Things will never change for the better if we don’t question the norm.
That is how I ended my previous blog post. In that post, I took a view throughout Salvation History and looked at women in the Old and New Testament, and the implications of water baptism and the Baptism of the Holy Spirit to show that women deserve more recognition in the church. In this post, I will look into several women that Paul mentions in his letters, and Paul’s household codes.
If we look at how Paul treats women individually, then maybe we can make more sense of some of his more generalized statements that are made to women as a whole within certain areas. If Paul ends up having even a slightly altered view of women, we then have to consider that maybe Paul’s generalized statements were more meant for the specific cultures he was writing to at that specific time in history. This would mean that some of these writings of Paul don’t hold eternal truths within them, but again, give us a glimpse at how the early church was founded by giving us a look into their struggles during the first-century.
Paul and Women in Ministry:
In 1Corinthians Paul gives some instructions to the church on how to maintain orderly worship. Among them, Paul tells women to keep silent in the church (1Cor 14:34). However, Paul says enough things about women within the church that it (along with an extrabiblical understanding of 1st-century culture in Corinth) seems he is not stating this as an eternal truth. Dr. Craig Keener (graduate of my alma mater) states in his work, “Paul, Women, and Wives,” that he thinks that the women of Corinth were uneducated in regards to proper etiquette in Christian worship and did not know when it was appropriate to ask questions. Also, in chapter 11 of the book, Paul assumes that women were prophesying in the local assembly. For him to all of the sudden revoke this right as a whole seems to not make sense in context with the rest of the book.
1 Timothy 2:11-12 is another popular example where Paul says that a woman should not teach or be in a place above a man. But again, by looking throughout biblical theology as a whole and also looking at outside sources, such as the Church Fathers (below), makes it seem like Paul was not speaking an eternal truth. These verses should be taken the same way that 1 Corinthians is taken – that Paul was addressing something specific that Timothy had to deal with within the church in Ephesus. Some try to use the word “submit” and relate it to how Paul talks to wives in Colossians and Ephesians, but that was a household code written for wives whereas this was directed to women – they can’t be clumped together as concerning the same cause. In verse 12 the word that is used as “to use authority over” is a hapax legomenon, meaning that this is the only time that this word is used in all the New Testament. To try and understand what this word fully means within the context of Timothy or to Paul would leave the text wanting for more. This text is probably the strongest argument for the complementarian cause, but with the rest of the New Testament to consider, it does shift the burden of proof into the complementarian’s hands.
Since both of these texts which are against women being in ministry remain unclear at best, we now need to look at some of the other things Paul says concerning women in general and also women in ministry. If immediate context seems unclear, one then needs to move to general context, and from there to all the author’s works, until looking at the Testaments, and finally the Bible as a whole. In some of the cases I am about to present, the original manuscripts were altered because male scribes didn’t understand how Paul could say some of these things about women (which I will discuss below). However, if Paul had such a high view of women and assumed them to be in places of prominence in ministry, then some of these passages which might lack clarity or don’t harmonize with the rest of Pauline thought were merely cultural to the places that Paul was writing to at that time.
The book of Romans is the most important book to look at when discussing the role of women in ministry. In Paul’s conclusion in Romans 16, Paul speaks of nine women specifically among the 26 people that are mentioned. Not only so, but he gives notable praise to seven of these women, which is more than the men! There is a group of four people that Paul gives praise to for working hard, among three of whom are women. Also, among the group Paul gave praise and recognition to, was possibly two married couples who appeared to be doing ministry together – Prisca and Aquila, and Andronicus and Junia. Chrysostom, who is one of the most well attested Church Fathers, says in regards to this section of Romans: “The women of those days were more spirited than lions, sharing with the Apostles their labors for the Gospel’s sake. In this way they went traveling with them and also performed all other ministries.”
Phoebe (16:1-2) is mentioned as being a “servant” of the church. The word in the Greek (here: “ousan diakonon”) literally means “servant,” but in Christian circles and to Paul here it obviously meant “deacon” (Phil 1:1; 1Tim 3:8, 12). Some people call Phoebe a, “ deaconess,” to give light to her role, but that term was not popular until the second to third century. She is the first recorded Church deacon in the bible actually! The first deacon ever mentioned is a woman. And though this might mean that she was in a lower position in the church under an elder or overseer, it should be noted that for some reason she was the only one mentioned in Paul’s final words to the church.
Phoebe is also mentioned as a woman who is a “patron.” This could point back to her in the role of deacon or could even mean that she owned or possessed some kind of property and hosted people at her home. Some believe she might have even gave Paul a place to stay during one of his missionary journeys (Acts 18:18). Though some find this hard to believe, there are other women in the bible who are mentioned as having possession of land (Nympha in Colossians 4, who arguably also might have been a pastor or overseer), and again, some scholars claim that women in Rome actually had more rights than women in the Eastern empire (Witherington, Balsdon). Caesar Augustus actually tried to put restrictions on women in Rome during his reign, which could mean that women might have been not following what we think to be the cultural norms of the time. Regardless, Phoebe is seen as both a deacon and a patron and as the person with whom Paul is sending his most attested letter. That says a lot for a woman.
