Reading the Bible from a first world western mindset can cause much confusion, and this is what much of the Church has done for hundreds of years concerning a woman’s place. I cannot help but read and interpret from an American context because America is where I was born and raised, but I can intentionally try to take off my American glasses in hopes of seeing the truth.
In America, women are much more equal to men than they are in some other countries, but don’t be fooled into thinking that American women do not deal with social constructs that inhibit our progress as human beings. In fact, it has been less than 100 years since American women were legally granted the right to vote (August 18, 1920, the 19th amendment).
Early Christian feminists paid great costs to fight for our freedom, and it is saddening to see how the Church (and even many modern Christian women) have rejected feminism. Sure, the second wave of feminism was a bit out of control as women rebelled against the system, but can you blame them? Women have been held captive to patriarchy for thousands of years.
The truth is that the women who reject feminism in the Church are normally taught that feminism is evil from childhood. Further, they almost always come from privilege. They don’t know what it’s like to be denied the right to vote, to be beaten for not submitting, and to be totally dependent on men who abuse their power.
Women and men who are living in America today have no idea how bad women used to have it, and the fact that it’s not as bad anymore is due to feminism. Women and men alike stood up to the fear and said “no more.”
It’s humbling for many feminists to admit, but we need men to join this cause. Men have been granted societal positions of power, and women will not be free in the Church until men use their power, influence, finances, and platforms to empower women.
Some feminists have been frustrated with me for including men and giving them space on my platform, which I understand, but the truth is that there are still many men out there that will not learn from a woman. To be quite honest, there are even some women out there who won’t learn from a woman.
This is why I will not silence men. I am aware that they have had the mic for a long time and it’s not fair for them to get to hold the mic in feminism too, but it’s necessary in moving women forward. Even in the early church, the Apostle Paul understood this reality.
Paul has been accused of being sexist, but when we take our modern western eyeglasses off, we will find that Paul was a great liberator of women. We have to think of the New Testament setting as we think of Afghanistan today. Women were far from free and they were caught up in a culture of extreme patriarchy.
Paul encourages husbands to both submit to and love their wives (Eph. 5). This was a radically new idea. A man submitting to his wife was the equivalent of him submitting to his slave. Paul calls women to continue to submit to their husbands as well, which was not at all a radically new idea.
In this culture, if a woman suddenly challenged her husband’s authority due to some new “Christian freedom,” he could seriously harm her without any consequences. It may seem Paul is sexist in many of his letters when we are wearing our western glasses, but Paul is actually trying to protect women.
Further, the Apostle Paul had a very specific calling on his life to “save the Gentiles.” A Gentile is anyone that is not Jewish. Paul was a strong advocate for both gender and racial equality (Gal. 3:28), but this was not his main goal. Paul asked women to take their new freedom in Christ slowly and to respect their cultural restrictions for the sake of the Gospel.
Christianity was a brand new sect, and if this new faith caused too much controversy, it might turn many away from Christ. However, the freedom, respect, and equality that Christ and His apostles offered women did cause much controversy. This is the major reason Paul spent so much time reeling women back into the cultural law.
We see this happening in Timothy’s church in Ephesus. I guess we could say, many of the women of Ephesus had a bit of a “second wave feminist movement” themselves. Christianity offered them freedom that they had never known and they lost control.
Since some of the women of Ephesus were abusing their freedom by falsely teaching and prophesying words contrary to the Gospel, and Paul was not there to know which ones were causing trouble, Paul called for all the women to sit down, be silent, and learn (1 Tim 2:12) for the time being.
The fact that Paul was even allowing women to learn in this culture was radical, but what is even more radical is that women felt free to teach and prophesy. In other words, before some women started abusing their freedom, Paul had established a church that fully authorized women to preach. Some abused this authority, so Paul reeled them back in.
First Timothy 2:12 was never meant to be a timeless and universal command. Further, the verse says, “I do not permit a woman to assume authority over a man.” It does not say, “I give authority to men over women.” Neither male, nor female, should assume authority over anyone. All authority over heaven and earth was given to Jesus Christ (Matthew 28:18).
God has never given man authority over woman. Instead, men have taken authority over women by overpowering women with their physical strength. Men have also taken authority over other men by overpowering each other with their physical strength. This is due to patriarchy – a consequence of the fall of humankind (God said to woman: “Yet your desire will be for your husband, And he will rule over you.” Gen. 3:16).
Jesus Christ has set both women and men free from the consequences of the fall, and any form of sexism or patriarchy is due to a fallen world. The Apostle Paul knew this, and it was his desire to move women forward towards complete freedom without compromising the Gospel or getting women hurt.
Women and men are joining efforts to redeem a woman’s rightful place in the Church and in the world. Eve was given equal dominion and authority in the garden and was created to rule and subdue the earth alongside Adam.
Then God said, “Let us make human beings in our image, to be like us. They will reign over the fish in the sea, the birds in the sky, the livestock, all the wild animals on the earth, and the small animals that scurry along the ground.” (Genesis 1:26).
It was not until after the fall that men started interpreting the Bible, Jesus Christ, and God’s will through the glasses of their fallen nature. If a man is not intentional about interpreting the Bible towards freedom, he will naturally interpret the Bible in such a way that he can establish power over others (this is his sin nature, not the leading of the Holy Spirit).
We have seen this play out throughout all of time with men ruling over women and over other men. Jesus Christ is redeeming a woman’s place. Every year, women, as a whole, become freer all around the world, but there is still much work to be done. When men and women equally reign together, heaven invades earth and true revival is possible. Together, we are called to work with God towards a better, more redemptive narrative.