The AMI QT blogs for January (weekdays), provided by Pastor Ryun Chang, are extended to cover important sociopolitical matters that have serious ramifications for the Christian faith. Pastor Ryun (PhD), who serves as the Teaching Pastor of AMI, is the author of Manual de Misionología, Theologizing in the Racial Middle, and a contributor to The Reshaping of Mission in Latin America.
Disclaimer: AMI, as a consortium of several churches, allows the expression of multiple standpoints on non-essential biblical matters. My views expressed here do not necessarily represent the respective views of AMI pastors. I am also mindful that not every reader will agree with my stances on sensitive and contentious issues addressed in this month’s blogs. Where that may be the case, I invite you to utilize the comment section below, so that we may have an open dialogue; I highly encourage all readers to share their thoughts and experiences. Thank you.
Extended Devotional Thoughts for Today
“‘The Bible Approves of the Oppression of Women’: Is That Right?”
1 Corinthians 14:34
“The women should keep silent in the churches. For they are not permitted to speak, but should be in submission, as the Law also says.”
“I commend unto you Phebe our sister, which is a servant [diakonos in Greek from which the English word “deacon/deaconess” is derived] of the church which is at Cenchrea.”
I have a very famous cousin who grew up attending church but has long left the faith. When asked why, he said it was due to the poor treatment of women taught in Scripture and practiced by the church. That response reminded me of a pamphlet I got from The United Atheists of America that says, “The harm done to women by the Christian religion began with the Bible giving the stamp of God’s approval to the oppression of women. Christian men used the Bible to keep women silent, submissive and uneducated for centuries.” No doubt, today’s passage—one that tells the women to be silent in the church—would rank high in the cynics’ laundry list against the church. Sure, that and few other passages in the Bible look awful in the modern era where women can not only vote, which became a law only about 100 years ago, but run for political offices— including the POTUS.
But, before condemning the church as the enemy of women, please recognize this simple fact: In antiquity women were treated badly across the board; that is to say, no men living in antiquity—regardless of whether they were today’s equivalent of conservatives, liberals or left, religious or irreligious—could be deemed pro-women in light of today’s enlightened standard. So, to fairly judge the early church’s treatment of women, the merits of the church should be compared to the standard of that era.
When that’s done, you would agree with what Rodney Stark (then a sociologist at the University of Washington) writes in The Rise of Christianity (1996), described by Newsweek as brilliant. To the charge that “the Bible . . . ke[pt] women silent, submissive and uneducated,” Stark declares, “They’re all wrong.” How? According to this leading sociologist, “Christianity ‘promoted liberty, social relations between the sexes and within the family’ . . ., giving women more status than they enjoyed in Rome society, where they remained the property of men.’” Furthermore, “women also benefitted from the church’s sanctification of marriage and opposition to divorce” since divorced women were deemed “damaged goods”; some even “ma[de] a place in the community as a prostitute” (Willards 1997:71).
One irony is this: Many critics often claim that the New Testament writers borrowed ideas from Mithraism—a mystery religion from Persia—and other ancient religions like it. For instance, Dan Brown says in The Da Vinci Code that Jesus can be identified with “the pre-Christian God Mithras—[who was] called the Son of God and the Light of the World” (p. 232). While making that unwarranted claim (Reinventing Jesus 2006), Brown never mentions that Mithraism’s “membership was restricted to men” (Latourette 1975:25). On the contrary, as Stark notes, “most Christians in the Roman Empire were women,” some of whom became deaconesses (Rom. 16:1), a mid-level leadership in the church. That may mean nothing to you and me, but the elevation of women to such a leadership position was unheard of among the many mystery religions at that time (Cybele, Isis, Ishtar, a.k.a., Venus, etc.). Truth be told, a key role of women in these religions was serving as temple prostitutes. In The Da Vinci Code, the detective Sophie, when she was young, had rejected her beloved grandfather after witnessing him in orgies with the members of a secret society. When told of this, Harvard symbologist Langdon explained: “What you saw was not about sex, it was about spirituality. The . . . ritual is not a perversion. It’s a deeply sacrosanct ceremony . . . For the early church, mankind’s use of sex to communicate directly with God posed a serious threat to the Catholic power base” (p. 309). Oh really? I have one question for Langdon: “If these mystery religions were so wonderful to women and the church was such an anti-women institution, why were the women so drawn to the church?”
