Unmuted: The Welcome Colors of a Woman's Voice
By Jonalyn and Dale Fincher1
We both graduated from a well-respected, conservative seminary. For two semesters, we attended together. He was finishing, she was beginning. We even managed to take several of the same classes. Oar to oar we plowed through philosophy and theology. Side by side we sat under the same professors. I (Jonalyn) remember finding out that I could ace my tests just as well as the guys next to me. I was sitting in class with the future pastors of America. We were learning the same things, arguing, listening and debating the same material. But when we were at church, I would need to keep silent even if I knew the material better than the man at the front.
The more I learned the more questions I had. Why is "church" different from seminary? If I'm not permitted to teach in church, why am I permitted to speak and succeed in seminary? I'm learning the same things that a pastor learns...is that okay? Why is it, again, that trained and godly women cannot teach? What prevents them, their education, their knowledge, their femininity, are women inherently flawed in a way that men are not? Is it the judgment in Eden? Graduating didn't silence the questions either. The more I pondered the need for sharp and informed teaching in the church, especially after hearing lessons that were uninformed or unsound, the more personal the questions became for me. Now that I was trained, why wasn't I supposed to teach men in church who needed to know the Scriptures? Why wasn't I allowed to stand up to sloppy doctrine? Did God intend women to teach in the church? If God gave me the gift of teaching, am I allowed to use it?
Just like some atheists who became Christians by setting out to disprove Christianity, so we set out to find good Biblical reasons for silencing women and discovered that the Bible does not close the door on women as we were led to believe. In the spirit of full disclosure, we started out with one view and concluded with another. The pursuit of God's truth that brings life and freedom is the spirit of our search. We find it our responsibility, as apologists of the Christian faith, to bring truth to light in any area that may keep people from becoming appropriately human.
In this short essay, we want to share some of our thoughts with you on women and teaching. This topic is important to us as we often team-teach at places, including churches, where a feminine voice is sometimes controversial. We want to share our justification for our teamwork, why we think God is honored by each of us having an independent voice and how we've worked through a few of those tough passages in the Scriptures.
We must say at the outset that this essay is not an attempt to undermine or disrespect male pastors. It is important the reader understands this. We are simply targeting the general issue of the whole Body benefiting from the woman's voice. As we journey through Paul's harder sayings, the creation story, some thoughts on teaching children, a dab of church history, and the authority of Scripture, we invite you to accompany us. This explains why we think the Scripture encourages men and women working side by side.
This is a beginning of a voyage into deep (and often heated) waters. We pull our minds together to navigate the material. We want to chart a course that sails straight into the nature of being a woman as well as where women can serve. In setting out, we want to cling to humility. As Dr. Jerry Root said, "There are no final words, only sure words." We seek sure words on which we might stand. And yet, every sure statement can always be plumbed a little deeper and understood a little wider.2
Paul's first letter to the Corinthians says, "Let a woman keep silent in the churches; for they are not permitted to speak" (14:34, NASB). What does Paul mean?
First, He cannot mean that a woman should sit mutely in the pew. We know this because he has already said that women do pray and prophesy in the assembly (11:5). In other places Paul talks about women who are speaking to the church: Phoebe is to be helped and listened to by the Romans (16:1-2); in addition, Priscilla (Rom 16:3-5) holds a church in her home, and she and her husband are teachers of Apollos - a seasoned and powerful Christian teacher (Acts 18:24-26). Even in church history, Peter's wife, proclaiming the gospel, was martyred prior to Peter. It is unlikely she was killed for merely providing the early church with coffee and donuts.
Paul's fellow female believers were allowed and instructed to speak. Women were freed to be vocal ambassadors of the gospel. They were "unmuted" even by Paul and the early church. So, what does 1 Corinthians 14:34 mean?
We believe the Bible teaches truth in a literary and cultural context. It is out of that original, historical context that we gain truth to apply today in our contexts. Therefore, we must never take a passage of Scripture, especially epistles of Paul, to mean something to us that it would not have meant to its original audience.3,4 Since Paul is telling women how to speak in chapter 11, we assume that Paul means something different for women in chapter 14. We don't believe he's contradicting himself.
Interestingly, Paul just finished his discourse on when to be silent regarding speaking in tongues and prophesying. In light of this, Paul clarifies what additional kind of speech is a problem. "Let them ask their husbands at home," he writes. Women were to learn, but not by interrupting the assembly. Why? It is difficult to tell what is behind the scenes. And we don't want to contradict the passages noted above. Our best guess is that women were not to be absolutely silent, but rather silent in a qualified way.
