The role of women is arguably a sensitive subject in today’s society. The subject becomes even more critical when the question of what is a women’s role in ministry, and are they even allowed to teach, preach and be spiritual leaders in church and in the community that they live in. In order to understand the discussion over women’s role in a church, I will discuss the predominant positions held when it comes to women in the church, its history, and other writings that may have influenced the view of women. In considering the history of the early Church, we must address the issue of whether or not women were ever present in leadership roles.
As we look back to the history of the early Church, we do se that “women served together with men in the early years until institutionalization of the church transformed leadership into the sole prerogative of men. “1 We see in the second and third centuries how women ministered and baptized, and how they cared for the congregation and needs of their people,2 even far from the second century show women performing ministry functions. The history of women performing ministry functions presets a fact that women were exercising some type of leadership function in the early church.
The question must arise whether this type of leadership is arguable for the leadership and role of women in church today or not? Hassey gives three examples of women involved in history of the early Church as well as men who support women in ministry: Mabel C. Thomas, a 1913 Moody Bible Institute graduate, was called to pastor a Kansas church where she preached and taught weekly bible lessons. Her ministry was published in 1927 in Moody’s “Alumni News” for the outstanding work she accomplished through the work of the Holly Spirit there. 3
At the time of Thomas’s publication in the “Alumni News”, D. L. Moody, the founder of Moody Bible Institute was dead and so, therefore, we are unaware of his thoughts on the matter. Hassey does state that, “Although Moody bible Institute leaders may not have always explicitly encouraged women to preach, pastor, or seek ordination, their implicit endorsement of women in those roles for over forty years cannot be denied”4 It could be assumed based on the leaders to follow that this practice possibly was never encouraged.
In 1889 a pastor A. J. Gordon opened what is now called Gordon Bible college. He claimed that his “training prepared women to “answer any cal of the Spirit. ” Yearbooks clearly document the wide ministry of women graduates serving as preachers, pastors, and bible teachers”5 Through a comment such as Gordon’s may seem pointless for debate, it is unaware if his statement indeed was in support of ordination of women and what type of role they could hold in the church or rather if he simply believed in the power of the Holy Spirit to call women as well as men to service appropriate to gender.
Gordon did however write a rebutting article in 1894 called, “The Ministry of Women,” because of a convention he attended did not allow a women missionary to speak. 6 This type of reaction could conclude that he was in favor of the preaching of women. Frederick Franson wrote “Prophesying Daughters” in 1889 due to the negative response women were receiving. He supported women saying that scripture overwhelmingly supports women in public ministry. 7 These are just a few examples of women in the late nineteenth and early twentieth century that preached, pastured and taught God’s word to others.
The leadership of women and authority were clearly present during these times. In today’s society there are churches that allow women to hold leadership positions others don’t in the fallowing paragraphs I will discuss the different perspectives held about women and their place in a congregation. Traditionalists which are also known as complementarians believe that men and women must always exist in a hierarchical relationship in which men have authority over women.
On this view, male headship is god’s plan in both the home and the church; therefore, women must not occupy positions of authority over men or preach to men. It is important to note that contemporary traditionalists affirm that the distinction among men and women is one of function or role not of inequality in ones value. In other words, both men and women are created equal in God’s image.
Men and women’s roles differ at home in the church and in there daily life’s, yet they compliment one another. This is why some that hold this position refer to themselves as complementarianist or congruent creationist view. Another view held is Biblical Equalitarianism, which affirms that men and women are both created in the image of God and are gifted by God to serve the whole community. This view maintains men and women are to serve according to their giftedness and can, according to giftedness, carry out leadership roles in the church. This view does not stop gifted women from teaching or leading men. Biblical Equalitarians hold the same high view of Scripture as Traditionalists when it comes to holding the same high view of the scripture and essential Christian beliefs and doctrines.
Furthermore they believe that hierarchy can be maintained based upon superior qualifications and experience. Evangelical Feminists maintain Christian orthodoxy on most essential Christians beliefs, yet hold that the Bible may be incorrect in what it teaches on the issue of female, church leadership. For example, in Paul’s teaching on this issue is either contradictory, or reflects his earlier rabbinic training stating that women should be subordinate to men.
