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Ever since the beginning of the feminist movement the roles that women have or have not played whether in or out of church and no matter what culture or civilization they have come from has definitely come under some major debates. One area for disagreement is the roles women have in the Church. With there being some churches that are not so ridged with their traditions and practices; they have begun placing women in leadership positions like pastor or teacher. However; there are still churches that are steadfast to the Bible and not so ready to embrace such changes. Much of the confusion comes from how women are seen in the scriptures so because of this we will use the Bible to help us better comprehend the roles women had in the church during the first century so we can try to apply that to the meanings in the twentieth and the twenty-first century.
Many people would debate the Bible’s importance to modern-day understanding until the cows come home but the biggest debate is about them in roles of worship. Had the Bible not been written under guidance of holy inspiration then it could be seen for what it is and not simply be bound by the teachings, which in turn could consequently allow one to pick or choose whatever agrees to their point of view. However, since the Bible is all about holy inspiration for which it comes from, then there should be a careful respect to what the passages signifies about any given issue which currently is at hand. Beliefs and behaviors that have come up after the Bible was written must as a consequence be carefully examined and by doing so the practices may or may not demonstrate competence after comparison with scripture.
Before we discuss exact questions regarding women in worship, we should study the ideologies resulting from the relationship of Adam and Eve which is described in Genesis 1. We see the Apostle Paul often uses this passage as a guideline when conversing about women and women’s issues. Genesis 1:27 says: “So God created man in his own image, in the image of God he created him; male and female he created them.” Most interpret this as man and woman are both by the same token in the image of God; however in this instance the word “man” is to reference more the meaning of humanity. In Genesis we are shown that Adam and Eve were given common power over creation; however the sheer fact that Adam was created in advance of Eve has major impacts to Paul and all the scholars in the Old Testament. For these scholars it proposes that there very definite role differences between the two sexes. They saw the role of the man as leadership whereas they see the role of woman as more of a source of strength and support to man. As we review the letter to the Ephesians from Paul in Ephesians 5:23 “For the husband is the head of the wife as Christ is the head of the church.” We can see this as an important analogy because if one wants to understand the Christian dominance of a man over his wife, we must think about how Christ proved his leadership over the Church. In general, he gave his life the church and not by using force or coaxing for her submission. Now when we contemplate men’s and woman’s ministry in the church, we find it is important that we keep in mind these role differences.
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We must also take a look at the notion of open ministry where women can worship and teaching in the Church. There are two major passages which give definitive orders about women during worship and they are in the letters of the Apostle Paul. Many find that these two passages are quite frequently used when one wants to deny women public roles in the church. The first is in I Corinthians 14:33 – 35, which shows the passage imposing silence on women during worship service. Likewise and with more details, I Timothy 2:8 – 15 also contains the command to be silent, it also shows about power and control as well as references to the reason for Adam and Eve’s fall from grace which helped in the understanding and continued denial for equally in sexes in the church. In my viewpoint I believe that 1 Timothy 2:8-15 gives the best understanding just how things were viewed which is why I chose to use the entire: “I want men everywhere to lift up holy hands in prayer, without anger or disputing. I also want women to dress modestly, with decency and propriety, not with braided hair or gold or pearls or expensive clothes, but with good deeds, appropriate for women who profess to worship God. 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 kept safe through childbirth, if they continue in faith, love and holiness with propriety”. I believe this shows the separation of the sexes and describes their place in worship and who has authority/control/power -however you want to say it – over whom.
Now as with woman being raised in the U.S. today reads the letter for the first time they may be quite offend by the obvious narrow-mindedness. However, there are some accurate historical and cultural references that need to be considered when looking for the meaning and intent of the passage. First the letter was written by one man to another man who was Paul to Timothy. We are led to believe that he was preaching in the city of Ephesus when Paul tells him he must stay in Ephesus so as to correct false teachers who were making a disturbance in the church. We see how many different observers have tried to recreate the deviations of these false teachers however this can prove to be a difficult since there are no exact records of what was said, so we must make reference from the text itself to give us a clue. One plausible heretical doctrine was the one of self-denial as a way to reach holiness. The practice of austerity that is being indorsed comprised of; self-restraint from certain foods, from marriage, and sex which is added to all of the physical training as another way to reach holiness. It was believed that by doing these practices, one could attain something similar to heaven on earth. Simply put, there was perhaps a denial of any future rebirths to be taught instead of the more spiritual one that we are lead to believe is reached in afterlife. We can also infer from Paul’s comments that numerous women in the church would rehabilitated the meaning which was persuading them to abandon their traditional roles in favor of more open ways of life which were more in line with their the new-found holiness or spirituality. With this said it explains Paul’s strong words which make reference to Eve about how she misled into sin whereas the idea of bearing and raising children was most certainly spiritual thing unlike they were being led to believe.
