A Woman’s Place and the Implications of our Theology

As I wrap up this gender series, I alternate between feeling hopeful and despondent. I feel hopeful because this is a conversation; people are starting to ask questions. There are raised hands all over the back of the room that most people are trying to ignore, but the hands are there. I feel despondent though because it’s still a conversation. There are plenty of people who are unwilling to evaluate their stance or ask relevant questions. I’m working on moving from wondering why God asked me to do something that seems pointless to praying believing that God is already working.

I realize this is culturally motivated, especially in the area where I live. This way of looking at the genders is historically grounded. Do we think this is the one thing the world has gotten right? That women are second or confined to certain spaces or somehow less than men is the one thing that we have in common with Islam, for example?

We’ve created a lot of problems and as we’re searching for solutions, we seem unwilling to evaluate why the problems exist. Why are women not equipped to teach the Bible? Why do men not read books written by women? Why are there continuous sex scandals in the church? Why are there so many weird things said about women with no pushback from leadership? We could stop and realize that our own theology often sets us up neatly for these situations.

Recently- although it’s not the only time this has happened- I saw a Facebook post that talked about how the “good old days” included things like slavery and misogyny. A man who commented spent most of his time pointing out that of course, women had a place and we had to be sure they stayed there. That’s frequently mixed into the conversation about how women are treated poorly in Christian circles. “Well, we want to be nice, but not too nice.” If that offends you because that’s not you personally, look at the broader picture. Listen to what other people are saying. And then, if you get angry, you’ll have to quit Twitter as well.

When we talk about gender roles, we all know we are really going to talk about “women’s roles.” It’s astonishing to me that for all I hear about how Scripture is so clear in what it says about women, no one is doing the same thing. People (mostly men) are making up their own lists of what they are going to allow women to do. Those lists can be very interesting. Most of the time, we find that women are doing all the work that we claim they don’t. Women provide for their families. Women protect others. Women lead, even if we only “let” them lead by example. Women full-on run large scale ministries directed toward women or that are overseas and, for some reason, therefore acceptable. Women do all the work we claim they aren’t allowed to; we just won’t give them titles or positions or we call it something else.

We have to look some of this in the face instead of ignoring it. Women teach children pretty much across the board and, friends, Jesus said the the kingdom believes to such as them (Matthew 19:14). Women teach women and unless we are claiming that men are more important (spoiler: some people actually do), that counts just as much. I contemplate how much men are losing by not having women as spiritual teachers and influences since we all image God in different ways and I do not want that for my children.

I’ve read some reasons for why a lot of the church believes in restricting women in ministry. A few people will appeal to mystery, “we don’t know why; it’s just what the Bible says,” but most people like to give reasons. “Of course this is easily explained.” The reasons concern me because I can’t find them in the Bible. A lot of them we covered in a previous post. Then we are literally left with “I don’t know” as an answer.

I would encourage you to read some more of what these theologians have to say about women. How do they explain the passages around the commonly used phrases? Can they coherently break down the entire passage being faithful to the rest of the Bible? Usually there are some very strange statements made about women that we can’t possibly accept. We have to make ourselves aware of the whole story.

You need to decide what you believe based on your interaction with the Holy Spirit and the Word, but you need to actually look at all the Word to do so. For example, Paul had never visited the church in Rome. He had never met these believers, but he wrote them a long book full of theological riches and practical application. He never once mentions that, of course, the men are in charge and women have restrictions on how God wants to use them. How would they have known? Or the churches at Galatia or Thessalonica or Philippi? If this was a consistent theme in his ministry, why do we think he was telling Timothy about it in a letter? Wouldn’t he have already known? Why is this inconsistent with the way God used women in the Old Testament and even in the New?

Huldah was a prophetess who taught the word of God to the high priest and the man who would take the message to the king (2 Kings 22, 2 Chronicles 34). The word we know of as pastor- shepherd- is listed as spiritual gift in Ephesians 4 and none of that list is gendered. Shepherds are also discussed in the famous Old Testament passage that outlines the Davidic covenant. 2 Samuel 7 says that God commanded the judges to shepherd His people Israel and Deborah was a judge (Judges 4-5). We could review other examples in both the old and new testaments, but you can go explore those for yourselves.

