Editor's Note: Pastor Roger Barrier's "Ask Roger" column regularly appears at Preach It, Teach It. Every week at Crosswalk, Dr. Barrier puts nearly 40 years of experience in the pastorate to work answering questions of doctrine or practice for laypeople, or giving advice on church leadership issues. Email him your questions at firstname.lastname@example.org.
When I read some of the things Paul wrote about women I understand why many (especially Non-Christians) consider Paul to be a male-chauvinistic-sexist pig. I will make my question very simple and specific: “Did Paul hate women?”
The pastor’s conference in Seoul, Korea attracted one hundred pastors from all over the world—mostly from the Far East. Most spoke English to some degree. Translators were provided for the rest. Dr. Paul Yonggi Cho was describing the processes that led to his founding and growing the largest church in the world. We watched with amazement one day earlier as eighteen thousand people crammed the worship building full for each of the seven Sunday services. Eighteen thousand times seven equals 126,000 people—not counting the thousands more who watched on multiple television screens in the education buildings. We spent the entire day on the roof watching the crowds come and go.
The next morning Cho said three outstanding things. First, “I ask our people to come to church no more than two times per month. We have no more room.”
Second, he said, “The foundation of our church is built on small groups that meet in people’s homes." I soon realized why small groups work well in Korean culture while they have only a slight chance of succeeding well in America. But that's a topic for another time.
Finally, he asked all the American pastors in the group to stand. So we did—about twenty of us. “It breaks my heart,” he said, “at what you have done to your women. You hold them back and relegate them to rather insignificant places of ministry instead of setting them free to minister. It is no wonder Christianity is struggling in your country. You go into spiritual battle with one hand tied behind your back.”
I was angry. Who was he to tell us that our attitude toward women was not Biblical! Later, I reflected that maybe the pastor of the world’s largest church knew a little more about practical ministry than I. I got off of my high horse and began looking at women from a little different perspective.
My wife, Julie, is an orchestra conductor. She was preparing the summer music week orchestra for a performance on Thursday night at the Glorietta Baptist encampment in New Mexico. Each evening different ensembles, groups, bands and vocalists performed. All the groups were led by men except for Julie’s. Late Thursday afternoon the “powers that be” informed Julie that while all the other leaders conducted from the platform, Julie would conduct her orchestra from the floor in front of the stage. After all, she was a woman and women were not allowed on the platform during a worship service. Are you kidding me? Julie humbled herself and complied. I must admit that I was thrilled at the furor that ensued against the “powers” when it became obvious to all what they had done.
About five years into my ministry a wise counselor told me, “Julie is a talented and powerful woman. You had better set her free to be all that God wants her to be or in twenty years you’re going to have a very angry woman on your hands.” I took that advice, set her free and ran interference when necessary.
One of my ministry goals was to untie the hand behind my back and set the women of our church free.
An honest look reveals that Paul, too, was deeply concerned with the value and role of women in the church.
Paul wrote in Galatians 3:28: “There is neither Jew nor Greek, slave nor free, male nor female, for you are all one in Christ Jesus.”
He wrote in 1 Corinthians 11:11-12: “In the Lord, however, woman is not independent of man, nor is man independent of woman. For as woman came from man, so also man is born of woman. But everything comes from God.”
Notice not only the value Paul that places on women in the first passage, but notice also the restoration of women to their complementary role as demonstrated in the second passage.
Passages that seem to devalue women need close attention.
For example, in 1 Corinthians 14:34-35, Paul expressly forbade women from speaking in church and required them to be submissive: “…women should remain silent in the churches. They are not allowed to speak, but must be in submission, as the Law says. If they want to inquire about something, they should ask their own husbands at home; for it is disgraceful for a woman to speak in the church.” By the way, we must note that In 1 Corinthians 14 Paul was delineating the rules for speaking in tongues during a church worship service. In light of the context, Paul was declaring that women were not to speak in tongues in the church service.
