The Role of Women in the Church

December 9, 2003

SOC of Religion

The Role of Women in the Church With the advent of the feminist movement, the role of women in all parts of society has come under increasing scrutiny. One area of recent controversy is the role of women in the Christian Church. Some churches whose traditions and practices are less rigidly tied to Biblical doctrines have begun placing women in leadership positions such as pastor or teacher. Other churches which interpret the Bible more literally have been slow to adopt such changes. Much of the confusion is based on attempts to interpret scriptures pertaining to 1\'234412\'1233654 35, this passage commands women to be silent during worship service. Similarly but with more details, I Timothy 2 verses 8 - 15 not only contains a command to be silent but also instruction on authority along with a reference to the fall of Adam and Eve for further explanation. Here is the passage in its entirety using the NIV (New International Version) Bible translation: I want men everywhere to lift up holy hands in prayer, without anger or disputing. I also want women to dress modestly, with decency and propriety, not with braided hair or gold or pearls or expensive clothes, but with good deeds, appropriate for women who profess to worship God. 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. For Adam was formed first, then Eve. And Adam was not the one deceived; it was the woman who was deceived and became a sinner. But women will be kept safe through childbirth, if they continue in faith, love and holiness with propriety. A woman raised in the U.S. in this day and age, reading the letter for the first time, may be quite taken aback by its apparent chauvinism. However, there are some specific historical and cultural references that must be taken into account when considering the meaning and intent of this passage.

First of all, this was a letter written by Paul to a young preacher named Timothy. Timothy was presumably preaching at the church in the city of Ephesus. Paul starts out the letter by telling him to stay in Ephesus and correct false teachers who were creating a disruption in the church. Various commentators have tried to recreate some of the heresies of these false teachers. This can be a difficult task since there is not a record of exactly what was being said, so only remarks made in the text itself can give a clue. One probable heresy was the idea of asceticism as a way to achieve spirituality. The ascetic practices being recommended consisted of; abstinence from certain foods, from marriage, and sex. Add to all of this physical training as an additional means of spirituality. It was thought that through these practices, one could achieve something akin to heaven on earth. In other words, there was possibly a denial of a future physical resurrection being taught in favor of a spiritual one that could be achieved in their present lifetimes. It seems also from Paul\'s remarks that many women in the church had been converted to this message and they were being persuaded to renounce their traditional roles in favor of a more egalitarian way of life in line with their new-found spirituality. This would explain the strong words Paul makes in reference to Eve, reminding the women that she was indeed led into sin, and that bearing children and raising them was a good thing, not unspiritual as they were being taught. Yet, the other parts of this passage that admonish women not to teach and not to have authority over a man have been agreed upon by many, if not most, commentators to have timeless application; the words and grammar in Greek do not lend themselves to any cultural reference. The teaching that Paul is concerned about here is specifically the truths of the faith while the authority in question refers to women in governing or leadership positions of the church. But, before making conclusions on a Biblical truth it is important to see if the truth holds fast throughout the whole of scripture.