BEHIND THE MUSIC: Silent Night, Holy Night

Silent Night, Holy Night
Lyrics by Joseph Mohr (1816)
Music by Franz Gruber (1818)
In the cold, snowy December of 1818, a young Austrian priest was frantically making preparations for his village’s Christmas Eve mass. This being one of the most important worship services of the year, Joseph Mohr, only 26 years old at the time, did not want to disappoint his parishioners. He wanted to make sure the night was full of wonderful and inspiring music. There was only one problem. The church organ was out of operation and would not be fixed until well after Christmas.

As Christmas Eve approached and Mohr still had no solution to the problem, he took a long walk home one night to clear his mind. Looking over the serene, snow-covered village of Oberndorf below, he suddenly remembered a poem he had composed two years earlier. He was not much of a musician himself, but he knew just who to ask.

The day of Christmas Eve, mere hours before their midnight mass, Mohr knocked on the door of his friend Franz Gruber, a school teacher and choir director. The 31-year-old Gruber looked over Mohr’s poem, and in a bout of inspiration composed the music to what would become the most beloved Christmas hymn of all time.

With just a few hours to spare, Mohr and Gruber rounded up the choir members from around the village. They all learned the words, melody, and chords with surprising ease. That night, December 24, 1818, the church members of Oberndorf, Austria, were the first to hear the song, “Stille Nacht, Heillige Nacht,” or as we know it today, “Silent Night.”

A short time later, the organ repair man not only repaired the malfunctioning instrument, he also took copies of the music and lyrics to this new Christmas hymn. Soon, the song was making its rounds throughout Europe with various musical troupes and choirs. About twenty years later the song debuted in the U.S. by a choir in New York City, singing in the original German. The lyrics were quickly translated into English, and the song continued its rapid spread and rise in popularity.

Silent Night is one of those songs that is so popular and so ubiquitous around the holidays, that its meaning can become lost. It tells, simply and poetically, the story of Jesus’ birth to his young virgin mother. It tells of the shepherds falling in fear at the host of angels announcing the birth of the Messiah, the Savior. Not only that, the third stanza emphasizes the high-Christology of the New Testament. Jesus is the Son of God, bringing love, light, and holiness into the world. It echoes the opening lines of Hebrews: “The Son is the radiance of God’s glory.” With the birth of Christ a new era had dawned, an era defined not by religious ritual or political might, but the era of the Kingdom of Heaven defined by “redeeming grace.” This song reveals the heart of the Gospel for all to hear.

While Silent Night continues to get significant air time over the radio, in movies, and through our various streaming services, perhaps the most impressive legacy of the song is the event known as the Christmas Truce. On Christmas Eve, 1914, British and German troops were entrenched against each other in a virtual stalemate. Both armies had dug in on either side of the battlefield with “no man’s land” in between them. On that cold, clear night, a German officer began to sing “Stille Nacht.” His voice rang out across the battlefield. The British soldiers heard the well-known tune and began singing in English. The back and forth carols lasted most of the night. The next morning, German troops lifted a sign written in English: “You no shoot. We no shoot.” Slowly, soldiers from both sides rose out of the trenches and began offering each other hearty greetings of “Happy Christmas!” Impromptu gifts were exchanged, a soccer match broke out, and enemies became brothers, at least for a little while.
Just like one small candle flame can spread to light a whole room, so this song, Silent Night, started out as one small attempt to provide new music for a simple Christmas Eve Mass in a sleepy little Austrian village and has grown to become one of the most well-known Christmas hymns of all time, filling the world with the Light of God’s Love.

Silent night, holy night,
All is calm, all is bright
Round yon virgin mother and child.
Holy infant, so tender and mild,
Sleep in heavenly peace,
Sleep in heavenly peace.

Silent night, holy night,
Shepherds quake at the sight;
Glories stream from heaven afar,
Heavenly hosts sing Alleluia!
Christ the Savior is born,
Christ the Savior is born!

Silent night, holy night,
Son of God, love’s pure light;
Radiant beams from thy holy face
With the dawn of redeeming grace,
Jesus, Lord, at thy birth,
Jesus, Lord, at thy birth.


O Holy Night
Lyrics by Placide Cappeau (1847) and John S. Dwight (1855)
Music by Adolphe Adam (1847)

Largely regarded as one an essential Christmas hymn with a breathtakingly beautiful melody and inspiring lyrics, O Holy Night is the song that almost wasn’t. This beloved carol faced so many hardships and improbabilities along the way that it’s almost a miracle that we are singing it in 2019.

It all began with a gun left out and found by two little eight year old boys. That’s how Placide Cappeau tragically lost his right hand and avoided following in his father’s footsteps as a barrel maker. Instead, because of the accident he was able to pursue his schooling where he developed a love for art, literature, and law. Later in life Cappeau became mayor of his hometown, a wine merchant, and a part-time local poet.

In 1847 Cappeau was asked by his church priest to compose a poem to be read as part of their Christmas Eve service. Along the bumpy road to Paris, the one-handed poet put pen to paper. By the time he arrived in Paris, he had mostly completed his work entitled “Song for Christmas.” It was soon to become known by its opening French words “Midnight, Christians.”

Cappeau met up with the famed French composer, Adolphe Adam, in Paris three weeks before Christmas. Adam was moved by the inspiring lyrics to Cappeau’s work and began straightaway composing the equally inspiring music to accompany the lyrics. On Christmas Eve, 1847, the joint piece by Cappeau and Adam was performed by French opera singer, Emily Laurey, in the small town of Roquemaure.

The song “Midnight, Christians” was an instant success. It was an ear worm of sorts and quickly spread throughout France.

But that’s not the end of the story. Some of the more powerful political and religious leaders in France were troubled by the somewhat socialist lyrics of the song. Cappeau himself was an “on-the-fence” church member with growing socialist political leanings. Cappeau eventually left, or was forced out of, the church altogether. Furthermore, Adolphe Adam was found to be of Jewish ancestry. There’s little evidence that this is actually true, but in that day the simple accusation was enough. These combined facts led to an attempt by the church to ban the song. But we all know this song about God descending to us as a man to release us from our bondage could not be chained up.
In 1855 the song made its way to the US where it was translated into the English version that we still sing to this day. The translator was John S. Dwight, a Unitarian pastor, music critic, and collector of hymns. The impact of this song in mid-1800s America cannot be understated. Just think how this line would have sounded in a pre-Civil War context: “Chains shall He break, for the slave is our brother, and in His name all oppression shall cease.”
That’s still not the end of the story.

Fast forward about fifty years to 1906. A brand new technological wonder has been unveiled to the world – the radio. On Christmas Eve, 1906, Reginald Fassenden played a song on his violin over the radio for the first time in human history. The song he chose to play that night, the first song ever to be broadcast over radio waves, was the song composed by a one-handed, French socialist wine merchant and his Jewish friend composer – the improbable song that almost wasn’t – O Holy Night.

English Translation by John Sullivan Dwight:
O holy night! The stars are brightly shining,
It is the night of our dear Saviour’s birth.
Long lay the world in sin and error pining,
Till He appear’d and the soul felt its worth.
A thrill of hope, the weary world rejoices,
For yonder breaks a new and glorious morn.
   Fall on your knees! O hear the angel voices!
   O night divine, O night when Christ was born;
   O night divine, O night, O night Divine.
Led by the light of Faith serenely beaming,
With glowing hearts by His cradle we stand.
So led by light of a star sweetly gleaming,
Here come the wise men from the Orient land.
The King of Kings lay thus in lowly manger;
In all our trials born to be our friend.
   He knows our need, to our weaknesses no stranger,
   Behold your King! Before Him lowly bend!
   Behold your King, Before Him lowly bend!
Truly He taught us to love one another;
His law is love and His gospel is peace.
Chains shall He break for the slave is our brother;
And in His name all oppression shall cease.
Sweet hymns of joy in grateful chorus raise we,
Let all within us praise His holy name.
   Christ is the Lord! O praise His Name forever,
   His power and glory evermore proclaim.
   His power and glory evermore proclaim.
Original French Lyrics Translated into English:
Midnight, Christians, is the solemn hour,
When God as man descended unto us
To erase the stain of original sin
And to end the wrath of His Father.
The entire world thrills with hope
On this night that gives it a Saviour.
   People, kneel down, await your deliverance.
   Christmas, Christmas, here is the Redeemer,
   Christmas, Christmas, here is the Redeemer!
May the ardent light of our Faith
Guide us all to the cradle of the infant,
As in ancient times a brilliant star
Guided the Oriental kings there.
The King of Kings was born in a humble manger;
O mighty ones of today, proud of your greatness,
   It is to your pride that God preaches.
   Bow your heads before the Redeemer!
   Bow your heads before the Redeemer!
The Redeemer has broken every bond
The Earth is free, and Heaven is open.
He sees a brother where there was only a slave,
Love unites those whom iron had chained.
Who will tell Him of our gratitude,
For all of us He is born, He suffers and dies.
   People, stand up! Sing of your deliverance,
   Christmas, Christmas, sing of the Redeemer,
   Christmas, Christmas, sing of the Redeemer!

