In 1st Corinthians Paul was writing to the church concerning matters they had written to him about. The matters included following worldly traditions they had adopted such as women covering their heads and men having authority over women. These traditions continue in Middle Eastern countries today with women still wearing burqas and being under male guardianship. In the confusion of recognising who is saying what in Paul’s writings, the wrong voices have largely been listened to. The ones Paul was correcting – traditions of men. Paul would surely be horrified to see that many have mistakenly followed the very practices he was opposing – traditions used to elevate men above women.
In the community, people tend to be identified by gender, nationality, looks or qualifications. It is not so ‘In Christ’. We become ‘Beloved Disciples’ – we follow Jesus and lose our own identity. In Christ, men are not elevated above women.
As the anonymous writer of the 4th Gospel (later called John by Church Fathers) said in chapter one verse 11-
“He came to that which was his own, but his own did not receive him. Yet to all who did receive him, to those who believed in his name, he gave the right to become children of God— children born not of natural descent, nor of human decision or a husband’s will, but born of God.”
If Jesus said that natural descent (which includes nationality and gender), are not important, then why are men elevated as teachers? Jesus is the origin of our understanding – the light of the world. He is the one to turn to for understanding, not a husband who may be foolish such as Nabal, or unwise such as Ananias. Jesus also said –
“Call no man leader you have one leader the Christ” Matt. 23:10.
Paul endorsed the teachings of Jesus, but his writings are often hard to understand and include the only 2 passages in the Bible that silence women – 1 Cor. 14 & 1 Tim 2. Understanding the context transforms the meaning of each passage.
PAUL QUOTES THE CORINTHIANS
First Corinthians contains several passages which appear to contradict each other. The addition of quotation marks takes away the confusion. Chapter 7 makes it clear that Paul is citing members of the church. It is a dialogue between the Church at Corinth and Paul –
“Now for the matters you wrote about”. 1 Cor. 7:1
Paul is replying to the “matters they wrote about” – let’s discern what they are.
2 completely opposite views !
Paul sets the church straight Tongues are for believers, not unbelievers.
In the same chapter Paul sets the church straight regarding women prophesying and speaking in tongues. The church is trying to silence women just as the culture of the time did – ‘as even the law says’. It can’t be the law of Moses referred to here – it didn’t silence women. Roman law silenced women and said that man was the head of the house
‘As even the law says’ 1 Cor. 14:34
PAUL’S 2 QUESTIONS
1 – “Did the word of God originate with you?”
The word came out from Jesus
The light of Jesus reached women and men alike –
“To all who received him, to those who believed in his name, he gave the right to become children of God— children born not of natural descent, nor of human decision or a husband’s will, but born of God.” John 1:12-13
Conclusion: The spirit had been poured out on men and women and all were prophesying. Certain members of the church thought that only men should prophesy and women should be silent as even the Law of the Land said. Paul reminded the church at Corinth that the word of God did not originate with men – it came to both men and women. He concludes the chapter by encouraging all to prophesy –“So, my brothers and sisters, be eager to prophesy and do not forbid speaking in tongues.” 1 Cor. 14:39 NIV
TEST WHAT IS SAID AGAINST CHRIST
Paul said that if anyone (male or female) thinks they are a prophet or spiritual, they should test what he says against the words of Jesus, not just take his word for it. Jesus is the measuring rod.
“If anyone considers himself a prophet or spiritual person, let him recognise (perceive) that what I am writing you is the Lord’s command.” 1 Cor. 14:37
“Do not extinguish the Spirit. Do not treat prophesyings with contempt, but test all things. Hold fast to what is good.” 1 Thess. 5:19
Jesus did not silence women – The first convert to go out preaching was the Samaritan woman. He didn’t tell her to be silent in church – he told her the true place of worship was not in a building made with hands but within people –
“True worshipers will worship the Father in spirit and in truth”. John 4:23
In chapter 11 Paul addresses the issue of what women wear on their head while they prophesy in church – showing that women were indeed prophesying.
