Paul, Women and Religious Chauvinism in America by J. Lee Grady 9/6/06
I don’t know Mary Lambert, but I can’t help feeling sorry for her. After serving as a Sunday school teacher for 54 years at First Baptist Church of Watertown, N.Y., the 81-year-old woman was dismissed last month by her pastor. Wham! Just like that she was out the door.
The pastor and other leaders of the church said they took this drastic action because the Bible directed them to do so. In their opinion, the apostle Paul believed women should never teach men or hold positions of church authority.
“The apostle Paul believed the gifts of the Holy Spirit are distributed to people regardless of race, class or gender.”
Pastor Timothy LaBouf told reporters that he based his decision on 1 Timothy 2:12, which states in the King James Bible: “But I suffer not a woman to teach, nor to usurp authority over the man, but to be in silence.”
Lambert’s story is odd, to be sure. After all, why did the church wait 54 years to enforce their strict doctrinal view? And why did everyone in the church go along with Lambert’s ouster?
As soon as the media got hold of the story we had a national fiasco on our hands. Suddenly all Bible-believing Christians were painted with the same broad brush. We were made to look foolish, chauvinistic and narrow-minded. Lambert’s mistreatment gave us all a black eye.
What the media did not explain, of course, is that the apostle Paul’s view of women in ministry, as defined in Scripture, is neither restrictive nor exclusive. His writings have been twisted and misinterpreted for centuries by simple-minded men (and some women, as well) who want to keep women in a limited place. Let’s consider the facts:
1. Paul had women on his ministry team. The Bible clearly records the names of the women who served as deacons, pastors, prophets and apostles in the New Testament church. They include Priscilla, Phoebe, Euodia, Syntyche, Nympha, Traephena, Traephosa, Philip’s four daughters and Junia (see Rom. 16:7)?a female apostle who spent time in prison with Paul. (Her Roman name was always listed in early biblical manuscripts as feminine until the 13 th century, when some translators decided a woman couldn’t possibly be a church planter.)
2. Paul supported these female ministers fully. Fundamentalists claim that Paul pushed women to the back of the church and muzzled them, but that is far from the truth. He traveled with Priscilla and her husband, Aquilla, and the Bible says Priscilla taught the man Apollos and launched him into ministry (in other words, her ministry was not just to other women; see Acts 18:24-26). Paul said of Phoebe the deacon, “I commend to you our sister,” instructing early Christians to back her (Rom. 16:1-2, NASB). He praised Traephena and Traephosa as “workers in the Lord,” obviously because they labored diligently to expand Christ’s kingdom (Rom. 16:12).
And when Euodia and Syntyche experienced friction in their relationship, Paul did not order them to get out of the ministry. Instead, he told his colleagues in Philippi to “help these women who have shared my struggle in the cause of the gospel” (Phil. 4:3).
3. Paul’s restrictions on women were not universal. Bible scholars have varied interpretations of 1 Timothy 2:12, which demands “silence” of women. Many agree that Paul was dealing with a specific situation in Ephesus in which a woman or a group of women were teaching heresy. If Paul had believed in a blanket prohibition of women in ministry, he never would have supported Priscilla, Phoebe or any woman in a leadership position. He would, however, have expected illiterate and untrained women to adopt a submissive attitude while learning God’s Word.
** Paul shared Jesus’ view of gender equality. Paul allowed women to preach and prophesy in church meetings (1 Cor. 11:5) because he believed the gifts of the Holy Spirit are distributed to people regardless of race, class or gender. He made this clear when he told the Galatians, “There is neither Jew nor Greek, there is neither slave nor free man, there is neither male nor female; for you are all one in Christ Jesus,” (Gal. 3:28).
I don’t know what Bible the people are reading at First Baptist Church in Watertown, N.Y. My Bible says,
“Help these women,” not “Kick them out.” What happened in Watertown does not reflect the views of Paul or the heart of the gospel.
————————————— J. Lee Grady is editor of Charisma magazine.
This article appeared in Charisma Magazine in 2006 but is no longer available on their website. I take no credit and only publish it (again) because it is still very appropriate.