After my last post, I received a comment that required much more time and space to respond than I wanted to leave in the comment section. The commenter, Scott Shifferd Jr., brings up a number of points that are recognizably the same doctrines I grew up with, and a couple I hadn’t heard before. The church in which I spent most of my childhood probably had these same talking points, but I was pretty young when it split up over a leadership dispute – as was the habit of Churches of Christ in this part of Washington State.
At any rate, I figured I’d just turn my response into a blog post, because these are the very traditions I am questioning, delivered in a manner that, though patronizing, was not harsh, abusive, or worthy of editing/deletion. It took a long time to fashion this, but I wanted to make sure I said as much as I could in as few words as possible – and there is so much to say! I probably should have published it in parts, because I couldn’t spend a lot of time on the whole thing to get it all out in once piece in a timely fashion.
I also wanted to make sure I answered in as reasonable a tone as possible. I know that the old resentment I fight with will leak through at times, and I ask that my readers forgive me, because I am still grieving over being subjected to a law of condemnation for most of my Christian life, and I’m grieving for those who still are. As much as I wish people with the same beliefs as Mr. Shifferd could understand my perspective, I don’t wish ill on any of them. They’re still my brothers and sisters.
So, without further ado…
Mr. Shifferd: I plead with you to reconsider in the name of Christ. Can we not deceive ourselves? Are you open-minded to rethink this?
I believe what you’re asking me here is if I can stop deceiving myself, and if I’m open to rethinking this.
Because I do believe the Churches of Christ have inadvertantly deceived themselves, and I am open-minded for rethinking it. And the name of Christ gives me freedom to do so.
Mr. Shifferd: Do a word-study of every use of diakonos and gunaikos.
It’s not necessary to do that, because the use of gune is even more versatile than the use of diakonos. Every mention of woman does not necessarily mean wife, and vice-versa. But every use of diakonos in the epistles means deacon, in the “churchy” sense – and that is how Paul uses it in Romans 16:1. He is describing a woman, using the word diakonos. It is undeniable, and unrefutable. He is telling a church to accept a hard-working woman deacon as they would accept Paul (Romans 16:1-2).
But most Bible translations change it to “servant”, so why look it up and question tradition? Even my dad, who is more of a Bible scholar than I am, didn’t know that diakonos was used here – because, supposedly, the first century churches did not employ women deacons, so there would be no reason to link “servant” with “deacon”. Not only that, but most translations will put a little footnote that says “deaconess”, which allows anyone reading it to put her in some other women-only category, but that’s not how the word is used, either. It is a gender-neutral word, meaning deacon. We have no reason to believe Paul would have used the word the way he did in this particular context if he meant something else (like he did in Philippians 1:1, when using a different word for “servant” in the context of himself and Timothy, as I mentioned in my last post).
Not only that, but it appears Phoebe – from a church in Cenchrea, in Corinth, where Paul is supposedly telling women to sit down and shut up – is hand-delivering the letter from Paul to the church of the Romans. Paul didn’t choose a man to do it. He didn’t tell just the women to accept her. He didn’t tell the church leaders to accept her as they would accept a woman of God’s people. He told them to receive her in the Lord in a way worthy of His people (the saints) (vs 2). Then he proceeded to praise a number of hard-working women, even elevating Priscilla to the level of co-worker with him, and elevating Junia (yes, a woman, despite the efforts of early translators to attempt to change the name into a man’s) even higher than him as an apostle who came before him in Christ (not one of the Twelve, obviously, but one that came after – remember, “apostle” merely means “one sent”. Paul wasn’t one of the Twelve, either). (Romans 16)
Mr. Shifferd: Your hermeneutic is foreign to me. Knowledge of first-century culture helps us to understand, but it is not an approach to comprehending God’s Word.
You’re half right. God’s Word (Jesus) doesn’t require cultural translation. God’s Word is loving your neighbor as yourself. It’s loving your God with all your heart, soul, and mind. It’s allowing God to transform your life with grace instead of condemnation, producing the fruits of love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness, and self-control. If we read the words of the Bible without cultural trappings, we can ingest the messages and apply it to our own culture.
