As we made our way into the Taco Time drive thru, my wife asked me a simple question: Why are women treated in an unequal manner by the church? I responded that men and women were equal, but they were just different. That simple statement was meant to explain why women could run the Sunday school, but not the church. As we left Taco Time that night my stomach was full, but I had a case of spiritual indigestion that left me troubled.
My response at the time left me unsatisfied. I was not sure why but it did not seem to hold much water. True, we are different in many ways (which really is a gift), but fundamentally we are made of the same stuff. We are human beings that Jesus died for on the cross. Imagine if I used that response on an African-American brother! I would be laughed at (rightfully so) or punched. It would not justify restricting him from ministry, so how could it justify restricting women?
As I began my study of the issue I found discrepancies that I had not noticed before. For example, one of the reasons I had been given for women being restricted was that they were emotional and that men were logical. The emotional element was nice for nurturing children and choosing color patterns for the home décor, but logic is needed for dealing with issues of substance. The implication being that logic is the domain of men. Yet, I could not find scripture that stated women are emotional and therefore unfit. However, I did discover that Aristotle taught that very point. He discussed the differences between emotions, logic and reason. He then identified logic as male and emotion as female. This bolstered his position (and in Greek society) that women were a curse of the gods given to afflict men. (Plato originated the phrase “can’t live with them, can’t live without them.”) This attitude was picked up by one of the early church fathers, Augustine, who sought to integrate Aristotle with his faith. It comes out clearly in his statement that “I do not see in what way it could be said that woman was made a help for man if the work of childbearing be excluded.”
It is true that women are emotional, but so are men; it is a part of being human. I know women who are very logical as well as men who are flakes. If emotions disqualify a person from ministry then everyone would be disqualified!
Another comment was that woman was made to be a helper to man. Women were thought as the weaker vessel, too fragile to be in charge of much. In fact, being a helper meant she was inferior and needed to be subordinate to the man. Yet, I found that Moses did not write that woman was created a helper, but as a help. The word translated “help” (ezer) is found twenty-one times in the Old Testament. Fourteen of those times refer to God (“I will lift up mine eyes unto the hills, from whence cometh my help. My help cometh from the Lord.” Psalm 121 KJV). Five of the references speak of military alliances (obviously a weaker nation seeking the help of a stronger nation). The final two references of “ezer” are of woman (Genesis 2). The word choice is clear—woman was created strong, which was part of God’s declaration that it was “very good.” It also makes sense that she would be a strong ally when you look at Genesis 1:26-28 and see that they are to rule together.
But others respond with: “Don’t forget, women are more easily deceived than men!” Really? Is that accurate or a biased judgment? The Bible tells us that Eve was deceived, and she was. Does that mean women, by their nature, are more easily deceived than men; that God created women in such a way that they are easily duped? I don’t think so. It simply means that Eve was deceived; something that can happen to any one of us. Paul warns all the believers to be careful to not be deceived, not just the women (2 Cor. 11:3). Loren Cunningham makes an interesting point: of the five largest cults in the West (Mormons, Jehovah’s Witnesses, Scientologists, the Unification Church and Christian Science) only one was started by a woman. So yes, women can be deceived, but so can men. Deception knows no gender limits.
One other comment that I’ve received was that women must be under authority. That is true, then again, so must men. The question is whose authority are we to be under? There’s only one Lord and it is His authority that all of us are to be under. How about when Paul wrote that woman is not to have authority over a man? It would appear ironclad, wouldn’t it? Yet, isn’t it intriguing that there is only one explicit verse that states this (and good theology doesn’t build a major doctrine on one verse)? This passage in 1 Timothy 2 is important and to properly deal with it is beyond the scope of this article. But three points may get us digging deeper. First, it is a present tense command that can be translated—“I am not currently permitting a woman to teach … ” Second, the section speaks of women (plural), then “a woman” (singular), then finishes with women again. Does Paul have a specific woman in mind? Third, Paul uses an a-typical word for authority whose origin and use in his time may actually indicate what he forbade the woman to teach (For more info see I Suffer Not A Woman, Kroeger & Kroeger; Why Not Women? Cunningham & Hamilton).
Finally, as I looked with fresh eyes at how Jesus dealt with women, I began to realize that much of the church (myself included) was not doing likewise. The ones Jesus had set free were being bound again by a legalism that placed gifted individuals to the rear when they were so desperately needed on the frontlines. It is time for that to change.