Some in the church believed that man was more important because Adam was first. Paul wants them to know that the head of man is Christ – not place themselves directly below God and leave Christ out as is demonstrated by their reasoning in verse 7 –
In verse 12 (below) Paul tells them that Eve might have been formed ‘from’ man and ‘for’ man – but the ‘man’ (singular – referring to Jesus) is of the woman. Also, it is a fact that every man since Adam is born of woman. Men and women are not independent in the Lord. To the Jews order mattered – who came first – who was the origin or head – In Christ we are a new creation –
The Jews thought that because men had a greater glory than women, that women should cover their hair and conform to traditions – the same traditions that have continued down the ages and permeate Middle Eastern cultures today.
Paul is saying that women should have authority over their own head by reason of the angels. – What angels?
BECAUSE OF THE ANGELS
The word angel (Greek noun angelos) is one of several words translators decided not to translate – it simply means “messenger”. John the Baptist was an angel/messenger and the translators for once translated it as such ” – “I send My messenger before Your face.”
In Revelation 1 the stars are the messengers or angels of the churches. In 1 Corinthians messengers (angels) from the church at Corinth visited Paul.
WHO WERE THE MESSENGERS AT CORINTH ?
As well as Paul responding to the “matters they wrote about “, Paul also addresses the issues the messengers (angels) from Corinth had raised. The original recipients of Paul’s letter knew who and what Paul was referring to, but we are left to try and work it out. We are told in chapter one that those of Chloe had informed Paul about contentions in the Church. In Chapter 16 we are told that Paul was at Ephesus and had some visitors from Corinth.
Those of Chloe visit Paul – “It has been declared (told in person) to me concerning you, my brethren, by those of Chloe, that there are contentions among you.” 1 Cor. 1: 11-14
3 More visit Paul: “I am glad of the coming of Stephanas and Fortunatus and Achaicus: for that which was lacking on your part they have supplied”. 1 Cor. 16:17
Throughout 1st Corinthians there are 3 lots of voices
In chapter 11 it seems likely that Paul is addressing the message of the messengers (the angels) who went to visit him in person, concerning the insistence by some members that women cover their hair while prophesying. The ones insisting on such a practice said man was first and woman was for his glory so her head should be covered –
Paul reminds them in chapter 16:15 that Stephanas (the messenger/angel) was the firstfruits of the church in Acchai – So if origin matters he is right up there. But more importantly he has devoted himself to good works and they are to submit to him.
“I urge you, brethren—you know the household of Stephanas, that it is the firstfruits of Achaia, and that they have devoted themselves to the ministry of the saints— that you also submit to such, and to everyone who works and labours.” 1 Cor. 16:15
In 1 Cor. 1:11-14 we read about Chloe.
“It has been declared (told in person) to me concerning you, my brethren, by those of Chloe’s household, that there are contentions among you. Now I say this, that each of you says, “I am of Paul,” or “I am of Apollos,” or “I am of Cephas,” or “I am of Christ.” Is Christ divided? Was Paul crucified for you?
“Those of Chloe’s household” should read “by those of Chloe” – it is in the context of origin – the same as “those of Paul or Apollos” etc. Men who converted people were being given greater honour. Those of Chloe had declared contentions to Paul in person. Perhaps they were regarded as lower down the ladder because they had been converted by a woman.
Paul writes to the church and says that because the messengers have raised the issue of headcoverings, his decision as a result of their visit is that women should have authority over their own head. Thus he says “because of the messengers”. The Greek word for ‘because’ is dia – and denotes the channel of an act – the reason something is done or decided. Paul decided to declare that women should have authority over their own heads as a result of the visit and concerns of the messengers (angels).
Paul concludes the argument of headcoverings by saying 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 such practice (as covering hair)—nor do the churches of God.”
1 TIMOTHY 2
The other passage used to silence women is in 1 Timothy.
“Let the woman learn in quietness and full submission. I do not permit the woman to teach or to usurp authority over the man; but to be in quietness.” 1 Timothy 2:11-12
As with Paul’s Corinthians passage, it is necessary to understand the context.
