It’s odd to think that the debate on whether women should preach, teach, and lead a church is still a thing. For those who didn’t grow up in the church environment, and who might be looking in from the outside, here’s a summary of why women aren’t church leaders.
The Bible says a woman shouldn’t even speak in church
There are two places in the New Testament that explicitly say women shouldn’t preach (let alone lead). One can be found in 1 Timothy 2 and the other in 2 Corinthians 14.
1 Timothy 2:11 – 14
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. 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.
2 Corinthians 14:34-35
The women should keep silent in the churches. For they are not permitted to speak, but should be in submission, as the Law also says. If there is anything they desire to learn, let them ask their husbands at home. For it is shameful for a woman to speak in church.
As the casual reader might observe, neither of these authors had a high view of a woman’s capability or her right to contribute to the community. And as you would rightly guess, any young woman in the post-Christian world who looks at these verses would rather write off Christianity because of its archaic ideas.
Understanding the authors’ points of view
I’ll be the first to admit, that when I read those verses, my belly riles at the narrowminded simplicity that diminishes my God given talents and worth.
However, for them, this was their normal. Slavery was assumed. Women were viewed as property that can be exchanged to improve your position, or as the carrier of your progeny.
If your wife was barren, a bad cook, or generally annoying, you could divorce her without much ado. If your daughter was promiscuous, it was completely acceptable to have her stoned because no man would want a “spoiled” bride.
These mindsets aren’t unique to the Bible, or the Middle East even. Civilization has rarely adopted a matriarchal society, or one that viewed women as equal to men. This factoid makes it easier to understand where the authors are coming from, even though I don’t agree with them.
But, if these are archaic world views, why does the modern church prohibit women preaching?
Well this is where it gets embarrassing for us Christians. Some of us believe that the Bible is the inerrant word of God. Those who read Leviticus and become horrified at what is the acceptable treatment of slaves and women, point to the fact that this was “the Old Covenant”. They argue that the New Testament is the ushering in of the New Covenant and the renewed Community of Faith.
Because of this “New Covenant” view, doing things the way it was done two thousand years ago is OK.
Which, quite frankly, is shocking. To me, it’s based on the assumption that the moment Jesus stepped into the lives of Paul, Peter, and every other person after them, they became holy and fully Christ-like. Forgetting completely that the disciples failed Jesus regularly while they followed Him. They’re forgetting that these guys were Muppets, just as much as we are Muppets.
Proponents of this view disregards the fact that these “books” in the New Testament are letters. Letters which are one side of a conversation, addressed to a specific group of people, in a time and place far removed from our own. It’s also only a portion of the letters written to the churches at that time, the rest was excluded from our canon and can be found in the Apocrypha.
Funnily enough, liberal churches feel uncomfortable with the idea that there are churches that still yearn for segregation. However, they do not feel uncomfortable with having the same attitudes towards women; who are only allowed in certain spheres of family and church.
Do we look on all scripture as archaic and irrelevant?
No. Though scripture wasn’t created by historians, or those in pursuit of fact, it was created by philosophers and priests who wanted to create a blueprint on how to navigate life. They wrote, and others curated, these works to answer the things we all grapple with.
The story of the Garden and the Fall deals with the communion we had with God, and how through our own actions, we messed this up. It tells a story of how this relationship is restored. The creation story is not there to scientifically answer how the world works, but to help guide us to the meaning of our own lives.
Truth can still be found in this ancient collection of works.
Should women be allowed to preach or lead a church?
I’ll leave this question to you, because I’m still wrestling with the indoctrination that women should only fill certain roles. The thought of a female Pope, or a female church leader, makes me squirm. (Again, it is laughable because I am a respected team leader, who has a male subordinate in my “secular” job.)
But I want to leave you with scripture. Two stories, one that follows the other. The two creation stories.
In Genesis 1, the “cherry on the creation cake” was the creation of mankind (verse 27):
“So God created mankind in his own image,
in the image of God he created them;
male and female he created them.”
Male and female were created in the image of God. God gave them authority over all creation. They were equal in every way.
In Genesis 2, the story is a little different (verse 7):
“Then the Lord God formed a man from the dust of the ground and breathed into his nostrils the breath of life, and the man became a living being.”
God’s very essence is breathed into man. However, the woman is created as an afterthought, and doesn’t get the same intimacy and Godly ruach. She’s made from the “glory” of man, not the glory of God.
Before you decide, here’s some Bible History
What many people don’t know is that these two stories were written by different authors. The Genesis 2 story (and swathes of Genesis and Exodus) was written by an unknown person in the early years of Solomon’s reign. It was penned to make sense of Israel’s history and place in the world up until that point. This writer is known among scholars as the Yahwist writer.
This creation story (Gen 2) bound humans and the entire created order together. His story gave answers to questions the ancients had: Why did weeds grow in the cultivated fields? Why did humans have dominion over animals?
The first creation story (Gen 1) was one of the last parts of the Hebrew Scriptures to be written. During the Babylonian exile, the priests placed more emphasis on traditions that had fallen into general disuse – circumcision and Sabbath. This was done to keep the Jewish “separateness” intact, despite being deprived of land and temple which is the foundation of every nation. These writers are known as the Deuteronomists.
The Gen. 1 creation story was created to establish Sabbath as part of the created order. Sabbath should be observed, because God rested at the culmination of creation.
These two stories are written 400 years apart, by authors who want to give guidance to a people in remarkably different circumstances. Their world views are so far removed from each other, as ours are when compared to the views of citizens of the 17th century.
Both stories are in the Bible. Both establish the value of women.
Which of these stories will you chose to shape your view of women? Which of these stories answers the question: Should women be allowed to preach or lead a church?