Paul tells men to be quiet, too. In verse 28, Paul tells everyone speaking in tongues to be silent if they have no interpreter of tongues. In verse 32, the prophets are to be silent so they may speak one at a time. They are to "submit" to one another. Since women prophesied too (1 Cor 11:5), this means the men submitted to the women who prophesied and vice-versa. In verse 34, he says women particularly cannot speak.
The Greek word for "speak" (sigao) is most often used regarding unintelligible talk in this chapter. Paul also says they are to be in "submission," the same "submission" used for all the prophets (men and women) in verse 32.
In verse 34, the verse also invokes the authority of the "law." This is a tricky line because there is no law in the Hebrew Scriptures about this. Though nowhere else does Paul reference local customs as "the law," it is possible he may be doing it one time here. It's hard to tell and when theologians don't have a clear answer, they speculate on what would make sense. So we do this here.
Paul reference is likely cultural laws of the Greco-Roman period that controlled ecstatic utterances from women in cult ceremonies.5 Since many in the church at Corinth were pagans prior to following Jesus, they may have smuggled in some of their unintelligible talk to appear spiritual. Some scholars believe this verse shouldn't be included in the text because of historical textual variations. We don't hold that view. Yet the clearest principle we can find here is that it's a biblically sound guide to stay silent in church if you are not willing to take turns and if you don't know what you are talking about (this is a good idea for all conversation, men and women alike!). Not only the women, but all the prophets in the church were in submission to one another as co-learners in the body of Christ of which Christ is the head. The emphasis in the chapter is on order, not gender. We see this in the summary, verse 40, "But all things must be done properly and in an orderly manner."
Some theologians who believe women are to remain silent in a universal, unqualified sense, say Paul is not teaching submission to the order. They say that "submission" can only be done to other people, not to order. One problem with that is that we are to submit to the law. And the law is agreed upon concept of a society that is only enforced by people. That's one common-sense argument against that view. Yet, even if the Bible only speaks to submission to people, not to order, then male prophets are submitting to female prophets (verse 32) and men and women are explicitly submitting to one another in other places Paul writes (Eph 5:21). No matter which way we look at it, submission is qualified in this passage and it is not only qualified in one direction of women submitting to men.
In light of the freedom Paul seems to provide for women in other situations (praying, prophesying, church instruction, organizing, and serving), a situation-specific interpretation of verse 34 works well. The principle of orderliness, not gender, is the point of this passage.
Today, nearly all churches allow women to speak in some way. We frequently see conservative women speaking to other women, children, and youth (though in the early church we see no indication of special women's groups, youth groups, or even childcare for the assembly of believers). Today, we also see women giving announcements in church, introducing songs, and sharing their "testimony." Churches also invite celebrity-type female speakers, like Elizabeth Elliot, Joni Erickson Tada, and Anne Graham Lotz to teach both men and women. We know that in situations that require it, many women teach men on the mission field (e.g. Amy Carmichael, Lottie Moon). Women are allowed to fill practical teaching needs. Because most Christians are comfortable with women speaking at church in some ways, then it follows that they must also believe 1 Corinthians 14:34 is not a universal restriction on a woman's voice.
If this verse is about orderliness and if conservative, evangelical churches allow women to speak, why are many women restricted from teaching regularly or teaching men? First Corinthians 14 does not forbid it as we have seen. Why, then, do some make it a rule?
Women Should Learn
One passage is often used as the bedrock verse to explain why women are restricted from teaching the Scripture. Since Paul connects the command to Creation itself, it is worth a closer look. In 1 Timothy 2:11-15, Paul says,
Let a woman quietly receive instruction with entire submissiveness. But I do not allow a woman to teach or exercise authority (authentien) over a man, but to remain quiet (hēsuchia). For it was Adam who was first created, and then Eve. And it was not Adam who was deceived, but the woman being quite deceived, fell into transgression (NASB, our parenthesis).
Notice Paul uses the word "quietly" and "remain quiet." But, Paul probably doesn't mean verbal silence because that would contradict women's voices in the Scriptural examples previously given in this essay. In his letter to Timothy, we have the benefit of reading another way Paul uses a form of this "quieting" word. In 1 Timothy 2:2, Paul says believers should "live a tranquil and quiet (hēsuchios) life in all godliness and dignity."
