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WHAT’S THE FUSS OVER FEMALE PASTORS—PART 11: Flaws Of Leading Interpretations

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Before we tackle the 1 Timothy issue, there remains to be several other popular interpretations of Paul’s intent within 1 Corinthians 14, the nature of which are innately flawed. I will address them quickly.

Women Can Teach, but Only in Certain Roles

Some assert that Paul allowed women to prophesy or pray only (viewing “prophesy” as a kind of foretelling role, not as the Greek word also defined it as a teacher), and others say that women can teach other women or children, but never men. First, as repeatedly shown herein, Paul never placed gender restrictions upon Holy Spirit gifts, which without a doubt includes public expounding (teaching, preaching, etc.). Second, as mentioned in the previous chapter, internal biblical evidence exists to show women as leaders of the very first fledgling churches that gathered in homes. That list again is: John Mark’s mother Mary in Jerusalem (Acts 12:12); Lydia in Philippi (Acts 16:14–15); Priscilla (alongside her husband Aquila) in Ephesus and Rome (Acts: 18:19, 26; 1 Corinthians 16:19; Romans 16:3–5); Phoebe in Cenchrea (Romans 16:1); and Apphia in Colossae (Philemon 2). Third, Jesus Christ personally inspired women to go and preach the Gospel (see chapters 5 and 6). The limitations and hierarchal segregation that we observe in our culture today—often tied up in arguments of who can have what kind of paper certificate or title—is of mankind’s making, not God’s.

Paul Was Silencing All Women because of Pagan Outbursts

Greco-Roman state religions sometimes restricted women in leadership roles, but mystery cults did not. Therefore, at the time of the fledgling Christian Church, some women would have just been coming out of mystery cult religions where moaning, wailing, and hysterical shouting (as well as other behaviors unrelated to noise) were the norm. Once converted to Christianity, these same women would have taken their pagan outbursts into the house of the Lord. This interpretation acknowledges that Paul was silencing all women because of the pagan women who didn’t know their place in the Church of Jesus Christ. Those who hold to this interpretation at times believe that because women are emotional, the tendency for outbursts will always exist, and therefore Paul’s limitation of “all women” because of the “few” is timelessly applicable.

We know that this issue was occurring, and every piece of historical evidence points to the fact that Corinth would have been rife with this kind of activity. However, the application of it for this specific reason is too slim. Had Paul written his regulation as a result of the pagans, this would have: a) suddenly silenced the women Paul had praised, who were teaching from their own homes, and b) unfairly silenced the women present who were not engaging in pagan outbursts (such as some Jewish converts or mild-mannered Gentiles).

Call-and-Response Theory

In the original Greek, there was no punctuation. This Corinthian epistle was written as a response to problems that were reported to him directly (1:11). As such, Paul at times quoted his audience’s words back to them to remind them of their initial complaint, and then he followed it with his own response/correction. Today, and in English, quotation marks would be placed around the congregation’s original words, followed by Paul’s words outside the quotation marks. An example of this would be 7:1–2, within which I have already placed the marks where they would normally be:

Now concerning the things whereof ye wrote unto me: “It is good for a man not to touch a woman.” Nevertheless, to avoid fornication, let every man have his own wife, and let every woman have her own husband.

A popular interpretation theory is that Paul was applying this call-and-response method in 1 Corinthians 14:34–40. If this theory is true, the correct punctuation would be as follows:

[Paul quotes them first:] As [you say] in all churches of the saints, “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.”

[Then Paul responds:] What? came the word of God out from you? or came it unto you only? If any man think himself to be a prophet, or spiritual, let him acknowledge that the things that I write unto you are the commandments of the Lord. But if any man be ignorant, let him be ignorant. Wherefore, brethren, covet to prophesy, and forbid not to speak with tongues. Let all things be done decently and in order.



If this interpretation model is true, then this entire book you hold in your hands is far less relevant, because it shows that Paul wasn’t silencing the women at all under any circumstances; he was reproaching the leaders of Corinth for trying to gain Paul’s stamp of approval in the silencing of women. In this case, we not only have internal consistency evidence that Paul praised women leaders in the early Church, we also have internal consistency evidence that Paul rebuked any man who would attempt to silence a woman.

Granted, this theory cannot be proven false, since we don’t have original-manuscript quotation marks or punctuation. However, it also can’t be proven true. Probably the strongest argument for why it’s false is not because the quotation marks are missing, but because the grammatical consistency is lacking. Unlike our 7:1–2 example when Paul wrote, “Now concerning the things whereof ye wrote unto me”—which is grammatical evidence that he is about to quote them—in 14:34–40, Paul doesn’t indicate that he is about to quote one of their delivered complaints. Additionally, our generation would have to add the words “you say” (or equivalent) in the string: “As [you say] in all churches of the saints.” The only evidence we have that he is responding is the sudden, “What?” in verse 36. Lastly, the historical record of Corinth strongly points to the notion that women were interrupting the service, and a man in Paul’s position wouldn’t have advocated for such a disruption, especially in a letter largely dedicated to the rebuke of disruption.