BEHIND THE MUSIC: It Came Upon the Midnight Clear

It Came Upon the Midnight Clear
Lyrics by Edmund Sears (1849)
Music by Richard Willis (1850)
“Peace on Earth” spelled out in colored strands of lights displayed on the rooftops of homes and businesses. We’ve all seen it. We have all longed for peace. We want the wars to end. We want the violence to stop. But is it all just a false hope? The world seems to be anything but peaceful.
Let’s be honest. Sometimes the world seems just as dark and cold as a night in late December. It can seem downright impossible for peace to win out. This was exactly the kind of melancholy that lead to the composition of the Christmas hymn It Came Upon the Midnight Clear.

The lyrics were written in 1849 by Edmund Sears, a Unitarian pastor near Boston, Massachusetts, at the request of one of his friends and fellow church leaders. The Mexican-American War had just ended the year before. Bloody social revolutions were happening across Europe. The American slave trade was operating in full force with no feasible end in sight. Everywhere he looked there was only violence, bloodshed, oppression, war, and strife.

As Sears read through Luke chapter two, he began to wonder how we could have ignored the song of the angels for all these centuries? They announced peace on earth and goodwill to man, and the world just shrugged its shoulders.

Glory to God in the highest,
and on earth peace,
good will toward men.
Luke 2:14, KJV

Sears was both anti-war and an outspoken abolitionist. His Christmas hymn is almost unique in that its focus is not primarily on the manger in Bethlehem. Instead, Sears focuses on the dark realities of a world that has long ignored the angelic call to peace.

Sears compares the chaotic world full of power struggles and delusions of grandeur to the infamous Tower of Babel. He bemoans the fact that the noise of battle has deafened us to the angels’ song. Ignoring the call to peace has resigned us to “two thousand years of wrong.” He pleads with us to “hush the noise” so we can hear the song of peace, echoing the call of Psalm 46:10, “Be still and know that I am God.” Finally, Sears looks ahead to the day when everything ends, when every knee will bow and every tongue confess that Jesus is Lord, the Prince of Peace.

Will the world ever know the peace that Edmund Sears longed for? If the 150 years since this song’s composure are any indication, then the outlook is just as bleak as it was then. Just 15 years after this song, the US would be fully engaged in the Civil War. Seventy years after the song, the world would be caught up in “The War to End All Wars.” A century after the song, more than six million Jews would meet their gruesome demise at the hands of the Nazis, and two Japanese cities would be leveled by American atomic bombs.

Here we are, 150 years later. If Edmund Sears were here today, his message would be the same: “O hush the noise, you men of strife, and hear the angels sing.”
Jesus came to bring us peace. But he didn’t bring it as the world brings peace. The governments of the world offer peace at the edge of a sword. The Prince of Peace brings his peace not by taking lives but by offering up his own life. The world may never know true peace, but those of us who follow Christ are citizens of another kingdom. May we all know the peace of Christ. May we all be peacemakers. May we all hear the angels sing.

It came upon the midnight clear,
That glorious song of old,
From angels bending near the earth,
To touch their harps of gold:
“Peace on the earth, goodwill to men,
From heaven’s all-gracious King.”
The world in solemn stillness lay,
To hear the angels sing.

Still through the cloven skies they come,
With peaceful wings unfurled,
And still their heavenly music floats
O’er all the weary world;
Above its sad and lowly plains,
They bend on hovering wing,
And ever o’er its babel sounds
The blessed angels sing.

Yet with the woes of sin and strife
The world has suffered long;
Beneath the angel-strain have rolled
Two thousand years of wrong;
And man, at war with man, hears not
The love-song which they bring;
O hush the noise, ye men of strife,
And hear the angels sing.

And ye, beneath life’s crushing load,
Whose forms are bending low,
Who toil along the climbing way
With painful steps and slow,
Look now! for glad and golden hours
come swiftly on the wing.
O rest beside the weary road,
And hear the angels sing!

For lo!, the days are hastening on,
By prophet bards foretold,
When with the ever-circling years
Comes round the age of gold
When peace shall over all the earth
Its ancient splendors fling,
And the whole world give back the song
Which now the angels sing.

NF & the Enneagram

Unless you’ve been living under the proverbial rock, you’ve probably heard of the rapper Nate Feuerstein, more commonly known as NF. He’s been on the scene since 2014, but has recently made it big with his 2017 hits Let You Down and Green Lights. NF is a Christian who is a rapper, but not necessarily a “Christian rapper.” His lyrics are not explicit, but they hit just as hard as others like Eminem or Kendrick. His whole business is about “real music.” He writes deeply and passionately about his own struggles with mental health, abuse, and loss.

Since his songs are so personal and packed with emotion, I thought it would be interesting to pair some of his songs with the different Enneagram types. If you’ve never heard NF before, give these a listen. They also happen to be some of my favorite tracks.

Type 1: Let You Down
Type 2: I’ll Keep On
Type 3: Motivated
Type 4: Outcast
Type 5: The Search
Type 6: Intro III
Type 7: Turn the Music Up
Type 8: Why
Type 9: Oh Lord

Let You Down

Again, Let You Down is probably one of NF’s most popular releases. He even mocks his own success in a later song (“Let You Down‘s the only song you’ve heard of, well then you’re behind”). As I listen to the song, it’s about the struggle we face to live up to others’ expectations. Sometimes it feels like we can never be good enough, we will never measure up. Unspoken expectation and unreasonably high standards only lead to feelings of disappointment and resentment. Left unaddressed, these feelings can shatter relationships beyond repair. In the song he feels helpless, realizing the endless cycle of hope and disillusionment.

But what if the person you’re letting down the most is yourself? Type ONES have a tendency to be their own worst critic. That inner voice won’t shut up. It’s always there pointing out what they’ve done wrong or could have done better. It’s relentless. ONES need to learn to listen to that inner voice but not be governed by it. ONES need to come to terms with their inner critic, learning when to heed to criticism and when to smile, nod, and move on with life. Easier said than done.

All these voices in my head get loud
I wish that I could shut them out
I’m sorry that I let you down

I’ll Keep On

The opening line of another song, Two by Sleeping At Last, begins with the line, “Sweetheart you look a little tired. When did you last rest?” That speaks directly to the heart of many TWOS that I know. TWOS are the Helpers, they need to be needed. They will give you everything just to feel like they are loved and valued. Their serving can come from a place of pride. It feels good to know that people rely on them and. But that pride can also lead to resentment and bitterness if they are feel unappreciated for all the things they do. A classic tale to illustrate the life of a TWO is “The Giving Tree.” That proverbial tree gives and gives until there is virtually noting left of itself. That’s the caution for TWOS.

But TWOS can also be stubborn in accepting help. They want others to depend on them, but they don’t like having to depend on others in return. Accepting gifts or service from others (or even from God) can be a big step of maturity for a TWO. That’s why this song, I’ll Keep On, speaks so strongly to TWOS. Just check out some of these lines.

Oh these hands are tired / Oh this heart is tired / Oh this soul is tired / But I’ll keep on

It’s like I’m standing in the rain and you offer me a raincoat / But I would rather stand there being wet than take the handout / What’s wrong with me? / You said, you’ve always got your hands out / And I can’t continue on my own so take my hands now / I give you everything, God, not just a little bit / Take it from me, I am nothing but a hypocrite


THREES are…. motivated. They are known as the performer or achiever because they do and do and do. THREES desire to be, or at least appear to be, successful in whatever they do. They dress to impress. They can work a room and win people over. They have vision and goals and dreams. THREES can often accomplish more before lunch than others do for the whole day. No one has to tell a THREE what to do. They already have a to-do list a mile long in their heads. If there’s a task to do, they’ll get it done. They may come off as competitive, but their biggest competition is themselves. THRES don’t necessarily need to be the best. They just need to be the best version of themselves they can be.

This song choice is pretty obvious for THREES. The chorus of the song is very repetitive, as you will hear. But most THREES love routines and efficiency. The verses are almost a freestyle rap, which also connects with THREES who are really good at thinking on their feet and coming up with solutions to problems on the fly. This song can be a little off-putting to some, it might be a little much, a little over the top. But again…THREES. Think Leslie Knope from Parks and Rec.