Here a "quiet life" is one of gentleness and humility with those around you. A quiet life means being busy with your own responsibilities, neither calling attention to yourself nor nosing into others people's affairs.6
The difficulty of all translators of Scripture is that English does not have perfectly equivalent words to Greek. Because of this they do the best they can with an economy of words. This is why context and seeing other contexts with the same words used is so helpful. That way we can wrap the Greek connotation around the English word.
"Quiet" doesn't always mean silence; in 1 Timothy 2:2 it means a quality of living and Paul is using the same word just a few lines later for our passage. Let's use this fuller understanding of "quiet" in verses 11 and 12. A more appropriate translation of verses 11 and 12 for us today would be something like this,
Let a woman learn with humble responsibility. Her learning style should be above reproach, not shocking or demanding. I want women to be sensitive scholars. Encourage women to cultivate an attitude of teachability for herself, not nosing into the business of others.
Translating en hēsuchia or "quietness" as "humble responsibility" is more consistent English usage with the way the word is used in the 1 Timothy 2. This isn't about a woman's volume. It's about her open posture of taking responsibility for herself with the gospel.
Paul also says she should learn with "entire submissiveness." This subjection of the women is not to men; else Paul would have said this. Her submission is to the Scripture (just like it is for the other men). To "submit" here means to allow oneself to be persuaded, to humble oneself and order under the learning. We see a similar attitude of "submission" in Paul's letter to the Ephesians, where men and women are submitting to one another (Eph 5:21). We see it Corinth, where the prophets submit to one another (1 Cor 14:32). This theme in many different words, phrases, and metaphors runs throughout the gospel message.7
Interestingly, the main controversial point Paul makes in these hotly contested verses is that women are learning. It encourages us that Paul's gives women instruction on how to learn, something new to common women in the ancient world. He cares that women learn well. As the New King James and New International Versions translate it, "let a woman learn." Women should be learning in a non-threatened, eager-to-grow way. Though Paul highlights women in this verse, we would be remiss to also apply this discipline to men.
Why Do You Want to Teach?
There is something fascinating and often glossed over in this passage: the Greek word for "authority." The word is authentein, a word that is only used once in the New Testament - right here.
To really find a full definition of this word, we think it helpful to look at the other places authentein is used. We also think it wise to be very careful of how insistent we are about what authentein means. Suffice it to say that smart, godly, conservative, evangelical Christians, who believe in inerrancy, disagree about authentein.
Greek writers used authentein to mean "to have one's way" or to "take control of" or "dominate over." Sometimes authentein even means "to murder." The King James Version understands authentein thus: "But I suffer not a woman to teach, nor to usurp authority over the man (1 Tim 2:12, Old King James, our italics). With these uses in mind, 1 Timothy could be read, "I do not allow a woman to teach a man in order to take control, dominate, or (metaphorically) murder him."8 Paul disliked bossiness, so does Jesus.
What is interesting to us is how easily women, especially wives, do plenty of teaching of their men in order to control or manipulate them. It is just usually behind closed doors, at home or in the office. It is often dominating over matters of relationships ("Don't speak in that tone of voice!), or household items like the lawn or childcare (You CAN'T just leave him ALONE, he has to be WATCHED. Here, let ME do it!"). But if Paul is talking about women's attitude, not just a verbal silence in assemblies, his command has a further, deeper, and more Christ-forming invitation.
So why is this command directed just towards women? Isn't it always wrong to teach in order to control or manipulate? Absolutely! This verse likely indicates a situation where women were openly using their gifts for evil, just as much as men can and do. Perhaps, Timothy, the recipient of this letter, who was introduced to Christ by two godly, intelligent women, thought women excellent teachers (2 Timothy 1:5). Perhaps Timothy allowed women of Ephesus to dominate and even manipulate others (there is cultural evidence that women in town were considered more astute spiritual leaders than men, see below). This may have been Paul's concern. Please note our qualifying "perhaps" and "may" in this paragraph. These are possibilities for which there is growing evidence, though we know good people disagree. What is important to note here is that a woman "teaching" does not automatically imply "authority" over a man.
As with all the epistles, it is difficult to know all the cultural nuances. We do not have any other letters from Paul about this matter. Nor do we have the private verbal communications Paul had with Timothy that are never recorded. How beneficial it would be to have Timothy's sermons in which he references the meanings of these texts!
