Well, because Paul said so, and when he said so, it made it into the Bible. That's God's Word. He said it in 1 Corinthians 14:34-35. Some think so anyway. There's actually a dispute there. But then, even if he didn't, he said it in 1 Timothy 2:11-12.
"Let a woman learn in silence and total submission–I do not permit a woman to teach nor to exercise authority over a man, but to be in silence.
Seems pretty straight-forward, doesn't it? It doesn't seem like there could be that much to question then, when it comes to the role of women in ministry (and beyond). And yet, there is. There are two major lines of thought on women in ministry, people who fall under two major camps known as: complementarian and egalitarian. And within that complementarian camp, there are a vast number of different ways given to explain this passage, and how to apply it, and what exceptions there are to it.
Quick examples include:
- Women should never teach or speak, period
- Women can speak, but never teach. Period
- Women can teach, but not men. Only other women and children, period.
- Women can teach men, but only in a testimonial sort of way.
- Women can teach men, but only under the authority and headship of a lead male pastor figure.
- Women can teach men, but only during Sunday and Wednesday evening services, and under the headship of a man.
Seems the waters get muddied pretty quickly when it comes to how this verse actually plays out in the modern body of Christ. So what do we do? How can we tell what women are actually allowed to do, and what they're not? Paul said it clearly. He did not permit them to teach, but he did want them to learn in silence and submission.
Raised complementarian, I was taught these scriptures were to be taken to heart and acknowledged as my personal instructions from God. And why not? If the Bible wasn't written as a guideline for all people at all times, why read it?
But I did read it, and I've continued to read it, and as I have, I've found Paul's letters to contain a lot more than that one passage regarding women. In fact, I've found a number of women mentioned by name, who seem to be anything but silent and lacking authority. And Paul doesn't even call them out on it. Ready to meet them:? In case you're unfamiliar, let me introduce you.
She's called, by Paul, a deacon in Romans 16:1. Note this. The same word for deacon appears three times elsewhere in Romans (13:4 and 15:8), and each time, it is better translated as minister than servant. If Paul wanted to refer to her as a servant or simple assistant, there were definitely better terms or phrases he could have easily used. (He uses them in Romans 15:25 and 1 Corinthians 16:15, for instance.) Yet this instance of the use "deacon" is to be categorized with the uses of the same word in Philippians 1:1, when Paul addresses "all overseers and deacons," and 1 Timothy 3:8, when Paul lists the qualifications for deacons as church leaders.
The language used in this passage specifies Phoebe to be a deacon "of the church in Cenchrea," which indicates a recognized office. Paul tells the Romans to "receive her" rather than extend greetings, implying she was a bearer of the Romans. It seems he must have held her in high regard. He goes on to tell them she had been a leader of many, including himself. This word for leader translates, "leader, chief, president, presiding officer," and is from the same original Greek word used in Romans 12:8 where Paul states that if one's gift is to lead, then they are to do so diligently.
Even Charles Ryrie, a complementarian, recognizes that the word used to describe Phoebe in Romans 16:2 "includes some kind of leadership."
If you haven't already, maybe find a Bible, or pull up biblegateway.com and search the references for yourself. Paul had nothing but good things to say for and about this woman who lead in a way we seem to see discouraged. Ready to meet another?
She's greeted right after Phoebe, before her husband, in Romans 16:3, and referred to as Paul's fellow worker. In Acts 18:26, we find her taking aside Apollos to teach him the way of God more accurately.
"She could hardly be excluded from the ranks of a teacher." - Charles Ryrie
And she taught a man. Against Greek and Hebrew custom, she's also listed before her husband here, making it most probably she played the dominant roles in the actions. Paul also respectfully refers to her as "Prisca."
It's interesting to note how Apollos is described in Acts.
- eloquent man
- mighty in the scriptures
- instructed in the way of the Lord
- fervent in spirit
- speaking and teaching accurately about Jesus
- boldly speaking in the synagogues
Pretty impressive. Pretty high up there. A woman instructed him, and Paul didn't have a bone to pick with it. She wasn't silent, she didn't stay home and ask her husband to correct Appolos. She did it, and Paul praised her.
Well, first there's the name game. While some poorly translated versions tried changing her name from its original Junia to a masculine-sounding name, Junias, we (basically) universally know:
- Every reliable testimony of the first millenia church recognizes Junia as a woman.
- No surviving Greek manuscript identifies Andronicus' partner as a man.
