Sunday, February 10, 2013

A Woman's Place in Chrisitanity

1 Corinthians 14:34 -- “Women should be silent during the church meetings. It is not proper for them to speak. They should be submissive, just as the law says.”

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Excuse me?

Did I read that right? Women are not allowed to speak in church services! We are to be silent and submissive! What!?!

This particular scripture took me off guard. I am a woman, a rather liberal and progressive woman I might add, and this one stopped me in my tracks. I can understand why Christianity is sometimes a sensitive subject to strong women. So now I had two options: I could overlook it and go on about my day or I could face it head on. I suppose you know which I chose, so here we go.

Once I began to breathe again and got my mind to restart, I remembered something very important -- the role of women in the 1st century was drastically different than it is in Western society today. Though the Bible applies to us in every time period (why it is often referred to as the “Living Word”) it was still written in a specific time and to a specific audience. In this case, Paul wrote this letter in about 55 A.D. to the church of Corinth. To understand the strong and straight-forward voice Paul uses in this letter, it is important to know a little more about Corinth.

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Corinth was a major cosmopolitan city, one of the busiest and most important trade centers and seaports in Achaia (located just west of Athens in present-day Greece.) This city was full of sin, idolatry and immorality that was beginning to filter heavily into the church. Paul does not worry about hurting feelings, including mine two centuries later, his purpose was to identify problems, offer solutions and make it possible for a church to function in the corrupt societies of the world.

Even in the 1st century women were thought of as property. They were to be silent, submissive, obey commands without asking questions, bear children and did not have any real say in the goings and comings of politics, religion or often even their own futures.

However, a Christian woman was allowed a few, though subtle, progressive indulgences. A woman was allowed, and encouraged, to worship and praise God (as long as she covered her head -- 1 Corinthians 11:5.) Jesus had many women travel with him during his ministry, including 3 whom Luke calls by name: Mary Magdalene, Joanna and Suzanna (Luke 8:1-3). Jesus often talked to women as equals, something extremely uncommon at that time (John 4:27). To put simply, if being a woman is hard today, I could not imagine what it was like back then.

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Knowing more about the way life was for women in the 1st century helps me understand this verse (1 Corinthians 14:34) a little better. It was the law of the time for women to be silent and submissive -- it was radical for women to even be present at such meetings. The next verse (1 Corinthians 14:35) goes on to explain that women should wait until they were home to ask their husbands. This implies women were allowed to ask questions! If their husband didn't know the answer, he could then bring the subject up at the next church meeting. Look at the subject from this perspective, the Christian society was very progressive when it came to women’s rights during the time.

Paul’s message to the Corinthians was not about women’s roles, it was about unity in the church. It was simply fact that women were not as well educated or publicly acknowledged in that time. The Christian freedom applied fully to women -- it gave them right to worship, participate and contribute as an active member of the body of Christ, even in public worship. However, because of the societal restrictions to women at the time, openly questioning any aspect in public was frowned upon by some and caused a rift in the church among believers.

Though Paul uses strong and straightforward language in his letter, he is actually only trying to keep peace and unity within the church. By allowing women to freely and publicly participate in worship, but be silent and submissive during teachings, it was a middle ground for the church to compromise on and keep their unity as a body of believers intact.

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So what does this have to do with women today? My takeaway is this -- I don’t believe I must be silent or submissive during church because I am a woman. However, I do believe I need to be aware of the people around em and respect my fellow believers. When I am attending a corporate worship, I would not object the person preaching because I have respect to others who are listening and learning. If I have something to say on the matter, I would bring it up in a smaller setting. When I worship in small groups, I am open and honest about my views, but I am still respectful of others who are around me and how my attitude and opinions might affect others in both a positive and a negative way.

As women we are not required to be silent, but as believers and part of the body of Christ, we are to be respectful and not be a stumbling block to our neighbors. We are to lift each other up, pray for one another, encourage one another, and love one another. I am a woman and God loves me just as much as he loves any other. I take comfort in that. God listens to me, God knows me and God loves me. It doesn't get any better than that!


  1. Unfortunately these verses are still taken literally in too many churches.

  2. So we don't have to take the Ten Commandments literally? I don't literally have to not murder someone or swear or steal... Nice to know that I don't literally have to love my neighbor as myself.