However, knowledge of first-century culture is instrinsic and essential to comprehending Paul’s words. And Matthew’s, Mark’s, Luke’s, John’s (especially Revelation), etc. Jesus wasn’t born in a cultural vacuum, and did not perfect it before his death. There were difficulties in the first century church, or there would not have been any need for reprimand or correction in the epistles. The first-century church was a mess, but we romanticize it and epitomize it as this doctrinal ideal, and hang on Paul’s words as if they were the new Law written down for the ages, when what he was doing was telling them that they need to pay attention to the teachings of Jesus, be loving to each other, quit fighting and taking each other for granted, make the worship service orderly and respectful instead of a chaotic pagan party, and love only your spouses (instead of your mistresses) and don’t divorce them – among other things.
Mr. Shifferd: The Scriptures command no cultural practices, and knowing culture is never needed to understand Scripture. I would reconsider if you could provide scripture.
Paul expressly, succinctly mentioned four times to greet each other with a holy kiss. He also said that men are to pray with their hands raised. Do we do that today? No. Why not? Because they’re cultural, and we can dispense with them at will, right? Do we force the women in the church to keep their hair long and unbraided, and leave their jewelry at home, just as we force them to live in subjection during the service? No? Why not? Because that was cultural. We say it all the time when brushing off those passages, so we don’t look like the Pentecostals, who make their women wear skirts and grow their hair long and eschew all makeup and jewelry. Interesting choices in interpretation we make when applying culture to some things and not to all.
Why would Paul discourage marriage in 1 Corinthians 7 and highly encourage it in Timothy if there wasn’t something cultural going on? In fact, in 1 Cor 7:26, Paul refers to a “present crisis”. Clearly, that does not concern our age, but we wouldn’t be good students of the Bible if we didn’t differentiate between the “present crises” of Paul’s era (social inequality, pagan traditions, Gnosticism, political upheaval, warfare, persecution, etc.) and the relative safety and luxury of our era, including social and educational equality for women.
Another point of fact: All those chapters on gifts of the Spirit – where Paul is saying to eagerly desire the “greater gifts” (such as prophecy, in 14:1) – are directed toward the adelphos, or “brethren”, which does not distinguish between men and women, but addresses them both. Seems he would have been careful to differentiate between men and women in the churches where he supposedly is forbidding (for time and eternity) women to have any role in the worship other than spectator.
Mr. Shifferd: Using culture as your lenses for comprehension will distort your view replacing sight with a veil.
On the contrary: It opens your eyes. One of the biggest failings in using our culture as a lens through which to read scripture (instead of using Jesus as the lens) is in understanding the significance of the Samaritan woman at the well in John 4. Women in our culture have the capability of divorcing and marrying whomever we want, so we assume that same ability on the women of Jesus’ era, so when we view Jesus’ response to the Samaritan woman’s mention that she has no husband (vs. 17-18), we call her a sinner, an adultress, a woman who “gets around” – as if she had a choice. In fact, when we study the culture of that time, we find that she is a pariah, unwanted, and probably unclean by their standards. If she had children with any of those husbands who divorced her, they would be considered illegitimate. Her situation is heartbreaking when the veil of 21st-century self-righteousness is lifted from our eyes.
Women couldn’t divorce their husbands in that culture – and why would they, since their husbands were their livelihoods? – but they could be divorced for any number of reasons by their husbands, up to and including being seen talking to another man in the street, unchaperoned. Perhaps one or two of this woman’s five husbands had died. In order to even scrape out a life for herself, she is forced to live with a man who either doesn’t want to marry her or could be keeping her as a mistress in exchange for a roof over her head. Why else would she be avoiding the crowds at the well in the cooler parts of the day?
Without knowing something about the culture of that time, all we see is Jesus judging this woman, not having compassion on her in her lowly, humble state. So we feel free to judge, as if she had a choice to leave all those husbands like we do, instead of trying to understand the depth of Jesus’ compassion for the very dregs of humanity he reached out to. But we don’t see a chastised woman leaving to go evangelize to her village (Jesus’ first evangelist! A woman!). We see one who has received relief.
Talk about a veil.