- No early translation suggests this is a masculine name.
- Junia was a common Latin women's name.
- No confirmed instance of the use Junias has ever been found.
With that out of the way, this woman is described by Paul as "outstanding among the apostles," in Romans 16:7. An apostle, among other things, is someone who Paul identified as having encountered the risen Christ, and having received a commission to preach the gospel, and endure the labors and sufferings of missionary work. (1 Corinthians 9:1, 15:8, Galatians 1:1, 15-17, Romans 1:1-5, 1 Corinthians 1:1)
St. John Chrysostom (ca. AD 344-407) wrote a lot about Romans, and he was not an advocate of women leaders, but check out what he has to say about Junia: "Even to be an apostle is great, but to be of note among them - consider how wonderful a song of honor that is. For they were of note because of their works, because of their successes. How great the wisdom of this woman that she was even deemed worthy of the title of the apostles."
Exciting! Ready for a couple more? Meet a pair of my favorites:
EUODIA & SYNTYCHE
In Philippians 4, Paul describes these women as having "contended at (his) side" (Not under him or behind him. At his side.) in the cause of the gospel.
To quote my former pastor, "You know what that means? These were women preachers..." That's how you labor in the gospel; you preach it. These women were doing it right alongside Paul, "along with Clement" (another male they worked with, not under or behind) and Paul's other "fellow workers whose names are in the book of life."
Here we are again, finding Paul comfortable with women ministering along with him, women who were anointed and appointed by God just as he and other men were.
Well, I'm convinced. There were women Paul knew and greeted and condoned all over the place, who did much more than sit in silence and watch the men. Maybe they didn't get the memo Paul sent Timothy. Maybe Paul kept changing his mind about how he felt about women leading and teaching. Maybe... maybe we need to take a much closer look at the passages that seem to forbid women to speak up and embrace their God-given gifts of teaching and leading. Maybe when we see select portions of specific letters saying one thing, and Paul living out a position that runs quite contrary to those letter portions, we need to take a closer look at what is happening to instigate those letters.
The first time I was introduced to the contrasting letters of Paul, Pastor Doug was giving the message, and he used an analogy that made things click for me. He asked us to imagine that he'd been out one night, that he'd walked into a cafe and discovered a group of women from the church at a booth by the window. Because his wife wasn't there, and because of the particular public circumstances, he didn't hug any of them. He then went home that night and wrote a letter to our assistant pastor, explaining the situation, and that he hadn't given any of the women hugs.
A month later, let's say he came down with an icky bug over the weekend. Word spread throughout the congregation that he was sick. On Saturday afternoon though, he sends out a mass church-wide email to let everyone know he would indeed be there to preach, but adds a note at the end saying something like, "Needless to say, I won't be hugging anyone in the lobby this week, so please don't be upset with me."
Fast forward ten years: Some folks happen to run across both of these letters, and they decide that Pastor Doug's universal policy must have been anti-hugging. Surely, since both of these letters are about instances when Doug didn't hug others, he must have had something against hugging.
But wait. What if these researchers actually talked to Doug's church congregation? They'd laugh in the researchers' faces. They'd give responses like, "Pastor Doug was a hug machine! The man hugged everyone." That was the real truth. It was so true, in fact, that the only time Doug ever had to write about hugging was when he wasn't doing it. He had to let everyone know when he wasn't doing it, because everyone was so used to him living and acting as someone who gave and received hugs.
Maybe... just... like... Paul. Maybe the only times Paul had to write about his thoughts on women speaking and leading were during particular exceptional circumstances. Phoebe, Priscilla, Junia, Euodia and Syntyche are all proof he didn't actually expect all women at all times to learn in silence. When Paul wrote about the five women listed above (and the others not even mentioned here), he gave us an obvious look at the way he lived his life, what he believed and knew to be true. When we look at, say, 1 Timothy 2, we are looking at a specific letter written to someone in particular, about Paul's feelings over a singular situation. So, if we take the few times Paul prohibited women from speaking as his universal theological policy regarding women, we must accept that Paul can only then be a hypocrite. Saying one thing and doing another makes a hypocrite. Unless we understand how to look at the letters of Paul, that's exactly what we see him doing.
- Major resources for this post include Philip B. Payne's Man and Woman: One in Christ , John Temple Bristow's What Paul Really Said About Women, Doug Lebsack's paper Women in Ministry, and various collective sites and articles found in the world wide web.