Christianity seems to be against women. For how else do you explain passages such as 1 Corinthians 14:34-35 and 1 Timothy 2:11-14 where Paul is very intolerant towards women?
The question of how to understand Paul in these specific passages and what cultural and contextual factors need to be considered when trying to make sense of it, has been a matter of dispute among many who have wrestled with these texts. What is clear, in the wider context of Paul’s ministry and teaching, is that he affirmed the contributions of various women in ministry settings (see Acts 18:26; 1 Corinthians 16:19; Romans 16:1,3,7; Colossians 4:15; Philippians 4:2-3) and the dignity of all people (Galatians 3:28). It would therefore be difficult to argue that Paul had a sexist, inferior view of women. It would also not make sense to infer that Christianity is against women when considering the way Jesus himself interacted with women. In fact, it could be argued that Jesus and Paul in many ways went against the grain of the cultural tendencies of their time in their view of women.
The best way to approach this question of how Paul viewed woman and whether Christianity is implicitly sexist, would be to try and understand the two main views on the subject. None of these views consider women in any way inferior to men, but they have different implications for understanding gender roles in general and also of the roles of women in ministry.
In what follows I have compiled a selected number of readable and informed articles for further exploration (sorry, there is no easy one-liner answer!). By looking at both sides you will be enabled to become fairly informed and form your own opinion on the matter. But what should become evident is that whatever view one ends up taking, the integrity of the Bible as God’s Word and the equal dignity of both genders is of utmost importance in both instances.
The terms used to describe the two main distinctive views are called egalitarianism and complementarianism. In short, these two views can be described as follows (as found on The Prodigal Thought):
The Egalitarian View: Advocates of the egalitarian view do not believe men and women are identical in all matters, for there are definitely some differences between the two sexes (hence, why some might argue that they believe in complementary roles). But egalitarians believe that both sexes are capable of equal standing in both the home and the church. Specifically, within the church, women should be given complete freedom in expressing their gifts and callings in God, and this extends into leadership roles, even if that leadership role includes overseeing men.
The Complementarian View: In the structure of the home, this theological viewpoint sees a mutual and complementary role existing between husband and wife, but the man still carries the lead, or ‘headship’, role. Within society in general, it is completely acceptable for women to hold jobs outside the home. In regards to roles within the church, women are normally allowed to function in ministry opportunities and other responsibilities. But, with reference to oversight and leadership, women are to be in submission to men. Thus, in this view, women can be given the freedom to lead such things as children’s ministries, women’s ministries, as well as serving in other ministry areas. But, and this is where we have varying views within a major view, it is possible that complementarians will either a) not allow women to teach men nor be in leadership or b) allow women to preach/teach with men in the context, but they are not to exercise authority in any main leadership role.
We can now have a closer look at each of these views.
The following articles speak from an egalitarian perspective (some notable biblical scholars mentioned in brackets):
- Women’s Service in the Church: The Biblical Basis (N.T. Wright)
- Was Paul For or Against Women in Ministry? (Craig S. Keener)
- The Bible and That “Women” Question and The Apostle Paul and Women (Scot McKnight)
- An Examination of 1 Timothy 2:8-15
- Literal Renderings of Texts of Contention – 1 Tim. 2.8-15 (Ben Witherington) [see also here]
- Women in Church Leadership (This is the conclusion of a ten part series, but gives a helpful summary of each part with links to the previous parts. On examining the texts under consideration, see paper 9 and paper 10. Also see Paul’s Policy on Women: Three Key Questions)
- Philip B. Payne: “Here I answer questions about my new book ‘Man and Woman, One in Christ’ and provide its complete Bibliography and Supplemental Studies.” (Note: Contains somewhat technical discussions)
- The Role of Women in the Church
- The Apostle Paul: Sexist or Pragmatist?
Another few posts from an egalitarian perspective at The Prodigal Thought is worth reading:
- On Man Being Created Before Woman
- The Role of Women – 1 Timothy 2:8-15
- The Role of Women – 1 Corinthians 14:33-35
- Changing Our Minds About Women
- Challenges to Complementarianism
- Response to Complementarians (Part 1 of 2)
- Response to Complementarians (Part 2 of 2)
- Resources For Complementarianism and Egalitarianism
Now, for insight into the complementarian view, see the following links which are all selected chapters of the book, Recovering Biblical Manhood and Womanhood.
- Male-Female Equality and Male Headship Genesis 1-3
- Head Coverings, Prophecies and the Trinity 1 Corinthians 11:2-16
- “Silent in the Churches”: On the Role of Women in 1 Corinthians 14:33b-36
- Role Distinctions in the Church Galatians 3:28
- Husbands and Wives as Analogues of Christ and the Church Ephesians 5:21 and Colossians 3:18-19
- What Does It Mean Not to Teach or Have Authority Over Men 1 Timothy 2:11-15
- Wives Like Sarah, and the Husbands Who Honor Them 1 Peter 3:1-7
- The Valuable Ministries of Women in the Context of Male Leadership
- Men and Women in the Image of God
- The Church as Family: Why Male Leadership in the Family Requires Male Leadership in the Church
- The Biological Basis for Gender-Specific Behavior
- The Family and the Church: How Should Biblical Manhood and Womanhood Work Out in Practice
- The High Calling of Wife and Mother in Biblical Perspective
- The Essence of Femininity A Personal Perspective
More on complementarianism:
- Woman’s Role in the Church
- Q&A on Complementarianism
- Why Is TGC Complementarian? (Video) (See the response to this video)
In conclusion you might also find the following two links helpful, if only to show the nuances involved:
- Gender: Complementarian vs Egalitarian Spectrum ( see also Complementarian and Egalitarian Bible verses)
- 20 Myths in the Gender Debate
- 1 Timothy 2:12
Please feel free to respond or ask any questions if you feel the need.
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