Continuing this series on the issue of women in ministry, we recall that our aim is to read the entire Bible in developing our theological beliefs. We do this in order to prevent one or two passages to be taken improperly out of the context of the whole story as thought they define the permanent and complete voice of God on a subject. What often occurs in the discussion regarding a woman’s role in the church is that two Pauline passages are recited as the whole of the biblical record on women:
As in all the congregations of the saints, women should remain silent in the churches. They are not allowed to speak, but must be in submission, as the Law says. If they want to inquire about something, they should ask their own husbands at home; for it is disgraceful for a woman to speak in the church. (1 Co 14:33-35)
A woman should learn in quietness and full submission. I do not permit a woman to teach or to have authority over a man; she must be silent. (1 Ti 2:11-12)
We will refer to these as the Women Keep Silent Passages (WKSPs)
Somehow, the cultural notion of female inferiority has become fossilized in the Church and doctrine and practice built up around it. Because of this, two passages have taken on an importance that is out of perspective with the rest of the Bible. If we carefully read the Bible in its entirety, we find a history of women’s involvement in the life of God’s people that is far broader than the the WKSPs allow. Reading the Bible as a story should lead us to ask a different question from the legalistic, what is allowed. Instead, we should look at what women actually did, leading us to a different question, What Did Women Do (WDWD)? When we ask this question as we scan the pages of our bibles, we find that women led, prophesied, taught, they were apostles, and they were spiritual mentors. They were (Blue Parakeet) exceptions to the inferiority culture. To allow the WKSPs to overwhelm the preponderance of WDWD passages is an unbiblical approach to analyzing the issue.
When reading Paul, we must remember that he is in conversation with his scriptures, the Old Testament. He is certainly aware of the importance of Miriam as one third of Israel’s early leadership trio. Moses was the Lawgiver, Aaron the priest, and Miriam the prophetess (cf: Micah 6:4). Paul also knew and revered the importance of Deborah the Judge. Here was woman called by God to lead Israel back to righteousness. She could speak for Him as a prophet, render decisions in a court of law, exercise spiritual leadership, and be a military commander. It is important to note that she was the leader of ALL of Israel, including the men. Paul would also know well the story of Josiah finding the Torah and repenting of how wicked the people of Israel had become. Who does he seek out to speak with God? Huldah the prophetess (not the only one by any stretch.) Paul knows that women have been used by God long before he began to pen his letters to Timothy and the church at Corinth. Does he now presume to overrule the choices God has made? We will look into the New Testament women in the next post.
UPDATE: Here is an interesting thread touching on the overall issue. Many of the facets of a theological discussion (tradition, single passage vs the ‘whole story’) are present among this intelligent group.