In recent weeks, I’ve been thinking a lot about why God wouldn’t want women to preach His word — mostly because of a shockingly rude audio clip I heard of John MacArthur telling Beth Moore to “go home.”
Accusing SBC of 'caving,' John MacArthur says of Beth Moore: 'Go home' - Religion News Service
(RNS) - Evangelical pastor John MacArthur, speaking at a celebration of his 50 th year in pulpit ministry this week…
Beth Moore, for her part, responded with an admirable measure of grace.
Which of these people, in this situation, was proving him/herself to be a more Christlike leader, shepherd, or guide? Which of them was being a better example for the people who follow them?
Which of them was being more humble, loving, and truthful — like Jesus?
Some biblical evidence from a very non-biblical source
I’ve been re-watching one of my favorite classic sitcoms, Designing Women (I know; bear with me here…), and one of my favorite episodes of that show contains some popular scriptures men have used to refute the idea that women have any place in a leading service capacity within the church.
We’ve been talking about this issue for several weeks at my church (yes, a Baptist church). And the pastor keeps using the same scriptures over and over again to say why he thinks women shouldn’t be preachers or deacons.
But some other things my pastor has said during those discussions have led me to believe that the arguments based on these passages are on some very thin ice. We’ll get to that later.
Let’s get back to the show for a minute
In one unforgettable scene of “How Great Thou Art,” Julia starts out referring to a scripture Reverend Nunn (Charlene’s minister) has mentioned previously during their dinner conversation. You know the one — about the deacon being the husband of only one wife (1 Timothy 3:12).
After brushing off Bernice’s comment about priests (after all, they’re the husbands of no wives, right?), he goes on with 1 Corinthians 14:34–35 (KJV):
Let your women keep silence in the churches: for it is not permitted unto them to speak; but they are commanded to be under obedience as also saith the law. And if they will learn any thing, let them ask their husbands at home: for it is a shame for women to speak in the church.
Bernice interrupts him with one of my personal favorites, Galatians 3:28 (NIV):
There is neither Jew nor Gentile, neither slave nor free, nor is there male and female, for you are all one in Christ Jesus.
After Reverend Nunn stubbornly decides to finish reciting the 1 Corinthians passage, Bernice quotes Acts 2:17, and she mentions that Phoebe was a deacon (see Romans 16:1–2). Many people try to turn this fact into something it’s not by saying that, even though Phoebe was given the title of “deaconess,” she was really just a deacon’s wife. She wasn’t actually a deacon herself. That’s a pretty big stretch.
But the kicker was when Bernice said:
After Christ was crucified on the cross, and all His men had gone home, it was women who stayed until the bitter end. And it was women who first heralded the news of His resurrection.
And, I would add, they were instructed to do so by Jesus Himself. That’s what I keep telling my daughters to remember when they hear men tell them women can’t preach the gospel.
Making it personal
I love another scene from that show, as well — the one where Charlene confronts her minister privately.
CHARLENE: I’ve never told anyone this before, but … when I was about six or seven, I got my first Bible. … I’ll never forget it came with this beautiful cardboard bookmark that had Jesus with a pink halo painted on it. … I couldn’t take my eyes off of it. I thought, ‘Boy, that’s for me.’ I was gonna travel the world preaching and teaching … I had that dream because no one told me I couldn’t. But what about all those other little girls out there, hundreds of them, just waiting to become ministers and spend their lives preaching God’s word — except for the fact that you and a bunch of other people got together and decided that God doesn’t want that … for what possible reason would God not want that?
I, too, felt the same sort of call to be either a preacher or a missionary. I’ve been on short-term international mission trips, but here I am — still at home…and wondering what if. What if I had really dedicated my life to preaching God’s word, and had not been distracted by so many other fears and thoughts — many of which, I’m sure, came from my Southern Baptist upbringing? What if I had heeded God’s call and not let anything stop me? I’ve got a lot of regrets. I want better for my children.
My younger daughter wants to be a missionary. She says she thinks God is calling her to go to China. Her young heart’s cry — her earliest calling from God — is similar to the one I had decades ago. I’m trying to help prepare her heart and mind for what it’s really going to mean to follow God in such a way.
And I’m praying a lot.
If God’s really calling her to do this for Him, I don’t want her to miss out like I have. I want her to be confident in knowing God will enable her to share the gospel with anyone — man or woman, boy or girl, cat or dog (she’s been practicing sharing the gospel to our cats — who am I to stop her?).
But what about those scriptures?
God’s word is more important than anything we may think or feel, right?
Let’s address 1 Timothy 3:12 (KJV) first, shall we?
Let the deacons be the husbands of one wife, ruling their children and their own houses well.
When my pastor discusses this verse, he always says, “If Paul had meant that women could be deacons too, he would have said, ‘Deacons should be husbands of one wife, or wives of one husband.’”