I put work in this music, you think I’m making this up?
If the songs ain’t sharp, trust me they ain’t making the cut
You don’t like it? 
I’m no teacher, but you’ll learn to adjust
I’m my own worst critic, so critics step your hate game up


FOURS are the most unique type on the Enneagram. I’m not just saying that. Most experts believe there are fewer FOURS than any other type. FOURS are commonly known as the Individualists or sometimes the Romantics. It’s often said that FOURS don’t have feelings, they are feelings. FOURS are comfortable with sorrow and melancholy. They love to feel deeply, and they often wear their emotions on their sleeves. The driving force behind a FOUR is the desire to be different and distinct. They dread being “normal.” However, there is an inner conflict for them because they want to be loved and accepted. They want to be different but to be treated normal. They want you, but they don’t want you too close. They want to be fully themselves, but they envy the lives of others.
A mature FOUR is one who can embrace their uniqueness without feeling like something is missing. It’s ok to be the outcast if that’s who you are made to be. It’s ok if not everyone understands you. It’s ok to be yourself in all your eccentricities. The song Outcast speaks to FOURS, I think, because Nate is wrestling with the fact that his life and career is so different than those of other rappers. He accepts and embraces his outcast status.

I’m high off the music, my head’s in the clouds
I kinda like it up here, I am not comin’ down
I’d rather be alone, I am not good in crowds
Which is kinda confusin’, I’ve not been that way since I was a child
They laughin’, they tell me I’ll never get out
I’m just tryna be me, I am nobody else
I don’t care what you think, I’m just bein’ myself
So I guess for now
I’ll just be the outcast


Type 5 (The Observer / Investigator)
The Search

You know those people who know something about everything and everything about something? You know those people who tend to overanalyze everything? Those people who tend to take a scientific approach to life, even relationships? Those people who seem to be experts in everything except their own emotions? Those people who have a “fortress of solitude” into which very few people are ever invited? These are most likely to be Type FIVES. They are commonly known as the Observers or Investigators. They value the pursuit of knowledge and competency, but they can really struggle to be open and vulnerable with their own emotions in relationships.

In NF’s song The Search he raps about the journey he has been on. It’s about learning to cope with mental health struggles (like OCD, which is probably common among FIVES) and broken relationships. He has to learn how to be real with his emotions and open up to people even though he would much rather just pretend like everything is ok. FIVES need to learn to embrace the search. It’s part of life. Emotions can be intimidating for FIVES because they seem unknowable, but they are really infinitely knowable. The more you learn, the more you become aware of what you don’t know.

It’s that time again
Better grab your balloons and invite your friends
Seatbelts back on yeah strap ’em in
Look at me everybody I’m smilin’ big
On a road right now that I can’t predict
Tell me tone that down, but I can’t resist
Y’all know that sound better raise your fist
The search begins
I’m back so enjoy the trip

Intro III

Don’t sleep on the intro tracks to NF’s records. They hit just as hard as any other. This is my favorite intro. It’s framed as a conversation between Nate and Fear. NF raps a lot about letting fear control his actions and derail his relationships. Fear can be a helpful advisor but a lousy boss. That’s a lesson all SIXES need to learn.

SIXES are known as Loyalists. They can be ride-or-die loyal to any family, relationship, company, or organization. However, they are inherently distrusting of those in authority. SIXES can be either your greatest champion or your strongest critic. They naturally play “Devil’s advocate,” pointing out all the what-ifs. Since they are primarily driven by fear, they fixate on worst-case-scenarios. They can be prepared for anything and everything, but they can also let that fear hold them back from stepping out in faith.

What I’m sayin’ is me without you doesn’t make any sense
I know I’m intense in controlling, but you need to learn how to cope with it
That’s just the way that it is
If you didn’t want me to live in your house, you shouldn’t have let me move in
It’s comfortable here and I like it, I got my own room and everything
It don’t get better than this!
You say you wanna own your life, then wake up and take your own advice
You just mad ’cause you know I’m right

Turn the Music Up

SEVENS tend to be the fun loving, spontaneous, larger than life adventurers. They can be the life of the party, or they can bail to go find something else to do. SEVENS can be visionaries and dreamers. They are amazing at spreading excitement and laughter. But underneath the outgoing exterior there is a fear of pain. Often that joie de vive is driven by a need to avoid the pains of life, negative emotions, boredom, etc. SEVENS are really susceptible to addictions and numbing activities – be it food, alcohol, drugs, shopping, partying, travel, etc. They will do just about anything they can to avoid dealing with the real life negative emotions.
Turn the Music Up is one of NF’s few straight up dance hits. It’s full of hyped up beats and driving anthemic choruses. It’s a party anthem. There’s nothing wrong with enjoying life and partying. But the danger for SEVENS is using that as an escape or an attempt to numb. Regardless, this is a really tight beat that will get your blood pumping and your head banging.
Red Bull in my hands, feels like I got wings
Lotta people in my face, but I can’t hear a thing
It’s like my heads up in the clouds, heads up in the clouds
And I ain’t coming down, no


My wife is an EIGHT. When NF released this single it instantly became one of her favorites. She simply said, “Here, listen to this,” and handed me the headphones. We don’t know for sure, but if we had to guess, NF is probably an EIGHT. Commonly known as the Challenger, EIGHTS view conflict as a form of intimacy. They want to know that you can hold your own against them. They want everyone to think they are an open book, but there are parts of themselves they reserve for only those closest to them – and even then it’s not a sure thing. EIGHTS try to avoid vulnerability because they often have some sort of abuse or betrayal in their past. It’s hard for them to really let their guard down and trust someone else.
Inside the tough exterior of an EIGHT is a child who never really got to have a childhood. They feel like they have to put on a thick skin to protect that inner child. That’s also why EIGHTS can be some of the biggest advocates for justice for the underdogs. They are very protective of the ones they love, and they will not hesitate to stand up for the oppressed and weak. But EIGHTS also need to realize that vulnerability can be their greatest strength, not a weakness. Letting people in takes real courage.
Smile for a moment then these questions startin’ to fill my head, not again!
I push away the people that I love the most; why?
I don’t want no one to know I’m vulnerable; why?
That makes me feel weak and so uncomfortable; why?
Stop askin’ me questions, I just wanna feel alive
Until I die—this isn’t Nate’s flow (woo)
Just let me rhyme; I’m in disguise
I’m a busy person, got no time for lies; one of a kind

Oh Lord

NINES are known as Peacemakers, but if you know any NINES they can come across as peace-keepers.  If NINES aren’t self-aware, they can be “asleep” to the world around them. But when NINES wake up, oh my goodness, they can bring people together and get stuff done. Experts think that a lot of politicians  and prophets are NINES. For the most part NINES can be very laid back without many strong opinions or convictions. That’s why you should pay attention when a NINE becomes passionate about something. A NINE who is awake to their world can see the way things are and call people to task, drawing on both their EIGHT and ONE wings.
In his song, Oh Lord, NF is writing to God but it’s a challenge for us who are listening. He urges us to wake up and pay attention. He calls us out of our hypocritical religious ritual and actually live in relationship with God. That relationship should have a positive impact on the world around us. It’s better to wake up now and get serious about our faith than to sleep through life and be ripped awake by some kind of tragedy. You can’t be a Peacemaker if you’re asleep to the world.
Listen, yeah everybody wants change
Don’t nobody wanna change though
Don’t nobody wanna pray
Till they got something to pray for
Now everybody’s gon’ die
But don’t everybody live though
Sometimes I look up to the sky
And wonder do you see us down here?
Oh Lord

What If Hallmark Christmas Movies Were Actually Good?

The Christmas movie craze is in full swing. You probably have your go-to favorites. My family loves Elf, Home Alone, the 2018 Grinch, and most recently Netflix’s animated Klaus. But there is always a contingent of die hard Hallmark fans who would rather spend their holiday season rehearsing the same storyline multiple times over.

Are there good Hallmark Christmas movies? Sure. But they aren’t my favorite. I mean, every Christmas movie is predictable to a point, but there’s just something about Hallmark movies that take predictability to a whole new level.

Here’s an example. Stop me if you’ve heard this one before.

A man and his wife are estranged. They aren’t divorced yet, but it’s obviously heading that way. The wife moved across the country to a big city to pursue her career. She has worked her way up the corporate ladder, and she and her husband find themselves taking different paths. The husband is not willing to give up, however. It’s Christmas, and he wants nothing more than to make things right between them again.

He flies to the city, planning to surprise her at work in an attempt to win her back. However, there is a suave, wealthy, European businessman standing in his way. This mysterious, handsome foreigner is the life of the business holiday party, stealing the show and overshadowing this desperate husband. In order to win his wife back, he knows that he will have his work cut out for him.

