As was likely, after I wrote my piece on Paul’s thoughts on women in the church, and the twisting of those words to oppress women for millennia since, a few people have suggested some possible errors. I want nothing less than to spread any misinformation, so wanted to update with things I’ve learned since. The rather crucial thing to know is: the facts remain the case. The arguments against women in leadership in the church remain, as I said, theological rubbish.
I should also add that I’m not a scholar. I’m a games journalist. I do have a (first class!) degree in Youth, Community Work & Applied Theology, and while it taught me some basics, it wasn’t exactly hardcore theological studies. I come to this as an amateur, relying on the works of experts, and as such will of course make mistakes, or at least not have learned enough so far.
Thing is: Paul was, unequivocally, in favour of women in leadership, and those who use his words to prevent this are deliberately perverting the clear and unambiguous message that’s prevalent in all of his writing. As I said before, you don’t need to worry about any Greek interpretation, or get into any arguments about the meanings of specific words, to reach this conclusion. Paul openly and deliberately refers to women as apostles, deacons, church leaders, and heads of families running churches. What’s interesting is that from further study, it seems Paul was even more overtly criticising misogynist oppression in the church than I’d ever realised.
Update: After some questions and criticisms, I’ve studied more since writing the below, and have summarised it all here. However, please note that while some of the Greek interpretation has been updated in my later post, the core of what I have written here remains the case. See both posts for a better, overall picture.
The words of the bigoted and scared sing in my ears, as I listen to the arguments of those against female bishops in the Church Of England (CofE). And since writing that sentence, the vote is lost. Women will still not be recognised as equal in the church. While I’ve not been involved with a CofE church for around eight years now, instead a part of an Evangelical free church, I still feel a heavy weight when I listen to this institution toying with continuing one of its number of bigotries. This debate, ahead of the vote to see whether women were allowed to assume the role of bishoping, is a peculiar one to hear in 2012.
On one side were those arguing for equality for women, to let women hold the same roles in the church as men. On the other side were those arguing that women should be under the subjugation of men, that men are who God wants to be in charge, and that women do not hold the same rights as men within the Church Of England. It’s not too often that you get to hear an argument where such overt and proud bigotry is argued so openly and so shamelessly. But even that aside, what’s most frustrating about this discussion is that the argument made by one side – tonight’s winning side – is quite simply, and utterly demonstrably, entirely wrong. Factually wrong.
The argument is that the Bible tells us that women should not be allowed to lead a church, that men are to have authority over women. Bible quotes are given to demonstrate this, and indeed, pick up any modern English translation of the bible and there you will find those very phrases. You certainly can see why people might be wont to think it is not. The bigotry against women is not only passionately argued in our churches, but it appears to be written down in our bibles. But these translations might not be correct. This, I think, provides a reasonable understanding for why the ordinary church goer might think that this is at least what the bible says, whether or not they believe it is reasonable. But it is no excuse for the educated church leaders currently arguing against women’s equal rights.
Two verses are used most frequently in these arguments, at least by those who – thank goodness – don’t to try to wield the poetic imagery at the beginning of Genesis. They are (using the NIV version, because it’s universal, rather than preferable):
1 Timothy 2.12 – I do not permit a woman to teach or to assume authority over a man.
1 Conrinthians 14.34 – Women should remain silent in the churches. They are not allowed to speak, but must be in submission, as the law says… It is disgraceful for a woman to speak in the church.
They seem pretty cut and dry, right? But neither appears to be what is written in the original Greek text. Both, I think, have been deliberately mistranslated in an effort to oppress women.