In 1 Timothy 2:11-14 Paul declared: “A woman should learn in quietness and full submission. I do not permit a woman to teach or to have authority over a man; she must be silent. For Adam was formed first, then Eve. And Adam was not the one deceived; it was the woman who was deceived and became a sinner. But women will be saved through childbearing—if they continue in faith, love and holiness with propriety.”
Paul’s theological reasoning in this passage for why women should not have authority needs careful attention. That women should learn from and be in submission to men as declared here has caused much discussion and conflict over the years.
The job of a good Bible student is to figure out what the original writer had in mind when he wrote what he wrote. Often times there’s more to a passage than what first meets the eye. 1 Timothy 2:11-14 is one such example.
A cursory reading of the passage says simply that women are not to have authority over men because Eve was deceived in the Garden and Adam was not. Adam knew exactly what he was doing when he ate the forbidden fruit. Which is worse: to be deceived, or to intentionally, willfully disobey the express word of God?
A proper interpretation of this passage must consider other relevant Biblical passages, cultural concerns, historical precedence, traditions and the various English translations of the Greek and Hebrew texts. I don’t believe that a proper interpretation can be made without figuring out the practical and theological implications of why Paul included the issue of childbearing. Finally, we need to consider the far reaching implications of whether or not this instruction is from God Himself or is simply Paul’s opinion. Compare "I do not permit," with Paul’s statement, "To the rest I say this (I, not the Lord)…" in 1 Corinthians 7:10-14. This passage is not so easy to interpret or apply as many would have us believe.
When we put the entire body of Paul’s comments about of women into perspective, we see that far from hating women, Paul is doing all he can to set them free!
In the society of Paul's day women had little or no standing whatsoever. In the Jewish culture women were forbidden to learn. Women had no part in the Synagogue service; they were corralled outside in a place where they could not be seen nor heard. “I would rather have the roll of the Law burned than have it taught to a woman,” wrote Rabbi Eleazer in the Talmud. “To instruct a woman in the law is to cast pearls before swine.” Rabbi Megilla wrote: “It is shame for a woman to let her voice be heard among men.”
Greek culture was no better. The respectable Greek woman never appeared on the street alone; she never went to a public assembly—much less ever spoke in one. Can you imagine that the Greek language had a special word for almost everything—but there was no special word for “wife.” Imagine that! The same word, “gune” (γυνη), referred to either a woman or to a wife. Context was necessary to decide whether the discussion was about wives or just women in general. Talk about wives being unimportant!
Paul’s teachings regarding women were revolutionary to his women-devaluating society. According to Paul, women were to be taught and instructed. In Christ women were no longer muzzled! Yes, she was once deceived, so teach her! He invited women into the church service! As we see in the next passage, women were encouraged to speak, pray and even prophesy in church meetings! This was unheard of in Paul’s day!
Look at the liberation and equality Paul outlined in 1 Corinthians 11:4-5: “Every man who prays or prophesies with his head covered dishonors his head. And every woman who prays or prophesies with her head uncovered dishonors her head—it is just as though her head were shaved.” Imagine that, no longer outside the door! No longer forbidden to speak! Women are praying, preaching and prophesying along side men in the church!
Paul demonstrated his appreciation and value of women in a practical way in the number of women he greeted in Romans 16:1-32. Of the twenty-nine individuals mentioned, nine of them were women.
In Romans 16:1-2 Paul mentioned Phoebe as being a "great help” to him. This Greek word occurs in no other place in the New Testament. It is the feminine form of the Greek word “prostates.” According to Liddell and Scott's lexicon the literal meaning is, "one who stands before, front rank, leader, chief, protector, champion." It is most likely that Phoebe was the one entrusted by Paul with delivering the letter of Romans from Greece to Rome.
Pliny The Younger (AD 62-113) sent the following letter to the emperor in Rome as he tried to figure out how to deal with the new Judaic sect called Christianity. He wrote, “I thought it the more necessary to inquire into the real truth of the matter by subjecting to torture two female slaves who were called ‘deacons,’ but I found nothing more than a perverse superstition which went beyond all bounds….” I believe that Pliny chose these two “female slaves” to torture because they, like Phoebe, held some official position as deacons and could reveal what Christianity was all about.