“Stay there in Ephesus so that you may command certain people not to teach false doctrines any longer or to devote themselves to myths and endless genealogies.” 1 Tim 1:3.
Paul told Timothy to stop some of the people from teaching – the ones spreading wrong doctrine. In chapter 2 he says who those “certain people” are – his message is directed at a woman or perhaps a group of women.
He didn’t allow a woman (with wrong doctrine – who is still following the myths and genealogies) to teach nor to “usurp authority” (act of herself – independently of the men) but to learn quietly. The reason – her teachings are wrong – “For Adam WAS formed first” – this statement is not elevating Adam because he was first – it’s countering the wrong doctrine the woman was teaching that Eve was formed first.
We know from the Gnostic writings that there were ideas circulating that Eve woke Adam from sleep and existed first.
Paul warned of these Gnostic teachings –
“Avoid the irreverent babble and contradictions of what is falsely called “knowledge (gnosis)” 1Tim.6:20.
MYTH – EVE WAS FIRST
Sophia was one of the figures in the Gnostic stories. Her daughter was Eve. We can deduce that the ideas were present in Ephesus at the time of Pauls’ writings. One of the Gnostic texts says that Eve woke Adam from sleep –
From “On the Origin of the World”
Sophia sent Zoe, her daughter, who is called “Eve,” as an instructor in order that she might raise up Adam, in whom there is no spiritual soul so that those whom he could beget might also become vessels of light. When Eve saw her companion, who was so much like her, in his cast down condition she pitied him, and she exclaimed: “Adam, live! Rise up upon the earth!” Immediately her words produced a result for when Adam rose up, right away he opened his eyes. When he saw her, he said: “You will be called ‘mother of the living’, because you are the one who gave me life.”
This passage promotes the Myth that Eve was made first. Gnosticism tried to combine its teachings with those of Christianity; it adopted the creation stories but changed their meanings.
Paul also said the woman was not to dominate the man, something that tended to happen in Ephesus. Legend has it that the city of Ephesus was founded by the Amazon Women who built the first temple to Artemis – a nation of all female warriors who originated from Northern Turkey. They were skilled warriors who rode horses, enslaved men and forced them to build the city. By the time of Paul, the worship of Artemis had merged into the worship of Diana of the Ephesians.
PHILOSOPHERS AND MYTHS
Paul said –
“Where is the wise person? Where is the teacher of the law? Where is the philosopher of this age? Has not God made foolish the wisdom of the world? For since in the wisdom of God the world through its wisdom did not know him, God was pleased through the foolishness of what was preached to save those who believe. Jews demand signs and Greeks look for wisdom, but we preach Christ crucified.” 1 Cor. 1:20-25
In Ephesus the thinkers of the age came together. There still stands a statue in the ancient library from AD 117 where Wisdom or Sophia was personified as a woman.
Photo: Wikimedia commons: Sophia – Personification of wisdom. Library of Celsus Ephesus
1 Tim 2:11-15
Did Paul really silence all women for all time or was he silencing a woman with wrong doctrine and referring to those wrong doctrines? It makes more sense that the passage below is countering the Gnostic teachings of the time that EVE WAS MADE FIRST and not part of Adam’s transgression, and the Gnostic myth that having children hindered salvation –
“Let the woman learn in silence with all subjection. 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. And she shall be saved in childbearing, if they continue in faith and charity and holiness with sobriety.”
Would Paul contradict Jesus who said there was to be NO HIERARCHY
“Nor are you to be called instructors, for you have one Instructor, the Messiah. The greatest among you will be your servant.” Matt. 23:8-9
Matt.23:11“Whoever wants to become great among you must be your servant, and whoever wants to be first must be slave of all.” Mark 10:43.
“Whoever does the will of God is My brother and sister and mother.” Mark 3:35.
Would Paul say order matters in one place because Adam was formed first, when he says in another place that order doesn’t matter and anyway – all men since Adam come from woman –
1 Cor. 11:11-12 “Nevertheless, in the Lord 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. And everything comes from God.”
Do the traditions that silence women make sense when compared to the teachings of Jesus and Paul ? Let’s compare the traditional interpretation of the Timothy passage with an alternative one.