I (Jonalyn) am willing to admit that if such religious influence were given me, at a time when most Jews shut me out, I would be highly tempted to abuse this power. Since most women would be untrained in teaching (a power that often overwhelms young men fresh from seminary), they might have easily misused it. I can imagine gathering with believers in Ephesus, listening to this letter and being humbled by Paul's warning.
But this is not a problem only with women; we believe that all teachers and pastors, if they are honest, are tempted to control others with their teaching and be seen as the most influential and spiritual top-dog. That doesn't mean they are carried away by this temptation, but the temptation still rises to greet them. This is why we at Soulation believe every man and woman ought to have regular theological (and philosophical) input. We not only submit our ideas to each other, but we ask for church and community accountability in our lives. Other points of view are important to keep us from stagnating in unfaithful "tradition" or "the way it's always been" and to protect us from popular opinion, "political correctness," or from towing "the party line." Ultimately, we submit to the teachings of Scripture derived from appropriate interpretation tools and the power of the Holy Spirit. Nobody is exempt from temptation to stray and from being under the razor edge of Scripture.
Paul writes as if Timothy and his church are in need of a reminder about creation. Why? It is likely they were confused about who was more important: man or woman. This wrong-headed question (still asked today) reared itself because of the culture. The church Timothy shepherded was in Ephesus, a city within walking distance of the temple to Artemis, one of the ancient wonders of the world, where a female priestess presided over the worshippers. Artemis offered supernatural strength for women. She was the goddess of "unapproachable light" who was deemed the protector of childbirth. She was born painlessly from her mother before her twin brother Apollo, and as the myth has it, even assisted in the birth of her brother (in other words, woman was first, not the man). Paul was concerned that women remember they are not, as Artemis would have it, superior to men, and that true protection in the dangers of childbirth came from a superior source - the Messiah. Ephesians had a similar assumption many today have, that whoever is first is also in charge.
The rise of Goddess veneration, popularized by The Da Vinci Code, Wicca, and Goddess worship spirituality make it necessary for us to be clear about God's creation ideas for women. If we get Eve wrong, we get much thereafter wrong, too.
We think it is important to briefly study this creation order because some have used this verse to say all women, by their very nature, are easily duped and thus should never teach. But is Paul really saying this?
In re-studying Genesis, we noticed some of the events that are foundational and quite apparent prior to interpretation:
- God gave man and woman the creation mandate (Gen 1:28-30).
- Animals were made before man.
- Man was made before woman.
- God gave man the creation boundaries (Gen 2:16-17).
- Man named the animals.
- Man was lonely.
- Woman helped man with his loneliness.
- Man called (or named) woman.
- Man was with woman when she ate of the Tree of Knowledge of Good and Evil (Gen 3:6).
- Woman was tempted (deceived) and ate.
- Man ate.
- God questions them in this order: man, woman, snake.
- God judges them in this order: snake, woman, man.
These foundational events are often interpreted to mean things that are not in the text.
- Man indicates his authority over woman before the judgment by naming her.
- Woman usurps man's authority by taking the fruit and eating first, without consulting her husband.
- Man sins by listening to the woman.
- Man is held accountable for mankind's sin, which is why God questions him first.
- Man is the authoritative head of mankind, proven by his being created first.
Many conservatives have interpreted the Genesis account metaphorically and concluded with the above list. Though we've not concluded where we come down on all these interpretations, we do want to note some difficulties we have with the above list and how the story of Creation can be seen from different angles.
- Naming doesn't automatically mean authority. When Adam called his wife "Woman" he might not be announcing a claim over her. Maybe he was recognizing both the sameness and otherness of her, or recognizing her category. That means his understanding of her ("she shall be called Woman") and his poetry for her ("she is bone of my bone and flesh of my flesh") could indicate his celebration without proving his authority over her. (Suppose Adam did not in fact have authority over Eve, is he not allowed to give the newcomer a name? Who made the rule that naming, per se, implies authority?) Adam doesn't name her officially "Eve" (mother of all living) until after the judgment (Gen 3:20). And by this time, they had both already fallen and many things were not as they should have been.
- If man's sin is agreeing with (or listening to) his wife or remaining authoritatively silent while Eve was tempted, then he sinned before he ate the forbidden fruit. This would then make Adam a sinner, even if he refused the fruit from the forbidden tree. This is problematic for obvious reasons to the story, namely that God never gave the command that he doesn't rule his wife that too will be a sin. The only law was not to eat of the tree - period.