With the help of friendly locals, this husband must face a series of humiliating and sometimes painful challenges, putting his dignity and even his body on the line to win her back. Against all odds, this husband overcomes all the obstacles and wins out against his suave European competitor. There’s a dramatic reunion with his wife who finally realizes just how much he loves her, and she finds a renewed love and appreciation for him.

They hug. They kiss. There’s “snow.” And everyone lives happily ever after. Merry Christmas!

Of course, I’m not talking about a Hallmark movie. I’m talking about Die Hard.

Die Hard is essentially a Hallmark Christmas movie with more blood and explosions.


Male and Female: Full Series Download

Over the course of the last month I have written about 20,000 words on the topic and men and women in the church, specifically focusing on what role women have played and can play in the Kingdom. I have been overwhelmed by the positive feedback. I realize that there are a lot of individual posts to go back and read through. So if you would like you are welcome to view and download the entire series by clicking this link:

I also have several additional resources listed at the end of the document. Here are links to most of them:


An Open Letter to the Churches of Christ


I’m bringing my part of this study to a close, but that by no means implies that the work is done. There is far more to this conversation than I have been able to cover in a simple blog series. But as this is the twelfth post on the matter, I believe this is a fitting point to end.

I’ve never written an open letter before. I don’t expect that this will get much wide circulation. This issue, though, is simply too important to let fizzle and die. Please feel free to share this with anyone you think needs to hear it. So…here it goes.


Grace and peace to you from one of your own. I, too, am a lifelong member of the Churches of Christ. While no two churches are the same, we share a common history and mostly a common approach to Scripture in regards to matters of faith, salvation, and church.

We rally behind our mottos and mantras. “No Creed but Christ. No Book but the Bible. No law but love. No name but the divine.” Or “Where the Bible speaks, we speak; where the Bible is silent, we are silent.” Or my personal favorite, “In essential matters, unity; in matter of opinion, liberty; in all things love.” But in practice, none of these things could be further from reality.

Our Creeds are written in the bi-laws of our educational institutions. To paraphrase, “One says, ‘I am of Harding.’ Another says, ‘I am of Freed-Hardeman,’ or ‘I am of Pepperdine.’ Still others say, ‘I am of Christ.’” I have seen churches who are more concerned about their affiliation with CoC universities than they are about being faithful to the call and witness of Scripture. And I’ve seen CoC universities care more about the opinions of wealthy donors than the critical understanding and application of the gospel.

We claim not to speak where the Bible is silent, but again – that could not be further from the truth. We have church buildings and song leaders and youth ministers and camps and schools and bulletins. And everyone has very strong opinions on these matters. I mean, have you ever been a member of a church during the transition from hymnals to PowerPoint? Yikes! We probably have more exceptions to this rule of silence than actual instances of remaining silent.

But the kicker is “in essential matters, unity; in matters of opinion, liberty…” Who gets to say what’s essential and what’s an opinion? One man’s strong essential could be another man’s loosely held opinion. When a member is raised thinking certain things are essential and another member is raised to consider those same issues simple matters of opinion or preference (a cappella worship, for BIG example), then that will simply lead to conflict. Who cares about “love in all things” when playing a video clip with instruments during the sermon will condemn us all to hell?!

Do you see the problem? The problem is us. The problem is nothing new. The problem is with bringing a diversity of people together. Some hold firmly to the traditions with which they were raised. Others look to the future and want to adapt to fit the ever changing culture. Each group has its own proof-texts, and we get into a never ending game of “my verse beats your verse.”

As Paul would say, “Men and brethren, this ought not be!” (See, I’m reverting to the translation in which I first learned that line.)

Is there a better way? Is there a possibility of course-correction? I certainly hope so. As a thirty-something, passionate minister with a wife and kids – the key demographic that every church seems to want on staff – I’m tired of feeling like I’m piloting a sinking ship. I see the trajectory ahead of us, and it’s not good. Has the grand unifying experiment of the restoration movement failed? I’m not willing to say that it has…yet.

But as one recent article (that I also linked to in an earlier post) shows, there is a strong correlation, if not a direct causal link, between the decline of Churches of Christ across the nation and the continuing prohibition of female leadership in worship and ministries. This seems to be the easiest change to make a biblical case for!

Well, but what about 1 Corinthians 14 and 1 Timothy 2? Go back and read my (and countless others’) explanation of those texts and how they fit into the broader context of the day and the larger narrative of the Bible. Churches often read the rest of Scripture through the lens of “women must remain silent.” When what we should be doing is looking at Scripture as a whole and seeing how we might reconcile Paul’s seemingly outrageous, unwarranted comments about women in these few verses.

Let me remind you of a few things.

1) We follow Christ, not Paul. As critical as Paul’s mission was in the first century, Paul is not our Savior. Paul has not been raised from the dead for our sins. Paul was not the Word made flesh.

What, after all, is Apollos? And what is Paul? Only servants, through whom you came to believe—as the Lord has assigned to each his task. (1 Corinthians 3:5)

Do you remember that story in Acts when Paul and Barnabas were thought to be Greek gods in the flesh? It seems like that’s exactly what we still do with Paul. Karl Barth once said he thinks Paul would roll over in his grave if he knew we had turned his letters into Torah. Does that mean we disregard Paul’s letters? Certainly not! It simply means we need to weigh Paul’s words against The Word. Christ is the head of the church, not Paul.

2) We have a biblical precedent for doing just that. We SHOULD be weighing what Paul says against the rest of Scripture. We should be reading his letters with a critical eye. Just like the Bereans of Acts 17.

Now the Berean Jews were of more noble character than those in Thessalonica, for they received the message with great eagerness and examined the Scriptures every day to see if what Paul said was true. As a result, many of them believed, as did also a number of prominent Greek women and many Greek men. (Acts 17:11-12)

If these Jewish believers can fact-check Paul against the rest of the Bible, then so can and should we. The Bible is not the be-all-end-all revelation of God. Jesus is. We have every right to be in conversation and even arguments with Paul – just as he would expect us to be. That’s the exact method of training Paul would have received as a rabbi. Rabbis didn’t learn simply from lecture. They learned (and still do to this day) through debates and well reasoned arguments. The name Israel means One who Wrestles with God. If we can’t question, disagree, and argue with the Bible, then we are trying to out-Christian Paul.

3) Which leads me to my final point – Paul is confusing. He just is. Paul is really difficult to understand sometimes. I mean, Ephesians 1:3-14 is ONE SENTENCE in the Greek. And it’s been 2,000 years, and we still miss the whole point of the book of Romans. I know I’m not the only one who feels this way.

Bear in mind that our Lord’s patience means salvation, just as our dear brother Paul also wrote you with the wisdom that God gave him. He writes the same way in all his letters, speaking in them of these matters. His letters contain some things that are hard to understand, which ignorant and unstable people distort, as they do the other Scriptures, to their own destruction. (2 Peter 3:15-16)

Even Peter concedes that Paul’s writings can be hard to understand. And surprise!- ignorant and unstable people distort the writings of Paul to make them say what they want. For example, a sexist man with a low view of women could read a couple verses from Paul’s letters and come away thinking that Paul was also sexist and that women should be silent and in full submission to men, period. If Peter, Jesus’ closest disciple, thought Paul was confusing, why do we think it would be so easy to simply “read the Bible and do what it says”?

Don’t hear me saying that we can disregard Paul and his writings. His letters have stood the test of time and were added to the New Testament canon for a reason. We can and should learn from them. Let’s just keep these things in mind as we do so.

Like I said, I was born and raised Church of Christ. Even as a kid I picked up on some of the oddities (or inconsistencies, or…hypocrisies) concerning our application of 1 Corinthians 14 and 1 Timothy 2. Let me list a few examples.

During Bible class (not biblically sanctioned), girls and women were free to ask and answer questions, even read Scripture, and contribute to the discussion and overall learning for everyone involved. But then a bell rings, and suddenly the rules changed. Now, in the same building just fifteen minutes later, the women had to turn everything over to the men and learn in complete silence and submission.

But then I noticed that women could pass the communion trays to other men while they were seated, they just weren’t allowed to stand in the aisles and pass the trays (also, none of which is biblically sanctioned).

And women couldn’t lead the singing, but we would whole-heartedly sing the songs of Fanny Crosby, like Blessed Assurance and To God Be the Glory. Not to mention the fact that many songs had split or echo parts where the men and women sang different lines. If we are to “teach one another” through songs and hymns and spiritual songs, but women aren’t supposed to teach or have authority over a man, then wouldn’t songs with a soprano/alto lead and a tenor/bass echo be unbiblical?

