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Matthew Bauer

Matthew's Blog

You are here:  blog  >  July 2011  >  Women in Ministry

Women in Ministry

Someone asked me a great question the other day, which I want to share with all of you.  A young woman asked me to explain to her 1 Corinthians 14:34 – one of the more challenging scriptures to interpret in our culture – which says, “Let women keep silent in the churches, for they are not permitted to speak; but they are to be submissive, as the law also says.”  While so many people I’ve talked to like to dance around this one, either because they have no idea how to interpret it or because they don’t want to be offensive, I have no problem being direct or offensive, and I love to study and get to the bottom of these challenging scriptures.  So, here’s the answer that I sent to this question.  Ultimately I say a lot without saying much at all (which you all know I’m good at!), but I hope that it will help you to see the scripture in a new light and that it will give you a deeper revelation of the heart and meaning behind this scripture, while also revealing God’s release of women into His Kingdom purposes for the church.  And, if nothing else, I hope it raises the right questions in you to propel you on your own search for God’s truth surrounding the powerful role of women in ministry.  Enjoy!

1 Corinthians 14:34

iStock_000015742269XSmallThere is so much uncertainty surrounding this verse in the church today, but actually, that uncertainty has only come about in recent history, along with the advent of women’s rights and a push for social equality in western society (this equality clearly does not exist far outside of western society). 

In the time of Jesus and in Jewish culture, women existed for men, and men existed for God (as reflected in creation, when man was first created from and for God, and then woman created from man and for him - because it was not good for man to be alone).  Woman was created as man’s helper.  So, while women were a valuable part of the early church, it was unheard of for them to have leadership or influence except through their husbands.  Even today, in some parts of eastern society, women cover their faces for the reason of only being seen by their husbands (in complete and unquestionable devotion).  Of course, due to the corruption of man (and woman), this is never lived out as it was intended, and the early structures have become unrecognizable by today’s standard. 

We read in the scriptures that women are to obey their husbands, and that men are to honor their wives – a manner by which both put the other first and prefer one another over themselves (that is, they love each other) – justifying the spiritual equality and worth of both genders, while being clear about the societal hierarchy in place.  Godly hierarchy does not lord over its subordinates, however, but serves (as the greatest among us must first be the servant to all).  Therefore, the woman’s role in obeying her husband has everything to do with equipping him to fulfill God’s purpose for his life – making them both inseparable from that call, and making them most effective only when they are united as “one flesh.”

Also, understand that in the culture of Paul’s day (when he wrote to the Corinthians), women did not work outside of the home.  It was the man’s job to provide for his family, and the woman’s job to care for her family – and so men are more-often ‘wired’ to provide and women are wired to care.  Therefore, without a specific trade to work toward, women did not study.  They did not learn the scriptures or how to question them like men did.  So men, having that knowledge (as all boys were required to study the scriptures), were to provide spiritual leadership to their family.  Men learned from the Rabbis and women learned from the men.  Of course, women did go to church (synagogue), and so they heard from the Rabbis directly, but because they did not study the scriptures themselves, and because they did not formally learn how to interpret or analyze the scriptures, they were to ask their husbands for help with spiritual questions, and they were not allowed to teach (just as we would not allow someone to teach a masters course in physics who had never studied science).  The husbands would ask their questions of the Rabbis, and even bring to them questions that they were unable to answer for their wives (because the husbands and wives were in partnership – one flesh).

So as I said, due to the fallen nature of mankind, this is rarely the case in our culture, and for many centuries, men lorded over their wives, abused their wives, ignored their wives, and (contrary to the Paul’s command) dishonored their wives.  So, women rose up, took authority from their husbands, and demanded social equality (in addition to the unconditional spiritual equality and worth that they already possessed – which could not be taken from them).  They then began studying the scripture (and other things) for themselves, and in turn became quite knowledgeable about spiritual things – more so than many of the men in our culture, who had long since abandoned the societal requirement of learning the scriptures as a child.  In fact, all of this (the removal of biblical teaching and prayer in schools, and the establishment of societal equality among genders) has happened in the last 100-150 years, making this verse now very hard to interpret.

But, with these changes have come numerous women who have had great impact in the church and in the Kingdom of God – not that women did not have great impact before, but it was not through teaching or leading in these areas.  The signs are evident that God uses and moves powerfully through many bold women today who are leaders in the church.  God’s favor and blessing of their ministries is a sure sign that He honors the place of women in church leadership.  Still, whether He intended it this way, or whether He is simply redeeming the corruption of mankind (and how we have abandoned the structure of honor and submission and unity that He intended), only God knows.

So, while there is much cultural and scriptural evidence to support Paul’s instruction that women should be silent in the church (or rather, that they should not openly question the Rabbi or be allowed to teach), there is also much evidence that God approves of and uses women in church leadership today (at least in our culture).  Hopefully, this will help you interpret the scripture in the context of Paul’s entire letter, and in the context of our present society and religious system.

Praying God’s best for you,

Posted: 7/7/2011 12:46:52 PM by Matthew Bauer | with 0 comments
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