    I disagree with you point that Christian women in Corinth were given "a few, though subtle, progressive indulgences."
    The Zondervan Archaeological Study Bible footnote corresponding to the passage in 1 Corinthians 14 states, "The religious activities of women in the Greco-Roman world spanned a wide range and exhibited enormous diversity. Some mystery cults included ecstatic, orgiastic worship in which women played a prominent role, and priestesses were common in the worship of Greek goddesses... The Bacchae, a play by the Greek poet Euripides tells of frenzied religious celebration of the god Dionysus by women who followed his cult..."
    So I don't think Paul was giving the woman in Corinth more privileges, I think he was instructing them on how to honor God in their worship.

    Now for women roles... Not going to go into whole lot of detail, but men and women have different roles in the Church and home. Different does NOT mean unequal, you can feed a dollar bill into a vending machine but not 100 pennies, same value different strength, weaknesses and roles

    The bottom line is: Do we believe the WHOLE Bible or just part? 2 Timothy 3:16 says "All Scripture is God-breathed and is useful for teaching, rebuking, correcting and training in righteousness," NIV.
    So "all Scripture" is pretty inclusive.

    I won't be a annoying commenter that comments controversial stuff and then disappears. So I'll try to find your email :)
    A head-covering, silent in Church sister in Christ
    Joanna H.

  3. I apologize for not responding sooner. I accidentally overlooked your comment in my feed, this is my error. I have changed a few settings so that does not happen again.

    I'm not sure why you jumped to the ten commandments from this post. There is no argument whether you should obey the ten commandment, it is God's law. I am not arguing with law.

    In my comparison of women within religion, I realize I was focusing on women within other patriarch religions, more specifically the Jewish faith. However, there were plenty of religions where women reigned. In most Pagan faiths the High Priestess has the most power in their circle and is looked to for wisdom and guidance, not the male counterpart.

    I agree with you that men and women have different yet equal roles in the church and the family. However, my intention is not for women to overthrow the power of men, but for both to work together to create and more powerful church.

    So scripture is important. But it is the "Living Word" of God. It is meaningful in any time. The time we live in is very different from the time Paul writes in, and yet still similar. We still live in a corrupt society and we are still debating the details of how a church suppose to operate. However, when Paul says "be submissive, just as the law says." (1 Corinthians 14:34) He is speaking of government law, not written law. Women can be silent and still be powerful. I can be submissive to my husband and still make an impact on the world.

    The fact that you and I are writing and responding on the Internet in a public form let us know that our world has changed. This is the same concept in this day and age as writing letters or speaking on the street in the 1st century. We are women and we will be heard. I am respectful to my husband and to my church, but that doesn't mean that I won't speak the Word of God.

    The debate of women in the church is at large, but are we restricted to only working with children or each other? Can our words not make a difference?

    You spoke of women lead worship in other (Pagan) religions in the 1st century. There is currently a flock of women who are going back to those religions and leaving God behind because they have no power under an oppressing patriarchal rule. I do not agree with this, but the Bible would appear to say otherwise, 1 Peter 3:7 says that women are "the weaker partner." Where does that leave a woman but worthless and unappreciated. However, that verse says more. "Husbands, in the same way be considerate as you live with your wives, and treat them with respect as the weaker partner and as heirs with you of the gracious gift of life, so that nothing will hinder your prayers." A man must treat his wife with respect because you share life together. A wife submits to her husband out of respect and love, not out of force. In the same way we respect our God with love and respect not force. But in that verse, what does society focus on? They focus on the words "weaker partner" making the woman lower than the man not an equal. It is in these readings that the strife of women in church comes from.

    In 1 Corinthians 14:34, my original posted verse, Paul appears to put women in their place. But that is all there is to life, what does God have for a woman who is not even allowed to speak? The answer is a lot because when Jesus said to love your neighbor he did not mean just your male neighbor, or your healthy neighbor, or even your neighbor who believes what you believe. He means everyone in the world, the righteous and the sinners.

    I am a woman and I am a child of God. I am submissive to my husband, my church and my God because I love and respect them. However, I also have a voice that the world needs to hear. I cannot use the double-edged sword God gave me (Hebrews 4:12), which is God's Word, if I am not allowed to speak it. A woman's place in Christianity is a narrow road, but that for Christianity as a whole (Matthew 7:13-14).