If this interpretation were to be proven accurate, then 1 Corinthians 14:34–35 would not serve to silence women; it would silence the resistance of women leaders in the Church. Alas, we cannot be sure on this one, but it doesn’t seem likely in light of all else we’ve discussed herein.

Subsequent Scribal Additions

The authors of many recent scholarly works have begun to question whether or not Paul’s words in 1 Corinthians 14:34–35 were even the apostle’s to begin with, and have raised the possibility that these verses were a textual interpolation. Because Pauline literature does not base its authority upon “law” (Mosaic or otherwise), and Paul was against legalism, then these words must have been inserted later by a Judaizer. They simply “don’t sound like Paul,” these theorists say.

The evidence that supports this theory is not limited to the following list, but these are central: 1) Verses 34–35 complete a grammatical unit in and of themselves, and they are a little sudden, so they seem to “stick out” within what would have otherwise been a perfectly complete thought; 2) the surrounding verses flow more smoothly without them; and 3) ancient manuscript copies mysteriously place these verses, as a complete grammatical unit, in a different location (some place it after verse 33, some after verse 40, some after both verses 30 and 40, and still others insert it as a note in the margins)—and since the very first letter from Paul to Corinth is nonexistent (early manuscripts relied on copying since the papyrus crumbled over time), we can’t refer to Paul’s original letter for examination.

Late manuscripts settled the matter by placing these words where they are today.

Yet, this theory presents two major issues: 1) For purposes already stated, Paul had many reasons to address women disrupting the church services in Corinth, so if we believe they weren’t Paul’s, we have to ask why he wouldn’t have addressed the problem at all; 2) doing away with these verses completely avoids facing the context of Scripture as we have it now, which leads to questioning the authority of Scripture elsewhere: if we say, “These words weren’t Paul’s,” then what stops us from saying, “These aren’t either, and neither are those, and neither are those…” This would be a very dangerous game, indeed.

Our best bet for interpretation is to see what is on the page, look into the backdrop, understand all contributing factors and circumstances, and then apply the regulations to similar or exact circumstances today.

After digesting all of this in detail, I believe we can make the informed conclusion: Paul never said in 1 Corinthians 14 that women are not permitted to be preachers or teachers of the Word. Paul was silencing the disruption, and if we are to apply his regulation to similar circumstances today, we should all—men and women—imagine that there are “Please don’t talk in church” signs above the doorways of our sanctuaries.

Respect for all speakers, regardless of gender, so that “all things [can] be done decently and in order” (14:40).

Now onto Ephesus and 1 Timothy.

Context of 1 Timothy

As a reminder: In 1 Timothy 2:11–15, Paul wrote: “Let the woman learn in silence with all subjection. But I suffer not a woman to teach, nor to usurp authority over the man, but to be in silence. For Adam was first formed, then Eve. And Adam was not deceived, but the woman being deceived was in the transgression. Notwithstanding she shall be saved in childbearing, if they continue in faith and charity and holiness with sobriety.”

In the previous chapter, we established that Paul’s words in 1 Corinthians 14 were not meant to be an “absolute” or “normative” regulation against women being leaders of the Church. However, the apostle’s words above appear to be quite clear. But if Paul elsewhere attributed the Fall to Adam, and not to Eve (Romans 5:14; 1 Corinthians 15:21–22)—and if he was so quick to say that women were created because men needed women, and that men are even born from women (1 Corinthians 11:8–9; 11–12)—then how do we explain this sudden switch? If Paul so consistently referred to salvation as a result of faith, alone (1 Corinthians 1:21; Ephesians 2:8; Romans 10:9), then why does he here refer to a woman’s salvation through childbearing? Why does he say, “I suffer not a woman to teach [didaskein]” to Ephesus, if he directed the whole Body of believers in Colossians (3:16), men and women, to follow his example and share responsibility in “teaching (still didaskein) and admonishing one another” about the message of Christ? And why is it that we know women can be prophets (1 Corinthians 11:5; Joel 2:28; Acts 2:17–18), and we know that prophets are listed even before teachers (1 Corinthians 12:28: “And God hath set some in the church, first apostles, secondarily prophets, thirdly teachers”), but here women must be silent and subjected under the male?

What were the circumstances behind this 1 Timothy 2:11–12 restriction?

Backdrop of Paul’s First Pastoral Letter to Timothy

Because the literary genre and author are the same for this reflection as they were in the last, we will not go over them again. Likewise, since the surrounding text and the linguistic style are paramount to our study, we will attend to those matters as we go. That leaves the audience and the circumstances.