And why could we have special female speakers and presentations in the assembly only if it’s before the “opening prayer” or after the “closing prayer”? Like that makes any sense at all.

Probably the most heartbreaking example I can think of concerns young girls and their fathers. As a kid I participated in a program called Lads to Leaders. We were trained in using our gifts and talents in areas like song leading, public speaking, debate, Bible Bowl, and also puppets. Yep. But it wasn’t just for boys. Girls could participate, too! But get this, they didn’t call it “Lads and Lasses to Leaders.” They called it “Lads to Leaders and Leaderettes.” Leaderettes! Anyway, girls could also participate in the speech competition; however, because of those few verses in 1 Corinthians 14 and 1 Timothy 2, they had separate competitions from the boys. What’s worse, the fathers of these girls, many of whom probably helped their daughters write and rehearse that speech, were not allowed in the room during the competition. These dads could not share in the proud moment their girls had been working for all year. That’s not gospel.

I simply can’t get over all the little rules we put in place to make sure that we kinda sorta included girls and women without actually including them. We placed all these barriers around ourselves to make sure we didn’t violate Paul’s everlasting, universal command prohibiting all women everywhere from ever teaching a man. At the same time, we were complete hypocrites about it.

Didn’t Jesus have something to say about this kind of behavior?

“And why do you break the command of God for the sake of your tradition? … You hypocrites! Isaiah was right when he prophesied about you:
“‘These people honor me with their lips,
but their hearts are far from me.
They worship me in vain;
their teachings are merely human rules.’”
(Matthew 15:3-9)

The Pharisees were so caught up on making sure all the little rules were kept that they ended up missing the bigger picture. Jesus’ harshest conversations were with people who set up all sorts of man-made rules and boundaries just to keep people from getting close to breaking the actual command. But in doing so, they lost the point of the command.

Woe to you, teachers of the law and Pharisees, you hypocrites! You give a tenth of your spices—mint, dill and cumin. But you have neglected the more important matters of the law—justice, mercy and faithfulness. You should have practiced the latter, without neglecting the former. You blind guides! You strain out a gnat but swallow a camel.
(Matthew 23:23-24)

We have not only been misguided in our prohibition against female leadership, we have been completely hypocritical about it. Our churches would not function if it weren’t for the hard working women in our communities, yet we refuse to let them have a voice. They can tend the flowerbeds and make casseroles, but God forbid they should ever pass out a communion tray or help make bigger decisions for the church.

We’re hypocrites!

We say we have no book but the Bible. The Bible is FULL of women serving in amazing leadership roles. They were prophets and worship leaders and commanders-in-chief and teachers and church planters and deacons and apostles. Jesus commended Mary for joining the all-male disciples. Joel foresaw a day when men and women would be filled with the Spirit and prophesy in his name. Paul had female coworkers and gave instructions for how women should pray and prophesy in the assembly. And yet women are allowed to do none of these things in our churches. The Bible is not silent on what women can and did do. We shouldn’t be either.

In essential matters, unity? It should be essential that our churches be bastions of New Creation. Paul speaks to unity most clearly in Galatians 3:28. He makes it clear that there is neither Jew nor Greek, slave nor free, nor is there “male and female.” We are all one in Christ. That is essential. We should not discriminate based on ethnicity, nationality, language, socioeconomic status, or gender. Full inclusion of all God’s people is an essential matter that will lead to unity. Full inclusion cannot be a matter of opinion.

Our local church is on the brink of becoming more inclusive. We’ve done and are doing the exegetical work. I am convinced now more than ever that the church has gotten this wrong, and Churches of Christ are among the worst offenders. I for one will never work in another church that is not gender-inclusive. This is not a battle I want to fight anymore. But I will keep on fighting for the sake of my amazingly talented wife and for the sake of the teenage girls in my youth group and for the women in church who have a much greater gift and passion than most men. I will fight for the women currently crushing it in seminaries across the country whose only hope for getting a foot in the door is “children’s ministry.” I will fight for my sons to see women and men as equals before God, so they will know that women are to be respected and empowered and admired and entrusted.

I love the Churches of Christ. I believe we are uniquely positioned to make these kinds of changes. We have no governing body. Each church is autonomous and can make its own decisions. (In theory, at least.)

I urge you, bothers and sisters, to take the calling toward unity in the bond of peace seriously. I urge you to study the Scriptures with an open heart and mind. Weigh those few verses of Paul against the cultural backdrop of his day. Weigh them against the teachings and example of Christ. Weigh them against the entirety of Scripture and the hope of New Creation.

At the end of my study -and I could be wrong – I can find no reason to exclude women from the same roles as men (save eldership – I’m still on the fence about that one, honestly). What is holding us back? Is it fear that we will be disfellowshipped by other churches? Is it fear that we will lose our board positions at our Church of Christ summer camps? Is it fear that we will somehow be leading others astray and condemning our entire church to hell?

Remember the words of John: There is no fear in love, but perfect love casts out fear.

What does love require of us? I believe love requires us to give women a voice and to empower ALL believers to use their Spirit-given gifts for the sake of the kingdom. In doing so, I believe we will find ourselves living less in the old, fallen creation and living more and more into the hope of New Creation.

May it be so now, and forevermore. Amen.

Male and Female: Whose Church Is It, Anyway?


Full disclosure – I am Church of Christ born and bred. I went through the entire program. I was born to faithful, active parents. We were at church every time the doors were open. I went to private Church of Christ schools from 1st grade through college (Jackson Christian School, Columbia Academy, and Harding University). I have worked as a full time youth minster and worship leader in two different Churches of Christ over the past 8 1/2 years.

I can totally relate to Paul in Philippians 3 when he is listing off his resume. Oh you want to talk religious cred? How bout them apples? Paul says he was a “Hebrew of Hebrews.” Well, I guess that would make me… CoC of CoC. Paul’s point in saying all that was to affirm his right to criticize the Jewish fundamentalist movement in which he was raised. He isn’t coming at it as an outsider. He has an insider’s perspective, and he can tell you that the whole system was bankrupt.

So when I speak about church, my perspective is from the Churches of Christ. As a life-long member, well-indoctrinated student, and full time employee, I think I have some things to say to and insights to offer my fellow Church of Christ members and leaders.

If you asked any random member in the pews, “Who runs/leads the church?” I bet they would answer, “The elders.” Sometimes they’re called shepherds or overseers. It’s a group of men whom the church has appointed or voted on. They have certain “qualifications” they must meet (based on 1 Timothy 3 and Titus 1), and they get the final say on everything that happens in the church. The elders hire the preacher and other ministers. The elders make the financial decisions. The elders get to say on what does and does not happen in worship assemblies. The elders pick the teaching curriculum and often are teachers themselves.

These are all good and necessary things, but (you knew there was a but coming) the elders are not the leaders of the church. They are not the head of the church. Christ is. Period.

As a minister I work with the elders, not for the elders. The elders in Ephesus and Crete weren’t intended to be Timothy’s and Titus’ bosses or board of directors. They were to be co-workers for the kingdom, servants of the church. I’m not ultimately answerable to the elders – I’m ultimately answerable to God. My job as a teacher/minister is the only one that comes with a warning label in Scripture (James 3:1). When it’s all said and done, I’m not that concerned about what a group of men think about me. My primary concern is to hear, “Well done, good and faithful servant.”

What does this have to do with our discussion of men and women in the church?

Whenever we’re having these discussions, it almost always comes down to the precedent of what we see women actually doing in the Bible. Can women preach? Lead public prayers? Read Scripture? Lead worship? Pass or even preside over communion? Can women be ministers? Can women be deacons? Can women be elders?

I guess my question in response is…Who gets to say?

Well, if Christ is the head of the church, and there are certain functions and tasks within the church, then…it’s Christ. Christ appoints. Christ calls. Christ empowers.

So Christ himself gave the apostles, the prophets, the evangelists, the pastors and teachers, to equip his people for works of service, so that the body of Christ may be built up until we all reach unity in the faith and in the knowledge of the Son of God and become mature, attaining to the whole measure of the fullness of Christ.
(Ephesians 4:11-13)

Paul says that Christ gave these tasks, these roles, these callings. And we have precedent of both men and women filling each of these jobs within the early church. Women were apostles and prophets and evangelists and teachers. The only one I’m not quite sure of is that word translated “pastor.” It can also mean shepherd.

So we have two options with that. Either 1) Paul is including one male-exclusive role in a list with four other gender-inclusive roles without signaling that in any way, or 2) there were female “pastors” that we just don’t have specifically mentioned by name in the New Testament canon. Although, house church leaders would be very close to that role. And frankly I am unaware of any man specifically mentioned as a “pastor” either.