What we should be doing is looking at culture through the lenses of love, forgiveness, and grace that God exemplifies – through Jesus – and try to figure out in the epistles what the churches were actually doing right, and try to copy that, instead of categorizing the actions of an infant church and legislating that pattern on Christians with a more mature understanding of Jesus’ teachings. We don’t need another Law. We need maturity.
Mr. Shifferd: Please, do not be deceived to take this fruit and give to us.
How amusing; you’re comparing me to Eve. Don’t worry, I can’t be deceived any more easily than you can, despite the fact that I’m a woman.
Here’s a question for you: If the “old Adam” can be forgiven and given grace in Jesus’ sacrifice, why can’t the “old Eve” (1 Cor 15: 21-22)? In every picture of every preaching about why women can’t lead, that one verse from Paul is trotted out about how Eve was deceived and gave the fruit to Adam (who was with her, presumably watching the serpent deceiving her and not doing anything about it), precipitating the Fall. But Jesus redeemed the fallen, and in our churches today, Christ has saved us from death and made us one in Him. So why must women still bear the burden of the deception of Eve, therefore not gaining the same redemption and oneness as men when they take on Christ?
I’ll expound on that more in the end.
Mr. Shifferd: You ask for comments from love. Do you think “legalists” will hear that? I do not. Please, revise.
This is my house, and my rules. Anyone commenting without a spirit of kindness or respect will either get his (or her!) comment edited or deleted – legalist or no. If they are abusive, they do not get to speak. Commenters will treat others as they wish to be treated. Therefore, they will be mature adults, or they will not get a turn. I’m a mom; I know how this works. And our God is not a god of chaos. Legalists, especially, know this.
The fact that a self-proclaimed Christian minister is telling me to discourage people from responding in a peaceful manner is not only confusing, it is profoundly disappointing. What fruits hang on your tree, brother?
Mr. Shifferd: When you understand our position, then you may able to convince us in some points. You do know that we believe in equality and that we are made in the same image. You [sic] case must be made upon gender roles in the church.
I understand your position, and I understand I probably won’t convince you of some points, but maybe there are other people who don’t toe the party line who might be interested in what Paul was talking about when he references mature Christianity, that encompasses all – even the two or three who meet in Jesus’ name. I think Paul might have been more concerned with cultural gender roles that kept the peace among a radical shift in church behavior than setting up eternal laws about gender roles in the church services.
Mr. Shifferd: Do you understand the five reasons that God gives for men to lead?
Only in the context of the early church, the immature church, that also silenced men who brought in false teachings, and sought to live peacefully in the culture in which it was couched. It has no bearing on the church of today.
Mr. Shifferd: Was woman made like man in God’s glory, no longer from man, no longer for men…
No argument here, especially in light of Galatians 3:28 and 1 Cor 11:11-12.
OR…are you saying woman wasn’t created in the image and glory of God, but to glorify man and be of his use? Wouldn’t that negate salvation for women? Let’s check Genesis 1:27: “God created man in His own image, in the image of God He created him; male and female He created them.”
Near as I can tell, God made woman like man in God’s glory, used a part of man to make her but man was asleep so he can’t take the credit, and men are for women as much as women are for men if you read 1 Cor 11:11-12 (instead of just cherry-picking verses for subjugation).
Here’s a trustworthy statement: Woman was made from man’s body while he was in a deep, merciful sleep – that one time in the Garden of Eden. Men (and women) are now carried in a woman’s body for nine months and born in blood and pain. Jesus was not made from the dust like Adam, but born of a woman – with no input from man. This doesn’t make women more special than men, but it does illustrate how important women are to men, and why Paul would say that the wife’s body is not her own, but neither is the husband’s body his own (1 Cor 7:4).
Mr. Shifferd: …made first before man…
No, and you’re referencing a saying that Paul used to keep the Gnostics and the Ephesians’ pagan teachings out of the churches. It’s clear in the Bible that God created man first, then woman – both in the image of God, not each other! – but while creation order shouldn’t matter to us – because what matters is that we were made in the image of God – it mattered greatly to the pagans and Gnostics. They taught that woman was created by the Ephesian goddess Artemis (not the same as the Greek goddess Artemis) in a more perfect form, and a lesser god created the males. They taught that she couldn’t have been misled or sinned, because she was a superior being. Paul says, no, the woman was made after man, and deceived first and became sinful. It doesn’t have anything to do with our religious services, but merely getting the record straight. But one wouldn’t know that if one didn’t study and apply the culture of that time and the obstacles the church in that region had to face.