So, please consider what is presented here and not be misled into thinking that the church and the Bible are against women. The reality is that the powerful truth in Scripture set the social forces in motion to liberate women from societal restrictions placed on them, in time. Too slow of a process? Yes, but that’s the fault of many males, who, being sinners and ignorant of Scripture, treated women badly, some more than others. Nevertheless, that’s not God’s fault because He gave us His Word and Spirit to turn our world into a safer place for women (“Your kingdom come”), but like everything else, we’ve failed God—who created and loves women. And for them Christ died.
Prayer: Father, what a privilege that we’re called “God’s fellow workers” (2 Cor. 6:1), but we have failed so miserably in faithfully carrying out Your will on this earth, including making our world a safer place for women. We men need to repent! Help us to change in our homes, churches, and workplaces. Amen.
Bible Reading for Today: Genesis 33
Tomorrow’s Blog: “With God Watch Out for a Very Unexpected Career”
Lunch Break Study
Read 1 Cor. 14:34-35 (ESV):
“The women are to keep silent in the churches; for they are not permitted to speak, but are to subject themselves, just as the Law also says. 35 If they desire to learn anything, let them ask their own husbands at home; for it is improper for a woman to speak in church.
1 Corinthians 11:5 (NASB):
“But every woman who has her head uncovered while praying or prophesying disgraces her head . . .” (Note that these Corinthian women did this in the church).
Acts 18:24-26 (ESV):
“Now a Jew named Apollos, an Alexandrian by birth, an eloquent man, came to Ephesus; and he was mighty in the Scriptures. 25 This man had been instructed in the way of the Lord; and being fervent in spirit, he was speaking and teaching accurately the things concerning Jesus, being acquainted only with the baptism of John; 26 and he began to speak out boldly in the synagogue. But when Priscilla and Aquila heard him, they took him aside and explained to him the way of God more accurately.”
Questions to Consider
- When 1 Corinthians 14:34-35 and 11:5 are read side-by-side, what observations can you make?
- When Acts 18:24-26 and 1 Corinthians 11:5 are read side-by-side, what observations can you make?
- In light of these two observations, what logical conclusion can you draw?
- Evidently, women were not completely silent in the Corinthian church since they prayed and prophesized publicly (1 Cor. 14:29).
- Whereas Paul tells the Corinthian wives that if they have questions, to “ask their own husbands at home,” Luke reports that Priscilla actually taught a man (not just any man but a biblical scholar). Note that the verb “explain” in Greek is conjugated in the third person plural.
- It leads me to draw these conclusions: first, when Paul tells the women to be silent in the church, he does not mean a complete silence; second, it may be that Paul is addressing a local situation facing a particular church; third, men can learn the Bible from women—to put it different, women can teach men. The debatable point is whether this is a one-time exception or a prototypical foreshadow of more historical changes to come.
Before you turn in, let me share a really unpleasant thought: The devil is a deceiver who “disguises himself as an angel of light” (2 Cor. 11:4). Meaning what? One of his greatest weapons is “disinformation”—slightly twisting the truth to make it appear still “truthful” yet is a lie “to steal and kill and destroy” (Jn. 10:10a). The enemy did that when, while tempting Jesus, he appeared to quote a Scripture (i.e., Ps. 91:9-12), “If You are the Son of God, throw Yourself down; for it is written . . . (Matt. 4:5). He lied; the correct clause is, “If you make the Most High your dwelling” (Ps. 91:9a), not, “If you are the Son of God.” Evidently, the devil tried get Jesus to question His Sonship.
In light of that, what lies of the enemy have you accepted? Have you believed the lies of the enemy regarding the supposed bad treatment of women by the early church? Do you feel you aren’t worth much apart from having a shapely form? Is that why you focus so much on your body? That’s called conditional love and it does not come from God.
Spend a moment to really examine your thoughts and feelings. Believe God’s truth. How about Romans 5:8 that says, “But God demonstrates His own love toward us, in that while we were yet sinners, Christ died for us”—and be set free from the disinformation of the enemy?