Ok I know that some of you, having read the keenly chosen title of this entry, are already mad at me and the horse on which I rode into town. Well, before you get your guns in firing position, give me a paragraph or two to “splane myself”.
You see, I think the Apostle Paul gets a bum rap as being a male chauvinist. I couldn’t disagree more. The problem is that most folks don’t think about the historical context of Paul’s writings, they just put on their own historical and cultural goggles and make their judgments.
Well, let’s put things in perspective quickly: In first century Israel and the surrounding Mediterranean area, women were property, no different than a cow or a donkey; they had no rights and were at their Husband’s whim or disposal; they could not own property; they were not taught to read or write; their husband was chosen for them. In fact, the early Christian Churches were the first in that region of the world ever to allow women to participate in religious rites, except, of course, for the pagan religions who used temple prostitutes . . .
Now, let’s look at the passage below and try to read it from that context:
Since prayer is at the bottom of [getting the news about Jesus out], what I want mostly is for men to pray—not shaking angry fists at enemies but raising holy hands to God. And I want women to get in there with the men in humility before God, not primping before a mirror or chasing the latest fashions but doing something beautiful for God and becoming beautiful doing it.
I don’t let women take over and tell the men what to do. They should study to be quiet and obedient along with everyone else. Adam was made first, then Eve; woman was deceived first—our pioneer in sin!—with Adam right on her heels. On the other hand, her childbearing brought about salvation, reversing Eve. But this salvation only comes to those who continue in faith, love, and holiness, gathering it all into maturity. You can depend on this. 1 Timothy 2:8-15
First, that Paul would include women in his plea for prayer at all, that he would confer upon them a valid voice, is absolutely amazing! His characterization of women’s concerns for fashion spoke to essentially their only real personal choice in life: Their appearance. Paul, not unlike recent Dove soap commercials, is encouraging women to focus on their inner beauty – hard to see where the National Organization for Women could find fault with that. Besides, he takes a poke at men and their natural tendency to draw up sides too.
Second, That the early church women were even remotely in a position to “take over and tell the men what to do” is revolutionary! That they were allowed to speak at all is earthshattering! Remember, these women were not considered citizens, had no experience in leadership whatsoever, had no formal education before these early churches allowed it, and the fact that they weren’t publicly beaten for daring to even suggest a course of action to a man, was scandalous.
Try to understand what Paul was up against: He was leading a movement that, for the first time in that part of the world, made no distinction between male and female, Jew and Greek, slave and free. These are ideas still considered radical in most of the Middle East and West Asia, and this was nearly two thousand years ago!
Yeah, Paul can, at times, sound a little chauvinistic. But put in his cultural context, he’s a regular “Women’s liber”.
Pressing on toward the goal . . .