Traditional interpretation –
Women are to be silent because Adam was made first – A universal rule from Paul to apply to all women for all time.
Alternative interpretation –
Deceived women teaching wrong doctrines are to stop teaching and learn in quietness – Advice for a local situation to women who still needed to learn and were leading others astray. Other women like Priscilla were ready to teach and they did.
PAULS PURPOSE OF WRITING TO TIMOTHY
1 Tim 1:3 says “Stay there in Ephesus so that you may command certain people not to teach false doctrines any longer or to devote themselves to myths and endless genealogies.”
Paul’s command was only for ‘certain people’ – the ones teaching wrong doctrine.
Paul didn’t just silence women with wrong doctrine, he silenced anyone with wrong doctrine. That’s the real point here. It’s not a matter of gender – it’s a matter of stopping those who teach wrongly whether they are male or female.
In Titus he said there were certain men of the circumcision party who must have their mouths muzzled –
Titus 1:10-14 “For there are many unruly and vain talkers and deceivers, specially they of the circumcision: Whose mouths must be stopped (muzzled)”
In Philippians Paul referred to the circumcision party as dogs –
“Watch out for those dogs, those workers of evil, those mutilators of the flesh!” Phil. 3:2
CONSEQUENCES OF EDEN
In Gen 3:16 God said to Eve –
“I will make your pains in childbearing very severe; with painful labour you will give birth to children. Your desire will be for your husband, and he will rule over you.”
Or literally translated “and to your husband your desire and he will rule over you”
This is a conditional curse – “if your desire is to your husband he will rule over you”. We are captive to whatever holds us captive by our desire.
An interesting interpretation is found in The Targum of Jonathan Ben Uzziel (Rabbi and disciple of Hillel – 1st century CE)
“And to your husband shall be your desire, and he will have rule over you unto righteousness or unto sin.”
This interpretation recognises that it can be a bad thing for a husband to rule over his wife – they can lead them to sin.
Eve had been deceived by the serpent and turned to her husband regarding the fruit instead of turning to God – a fatal mistake. But Mary (Jesus’ mother) got it right, her desire was for God even when she was engaged to Joseph. She said “I am the handmaid of the Lord”– it was God who ruled over Mary. We have a choice – to be ruled over by desire for a husband or desire for God. In fact, Paul said it’s better not to marry because such a partnership can make us put God in second place. The so-called curse on Eve is a conditional curse – a warning. Jesus said that if we don’t put Him first then we can’t be His disciples –
“If anyone comes to me and does not hate father and mother, wife and children, brothers and sisters–yes, even their own life–such a person cannot be my disciple.” Luke 14:26
In general the church has been going against the teachings of Jesus and Paul in regard to silencing women and doing the very opposite of what Paul was saying should be done ! As a result, the spirit of prophesy that burns in some women has been largely quenched to the detriment of both women and the entire church. To discern what is right and wrong amongst the confusing voices of first Corinthians and 1 Timothy, the passages need to be aligned with the teachings of Christ. Alarm bells should ring when passages elevate men as teachers when it is also written –
“There is no longer Jew or Gentile, slave or free, male and female. For you are all one in Christ Jesus.” Gal 3:28
“Don’t be called leaders, one is your leader, the Christ”. Matt. 23:10
Perhaps it is best summed up by the woman in the Song of Solomon
“I encountered the watchmen on their rounds of the city. They beat me and bruised me; they took away my cloak, those guardians of the walls.” Song of Solomon 5:7
In the spirit of the Bereans, I hope Paul’s passages will be rethought and a reformation begins which again excites people with the original and liberating message of the Gospel – Men and women were on equal footing – both inside church gatherings and outside church gatherings as depicted by this fresco –
Photo: 5th Century image of Cerula, Naples. Depicted with flaming Gospels believed to be symbolic of role of Bishop. Sunday Independent Apr 1, 2018
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For a printable pdf of this article click HERE
For explanations of passages traditionally used to elevate men – see Silencing Women
For a 10 min youtube click The Shame of a Woman Speaking