So by taking these verses at face value, without the “lens of culture”, you and those who believe like you have just repeated the Ephesians’ mistake. Look at your first four requirements God supposedly gives us for men to lead and you would have a very similar doctrine, only in reverse: God created man first in His image, and then created woman from man’s body for man’s use and to make man look good.
That is a doctrine from the Fall, not from God. It says that women, by nature of creation, cannot bear the image of God – that man is the lesser being from which the woman’s creation is borne. This is not only an unfair standard, it is false doctrine, and only serves to feed men’s pride.
Mr. Shifferd: …and are women no more deceived in leading (1 Cor 11:7-9, 1 Tim 2:13-14)?
Aha! And here is the crux of the matter: Women’s minds, integrity, and discernment are inferior to men’s in your hermaneutic. Our salvation is not the same as yours, because, though Adam was with Eve when she was deceived and still ate the fruit (Gen 3:6), Adam gets redemption from his sins, and Eve does not. She still bears the burden of her mistake, because of one passage in Timothy that sets the record straight for the pagans. It doesn’t matter that Paul recognizes in his epistles that Adam is the one through whom all have died (Rom 5:14; 1 Cor 15:21-22), Eve is the one who made him do it, who is eternally punished for her mistake by way of religious inferiority. Is this right?
Where in the Bible does it say this? 1 Cor 11:7-9 is not a reliable text to prove this, especially if you follow it up with verses 11-12. It sounds as if Paul set up the pins in verses 7-9 (by either paraphrasing or quoting cultural beliefs of the time) and knocks them down in 11-12. In fact, look at those verses very carefully (emphasis is mine): “However, in the Lord, neither is a woman independent of man, nor is man independent of woman. For as the woman originates from the man, so also the man [has his birth] through the woman; and all things originate from God.” So, it seems a little ridiculous to argue that men are superior to women in anything spiritual, based on 1 Cor 11:11-12 and Galatians 3:28.
But since you referenced 1 Tim 2, we’ll go there for a second. Here is one chapter where a proper study of the words (and culture!) of the text comes in handy. Gune can mean “woman/wife” and aner can mean “man/husband”. Women, in that time, were not to contradict their husbands, especially in public – but neither were they were allowed education outside of the home. There was also a cult and Gnostic teaching going around that women were somehow created differently and superior to men by a different god. These women didn’t know any different, but that cult was destroying families and churches with its disastrous, woman-power teachings. It kind of reminds me of the militant feminists of today, who preach special rights instead of equal rights, detest men and all things masculine, and tear down the nuclear family, religion, and patriarchy. Who knows? Maybe they’re throwbacks from these very same teachings Paul warned against! I wouldn’t let those women teach in the churches, either.
So, when you look at verse 12 through that cultural lens we were talking about earlier, you see that Paul might actually be using the forms of “gune” and “aner” that mean “wife” and “husband”. If you were to look even closer, you’d see that the word “usurp” or “exercise authority” is authenteo, which had violent, domineering, abusive connotations – probably because the women (and men!) who subscribed to the teachings of Artemis were wresting authority from those who preached the truth and foisting it on those who didn’t know any better, destroying churches and families. Wives were not to yank the authority of their husbands out from under their feet, either, or embarrass them in the service by being disruptive.
Today, it is utterly ridiculous to take a word that means “domineer” and apply it to a woman approaching the pulpit during services, especially when asked by the leadership to do so, or to a woman who might have been voted into a church office by the congregation and leads in humility, as Christ did. In that way, she is not exercising any authority, but using the “greater gifts” Paul mentioned, that were available to all believers – not just the men. Furthermore, Paul said the women were to be “quiet” in the same way all the believers were to lead “peaceful and quiet lives” in verses 1-2. This is not a verse about subjugation, as we believe it is today. It’s a verse about proper behavior from immature Christians, who are still learning and who should not be giving Christ’s followers a bad name by undermining their husbands in public.