On an immediate level, the audience of this letter is only one man: Timothy, a young and passionate pastor whom Paul referred to as “my own son in the faith” (1:2). Timothy was the pastor of the church in Ephesus that Paul had launched during his second missionary journey; Timothy had traveled with Paul on this journey (Acts 16:1) and was in Paul’s presence near the end of his first Roman imprisonment (Philippians 2:19–24). Timothy’s initial exposure to faith in God came from his mother and grandmother—Eunice and Lois (two women)—according to 2 Timothy 1:5.

By extension of where this advice would be taken and how it would be implemented, however, the audience could be seen as the church members in Ephesus.

The great ancient city of Ephesus, by the time of Paul’s influence, was one of the wealthiest cities in the Mediterranean world. Documents reflect that after the sun went down, the streets were brightly and luxuriously lit with rich oil lamps, an extravagance most cities of this time could have never afforded. Ephesus’ greatest pull (based on historic documents as well as art) was likely its education, but it also doubled as one of the most important trade ports and dealt heavily in the industry of idol-making. Heraclitus, the infamously well-known pre-Socratic Greek philosopher known for his treatise On Nature, was an enormous inspiration behind the increasing establishment of education in Ephesus. This single papyrus scroll—addressing politics, ethics, theology, and the universe—was dedicated by Heraclitus to Ephesus’ prized Artemisium, one of the Seven Wonders of the Ancient World.

The Artemisium in Ephesus (destroyed in 356 BC; rebuilt by the New Testament era) was the temple of Artemis/Diana (daughter of Zeus/Jupiter, twin sister of Apollo), who was the goddess of fertility, considered the Great Mother of Asia.[i] Through her, the Anatolians (from Anatolia, the area surrounding Ephesus) believed, all life began[ii] (as opposed to the Christian belief that all life began through the Creator, God the Father). Early Gnostic teachings associated with Artemis/Diana and documented near this time state that Adam was created through Eve’s rib—not the other way around—and that salvation came through gnosis (enlightenment) of these pagan entities.[iii] Artemis/Diana was also the goddess of the hunt (through archery), wilderness, forests, hills, animals, childbearing, virginity, and the moon. It was believed that she could both bring and relieve disease in women; she could control animals with her blessing; she was able to create all life without the need for a male’s involvement (a kind of “virginal birth” idea); and she served to protect little girls.

Alongside Minerva and Vesta, Artemis/Diana was considered one of the three “main” goddesses of mythology. However, although she was worshiped throughout the Greek world, the existence of her temple in Ephesus created a proximate superiority claim amongst its residents. Anyone was allowed to worship her, but the Ephesians believed they understood her and her transcendent aims better than any people anywhere else on the planet at that time. She was their goddess, and they were extremely protective of her. Idols of her were in many households throughout the city and region, and as far as the Ephesians were concerned, there were no other gods above her. The hundreds of temple prostitutes/priestesses (sometimes called “bees” in literature) that served her in Ephesus were, like in Corinth, considered to be a force of authority, primarily in religious settings. The annual Artemisia Festival held in her honor drew multitudes from surrounding territories to Ephesus, as it was a foundation stone of Greek cultural identity. Anyone living in or around Ephesus at this time would have been exposed to an idolatrous culture, at the forefront of which was a goddess (a woman) and the hundreds of temple prostitutes/priestesses who worshiped her.

Alongside the Artemisium was the Celsus Library and the revered School of Philosophy. Ephesus was a concentrated assembly-point city for learning throughout the ancient world, plagued by intellectual arrogance and pretentiousness, and women were equal to men in social rights and privileges from many angles (including religious settings). Records show that women were revered as professors, sculptors, painters, musicians, and philosophers, among many other illustrious offices. (After Christianity took hold of Ephesus, Emperor Theodosius had the schools closed, and women were reduced to second-class citizenship, but at the time of Paul, women were equals in almost every way except voting rights.) Prior to the shaming of the seven sons of Sceva, residents of Ephesus (including the Jews, according to archeological evidence) were deeply entrenched in magical practices and mystery cults (Acts 19:13–30). Within these mystery cults and magic rites, just like in Corinth, were strange sexual practices. Although the population wasn’t as swayed by prostitution as was Corinth, Ephesus was afflicted with unrestrained sexual worship, and the influence of that certainly bled into daily cultural and societal norms.

The presence of the occult in Ephesian civilization was overwhelming, and the infiltration of these influences in the church was prodigious.

Timothy, the one-man addressee of Paul’s pastoral epistle, had a lot on his plate with this audience.

UP NEXT: Circumstances Requiring the Epistle

[i] Dr. Deborah M. Gill and Dr. Barbara L. Cavaness Parks, The Biblical Role of Women, 140.

[ii] Ibid., 143.

[iii] Ibid., 157.

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