The word for “elder” or “overseer” in 1 Timothy and Titus is a different word than is used in Ephesians 4. When writing to Timothy and Titus, Paul uses the word “Presbyter.” That wasn’t necessarily a leadership role. It was often more of a “wise counsel” position. These were older Christians who could offer guidance, wisdom, insight, and counsel. They were the spiritual heart of the church. And yes, this group of elders/overseers seems to be made of men.

However, I do want to make a few points. First, these men were expected to be married. Paul has a weird relationship with marriage. At times he seems to disregard it as an unnecessary hindrance to the spreading of the gospel, and at other times he seems to hold it in high esteem. Sometimes married couples are at a disadvantage, other times it’s a state of privilege. Regardless, Paul seems to encourage married couples to do ministry together. A couple examples are Aquila and Priscilla, and Andronicus and Junias. So when Paul says that an elder should be faithful to his wife, who’s to say she couldn’t be right there with him, serving alongside him?

Second, I’d like to think that what we have called “qualifications” are more “qualities.” And these qualities and virtues which elders are expected to embody should really be goals for all believers. Every single disciple should aspire to be above reproach, faithful to their spouse, temperate, self-controlled, respectable, hospitable, able to teach, not given to drunkenness, not violent but gentle, not quarrelsome, not a lover of money, able to manage their own household well, and to have a good reputation with outsiders. That’s quite a list! I don’t know of anyone who fits the bill perfectly. But these are all qualities that every Christian should work toward. Then we would all be qualified to offer wisdom and guidance.

Third, desiring to be an elder is noble, but desiring power is not. Anyone who is power hungry should automatically be disqualified from a position of church leadership. After all, our ultimate example of authority and leadership is Christ. Christ is the head of the church, not the elders, not the pastor, not the preacher, certainly not the youth minister. When we let a desire for power infiltrate our leadership, that’s a recipe for disaster. That’s exactly what was happening in 3 John. A guy named Diotrephes took it upon himself to exert undo power and authority in the local church. He was sowing division and discord. John calls this power play evil.

Remember the words of Jesus to his disciples when they were bickering about who was “the greatest” among them:

Jesus called them together and said, “You know that those who are regarded as rulers of the Gentiles lord it over them, and their high officials exercise authority over them. Not so with you. Instead, whoever wants to become great among you must be your servant, and whoever wants to be first must be slave of all. For even the Son of Man did not come to be served, but to serve, and to give his life as a ransom for many.”
(Mark 10:42-45)

Here’s the point in all of this. Christian leadership is not like leadership in the world. “Elder” is not a position of authority over anyone. It’s a position of humble servant-leadership, it’s a downward step. Jesus, in the greatest show of service, washed his disciples’ feet. Then he tells them that the servant is not greater than his master. If Jesus washed our feet, we also ought to wash one another’s feet. Christ is the head of the church. The rest of us are just servants. Anything else is evil. Anything else is of the world. Anything else is from Satan.

So when we ask, “Can women have leadership positions in the church?” we need to reframe our understanding of leadership. Yes, of course, the church needs people who can help make decisions, cast vision, teach, inspire, and make sure the building gets locked up after services. But we have come to view “elders” and “deacons” as some gender exclusive leadership role with authority to wield over others. That view of leadership could not be further from the intention of Christ. Our job is not to call all the shots and get into this continuous power struggle. That’s old creation business. In the New Creation, Christ has given us – all of us – apostles, prophets, evangelists, pastors, and teachers in order that the whole body may be built up toward love, unity, and good deeds.

Instead of “Can women have leadership positions in church?” we should really be asking, “Can women serve in the church?” To which the answer, I think, is a resounding YES. There is no “male and female.” The curse of the power balance has been lifted. We should no longer fight and struggle with each other as the world does. Instead, we should show the world what it looks like to embrace the freedom of downward mobility and servant-leadership.

Can women serve by passing communion? Can women serve by reading Scripture? Can women serve by offering public prayers? Can women serve by preaching the word to anyone who will listen? Can women serve by volunteering their time and efforts to build up the church in a way that promotes unity and honors God? Can women serve by using their Spirit-given gifts and talents? Can women serve by offering wisdom, insight, and pastoral care?

If these questions make you uncomfortable, find out where you draw the line. Then find out why you draw the line there. Who told you to draw the line there? Whose church is it, anyway?

Male and Female: Eve vs. Artemis

I think after nine parts to this series a little recap is in order. I’ll try to make it quick. If you’re one of those “SKIP RECAP” people on Netflix, feel free to scroll down a bit. But if you haven’t read parts 1, 2, and 3 yet – do that now before continuing. Those posts will be referenced quite a bit.
In the beginning God created male and female in his image as equals. They were partners in bearing his image to the rest of creation. The relationship between man and woman was to reflect the divine, loving community within God’s own being. In Genesis 2, it was not good for the man to be alone, so woman was created as the man’s “helper,” a word which was nearly exclusively used for God himself. In other words, man was incomplete without the woman as Israel was incomplete without YHWH. This partnership of equals was completely derailed in Genesis 3 after the man and woman broke God’s command. The power imbalance and oppression of women was totally a result of the Fall. The rest of the Bible is an attempt to get “back to the Garden,” including restored relationships between men and women.
Throughout the Old Testament we see women given special honor by God. A woman was the first to give God a name. Women were prophets and worship leaders and commander-in-chief of Israel’s armies. Women broke all sorts of social and religious taboos – and were rewarded for it. They governed, they sparked religious reformation, and they stepped out in faith to save their entire nation. Other Old Testament prophets foresaw a day when God’s Spirit would be poured out on men and women alike, and all would prophesy through the power of the Spirit.
In the New Testament we find female disciples, apostles, prophets, teachers, evangelists, preachers, deacons, church planters, house church leaders, and missionaries. Women sat at the feet of Jesus. Women traveled and taught alongside Paul. Women were praying and preaching in the gathered assembly of believers. The church was the beginning of “new creation” inaugurated by Christ. That new creation included a return to full equality as it was in the Garden – “neither is there ‘male and female, for you are all one in Christ.”
We took an in-depth look at 1 Corinthians 14, the first of two (that’s right – TWO) passages in Paul’s letters that have been used to silence women and prohibit female leadership in the church for hundreds of years. Again…. TWO paragraphs with a total of seven verses as we have divided them. That’s it.
So let’s look at the second passage today. In order to do it justice, we really need to look at all of 1 Timothy 2 along with a few other verses in the letter. So please, read through this passage carefully.

I urge, then, first of all, that petitions, prayers, intercession and thanksgiving be made for all people—for kings and all those in authority, that we may live peaceful and quiet lives in all godliness and holiness. This is good, and pleases God our Savior, who wants all people to be saved and to come to a knowledge of the truth. For there is one God and one mediator between God and mankind, the man Christ Jesus, who gave himself as a ransom for all people. This has now been witnessed to at the proper time. And for this purpose I was appointed a herald and an apostle—I am telling the truth, I am not lying—and a true and faithful teacher of the Gentiles.
Therefore I want the men everywhere to pray, lifting up holy hands without anger or disputing. I also want the women to dress modestly, with decency and propriety, adorning themselves, not with elaborate hairstyles or gold or pearls or expensive clothes, 10 but with good deeds, appropriate for women who profess to worship God.
A woman should learn in quietness and full submission. I do not permit a woman to teach or to assume authority over a man; she must be quiet. For Adam was formed first, then Eve. And Adam was not the one deceived; it was the woman who was deceived and became a sinner. But women will be saved through childbearing—if they continue in faith, love and holiness with propriety.

