A bible student’s question to his teacher regarding women’s roles in the church

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STUDENT:

  • Teacher, I haven’t picked your brain for awhile, so I thought tonight would be a good time to start up again :)

    I’m reading through the word, and through my studies on male/female distinctions regarding roles in the Church, I have come to a conclusion that I fear could be mistaken as chauvinistic if not understood properly. I don’t know what you believe regarding this, but I believe that 1 Timothy 2:12 is to be taken literally, and doesn’t have a cultural interpretation to it.
    “I do not permit a woman to teach, or to have authority over a man; she must be silent.”
    Since Paul is writing to Timothy regarding practices in the church, I take that to mean that in a formal church setting, women shouldn’t be placed in a position of authoritative teaching (teaching or preaching the bible) to men.
    My first question is this – can that be interpreted differently? Any other justification I can think of to interpret that differently seems to be cultural, not biblical.
    My second question starts like this:
    whenever I bring up this verse to someone, it’s usually thrown out the window as “uninterpretable” because 1 Corinthians 11 says that women shouldn’t have their heads uncovered (or have short hair)… so both passages (1 Cor and 1 Tim) must have some cultural context that we aren’t aware of that would help us interpret them.
    I’m struggling with 1 Cor. 11:1-16 because it’s a hard passage to understand (not just to interpret)… however my understanding of it is this: Paul is teaching male/female gender distinctions and their importance. “Head covered” and “Uncovered” can be translated as “long hair” and “short hair”. The larger picture Paul is trying to convey is that men and women practiced differences in their appearance for a reason, and that shouldn’t stop in the church even though we are all equal in Christ. I’m probably not articulating it correctly, but something along those lines.
    How do you understand this passage?
    And what’s with “because of the angels”?
    TEACHER:

    Tough question. I have not fully resolved the women’s issue. First, the easy one. The “angel issue” is based on the concept that the angels are helping us do God’s will or “ministering spirits sent to serve” us (Heb.1). So, if we are living disobedient lives the angelic assistance is not available. Example: Angels will not help you break in to a store to steal a bigger TV. If you try, you are on your own. The same concept is in 1 peter 3:7.

    I would tend to agree with you concerning women leading in churches and having authority over men. It is hard for me to understand that and hard sometimes to accept that because my values have been corrupted by the pagan western culture from the 1960’s through today. It is just easier to see women as leaders. The example, of course, is Deborah, but she was clearly living in a culture similar to ours: the men were cowards and compromisers and ignorant of truth and so void of faith. Since God used Deborah (and, others) the issue is not the inability of women, but is God’s desire to use men. So, when men are worthless and cowards, God can use a woman and the woman can do the job successfully. the same thing happened on the day of the resurrection: woman were at the tomb, the men were hiding. So, the women were told to 1) tell the men Jesus was alive, or preach the good news to them; 2) give the disciples a command or instruction, “Meet Jesus in Galilee.” So, once again God violates his own command, which means it is not a command but a principle of order and design. The words like “head” and “authority” are words of “order,” “organization,” and “design.” Not words of “greater,” or “inability.”
    Thus, because order, design can be effected by culture they may be demonstrated differently in different cultures. For example, God (the bible, paul) says nothing about women wearing wedding rings, but if a woman takes off her wedding ring in public in our culture it is a sign of unfaithfulness, lack of submission to her husband, disregard for the institution of marriage, and an act of deception since she is possibly trying to present herself as unattached and available. This principle is biblical, but the way it is presented changes. Thus, the long hair. The principle of submission remains, but the symbolism of hair may have changed and now be the wedding ring, etc.
    I am NOT fully comfortable with the woman issue. I am confident on the angels answer, though.
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