but just not in this one. Women can be deacons (Romans 16:1-2, word “servant” is actually diakonos here), far as I know; they can receive spiritual gifts, and prophecy, and become the head of households without men (Lydia comes to mond). Deborah shows us that much, as do a lot more than I can name. But Paul said it, and if we take this as inspired, what else could we truly say about the matter?
So what do we say of all this?
Part Four Next Week (Probably).