Paul is writing to Timothy, a young preacher and Paul’s protege. Timothy is pastoring a church in Ephesus where Paul himself spent about three years in full-time ministry. Paul caused quite a stir in Ephesus (Acts 19). You see, Ephesus was home to one of the “Seven Wonders of the Ancient World” — the impressively large Temple of Artemis. To understand the religious world in which Timothy was doing ministry, you must understand something of Artemis and her worshipers.
Artemis was the daughter of Zeus and twin sister of Apollo (the sun god whose temple was in Corinth). She was revered as the goddess of the hunt, and also childbirth and midwifery. According to the Greek myths, Artemis remained a perpetual virgin, and so did her closest female followers. Male hunters would often abstain from sex before their days hunting in order to invoke her blessing. Interestingly, there are conflicting accounts as to whether Artemis or Apollo was born first. Most accounts have Artemis born first, and she then became her mother’s midwife for the birth of Apollo.
I found this really interesting bit of information concerning Artemis’ virginity: “The ancient cultural context in which Artemis’ worship emerged … held that virginity was a prerequisite to marriage, and that a married woman became subservient to her husband. In this light, Artemis’ virginity is also related to her power and independence. Rather than a form of asexuality, it is an attribute that signals Artemis as her own master, with power equal to that of male gods.”
If you want to find out more, peruse her Wikipedia page. It’s really fascinating.
And if you’re really attentive, you can probably pick up on some pertinent information concerning our understanding of 1 Timothy 2.
Now to the text itself.
Note the use of the word “quiet” in this chapter. It is often translated as “silent” in verse 12 but as “quiet” elsewhere. What’s the difference? Silence is a state of suppression. No noise, no talking, no sound. If someone gives you “the silent treatment,” you know something is wrong. They are suppressing their inner feelings rather than expressing them. Or if a journalist or activist is “silenced,” you know their insights are bring suppressed by someone in power.
Quietness, on the other hand, is more of an attitude of humility, meekness, and submission. In a crisis situation, the one who is calm and quiet is usually the one in charge. Quietness is a mindset, a way of being that doesn’t demand attention for oneself. And it’s not just women who are urged to be “quiet.” All of us are to live “quiet lives.” 1 Timothy 2 is not a chapter about who can and can’t do what in church. It’s about all of us living peaceful and quiet lives. It’s about living in such a way as to not draw attention to ourselves — either through angry outbursts and public debates or through the way we dress.
Remember, Christianity was a religion on the brink. Paul had already faced persecution and hardship in this very city. I think he’s urging Timothy and his congregants not to purposefully stir the pot, but to live peaceful and quiet lives devoted to prayer and unity.
So here’s the thing that really bugs me about how we have misapplied the teachings of Paul in this chapter. We take literally the verses concerning women – dressing modestly and being “submissive.” But we tend to look down on any men who literally raise their hands in prayer during worship. Am I saying that all men MUST raise their hands in prayer every time? No. That’s not the point. —And that’s exactly the point.
The point of Paul’s instructions about lifting hands in prayer is not about literally lifting hands in prayer. It’s about our attitude. We men are to pray without anger or disputing. That’s the point. It’s about unity and quietness and submission. How do men show their masculinity? It’s often through displays of strength, anger, or aggression. Paul is trying to push us away from that. You can be fully masculine without letting your temper flare up. Just because you don’t want to “take it outside” all the time doesn’t mean you are any less of a man. In fact, that’s the very biblical definition of meekness – power under control.
So with women, is Paul making a universal, timeless ban on braided hair and fine jewelry? No! That’s not the point. The point is that you don’t need those things to be feminine. You don’t need to dress for attention all the time. Let your life speak for itself. Live a life of virtue and honor and good deeds.
The irony is that those who take this command literally (long hair, long skirts, no makeup or jewelry) are often the ones who stand out and draw attention to themselves.
I believe Paul is urging us away from the extremes of hyper-masculine or hyper-feminine. Our job is to determine what that looks like for our time and location.
Before tackling this last paragraph, we must remember Paul’s familiarity with Greek poets, playwrights, philosophers, and religion (Acts 17 for example). It’s quite reasonable to assume that Paul had the cult of Artemis in mind when writing to this young preacher in Ephesus.
I’m going to break this last paragraph down verse by verse because this is one of the more confusing passages in Scripture.

A woman should learn in quietness and full submission.

Again, I think we miss the point with this, too. We tend to read this as “A woman should be quiet and submissive.” But Paul’s point is that a woman SHOULD LEARN. Women should have equal access to the study of Scriptures and should be able to grow in the knowledge of our Lord Jesus Christ just as the men do. Mary chose the most important thing by leaving the kitchen and sitting with the disciples at the feet of Jesus. She is our role model. She is our inspiration. Women should learn. But they should learn in quietness (as is the goal of ALL believers) and submission. Submission to what/whom? It doesn’t say. Most assume it to be submission to her male teachers. But it could just as easily be submission to Christ or submission to the Gospel. The point is that in order to learn, one (male or female) must be quiet and submissive. Otherwise, no learning will take place.

I do not permit a woman to teach or to assume authority over a man; she must be quiet.

Ok, here we go. I must remind you that all translation is an act of interpretation. In other words, we bring our own interpretation to Scripture when we choose which English words to use while translating  Greek. For example: the word Paul uses for “permit” could also mean “command” or “instruct.” So, Paul might want to make it clear to his audience (in Ephesus, a city with a large Artemis following) that he’s not endorsing the proto-feminism of that city. Another way of wording that sentence in keeping with the Greek would be:

“I’m not saying that women should teach men or try to dictate to them; rather, they should be left undisturbed.” (N.T. Wright’s translation)

Timothy is ministering in a culture where “married women were subservient to their husbands.” But the cult of Artemis was all about female empowerment. It would be easy to take some of Paul’s statements and actually weaponize them in favor of female leadership and male submission. Paul is trying to toe the line. True equality is a delicate balancing act. Our sinful nature all too easily creeps up and shoves us one way or the other. The church was not intended to be a male-dominated organization. But neither was it meant to be run by the women. The head of the church is Christ. Men and women were to be co-equals, co-workers, co-ambassadors for the sake of Christ – just like in the Garden.

For Adam was formed first, then Eve.

Paul is appealing to creation for his argument here. Again, he is not making the case for male dominance. He is simply setting the record straight in a society whose dominant religion is making the claim that Artemis was born before Apollo. It’s quite possible that some Gentile converts were misrepresenting the biblical narrative and claiming that Eve was created first, just like Artemis. That simply wasn’t the case. But remember, Eve was created as Adam’s “helper,” a term associated most frequently with God himself.

And Adam was not the one deceived; it was the woman who was deceived and became a sinner.

This passage has been horribly weaponized against women. Paul is not calling all women sinners. He’s not making the case that women are more gullible than men. Remember – Adam was with her! Paul himself even holds up Adam as the one through whom sin originally entered the story (Romans 5; 1 Corinthians 15). But if we tie this sentence back into his point about women learning, then it all makes sense.
Something obviously went wrong in the Garden. The woman was deceived because she wasn’t taught properly. She misquotes God’s commands. The story of Jesus’ temptations in the wilderness is set in obvious contrast to Eve’s temptation in the Garden. Whereas Eve misquotes God’s commands, Jesus quotes Scripture back to Satan to counter each of the trials. Even when Satan quotes Scripture himself, Jesus counters that and is not deceived.
Paul’s point, I think, is urging women to learn as much as they can and to study as deeply as they can so that they don’t follow in Eve’s footsteps. We don’t do women any favors by keeping them out of seminary or any serious study of Scripture. Women should learn. That’s the point.

But women will be saved through childbearing—if they continue in faith, love and holiness with propriety.

Yikes….I kind of don’t even want to touch on this one, but here we go.
Paul obviously cannot mean that only women who become mothers can be saved. So what’s the point? There are a few options. First, it might be that Paul is addressing a very specific group of women in this letter to Timothy. In chapter 5 Paul gives Timothy some instructions concerning a group of young widows who are still very much eligible for marriage. Since they don’t have husbands or children, they find themselves becoming busybodies and stirring up all sorts of trouble. Paul is inclined to think that marrying and starting a family would be in their best interest.
Second, remember that Artemis was the goddess of childbearing and midwifery. Paul may be addressing the fact that we should rely on God, not some Greek goddess, for his providence through the childbearing process.
Third, and I think most applicable to our discussion and in line with some of Paul’s other writings, is that the curse is being overturned. God pronounced two “curses” (or consequences) on the woman for her actions in the garden. Her consequences would be pain in childbearing and a power imbalance with her husband (or between men and women in general). The curse of the power imbalance is being lifted in this new creation. There is no longer “male and female,” we are all one in Christ. I think Paul may be indicating that the first curse is also being lifted. Not that women are free from pain in childbearing – my wife could tell you that! N.T. Wright puts it this way:

“And what of the bit about childbirth? Paul doesn’t see it as a punishment. Rather, he offers assurance that, though childbirth is indeed difficult, painful, and dangerous, often the most testing moment in a woman’s life, this is not a curse to be taken as a sign of God’s displeasure. God’s salvation is promised to all, women and men who follow Jesus in faith, love, holiness, and prudence. And that salvation is promised to those who contribute to God’s creation through childbearing, just as it is to everyone else. Becoming a mother is hard enough, God knows, without pretending it’s somehow an evil thing.”

To sum up, I believe that whatever we read in Paul’s letters must be read through the lens of new creation. After all, that’s exactly what Jesus came to instate, and it’s the main crux of Paul’s ministry.