- Did God judge Adam for listening to his wife? Is God saying Adam should not have listened to a woman's counsel? The meaning of God's judgment is this: "Because you cared more for your wife's counsel than Mine, and ate the fruit, you are judged" (Gen 3:17-19). This understanding corresponds with the woman's judgment, too. "You are judged, Eve, because you cared more for the serpent's counsel than Mine, and ate the fruit." God doesn't seem to be rebuking them for giving or receiving human counsel; they were, after all, companions. God is judging them for allowing another voice to hold more power than His own, regardless of the voice. So Adam was wrong in following a wrong idea, offered by his wife, and walking into disobedience against God's explicit command, not because he listened to a woman. After all, many women have great advice today and it would be considered foolish not to listen to it simply because it's a feminine voice.
- God's order of questioning and judging forms a neat, poetic series or parallelism (man, woman, snake - snake, woman, man) that centers on the snake and is book-ended by the man. Some have taken this as an indication of Adam's authority, but a more likely explanation is that this is a concentric structure parallelism (chaism) found repeatedly in Biblical literature. Paul uses it in 1 Cor 11 (another powerful passage on gender) verses 3-16. Paul builds his argument from God to man to woman. And continues from woman to man to God. The books of Daniel and Esther also use this poetic form.9
Now let's turn again to Paul's statement about the creation order. He says, "For it was Adam who was first created, and then Eve. And it was not Adam who was deceived, but the woman being quite deceived, fell into transgression." It is significant to us that if Paul is talking about who is in authority, it is surprising that he never mentions authority or male headship here. Perhaps this is because Paul is not speaking about Adam's authority at all.
Our belief is that Paul is demonstrating to women that though Artemis and her cult teach that women were born first, the Scripture teaches that men were created first. Therefore, women should not expect to dominate or control men because of creation order. In addition, though Artemis says women are more spiritually savvy than men, the creation story bursts their pride; they too can be spiritually deceived. Women were not created first and, yes, they are vulnerable to deceptions, just like men! Paul notes in other places how all humans are susceptible to the same kind of deceptions as Eve! (2 Cor 11:3;Eph 5:6; James 1:26)
Reading Paul's statement in light of Artemis makes a lot more sense as a straightforward reading of the text, especially when you get to I Timothy 2:15, "But women will be saved through childbearing - if they continue in faith, love and holiness with propriety." If women were looking to a deity to save them through difficult and painful labor, then Paul is advocating they look to Jesus, not to Artemis. The question comes up, why didn't Paul say "Artemis" if he meant to write a polemic against this goddess? It is likely Paul wanted to protect Timothy's safety. Recall what happened to Paul last time he was in Ephesus and he meddled with formal Artemis worshippers? (See Acts 19:23-41). In this passage, it makes the most sense to us that Paul is not saying women are inferior to men. He is not promoting men but rather demoting woman from an artificial pagan status over men.
Given this understanding, we can reasonably see that Paul is not barring women from teaching men. Rather, he is instructing the Ephesians on something entirely different, including Jesus being superior to Artemis in every way (some theologians believe all of 1 Timothy was written to as a polemic against Artemis). He is correcting the female chauvinism in the culture.
We want to make an important sidenote: however you interpret the end of chapter two and the phrase about childbearing, it has to make sense with the rest of the passage. In our studies on every side of these discussions, the cultural explanation of Artemis is the most reasonable explanation available of Paul's instruction. We write this aware that more scholarship needs to be done in this area.
Considering the Least of These:
Children and Youth
When invited, we are honored whenever we speak to youth groups and share with children. But we are also aware of how careful we must be with minds that are young, impressionable, and easily taught. Youthful minds laps up new ideas with little caution and integrate the information into their malleable worldview. This is why Paul commends the Ephesians to "no longer be children tossed here and there by waves and carried about by every wind of doctrine" (4:14).
This is also why we prepare our talks to youth with caution and as much care as we do our talks to adult audiences, concerned that our information and stories are directly relevant to building a robust view of God's story, even if we can only give bite-size portions of His worldview.
