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Are Women Supposed to Minister in the Pulpit?
By Emil Swift
People who become Christians and are filled with the Spirit OFTEN assume God can and does move through the women in a church as well as the men. Typically, it isn't until some older Christian grabs them and starts telling them that "women can't do this" and "women can't do that" -- pointing to an apparently clear Scripture, that they start restricting women in ministry in the church.
Let me lay out a perspective that may appeal to your spirit.
To most Believers (especially new Believers who haven't been taught old customs) the verse that seems most natural (in a supernatural way!) about the ministry of women is found in Galatians where Paul says,
Gal. 3.26-28 -- Ye are all the children of God by faith in Christ Jesus. For as many of you as have been baptized into Christ have put on Christ. There is neither Jew nor Greek, there is neither bond nor free, there is neither male nor female: for ye are all one in Christ Jesus.
Christian newbies will read this and oddly enough will tend to think that men and women in the Body of Christ are spiritually equal. In other words -- There's a person up front of the congregation, who is declaring the Word of the Lord in the Spirit... Is it a man? Is it a woman? Is it a Jew or Greek, slave or free? Who cares? The only real question is, is it the Spirit of God?
In a sense, it's almost repulsive to claim that the Spirit of the Lord can't flow through a person in ministry to the Body, because she is a woman. It's such a repulsive idea, there'd have to be very clear instruction in the Scriptures to support that exclusive viewpoint.
"But," many men claim, "there are Scriptures that teach the submission of women -- in marriage and in ministry!" Actually, there's just one. Our key verse is found in the letter to Timothy:
1 Tim 2.11-14 -- But I suffer not a woman to teach, nor to usurp authority over the man, but to be in silence. For Adam was first formed, then Eve. And Adam was not deceived, but the woman being deceived was in the transgression.
Right off let me point out that this verse is peculiar in the history of doctrine. Most teachings that are broadly accepted by the Church are found in a number of places throughout Scripture -- traditionally, at least three -- places which clarify and confirm that teaching. In other words, if this teaching (that of women not teaching) were found in several places in the Word, these verses could be compared and we'd have a lot more clarity on it.
But this verse stands alone in its apparently misogynist admonition. Curiously, what gives it so much weight isn't that other Scriptures "back it up", but that this one, lone verse is backed up by our culture!
In fact, "culture" is the true key to making sense of this verse. So let's consider the cultural framework in which Paul wrote this admonition.
Paul was writing to Timothy in Ephesus, 2,000 years ago. Ephesus was the world center of paganism at that time, ruled over (in the spiritual realm and in popular worship) by the mother goddess, Artimus (whom the Romans called "Diana" as in, "great is Diana of the Ephesians!" in Acts 19.) This is the same "Diana" whose temple housed thousands of religious prostitutes because they believed that indiscriminate and frequent sexual acts brought fertility and prosperity into the land.
In Ephesus, this cultic, fertility religion dominated the society including its temple life and business activities. Not only did the Ephesians lift up a female goddess into the highest place of worship there, but they taught that women were the true spiritual leaders -- not men. In fact, Ephesian Jews who were bringing out the first teachings of Gnosticism already considered "Eve" to be the true "hero" of the Creation account since she was the one who received True Knowledge and Illumination from the Serpent -- who was superior to God. This embryonic Gnostic teaching fit hand-in-glove with the prevailing, cultural belief that womenwere the only true spiritual teachers.
Into this mass of cultic confusion, Paul brought the Truth of the Gospel. The fact that Paul preached salvation through a "man" (Jesus) in and of itself insulted the female dominated spiritual teachers of Ephesus! When he wrote to Timothy, instead of focusing mostly on the daily conduct of the people of God in that city as he did in most of his other church letters, instead he focused strongly on the need for Timothy to resist false teachers and their false "spiritually enlightened" teachings. That was the greater problem faced in Ephesus.
1 Tim 1.3 -- As I urged you when I was on my way to Macedonia, stay on where you are at Ephesus in order that you may warn and admonish and charge certain individuals not to teach any teaching different than mine.