A major difference between some Evangelical Feminist and Biblical equalitarians is that the former deem it necessary to criticize or revise the Bible in order to defend their positions about women’s roles instead of seeking to make sense of the disagreements that they find in the Bible. The last but not leas is the Anti-Evangelical Feminist which say that even though the Bible contains God’s words, it should not be identified as the Word of God. 10 Those who hold to this view usually offer their own version of Christianity. However popular believe thinks that Anti-Evangelical Feminism is outside the realm of the evangelical perimeter.
The main text tradionally seen, as forbidding a woman from teaching men is I Timothy 2:11-15. The main issues involved with this text involve the meaning and application of: “be silent”; Belleville says that “women” can also be translated as “wife”; and if we look at specific historical situation or better understood as referring to a general, universal principle or rule. 11 Because of Paul’s teachings in I Timothy 2:11-15 traditionally women were forbidden from teaching man because of the application of this text. Paul writes, “Let a woman quietly receive instruction with entire submissiveness. (I Timothy 2:11) Did Paul mean forever quiet when writing this text or did he mean silent while one is learning. According to Craig Keener, Paul is telling the women to “learn the basics before challenging your teacher. ”
There is also a possibility that the admonishment of “silence” is representative of the spirit of quiet submission that was normally appropriate during the time that Paul lived. According to Keener silence was and appropriate way to learn, at the time that Paul was preaching, and was used as a form of discipline while one was in the process of learning. 3 Paul may be asking the women to not disrupt the assembly with uneducated questions or with a disruptive attitude but rather to learn with the proper attitude. This fits well with the context described in I Timothy 5:13 where young women were going around talking foolishly about things they didn’t really understand.
In my perspective women were not told that they should be quiet because they were women, but because they were not educated in the matters which they were talking about, there lack of knowledge was disruptive to the learning environment. 4 In this case Paul is not restricting teaching in general but the attempts to dominate or gain some kind of control in behavior. 15 Man and women are each gifted by God, and God gives gifts to men and women equally, meaning that both women and men receive spiritual gifts. In Ephesians 4:11-12, Paul does not make a distinction between who received the gift of being a prophet, evangelist, teachers, pastors and so forth. A Traditionalist may say that these roles were for men only. However scripture lists both men and women as prophets.
See (Ex. 15:20, Lk 2:36, Acts 2:17-18). If women were prophets, why couldn’t one assume that women can hold the other positions listed in the passage? According to Baldwin, Paul is affirming that the women in the Ephesians situation should and can learn, in appropriate fashion, but that in verse 12 the word grouping “teach and exercise authority” should be taken in a negative sense meaning that the women should not be permitted to “continuously teach” and ” have sway” or “domineer over” a man. 6 Paul teachings have hade a great influence on the views that society holds of women in church and in a women’s daily life.
Paul’s teachings may were also influenced by teachings that were around him at the time, the Genesis account which is available to us today and is often misinterpreted today was also available to Paul. Another ancient tale revolving around a female figure that had the greatest influence on the literary treatment of women in earlier times is undoubtedly the Genesis story of Eve’s defiance of God’s command and the subsequent expulsion of the primeval couple from the Garden of Eden.
The first female became the prototype of all women and her story a paradigm of female existence. In the many transformations that the prototypical figure of Eve has experienced in her journey both in Judaic literature and outside it. First, Eve has become closely associated with evil, since she is the one who first surrendered to temptation and violated God’s law. Her story is thus seen as a parable of the moral weakness and the strong proclivity for evil that characterize the female of the human species.
Her corruptibility is matched by a tendency for insubordination, a shameless defiance of moral norms, and the power to seduce man and introduce evil into his life. 17 Second, in many commentaries and documents, both Jewish and Christian, which elaborate on the story of Eve’s original act of transgression, there is an identification of the woman with carnal desires. ‘ Woman is seen as primarily a sexual being whose moral weakness is coupled with sexual power which she puts to evil use.
Woman’s sexuality is for her the weapon with which she gains mastery over man and eventually destroys him. From the object of male lust woman has become the cause of it, and the story of Eve is seen as the introduction of sinful sex into the realm of human life. In her struggle for dominion, woman uses her erotic appeal to bring man down to her bestial level. The female has thus come to represent that part of the human composite that is more physical than spiritual and is more defenseless against the weaknesses of the flesh.
Third, in the biblical story it is only Eve, and not Adam, who has dealings with the serpent; therefore, in her many literary accounts Eve was described as having a special affinity with the devil. And since she was the harbinger of death, Eve, as the eternal woman, was believed to have a demonic side to her being. This close association with the devil and the ability to bring man unto death through her wiles and manipulations are interconnected, and are manifest in many of Eve’s literary descendants.
