*Trigger Warning for those women who have been spiritually abused
I am convinced scripture is meant to be a scalpel that facilitates healing and leads us into the painful holy act of repentance and transformation. Yet often scripture can resemble a crowbar. Looking to pound, shame, and control those who do not meet the proposed standards set by the person in power. This is abuse, spiritual abuse to be exact. I believe one of the greatest people groups impacted by this abuse of scripture is women. Let’s do a little emotional exercise. As you read the two passages of scripture below, I want you to put your hand on your chest and track what you feel in your body… Breath deeply. Be kind as you write out what you feel.
34 Women should be silent during the church meetings. It is not proper for them to speak. They should be submissive, just as the law says. 35 If they have any questions, they should ask their husbands at home, for it is improper for women to speak in church meetings. 1 Corinthians 14:34-35 (NLT)
11 Women should learn quietly and submissively. 12 I do not let women teach men or have authority over them. Let them listen quietly. 1 Timothy 2:11-12 (NLT)
What did you feel?
Like you want to throw up?
Like you want to throw all of Christianity in the trash can? Maybe you felt nothing at all.
Whatever you feel, would you take time to write it down and process what was or was not evoked in you as you read?
These verses have been historically used to silence, harm, and control women into submission to men’s desires. I remember one abusive husband I counseled years ago, praying these words out loud in front of his wife to shame her into obedience to his absurd sexual fetishes. These verses have been misread and misused as weapons against women for generations.
We must take time to understand the contexts of these Biblical texts. There is much more to them than merely proof-texting to fit your patriarchal worldview. We must understand the context of this text so we can fully appreciate and love the Bible, and each other, more deeply.
Author Sarah Bessey, in her book Jesus Feminist states, “Our scriptures are not 140-character tweets; they are not an exhaustive list of rules and their expectations. They are not universal standards without context and purpose” (Jesus Feminist, p.63). She goes on to say, “They are a portion of the letters from the Apostle Paul, inspired by the Holy Spirit, written to specific people in specific cities for specific situations that had arisen.” These were intended for a certain situation, not universal truths for all time and all places.
Women were finally being included, and many scholars thought that women, with their newfound freedom, were being loud and bothersome. They were finally being invited to speak, their voices finally being heard. Theologian Scot Mcnight states, “He is not talking about ordinary Christian women; rather, he has a specific group of women in mind.” Some scholars even translate the word “women” to “woman” in an attempt to say that it may have only been one woman from the congregation that was annoying. Paul, as a reminder, asked them to talk it out with their husbands, which was also a radical idea. He was encouraging women to learn to seek out answers as equals to their partners. Not as submission or permission, but as a conversation within mutuality. Women were excluded from everything, but not the church. This is the context of these passages that is vital for us to understand. Patriarchal culture is alive and well, but Paul and the early church were breaking these social norms, not advancing them.
In regard to the Timothy passage, Sarah Bessey continues by stating, “And the word ‘quietly’ here in the letter to Timothy isn’t actually silence, as mentioned in Corinthians. No, the Greek word is hesuchia, which means “stillness”- more along the lines of peacefulness or minding one’s own business. It’s not about talking versus not talking; it’s about learning in a still way, far from meddling in other people’s affairs” (p.67). That changes the reading of the verses entirely! Don’t worry about others’ issues, but focus on yourself and still your body. Being still is very different than silencing all women for all time!
The New Testament is full of messages about equality. “Equality” is not a liberal curse word; it’s a longing of our creator God.
“ In those days I will pour out my Spirit even on my servants –men and women alike– and they will prophesy.” Acts 2:18 (NLT)
“ There is no longer Jew or Gentile, slave or free, male and female. For you are all one in Christ Jesus.” Galatians 3:28 (NLT)
We are one in Christ Jesus. May we have the courage to live into who God calls us.