Nevertheless, there are other parts of the passage which warn women not to teach or have control/power over a man that have been agreed upon by so many they have everlasting claim; their words and grammar, in Greek, do not seem to lend themselves to any other cultural reference. The teaching that Paul was truly worried about was so must more about real faith while the control/power which is in question seems to speak more about the roles of leadership for women in the church. But then again, before anyone can make any conclusions on a Biblical truth it must first hold true throughout the scriptures. May be we should look at other passages; like.in Galatians 3:28: “There is neither Jew nor Greek, slave nor free, male nor female, for you are all one in Christ Jesus.” Some believe that this teaching could have had some bearing in the false teachings of Ephesus and Corinthians in regards to women. We are shown that even Christ revealed to us that in the spirit world no one would not be prearranged but would be like the angels. As a result, the women who were being misled by teachers seem to abandon their traditional roles. On the other hand, the current reader may wonder what one meant when they wrote the line about both sexes being one in Christ Jesus. Some would see it as meaning that no one sex is inferior to the other.
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Once past the Old Testament, there are strong instances, like in the book of Acts, which shed some light in the form of documented practice, on the order not to have control/power over men. Here we have prophetesses like in Acts 21: 8-9, where Philip, who was one of the seven deacons, has four daughters who predicted. Prophesying was not just the predictions of the future but also the passing on of God’s Word to the people, i. e. teaching. Likewise, in 1 Corinthians 11:4-5 we have Paul conveying, “Every woman who prays or prophesies.” Obviously women in Corinthians were worshipping because everyone did that so they could be closer to God. We also see in Acts 18 where Precilla and Aquila worship and teach. As you read this, you could interpret this being significance because Precilla, who is the women, seems to be mentioned first due to the fact she has great knowledge. You are shown their teaching together and their successes which are confirmed in Acts 18:26 “the ways of the Lord more adequately”. We also see this in the story about Lydia, business women who lived in Philippi and receive the message that Paul gives during worship which seems to be the incident which starts the strong church movement in Philippi. This occurrence only infers from the passage that she played an important part of that strong church, since no men were mentioned of converting.
These passages in some way give inquiry to the real nature of the halt on teaching and the meaning of no control/power mentioned in 1st Timothy. It is obvious that women were teaching men and at times they were even co-teaching with male teachers. The case in point about the prophetess’s while compelling is not recognized as being a modern gift, however teaching certainly is and is a prophet’s function.
Those that interpret the Bible also discuss women’s ministry in the New Testament which has brought to light the traditions of the day regarding women. We see that Paul’s main concern was spreading the Gospel and making the message made attractive in every way. That’s why we see Paul encouraging women just how important it is in maintain customs like veil wearing because if not they will be seen as loose or immoral and disgrace the Gospel message. Think about what the women in the US who are not of the faith are thinking when they see for the first time that only men run the services. It could come across as women being suppressed by men and that the gospel message is suggesting women are inferior to men.
In a nutshell, the thought that there is no authorization in the scripture coming right out and saying that it is forbidden for women to have leadership roles, or their own ministry or even teaching the word of God but can be left up to interpretation make me believe that if women are not allowed to have some kind of input in to the church or their teachings then it seems that a valuable resource is going to waste for the church and its future followers. If we simply look at it from the perspective of a husband not thinking that his wife’s thoughts and ideas are worth listening to than the family can surely seem inadequate, dysfunctional or even destined to failure. For that reason, the church tries to realize Gods purpose for women by remembering the truths of the scripture and relating them to our present day culture. By doing this we are allowing men and women to convey the Christian message in its most powerful form. As stated by John Toews in article “A doctrine or a truth has power only to the extent that it is modeled in a life style which is in harmony with it. Paul, and the rest of the New Testament, proclaims that male and female are reconciled and gifted in Christ, they are one and equal in Christ. It is now time for that truth to be modeled in the church if the church is to be the true eschatological people of God.” We should look at the true meaning of the Bible and follow what is best for the continuing of the church and the life of the Gospels even if it means allowing men and women to be equal in the spreading the word of the Lord.
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