It is our concern that churches exercise the same caution in choosing who speaks to the young. It seems wise for churches, organizations, and schools to have a rigid clearance process to guard our youth, a process that is as vigilant as the one we use to guard our pulpits and platforms. And we're not just speaking of fingerprinting out the criminals. We are speaking of solid theological training as serious as seminary.10 Why? Because youth are more (not less) easily duped, and the damage done is usually many years in the undoing. Madeleine L'Engle once wrote, "I spent the greater part of my adult life undoing bad theology taught me by well-intentioned Sunday School teachers."11 Teaching the young is a tremendous task and one to be carefully entrusted to those who are well-equipped and held in accountability.
Therefore, we believe that if a woman is permitted, exhorted, and even asked to teach and guide children, but barred from teaching men, we should wonder at the inconsistency. If some believe women are easily deceived because they are women (and these are usually those who say women shouldn't speak because of the 1 Tim 2), why do we open the doors of our nursery to women, allowing them to teach those who are even more easily deceived? This kind of inconsistency should give us pause for serious reflection.
If women alone are easily deceived, then they should not be teaching the weak. If they are not easily deceived, then we should be more open to considering they have something to contribute in teaching adults of both sexes (we've already noted that both sexes are as easily deceived as Eve, 2 Cor 11:3). The factors barring women from teaching men are verses difficult to translate in a culturally saturated context. We would do well to be cautious about dogmatizing any doctrine that puts down others on these conditions alone, especially, as noted above, when the creation-order doesn't teach women' s inferiority nor subservience to men.
Lessons from History
Are our interpretations of Genesis and Paul's letters merely an incorporation of the "godless feminism" wave? We hope we're not capitulating to anything godless. We are usually quite skeptical of "trends" and want to accurately handle the Word of truth.12 Anyone who has studied historical theology knows how doctrines and perspective are established over time. It is often through the social and cultural upheavals that God catalyzes the church to codify what she believes. For the first 300 years after Jesus' resurrection concepts of the Trinity were thoroughly formulated as well as the canon of Scripture. In 1500, concepts of salvation were cashed out (though it cost Martin Luther and his friends dearly to do it). In England, if a Catholic was on the throne, some Protestants were burned. If a Protestants was on the throne, some Catholics were burned. The 19th century saw a large devotion to eschatology (end-times movement), the formulation of human dignity of all races (slavery), the return of spiritual gifts, and even the equality of women (allowing women to go to school and eventually participate in politics with equal voting status). In recent decades, Christian doctrine went from denouncing anyone who opposed six-day creationism to even conservative Evangelicals coming around to understand Scripture leaves room for an old-earth view. Very often the church formulated its doctrine because of the current debates of the day, not because the world was telling the church what to think, nor because the church was being politically correct. The debates provided a motivation and opportunity for scholarship and a re-thinking of assumptions. What often shed the blood of martyrs in one generation became the accepted norm of the next. Taking a stand for what one perceives is the truth is always risky to one's reputation and life.
C. S. Lewis popularized the notion of "mere Christianity," an idea well codified in Augustine who said that "in essentials, unity; in non-essentials, liberty; in all things, charity." Many of the scuttles in the modern church today are not over essential doctrines, like women teaching, and should be held with liberty of conscience and utmost charity. Though we may disagree with others on this issue or others may disagree with us, we're convinced this is an issue in which to dialogue and persuade. But it is not an issue for metaphorical burnings at the stake. Nor is it an issue for one to cause conflict in such a way that brothers and sisters who follow Jesus cannot walk shoulder to shoulder against the real enemy of our souls. Though we may disagree on the value of a woman's voice, we can together proclaim Jesus is the deliverer of the world!
If we are accused of re-interpreting well-established interpretations, we want to point to the well-traveled paths that have already been blazed before us. Each century has work to do as new issues present themselves. What is more, the topic of this essay on allowing woman to teach is not a new paradigm. It was a popular notion even 100 years ago. The Friends supported it 400 years ago.
When American Friends (Quakers) and Christian Europeans pushed their new abolitionist read of Scripture on the white southern American slave-owners, they were accused of distorting the Word of God. Many southerners thought slaves should be subject to their masters. But the Civil War itself changed our views and interpretations of the Word of God.
In the 1970's, secular feminists were given credit for new interpretations of 1 Timothy 2 and focus on Ephesians 5:21, "Submit to one another." Women entered new areas of leadership, including teaching and even shepherding churches. Many thought, as we did, that the church was "selling out" to secular pressures. If the justification for women speaking was solely based on anti-supernaturalist, political correct, trendy, anti-Biblical notions, we should all be careful.