If you want to go to the other scripture on this subject, try 1 Cor 14:34-35 in relation to verse 36. Once again, it appears Paul is setting up pins in 34-35 (why would he subject someone to the Law if he’s constantly telling people that the Law is inadequate for salvation?) and knocking them down in 36. Then he uses the term ei tis in verse 37, which means “anyone”. He did not use aner to make it male-specific. Verse 39 uses adelphos again, urging everyone to desire to prophesy!
The Bible is silent about to whom Phillip’s daughters preached in Acts 21:8-9, though we, in our lawful arrogance, limit them to only preaching to the women. Where does it say that? It doesn’t. It would have if it was that important.
Paul tells Timothy in 2 Tim 3:15-17 that all Scripture is God-breathed and useful for all teaching and righteousness. Was Paul talking about his letters to the other churches? (I think he’d be aghast to know how “scriptural” his words are considered today, if 1 Cor 3:5-7 are any indication.) The as-yet-unwritten Gospel accounts? No, Paul meant the Old Testament. Timothy – like Paul – would have grown up learning about the prophetess Miriam, Moses’ own sister, who prophesied with the women not to them (Exodus 15:20); Deborah the prophetess and one of the greatest of the Judges, and an influential leader of armies (Judges 4-5); Huldah, a prophetess, trusted with a message from the Lord that precipitated the renewal of the covenant in Judah and Jerusalem (2 Kings 22:14-23:25; 2 Chronicles 34:22-35:27); Isaiah’s wife, who was a prophetess (Isaiah 8:3); and especially Joel’s prophecy that sons and daughters will prophesy, and men and women alike will have the Spirit poured out on them (Joel 3:28-29). And it would have been no secret that Anna, a prophetess when Jesus was born, heralded His coming in the temple (Luke 2:36-38).
So what about the leadership of Godly women did God suddenly distrust among His people after the death of Jesus? Or is it that women are only to evangelize outside of the church assemblies? We’re only qualified to teach the unbaptized? In what hermaneutic does that make sense?
Mr. Shifferd: These Scriptures must be greatly insulting to the secular mind. Will their response be love and blessing for “insult”?
How about love and blessing for understanding? Using the aforementioned, and oft-trotted-out passages to subjugate women in the church should be insulting to those in the church, where men and women should be equal in the Lord.
Mr. Shifferd: Lastly, God’s Word is given to those who can receive it. Can you?
I am learning to. I grew up with a Law of the Church, where God is this hovering being just waiting for us to mess up so He can kick us out of His family, and who has only a few perfect congregations that people can attend perfectly in order to keep their salvation. But I’m shrugging that off in favor of the real Word of God, which preaches spiritual equality in all believers, and gifts are poured out freely as God sees fit. I’m not looking to grasp a leadership position, I’m seeking to make it open to all who have that gift, whether they be male or female. The pulpit (never mentioned in scripture) is not a magical place that becomes sinful for women when they stand behind it when men are in the audience. I believe it is sinful to not allow a woman to approach it, especially if she is making a confession or seeking prayers of the church – because men are allowing their pride to get in the way of the needs of their sisters.
God’s Word is love: Love your neighbor as yourself and love God with all your heart, soul, and mind. It is not “do church perfectly or be condemned and/or shunned”. Churches cling so tightly to their points of order that they do not see how they are hurting themselves and others, or not using all the parts of the Body of Christ as they should be used. This is denying and limiting Christ’s power in all His believers, and writing a new, man-made law for believers to follow. I can’t get behind that anymore.
And whether or not you believe I am a false teacher for bringing this up, you can only speak for yourself. I hope that others who come along can make the decisions for themselves whether what they see here is true or false, according to the words in the Bible and the historical evidence we have at hand to prove them.
I’m not looking for debate in writing this (it took me long enough to say what I needed to say), but clarity. I’ve seen how futile it is arguing with people on the internet, and I know I can’t change anyone’s mind in a single blog post. This one, however, touched on the points I wanted to address, anyway, down the line, so it’s been a great journey of discovery and affirmation. I do hope it will be just as helpful to others who are searching as I am.
Peace, Love, and Blessings!