The first time he said it, I thought he was making a pretty broad assumption. I mean, elsewhere the scripture firmly says that not all the things that COULD be written ARE written (John 21:25).
If All the Things Had Been Written…
This is my latest Five-Minute Friday-inspired post. The topic this week was “IF.” I think this turned out pretty well…
But the same issue and the same verse kept coming up in our discussions, and he added some very interesting information when he talked about it later.
At the time this letter was written, polygamy was VERY prevalent within the culture.
Many men were marrying more than one woman. BUT the same could not have been said about women. Polygamy was NEVER accepted for women. It was never an issue.
So, Paul was telling the men, “Hey, you can’t have more than one wife if you want to be a servant leader within the church.”
But he would never have had to say to the women, “Hey, you can’t have more than one husband if you want to be a servant leader within the church.” BECAUSE IT NEVER APPLIED TO THEM!
Seems like the old “Paul would have said it if it was meant to be” case is pretty weak.
But 1 Corinthians 14:34–35 says women should be silent
Does it, really?
Let’s take a look at the original language to see what Paul was actually saying.
The original Greek word for “silence” is sigao, which was basically used to refer to not hindering others’ speeches during public meetings. What Paul was saying here was, “Hey, it’s not okay for women to disrupt the public sharing of the word of God with conversations about trivial matters or loud, disruptive questions that would best be answered by their husbands at home.”
Women in this newly Christianized society were prone to taking advantage of the freedom granted them in Christ (see the Galatians verse included above). They were often loud, intrusive, and disruptive — because they knew they could be, probably for the first time ever. But this sort of mindset could have hindered the work of the Holy Spirit. So, Paul felt he had to warn against that.
I don’t think he was warning against women sharing the gospel message in these public meetings.
Biblical precedent for women as spiritual leaders
If you’ve spent any time at all in Sunday School or church, you know about Israel’s first (and only) female judge — Deborah.
Why is she relevant to this discussion? Because Israel’s judges, in addition to being military and political leaders, were spiritual leaders. Interestingly enough, Deborah was also called “a prophet” — one who shared God’s message with His people (see Judges 4 and 5).
The thing about it was, Deborah rose up as a leader because all the men around her were cowards (see Judges 4:8–9). They wouldn’t step up to the plate. They were, for the most part, nowhere to be found (think back to the women at Jesus’ resurrection).
And there’s one other time I can think of in the Bible when a man didn’t exactly step up to the plate like he should have.
Let’s take a trip back to the Garden
To understand what’s really going on here — what God really thinks about who should be the ultimate spiritual leader — we need to go back to the Garden of Eden.
Adam was created first. There is no denying that, no matter how much our feminism-charged society wants to either fight back or ignore it.
The man came first. He was supposed to be the spiritual leader, but… he didn’t really say anything when Eve wanted to take a bite of that fruit she wasn’t supposed to eat. And he was standing right there with her.
Because Adam and Eve both disobeyed God, God told them some bad things were going to happen.
I will make your pains in childbearing very severe; with painful labor you will give birth to children. Your desire will be for your husband, and he will rule over you. (Genesis 3:16, NIV)
We understand the first part of this verse very well — especially those of us who are women. But what about that second part?
Is it wrong to desire our husbands?
No, that’s not exactly what God is talking about here. We get a hint of this in the next chapter, when God tells their son, Cain:
If you do what is right, will you not be accepted? But if you do not do what is right, sin is crouching at your door; it desires to have you, but you must rule over it. (Genesis 4:7, NIV)
See what’s happening there? Sin desires to have (or master) Cain, but Cain must learn to master it instead (we know he doesn’t). Women will desire to rule over men — to take over the leadership role in the relationship — and men need to learn to not let them do that. But we’ve already seen where they fail in that respect at times.
Does this extend to spiritual leadership roles, as well? I think it has to. The husband is to be to the wife what Christ is to the church, and both are to be submissive to Him (Ephesians 5:22–32). The spiritual leadership hierarchy, then, has to be:
But wait! I thought you said the scriptural evidence on this issue was wrong?
No, I said we were going to reexamine it. And we did.
The thing is — most of the time, we’re looking at the wrong verses to point to whether women should have leadership roles within the church. And we take said verses out of context.
I think the evidence from the Bible, taken as a whole, is very clear. Men should lead; women should support.
BUT women CAN lead other women (Titus 2:3–5), and I would even go so far as to say they can lead men, as well — if they feel God is calling them to, and if there are no men available (or willing) to step up to the ministry plate.
We, as Christ’s followers, should take care to not base our ideas on verses that don’t mean what we think they mean. And we should be careful to not crush the God-given dreams of anyone — even if they are women (or will, one day, be women).