Those who do not wish to follow the Bible point out teachings that seem uncomfortable in the 21st century. One of those teachings is the role of women in the Bible and the limitations it seems to impose on them. These people often hold up 1 Timothy 2:12 and 1 Corinthians 14:34 as proof that the Bible is a male chauvinistic book with a heavy bias against women. Both passages say that women are to be silent and not usurp the authority of the men. Critics also point out Titus 2: 3-5 as a passage that defines women as “keepers of the home” and obedient to their husbands.
The truth is that the life and teachings of Christ and the New Testament are the single most liberating teachings ever written about the role of women. The role of women in the Bible was ahead of its time. In studying a manuscript of any kind, you have to look at who wrote it, to whom they wrote it, why they wrote it, and how the people it was written to would have understood it. All of those passages were written at a time when women were property, were dependent on either their husband or father, and had no personal rights.
Jesus set a whole new standard for dealing with women. In John 4, He not only treated a woman as an equal, to the dismay of His disciples, but He ignored the racial and ethnic prejudice of the current culture. In Luke 10:38-42, Jesus treated Mary and Martha as significant players in His work. Mary Magdalene was active in Jesus’ ministry and was the first person He appeared to after His resurrection (Mark 16:9). Luke 8:1-3 tells us that a group of women were the prominent supporters of Jesus as He traveled and taught.
In 1 Corinthians 14:26-28, Paul advised a congregation about dealing with a worship service that had become a circus. Everyone was speaking at once, so Paul tells them to deal only with edifying speeches and otherwise to keep quiet. He concludes by saying, “God is not the author of confusion but of peace.” Then he addresses married women (not all women) and asks them to contribute to the solving of the chaos by discussing questions at home.
First Timothy 2:9-15 and Titus 2:3-5 are passages that deal with the roles of Christians in the culture in which they live. The family was not a significant part of Roman life. The Romans used family for politics, but the inconveniences of family life were brutally managed. An unwanted baby was thrown out in the street to die. (Our culture simply does this surgically or chemically before birth.) Paul writes to the young preachers Timothy and Titus to encourage the building of families according to God’s plan. These passages deal with the institution of families. Being a wife and mother was not the only role for a woman. The book of Acts tells of women with unique roles. Lydia had a high-end business, and many women are mentioned as having key roles in the early Church.
The early Church protected the roles of men and women. Women have a role available to them in being mothers (See 1 Timothy 2:15), but men have no role guaranteed to them. Women can indeed do just about anything a man can do, and in some cases, do it better. In that light, God gave men the role of being leaders in the worship service. That is one role men can fill, and God knew Christian women cared enough about their brothers in Christ to allow them to have that role. You don’t lose your identity by loving enough to allow another human being to do something you could do. The role of women in the Bible was counter-cultural for the time.
— John N. Clayton © 2020