Written by Brianna Hall
It was asserted that there is no theological argument to support women participating fully in worship. I will demonstrate the tenants of the biblical argument for women’s roles in support of egalitarianism. There are two main proof texts used to back prohibition of women’s roles in the church: 1 Timothy 2 and 1 Corinthians 14. The modern interpretations are inconsistent with the rest of the New Testament and the actions of the early church. I can demonstrate contextual reasoning for Timothy that pertains to the issues specific to Ephesus. This argument shows that this is not a flat-out prohibition of women, which leads many to point out 1 Corinthians. This is where it gets more interesting. Corinthians actually supports the full integration of women in the church. Most of the book relies on a literary refutation device where Paul goes through refuting argued standards. This can be seen after the verse about women’s roles where Paul says, “or did the word of God originate from you men only … if anyone thinks they are gifted by the spirit.” He is pushing back on the idea of barring women from leadership. This is increasingly evident in how Paul treated women throughout the whole of his writings. We know the other proof text reading is incorrect because Paul doesn’t even follow his own “orders.”
Along with texts allowing women to pray and prophesy (prophesy emulates teaching) in worship, in Romans, when Paul commends church leaders, among them are women, including female apostles (Junia), house church leaders (Chloe and Lydia), prophets and deacons. Phoebe the deacon is a glaring contradiction to previous interpretations. Some incorrectly argue the word should be deaconess to undermine the authoritative role Phoebe had, but what is the difference between a waiter and a waitress? Nevertheless, Phoebe carried the letters and read them aloud to surrounding congregations. Furthermore, she would facilitate discussions with congregants.
Proof text reading these passages is also not consistent with the actions of Jesus. Jesus regularly discipled and encouraged women to take on leadership roles within his ministry. Jesus urged Mary and Martha to be discipled by him as their rabbi. In Rabbinic tradition, one only mentored a student so they, in turn, would become a teacher. This trend continues with the woman at the well. The most significant action within Jesus’ ministry involves the female witnesses. Jesus told the women to tell the story of his resurrection. This is the story of the gospel, not just to unbelievers, but to male, believing, following disciples of Jesus. To dismiss this counter-cultural action by Jesus is to maintain our own biases. Jesus was against the culture that regarded women as less than (which is still evident in our worldwide culture today) and instead demonstrated their agency in his kingdom. I am more apt to adhere to the actions of Jesus than to the words and interpretations of men. Let’s be reminded that sexism is a sin. It was introduced during the fall of mankind, and it is rooted in greed, pride and lust. It is quite literally divisive and a stumbling block to many women in their faith. The church needs to be cleansed of this. The fruits of complementarianism have reaped negative consequences. From a long history of devaluation of women, we end up with not only an inhibition of image bearers of Christ and lack of perspective, but also sexual assault within our faith communities, high rates of pornographic use in our male leadership, domestic violence in the home and as a recent study suggests, detrimental chronic effects on the health of our women (see Newswise March 23, 2021, article, “Study Explores How Sexism Within Religious Congregations Shapes Women’s Health,” Authentic Theology Nov. 28, 2019, article, “Church of Christ Practice Harms Girls Long-Term, Suggests 2018 Study,” and Authentic Theology Jan. 30, 2019, article, “(Part 2) Church of Christ Practice Harms Girls Long-Term, Suggests 2018 Study: Negative Reactions”). If we must choose which perspective to take, I would choose the avenue that values creation the way Jesus did, that leads to a stronger faith community, unity, and encourages others instead of silencing those of faith, so they can use their gifts to further the kingdom. Women, yes you can. Why? Because Jesus has called you to.