We have to read all the Bible and think about how the original audience read it. The church at Rome didn’t have the book of 1 Timothy. Pentecost occurred and the Spirit is given to all believers. Spiritual gifts are not given out by gender. Why do we think that the Spirit gives out gifts to women that He doesn’t want them to use in their fullness? Why do we believe that some women with certain gifts have to spend the majority of their time making sure they aren’t overstepping their bounds? We are to consistently be making others more important than ourselves, and that’s not restricted by gender either.

If you want to go look at 1 Corinthians 14:33-35- and you should if you are going to have an opinion about this- ask some questions. Why does the whole chapter say that all can prophesy and all can learn (look back at verse 31, for example) if he really only means all men? Please note that the Greek word for wives and women is exactly the same. Observe that the OT law says absolutely nothing about the submission of women. Is it not possible that Paul is instructing the wives not to question or challenge the prophesy or interpretation of their husbands in public because that would have been horrifying in that society? Or that women weren’t educated in the Scriptures (because it wasn’t allowed) and so should learn without disrupting the service? Very few people actually think that women can’t talk in church and complementarians also have some great resources on this verse.

If we move over to 1 Timothy 2 we find much of that mystery dissolved too with just a little cultural/historical context. In Ephesus (where Timothy was) the goddess Artemis was worshipped. Temple priestess taught other creation myths and not the Genesis story. Artemis was the goddess of childbearing and they taught women that if they stopped worshipping Artemis, they would die giving birth. We talked through part of this passage already but when you go study this, note that we move from plural “women” to singular “woman.” Men are not given authority over women. Women are not more easily deceived. And then, when you go read what people have said about this passage, please read what they say about the whole context because there are some really wild explanations of the rest of this passage. (Also note that I have a list of seven things in the book of 1 Timothy that most conservative Christians do not take literally. And we can’t even make literal sense of what we want this passage to say.)

Of course we’re going to turn the page to 1 Timothy 3. Dig out your Blue Letter Bible app and note in the interlinear that all of those “he” statements aren’t “he” statements in the Greek. That’s just how we use English. The first verse, literally says anyone, the “he” isn’t there. Also, how often do you find the rest of this enforced? Do we really expect all elders to be married with children? Or to not be young in the faith? Usually not, and that’s inconsistent literalism. Of note when we are reading the phrase “husband of one wife” is the fact that only men could get divorced or have multiple spouses in that culture. I’m very wary of how we use the Bible sometimes.

We would never go to Exodus 20 and read the last commandment in verse 17 and say it doesn’t apply to women. Even though it doesn’t say that we aren’t to covet our neighbor’s husband. We would never read that and say “of course you can covet husbands. It doesn’t say you can’t.” We know it also means that women shouldn’t covet their neighbor’s husband as well.

Women and men have the same type of relationship with the Father. They have the same Spirit. They have the same goal: being conformed to the image of Jesus. Sin is sin. There’s not sin and then an extra list of good things that are bad if women do them.

I firmly believe that God intended women and men to work side by side in every realm of life. No hierarchies. No separate spheres. Can you even fathom the Kingdom pull? How different that would be from anything that is happening or has ever happened in the world?

I want to end with an eye forward. I can’t change anyone’s mind. In fact, I expect most people who read this to be really uncomfortable both with the material and me. I’m not crazy about that, but I kept writing because there is going to be that small handful of people who are already thinking about this. I’m writing for you. My husband and I will teach our four boys this. We practice this imperfectly in our own marriage. I have started gently confronting some of these positions in personal conversation. I have brought some of these points up, especially with men, and they have never before considered them. But really I’m praying because this is the Holy Spirit moving in hearts, not my words.

We have to remember that our theology is acted out. These aren’t just words that we say because we live out of what we believe. If we are consistently getting poor results, we should ask why that is. What are we teaching that is causing these problems even among the people we claim lead us? Why has this been ok for so many years? Regardless of where we stand on some of these issues, we have to realize that the results of our theology are imploding in the real world. We are leaving real victims in our wake and tarnishing the testimony of Jesus.

When we stand before God to account for the attitude toward and treatment of women in the church, I’m doubtful that the answer  “but we kept the women in their place” will be sufficient.

Part 1: Why is this conversation necessary?
Part 2: The joint mission of the sexes
Part 3: The things we know that just aren’t so
Part 4: Tracing marriage through the Bible