Yet when we looked at the passages for ourselves with fresh eyes, new perspectives emerged. We also discovered we are not alone, that a woman's voice has been around much longer than that. The Friends allowed women to speak in the 1600s. Two hundred years later, the 1800s welcomed a virtuous (and deeply Christian) freedom for woman, which historically has become known as "First Wave Feminism". Women of valor began calling upon their female friends and sisters to voice their concerns over social problems like alcoholism (the Christian Temperance Union was formed), slavery and voting privileges. These First Wave Feminists justified their movement with Scripture, claiming that a woman would offer her uniquely civilizing voice to politics, and that men still needed the companion God had originally created for Adam.
In the late 1800's, women and the men who joined them changed the face of evangelical churches. Evangelicals began endorsing women preachers and teachers. Their logic was thus: if women are able to run farms and businesses, receive theological education, publicly argue for temperance (alcohol-free towns), petition and speak for the female vote, then why not allow these women to share their gifts with the church? Moody Bible Institute, then just a young Bible training school, invited, encouraged, and endorsed women as teachers. Yes, even teachers in Sunday morning pulpits.13
The Evangelical Free Church, founded on "Bible-only" theology used women as evangelists, Bible teachers and pastors. The 1908 constitution intended that men and women have equal status in the church, and its 1925 rules for ordination read that "a candidate for ordination shall request a reference from the church of which he or she is a member" (italics ours). If you are interested in reading more on this intriguing history and why the provision for women's voices changed and women were re-silenced (some reasons include the shift away from two-year bible schools open to all applicants to accredited seminaries only accepting male applicants, and the unfortunate reality that when women got the vote they lost their unity and voice, with less women trained and publicly visible churches had less women to choose from and forgot the power of a woman's voice in their churches) see Janette Hassey's No Time for Silence: Evangelical Women in Public Ministry Around the Turn of the Century.14
A woman's voice, promoted in Scripture, has been unmuted by Christian men and women well over a century ago. The secular feminist's (the Second Wave Feminists) promotion of women was merely furthering work that was begun by Christians earlier. Our research has unearthed that we are not saying anything new. We're just joining hands with what we find to be Biblical truth.
The Day of Pentecost has often been dubbed Women's Emancipation Day in the New Testament. This was the day the Holy Spirit came upon men and women alike, giving all of us access to His gifts. In Peter's first great sermon, he validated Pentecost with the words of Joel, "'And in the last days it shall be, God declares, that I will pour out my Spirit on all flesh, and your sons and your daughters shall prophesy..." (italics ours). Joel tells us and Peter confirms for us that when the Holy Spirit comes upon people, even women will speak and prophesy. As reiterated above, this is no mere modern-day trend. The Spirit has come and He is no respecter of persons.
In light of the passages that have been ear-marked as cautions for women speakers, we want to make very clear that we take the Bible seriously. We believe every word is profitable and accurate in its original autographs. While we haven't reached a final statement on these issues, we believe the Bible permits a woman using her voice in matters of theology and philosophy, as long as it is done in humility and responsibility (just as it is for the men). We believe this is especially true as it pertains to an organization like Soulation, where we often share under the elders or pastors of churches and in multiple settings such as universities, conferences and camps. Rarely do we come into an event without an authority structure supervising, guiding and coordinating the venue.
With that in mind, we want to affirm that women have insights and lessons to share, using their spiritual gifts for the edification of the entire body. Nowhere in the Scripture do we find spiritual gifts relegated just for men or just for women. The spiritual gifts are not pink and blue. It is because we care about the message within the inspired word of God that we want to hear and share a woman's voice on its truth, not arbitrarily silencing women because of tradition or historical unawareness. While we haven't reached a final statement on these issues, we believe the Bible does not prohibit the use of the woman's voice in matters of theology and philosophy. We believe this is especially true as it pertains to an organization like Soulation and its different venues of invitation.
If you take a moment and think of the various differences in men and women, you can imagine the richness in having any Biblical text taught by both women and men. If women have unique souls - with their own feminine, God-reflecting ways of thinking, feeling, and choosing - it makes sense that a woman will exegete and apply a passage in valuable and fresh ways. Shouldn't we long to hear women share the insights that are usually only heard in women's Bible studies? As a man, I (Dale) value hearing the feminine perspective as well as the masculine. A healthy, developed perspective from a woman only serves to round out my own. After all, if I am going to be effective, I need to grow in understanding about what half of almost every audience thinks and feels. If women are made in God's image (Gen 1:27), then I expect them to have a mind, will, and emotion to help me fuller understand what it means to be human in God's world. They reflect God's image to me. I've never seen a healthy marriage where this does not apply. It seems consistent with Scripture to let it also apply in matters of church.