Junia (16:7) is another highly-esteemed woman mentioned in Romans as being noted among the apostles and recognized as being imprisoned for her faith. Though some manuscripts disagree to whether Junia should be read as the obscure masculine name Junias, it is easier to explain why someone would change the text from a woman to a man rather than vice versa. NT Wright says in regards to this: “Don’t be put off by some translations which call her ‘Junias’, as if she were a man. There is no reason for this except the anxiety of some about recognizing that women could be apostles too.” Junia is mentioned along with her potential husband as being “among the apostles.”
Junia was not just well noticed in the eyes of the apostles as though she were outside the apostles, as some read or translate it. As Church Fathers Chrysostom and Origen attest, she was considered to be among the apostles, and not only so, but notable among them! She was an apostle. And being related to Paul, this would make sense because that would mean that she would also be Jewish – as all the Twelve Apostles were.
Paul then says that Junia and her husband actually knew the Lord before Paul – meaning that they were apostles before Paul (Paul calls himself the “last of the apostles” in 1Corinthians 15). For this and other reasons, some scholars, R. Bauckham notably, think that Junia might be the Latin name for Joanna mentioned in Luke 8. Joanna would be the Greek name for the Jewish name Yohanna. This was common in first-century Rome and is why Paul (Greek) goes by Saul (Hebrew) when he is among the Jews after he is saved, but then when he goes on his first missionary journey to the Gentiles he then goes by his Greek name Paul. If Junia is Joanna from Luke 8, this would make sense with how Junia came to the Lord before Paul and how she could be an apostle, and it also means that she would have been part of the group to have actually seen the risen Lord! She and her husband are given higher praise than any other people mentioned in the conclusion of Romans!
“The conclusion then follows that Paul has no problem with women as teachers (Priscilla) or leaders, proclaimers, or missionaries of the Good News. Indeed, it is hardly likely that a woman would be incarcerated in Paul’s world without having made some significant public remark or action. Junia said or did something that led to a judicial action.” – Ben Witherington
Paul and Women at Home:
Paul only references or talks about household codes in Ephesians (5:22-6:9) and Colossians (3:18-4:1). 1Corinthians 7 has a portion on marriage, but this was more generalized, cultural, and not in the form of a “code” like Ephesians and Colossians. Since both of these books are so alike (the two closest books in Pauline literature if not the whole New Testament), I will only focus on one – Colossians.
The first thing to note is that this is a household code specifically talking about husbands and wives – not men and women in general. If Paul was making a distinction that this was for men and women in general, he would have said so. This is specifically a “household” code. Another thing to remember is that Paul wrote with the assumption that these people (Wives/Husbands, Children/Fathers, Slaves/Masters) were living according to an already understood Christian ethic. Something to ask is, “who is the code intended for?” Is it intended for everyone, or did Paul have someone specifically in mind when he included this code in his letter?
Paul was obviously accepting norms and standards that were not arguable in that day, but even with that considered, Paul altered the way people perceived their household code of ethics. Notice that of the three pairs mentioned, the superordinate in all three would be considered one and the same person – the head of the household. The head of the household would not only be the husband, but he would also be father and slave master. With this in mind, it seems like Paul intended to limit the role of the superordinate – giving less restrictions and more rights to women, children, and slaves. This makes sense with the Pauline thought in Colossians, Ephesians, and elsewhere that all people are now equal because they are “in Christ” (Col 3:11; Gal 3:28). Should we today accept these roles as they are and even still allow slaves, or should we keep Paul’s spirit and lessen restrictions as the culture and time allows it?
With further context it makes sense now why women are told to “submit themselves” instead of the husband forcing the wife to submit. The verb (present/middle/imperative) is clearly in the middle voice and, according to James Dunn the words that are used are less harsh in the Greek than when Paul instructs children to “obey” their Fathers in the verses that follow (harsher word and a present/active/imperative verb). Women were not expected to follow their husbands blindly as the children were more instructed to. And again, note that Paul expected that all of these people mentioned were to act Godly, in the way Paul instructed earlier in the letter. Consider that by husbands and wives each obeying their end of the instruction, the other one prospered: “From being loved, the wife too becomes loving; and from her being submissive, the husband learns to yield” (Chrysostom).
A friend told me the other day that he did not want to make a rule to allow women to lead and serve places in ministry because of an “exception” to the rule that seemed to permeate the New Testament – that only men should be in places of leadership. By looking at the New Testament, it seems that women were not an exception at all, but that they were an assumed and integral part of the growing church and had an equally active role within their homes.
It might be that I was saved because of the preaching and ministry of a female pastor. It could be that I like to be controversial. But with all the evidence considered, this is the conclusion I came up with; that women are equal – no separation of rank or submission. The Bible, along with an acute psychological and sociological understanding, has led me to this conclusion. If you are not sure where you stand on this situation or disagree, I challenge you to study it for yourselves and to ask yourselves the questions that people try to ignore. Again, things will never change for the better if we don’t question the norm.
Those who stand up for what they believe in,
Those through which churches meet and are grounded,
Those who are among the apostles and are seen well-noted,
This is for you.