1 Tim 6.20 -- Timothy -- Guard and keep the deposit entrusted to you! Turn away from godless chatter, with its vain and empty phrases, and the subtleties and contradictions in what is falsely called, "knowledge" and "spiritual illumination".
Actually, by taking the stand that he did, Paul also came into a place of violent opposition to his own culture and that of the Pharisees (of which he had been a part) when in 1 Tim 2.11 he said, "Let women learn... The Rabbis and Pharisees in Paul's day had FORBIDDEN WOMEN TO BE TAUGHT SPIRITUAL TRUTH. Women were deliberately excluded from instruction in the Scriptures (Torah) and the study of the things of God. If a woman so much as touched a scroll of the Torah, it had to be burned as unclean! The mere fact that Paul said about women, "Teach them.." in itself had to be shocking!
Jewish women in Ephesus were not taught about spiritual things, and Gentile women were taught the powerful false teachings related to their goddess -- including superiority over men as well as worship of the Serpent as the origin of all Wisdom.
When women -- either Jewish or Gentile -- became Believers, they were at a serious disadvantage in respect to men. The typical method of teaching in those days was a question-and-answer format -- whether in pagan assemblies, Christian churches or Jewish synagogues. In these generally heated debates -- as ideas were tossed back and forth in debate and confusion could pile up on confusion -- these women who had little or no knowledge of Scripture were seriously limited. (In fact, in 1 Cor 14, Paul tried to reduce some of the noisy confusion in Christian assemblies by telling wives to be quiet and wait till they got home to ask their husbands for clarification.)
Both 1 Tim 1.4 and 6.20 speak of these characteristic debates in which Paul says to Timothy to "guard the spiritual Truth which has been entrusted to you. Turn away from pointless discussions and the claims of false knowledge that people use to oppose the Christian faith". And Paul went so far as to demand of Timothy that he "order certain people to stop teaching false doctrine and occupying themselves with myths and endless genealogies. These myths and genealogies raise a lot of questions rather than promoting God's plan, which centers in faith."
Think of the spiritual climate at Ephesus: Women, who were new Believers, had either NO understanding of spiritual things or were steeped in "goddess teachings"... they were sitting in the midst of the newly planted Christian churches... and Paul said the women needed to be "in silence". It already begins to make more sense to understand that the fantastically popular and false teachings about Artimus were endemic in Ephesus, and the open discussion and debate of Christian services were the wrong place for women trained in Artimus worship to be allowed to try and dominate the spiritual teachings.
Actually, there's another serious problem with the "just shut-up" interpretation. The word "silence" doesn't carry the same meaning in today's culture as it did in ancient times.
In fact, "silence" is a good word to show how quickly you and I can make a wrong guess as to the meaning of a word in the Bible. After all, if women are to "keep silent", wouldn't you think that means they have to keep their mouths shut? But the Greek word used for "silence" (hesuchia) is the same word used in 1 Tim 2.2 in which we're told to pray continually "for kings, and for all that are in authority; so that we may lead a quiet[hesuchia] and peaceable life in all godliness and honesty."
The word hesuchia (according to Strong's Dictionary) describes the life of "someone who stays at home doing his own work" and doesn't meddle in the lives of others." In 1 Tim 2.2, it would obviously be wrong to say it means the kind of "silence" that we usually talking about -- you know, "pray for kings, and for all that are in authority; so that we may all shut up and live in peace..."? It doesn't make any sense.
But when you apply the correct meaning in 1 Tim 2.12, it makes perfect sense that Paul would tell women to participate in the meetings "quietly", not "meddling" with the teachings that Paul had given them about the Gospel, Jesus Christ, etc.