Imagine a woman teaching from Esther and explaining this beautiful queen's fears, delights, and strategies to preserve the Jews. Or think of how a woman would reconcile Sarah's commands to Abraham with Peter's descriptions of Sarah as a "submissive wife" (I Pet 3:5-6). Or think of the helpfulness and clarity a woman might bring to Genesis 3, sharing the ways she sees herself twisted by the Fall. Or how she understands being "born-again," a female metaphor Jesus used to explain how God brings salvation. And how she might lend insight into how her soul is redeemed by the Son of Man. Are these not unique and valuable insights?
After all, women are still part of the New Testament church, where all have entrance into Christ's new life and the gifts of the Holy Spirit: Jew and Greek, slave and free, male and female (Gal 3:28).
We are delighted to share as a speaking team and look forward to sharing our gifts with any assembly, all the while understanding that anyone can fall prey to false ideas and trends. Our goal at Soulation is to help others become more appropriately human and this must incorporate how we are uniquely male and female. We want to prepare willing souls (man, woman, and youth) to be thoughtful and creative voices for the task of navigating these precarious times. In our physical and spiritual travels we are glad to be on this path, as man and woman, wing to wing and oar to oar.
1Revised June 5, 2009.
2We are indebted to Jerry, a scholar of C. S. Lewis, a lover of Corgis, and the friend who married us. He gave us this picture of humble epistemology.
3The exception to this rule is the genre of "prophecy." In that genre, sometimes the original audience misses the double-meaning predicting a later occurrence. However, the genre of "epistles" does not have double-meanings.
4We have noticed that the belief that women should remain mute in church often draws from early 20th century practice rather than from historical Biblical practice or teaching. A few new translations of the New Testament have been written with the purpose of deliberately promoting women's silence today, and their biases come through when you compare them against older (like the King James Version) and newer translations. For example, go to www.biblegateway.com, look at 1 Cor 14:33-35, and compare the different translations. Notice the ones that attach the phrase, "as in all the churches," to verse 34, to make it read as if women's silence is universal. Most translations older than the modern gender debate do not translate this verse this way.
5The IVP Women's Bible Commentary, 663.
6See Strong's description of this word: 2271.
7We have often heard pastors say "submit" is a military term and means "to order under," injecting military language into their explanations. While it is true there is a strong hierarchical connotation when this word is used in military settings, in non-military uses, it is a much softer word and means more of a meaningful cooperation than a pawn in a military machine. See Strong's explanation for word number 5293 at Studylight.org or blueletterbible.org.
8Dr. Linda Belleville, Professor of New Testament, Bethel College, Indiana.
9We are indebted to Dr. Ronald Pierce for providing these examples.
10We are not saying anyone who ministers must have seminary training. Rather, we think anyone who is teaching be one serious about the Scripture and understand what it's teaching, drawing from various scholarly sources.
11Walking on Water: Reflections on Faith and Art (Wheaton, IL: Harold Shaw Publishers, 1980).
12It discourages us when we hear brothers or sisters dismissed with, "Oh, that's 'feminist'!". Announcing the word doesn't mean you have understood nor defeated your opponent anymore than a media pundit saying, "Oh, that's 'religious' or that's 'evangelical' or that's 'fundamentalist.'" One must take the time to actually qualify what kind of "feminism" we do not approve of and explain why we believe God is not in favor of this type of feminism. It is unfair discourse to make personal attacks before considering the argument, no matter what the topic.
13Janette Hassey, "Evangelical Women in Ministry A Century Ago: The 19th and early 20th Centuries", Discovering Biblical Equality: Complementarity without Hierarchy, General Editors, Ronald W. Pierce and Rebecca Merril Groothuis, Contributing Editor, Gordon D. Fee (Downers Grove, IL: InterVarsity Press, 2005) 40-52.
14Della E. Olson, A Woman of Her Times (Minneapolis: Free Church Press, 1977), p. 81.
A publication of Soulation | www.soulation.org
© 2009 Dale & Jonalyn Fincher. All Rights Reserved.