In Romans 16:7 Paul wrote: “Greet Andronicus and Junias, my relatives who were in prison with me. They are outstanding among the apostles, and they were in Christ before I was.” Junias was commended by Chrysostom as being an early female apostle.
“Greet Tryphena (dainty) and Tryphosa (delicate), those women who work hard in the Lord,” wrote Paul in Romans 16:12. These two were likely sisters and he mentioned them with a smile. The Greek verb, “kopian,” means “to toil to the point of exhaustion.” “You two may be called dainty and delicate; but you have worked your tails off for Christ.”
Greet my dear friend Persis, another woman who has worked very hard in the Lord,” wrote Paul in Romans 16:12. Here he used the past tense. This probably meant that Persis was getting up in years and that her hardworking days were over. She was Paul’s “dear friend.”
In Romans 16:13 Paul greeted “… Rufus, chosen in the Lord, and his mother, who has been a mother to me, too” Tradition tells us that Rufus’ mother married Simon of Cyrene, the one who carried the cross of Christ to Calvary. This same Simon became a Christian and led his family to Christ.
“Greet Philologus, Julia, Nereus and his sister, and Olympas and all the saints with them,” Paul wrote in Romans 16:15. The tradition is that Nerus and his sister were children of the man who was in charge of killing Christians during the reign of Nero. After witnessing the powerful testimony of so many Christian martyrs, they both surrendered their lives to Christ as Lord and Savior.
As a moment of inspiration, let me share the story of a young-married aristocrat who lived in Carthage, North Africa, named Perpetua. At the age of twenty-two she was tried before a procurator who asked, "Are you a Christian?"
“I am” she answered.
Her diary is preserved: “Then, he passed sentence on the whole of us, and condemned us to the beasts.... Then, because my baby was accustomed to take the breast from me, and stay with me, I asked my father for my baby. But my father refused to give him. And as God willed, neither had he any further wish for my breasts, nor did they become inflamed; that I might not be tortured by anxiety for the baby and pain in my breasts.”
The rest of her short-life’s story is passed on to us by Tertullian: “Then she summoned her brother and spoke to him: ‘Stand fast in the faith, and love one another; and be not offended by our sufferings.’" The Devil made ready a mad heifer... Perpetua was tossed into the ring, and fell on her loins.... Then, having asked for a pin, she fastened her disordered hair, for it was not seemly that a martyr should suffer with her hair disheveled, lest she should seem to mourn in her hour of glory.”
So revolutionary was the power of Christ in early church times that Libanius, the pagan philosopher, exclaimed, “What women these Christians have!”
Julie, to you and to all of the others who've asked me this question, or one similar, I hope my answer satisfies you that Paul didn’t hate women; rather, he loved and appreciated them.
Dr. Roger Barrier recently retired as senior teaching pastor from Casas Church in Tucson, Arizona. In addition to being an author and sought-after conference speaker, Roger has mentored or taught thousands of pastors, missionaries, and Christian leaders worldwide. Casas Church, where Roger served throughout his thirty-five-year career, is a megachurch known for a well-integrated, multi-generational ministry. The value of including new generations is deeply ingrained throughout Casas to help the church move strongly right through the twenty-first century and beyond. Dr. Barrier holds degrees from Baylor University, Southwestern Baptist Theological Seminary, and Golden Gate Seminary in Greek, religion, theology, and pastoral care. His popular book, Listening to the Voice of God, published by Bethany House, is in its second printing and is available in Thai and Portuguese. His latest work is, Got Guts? Get Godly! Pray the Prayer God Guarantees to Answer, from Xulon Press. Roger can be found blogging at Preach It, Teach It, the pastoral teaching site founded with his wife, Dr. Julie Barrier.
Publication date: February 7, 2012