"I do not permit a woman to teach"... In the spiritual atmosphere of Ephesus, women (especially women) needed to sit quietly and learn. And Ephesian women needed especially to not be allowed to "usurp authority" over the men who were teaching -- attempting to perpetuate the cultic teachings of female, spiritual authority and thereby taking control of the young, Ephesian church. What Paul is saying here to the Ephesian Believers, in light of the extraordinarily difficult circumstances facing this Asian church, was that women (steeped in these false teachings) needed to just be quiet, sit and learn from the men. Remember: Paul doesn't tell women this anywhere else. It is a word of instruction for Ephesus
"Usurp authority" is also interesting. It's the word authenteo (Strong's again) which literally means "one who acts on his own authority, autocratic; an absolute master."
This phrase, "usurp authority" doesn't refer to a woman -- what, preaching on Sunday? Prophesying? Ministering in a Word of Wisdom or interpreting a tongue? "Usurp authority" means (following the teaching of the Ephesian "goddess" cultus) that such a woman tries to take over the church -- "exercising absolute control and mastery". This, of course, would be exactly in line with what the priestesses of Artimus would try and do!
By the way -- When people are reading this passage and go from "not usurp authority" to "For Adam was first formed, then Eve. And Adam was not deceived, but the woman being deceived was in the transgression", it just seems really weird. Exactly why does Paul launch into this peculiar argument from Genesis -- an argument he uses here and only here?
It's because the incipient Gnostic teachings -- which fit so well with the Artimus cultus -- taught that Adam was the one who was totally deceived and Eve (by means of listening to the serpent) became the Source of True Spiritual Wisdom and Knowledge!
So, in light of this teaching at Ephesus, Paul says, basically, "NO! Adam was formed first, then Eve, and it was Eve who was deceived!"
Overall, after taking into consideration these cultural issues surrounding these instructions to the Ephesian Believers, the case for male-dominated ministry in the Body of Christ is weak. In a sense, you could say these particular instructions would still apply today to any culture in which women were trained to take over a place of absolute spiritual leadership and teach the doctrine of demons. In such a case -- they need to learn quietly and humbly receive instruction according to the truth!
But this is simply NOT the case in most of the Body of Christ today. In fact, the male-dominated perspective doesn't really fit well with other passages in the New Testament. Some that come right off the top of my head include (a) Acts 16.7 which mentions the apostle "Junias" (which in that day is a typically female name); (b) Gal 2 where there is no "slave nor free" or "male nor female" in Christ; and (c) where the well-known preacher Apollos "spoke and taught the things of the Lord diligently, knowing only the baptism of John. And Aquila [man] and Priscilla [womanheard him, and they took him and expounded to him the way of God more perfectly". (That last one is powerful -- since Jews believed women shouldn't be taught spiritual truth, yet it was the husband/wife and man/woman team of Aquila and Priscilla who corrected Apollos theologically!)
Anyway -- when culture is taken into consideration -- there's just too much uncertainty about the 1 Tim 2 text for me to simply "accept" the teaching of our culture in restricting women from full and free ministry in the Church. It'd be different if there were other verses -- numerous andclear -- to that purpose, but there aren't.
So, do I have any problem with women preachers? I have to admit, there's a whole lotta preachers I have trouble with -- but they're mostly men!
And do I have a problem with a woman prophesying in the congregation? Well -- if Paul finds it acceptable (see 1 Cor 11.5!), then my only issueis testing the Word as to whether it's from the Lord or not.
And that has nothing to do with gender. Just Spirit.
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"KingdomScribes" is a ministry led by Emil and Michele Swift. Their website can be found at KingdomScribes.net/
The Swifts have been called by God to minister together uniquely to the Body of Christ and share a revelatory teaching ministry - gifted in the Spirit to teach mysteries of the Kingdom of Heaven in a simple, direct fashion. Emil and Michele are "Kingdom Scribes" whose hearts are to raise every Believer into living and ministering in the power of the Spirit and the Word as "scribes of the Kingdom". A passion to engage the hearts, souls and spirits of their listeners has led the Swifts into a teaching style characterized by its lack of religion, rituals and church jargon. They minister in words easily understood by those to whom they speak.
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