In short, the traits of the biblical Eve that were assumed to prefigure the essence of womanhood are a proclivity for evil, a destructive sexuality, and a demonic-deadly power. However if one reads Tribles’ commentaries and translations of the Genesis story one can sea a different picture painted. Yes the serpent speaks to the woman, however we are not told why he does so, for that explanation is not given to us in the text, furthermore the text does not say that she was weaker or inclined toward evil.
Rather the creation of the man and women were pronounced “good” by God in (Gen 2:18). Moreover Trible speculates that the women is more intelligent, aggressive and she knew what she was doing when she took the fruit from the tree, she is also very independent for she did not ask Adam for permission to take the fruit. 18 Also the notion that Eve is evil or has special affinity with the devil are wrong, for God does not curse Eve for what happen in the Garden, but curses the serpent(Gen 3:14).
Another reason on why God does not curse Eve, is because God does not tell Eve directly not to eat out of the tree but she receives the message from Adam (Gen 2:15-17) for he is the one that receives the message from God directly. And the reason the serpent approached Eve was because he knew that Adam did not do an effective job in communicating with Eve what the Lord told him. The fact that Eve was not informed well on the matter is what made her a plausible target for the serpent, and not her weakness. In my perspective it is wrong to keep someone accountable for something that they were not aware of.
Furthermore God tells Eve that her desire will be for her husband, (Gen3:16) which means that till now she did not have the quality within her, which goes on to rebuke the fact that she seduced Adam into eating the fruit, furthermore the text does not say anything about her seducing Adam, and as Trible notes that man can often be silent and passive especially when it comes to satisfying their appetite, so just the fruit alone was enough for Adam he didn’t have to be seduced to eat the fruit. 19 So once again Eve is blamed even though Adam is the one that “sinned”.
Yet that is not the only way (Gen 3:16) is misinterpreted. To the woman he said, “I will increase your pains in childbearing: with pain you will give birth to children. You desire will be for you husband and he will rule over you. (Gen 3:16) Often when man read this verse they think that God is speaking to them and is telling them that they can have dominion over women, some man often use this passage as a passport to male supremacy, however I don’t think that God is speaking to man, or is telling man that now they can rule over their wives.
For it clearly says “To the woman he said,” one may ask themselves why is God telling the women this? In my perspective he is being considerate of women by letting Eve known that because of man’s fallen nature they will act superior to women. For God does not tell Adam that he is now a master of anyone, he just let’s Adam know that because of his actions the earth in now cursed, moreover God does not blame Eve when he speaks to Adam or makes her unequal. (Gen 3:17-19) According to Tribble the assumptions made about a women’s role are culturally conditioned.
Furthermore she goes on to talk about how important it is to be good translators of texts, and a good way to do that she says is to take whatever stereotypes we already have that we formed in our own culture and realize that the reason we have them is because of our common sin and disobedience. She goes on to say that our troubles that we encounter everyday are not because of our creation but because of our fall. 20This means that we were created equal, however once kind sinned the balance that was once there was lost. The text of Genesis has been circulated in several religious communities since it was written.
One of the religious communities that used and uses Genesis is the Christian tradition. One may ask themselves how did the Christian community come to the notion that man should dominate over women, there are several early forefather that have shaped the way one reads and interprets scripture. For example Martin Luther in his early years while he was teaching at the Wittenber monastery gave a lecture on Genesis where he made commentaries on (Gen3:16) by saying the fallowing: Satan’s cleverness is perceived also in this, that he attacks the weak part of the human, nature, Eve the woman, not Adam the man.
He goes on to say that even thought he were made equally righteous, Adam had advantage over Eve. He goes on to talk about the physical attributes of a male and how they excelled the females. He goes on to say that the reason the serpent attacked Eve is because she was physically weaker then Adam. Furthermore if the serpent tried to talk to Adam, the serpent would have been crushed. He they goes on to say that the serpent chooses Eve for he knew that Eve was weaker and dependent on her husband, and that led him to believe that Eve though that she could not sin.
Even though this is some of Luther’s early work it is still circulated in both protestant and catholic communities, furthermore he is the father of the Protestant Reform and his work holds authority in vast communities. Luther has influenced Western culture throughout the modern period. American culture, in particular, holds Lutheran ideas in some way or another, one can notice that in our country allot of people Lutheran or not think and act as the fierce and imposing reformer.