Therefore, if anyone is in Christ, the new creation has come: The old has gone, the new is here! (2 Corinthians 5:17)

May I never boast except in the cross of our Lord Jesus Christ, through which the world has been crucified to me, and I to the world. Neither circumcision nor uncircumcision means anything; what counts is the new creation. (Galatians 6:14-15)

Under the New Creation, a.k.a. the Kingdom of Heaven, the curse of the Fall has been lifted. Sort of. We live in the “already-but-not-yet.” There is still not much we can do to make pregnancy and delivery any more bearable. And we still battle with the ground and the forces of nature in order to eek out a living. But just as Elisha lifted the curse on the rebuilt city of Jericho and Christ lifted the curse of sin and death, so we can work to lift the curse of the patriarchy.
Therefore, if Paul is appealing to the Creation story in 1 Timothy 2, then he must somehow also be looking forward toward New Creation. In this New Creation we are all descendants of the Second Adam (Romans 5) who brings the blessing, not the curse. This Second Adam invited women into his inner circle of students. All are welcome and encouraged to learn from him so that we will not fall into temptation like the first Adam and Eve. In this New Creation, women are encouraged to learn. Paul is not, therefore, issuing an everlasting universal decree prohibiting all women everywhere from ever teaching or having authority over a man. Rather, in this New Creation he is saying that uneducated women should learn before stepping into a role to which God may have called them.
**OR** Paul in one fell swoop is undoing everything Jesus worked for and contradicting himself in the worst way, essentially declaring the New Creation null and void.
Male dominated societal and religious structures are part of old, fallen creation. It is a shame to see followers of Christ still living in and advocating for broken and oppressive systems. The good news is that we get to choose which world we live in! Our citizenship is in heaven. We are members of the Kingdom of Heaven. New Creation is here, now, among us. Are we letting our old, sinful way of thinking keep us from embracing the new life of freedom Jesus came to give us? The old has gone – the new has come!

Male and Female: 99 Problems, the Church in Corinth

The discussion so far:

Have you ever really read through 1 Corinthians? Like, just sat down and read it? Talk about ALL the drama. Their dirty laundry is on full display. If you ever think your church has issues, just read this letter to the Corinthian church.

It’s helpful to keep in mind that when you read the New Testament letters, you are essentially listening in to one side of a phone conversation. We are literally reading someone else’s mail. In many cases, we don’t really know why Paul is writing or what exact issues he is addressing. His exchanges with the Corinthians leave no doubt. We know they had written him with questions of their own, and 1 Corinthians is his response to those questions and then some.

In 1 Corinthians, Paul answers questions about leadership, marriage, incest (yep!), food sacrificed to idols, sexual ethics, the Lord’s Supper, spiritual gifts, seeker-friendly worship, the Resurrection of Jesus, and more.

Conflict. Competition. Division. This was the reality for Christians in Corinth.

We must note a few things about Corinth itself. Corinth is an ancient Greek city placed strategically on the isthmus connecting the mainland Greece with the Peloponnese. It was a major port city, critical to trade routes across the Roman Empire. Corinth was also home to two main temples and religious cults. In the main city was the Temple of Apollo, the sun god and brother of Artemis (whose temple was in Ephesus – more on her in another post). Up on the hilltop overlooking the city, a place known as the Acro-Corinth, sat the Temple of Aphrodite, the goddess of love and fertility. And yes, prostitution was a key part of “worship” at the temple – although the hike up is enough to zap all your desire for that kind of engagement…

Corinth was a melting pot city, bringing together people from across the known world from every culture and religious background. More than that, it was comparable to our Las Vegas. The women of Corinth in particular were stereotyped as being boisterous and promiscuous. It was a slam to call a woman a “Corinthian.”

Is it any wonder why Paul had so much work to do there?

So how would Paul bring this fledgling church together? How could he help bring unity to this ragtag group of Christ followers in the middle of sin city? By uniting them around Christ and pointing them toward love.

I don’t have time to hit on every single aspect of 1 Corinthians that I would like because I want to keep this discussion pertinent to our study of women in the Bible. Since 1 Corinthians 14 is one place most people point to in order to keep women silent, I guess we better address that verse within the context of the letter itself.

The first thing to note is that Paul calls the church the Temple of God. It was always presented to me that we are each individually temples. But that’s not what Paul is saying. The church – God’s people together – is the new Temple where his Spirit dwells. Paul warns against destroying the Temple by sowing seeds of division and disunity. We’re all in this together. Few issues have sown more division than the oppressive treatment of women. As one recent article argues, the ban on women participating in worship and leadership is strongly correlated to, if not the direct cause of, the mass exodus of younger people away from Churches of Christ. Are we destroying the Temple because of who we exclude?

This brings us to the incredibly confusing and somewhat problematic section in chapter 11. Paul goes into a treatise about hair length and head coverings. Weird, right? What’s the deal?

Here’s a thought experiment. If Paul were to write a letter to the American church of the 21st Century, what might he say concerning gender identity issues? I think Paul would affirm the creation and distinction of male and female. There are those in our culture who attempt to fight for gender equality by downplaying the differences or by trying to make women more like men and men more like women. I think Paul would encourage all of us to embrace our created differences and to live into who God created us to be. Women don’t have to become more like men in order to lead in the church. Neither do men have to become more like women. BUT, and her is the tension, women shouldn’t flaunt their femininity like the Corinthian women do. Neither should men flaunt their masculinity.

The call is always for unity, not uniformity. Embrace what makes you you, but don’t flaunt it. Remember that we need each other. Be who God created you to be, but don’t demand the spotlight. Men and women are codependent on each other, but God is the head (or source) of both.

So, uncovered hair for women and long hair for men – those were both social taboos for various reasons for the Corinthian Christians. Were women free to “let their hair down”? Yes! Were men free to grow their hair out? Yes! But what would be most beneficial for the Christian witness in their specific context? To become all things to all people so that by all means they might win some (1 Corinthians 9).

But don’t miss this key point — Paul instructs and assumes that women will be praying and prophesying in the public gathering of the Corinthian church. That was already happening, and Paul was totally cool with it.

Chapter 12 leads us into the discussion of Spiritual gifts. The church is the body of Christ, Paul says. The language Paul uses to describe the church like this is very similar to his words about the relationship between men and women in 11:11-12. We need each other. We don’t get to decide who gets what gift or who God calls to perform certain tasks for the sake of the kingdom. All Christians have equal access to all the gifts. If it were not so, Paul could have easily made that distinction. He could have said that only men have the spiritual gift of prophecy, leadership, etc. But he doesn’t. The whole point of the discussion is to cease the division and competition between members. To limit all women and deny their gifting is to be guilty of the exact sinful attitudes Paul is trying to correct.

The greatest gift of all, though, is love (1 Corinthians 13). What does love require of me? Does love require that I, a man, make sure the women in my life know their proper place? Is it loving to tell a woman using her Spirit-given gifts to “go home”? Is it the most loving thing I can do to take two verses out of the entire Bible and silence more than half the congregation?

This all leads us to the infamous 1 Corinthians 14. Chapters 10-14 are all about the public worship gathering. How do we do church together? As much as we would like to think so, there simply is no strict outline for what the worship assemblies of the early church looked like, nor are there exact instructions given to us like the Jews got in Leviticus. 1 Corinthians 14 is about the closest we get to that, and our worship gatherings look NOTHING like this. Ironic, isn’t it?

The first half of the chapter deals directly with speaking in tongues (or languages). I’ve never been in a worship service where anything like this has happened. Personally, I think the gift of tongues was given in order to spread the gospel message to as many people as possible. It was all about speaking other languages, not some mindless jabbering. So if someone was speaking another language, there should be an interpreter to avoid any confusion or bad teaching.

Paul goes on to tell them how to structure their gatherings a bit. Look at this:

When you come together, each of you has a hymn, or a word of instruction, a revelation, a tongue or an interpretation. Everything must be done so that the church may be built up.
(1 Corinthians 14:26)

Each of you. Are we to assume that suddenly Paul is only speaking to the men? It seems to me that anyone who wanted to participate, anyone who was so moved by the Spirit, could do so – as long as they weren’t interrupting or talking over each other.

But then…

Women should remain silent in the churches. They are not allowed to speak, but must be in submission, as the law says. If they want to inquire about something, they should ask their own husbands at home; for it is disgraceful for a woman to speak in the church.
(1 Corinthians 14:34-35)

Aha! There it is! No female preachers, class teachers, or communion servers. Period. End of discussion. Disregard everything I have said in my last 8 posts and 11,000 words.

Or maybe…

A little known fact about the Bible is that it wasn’t written in English. These letters were written in Greek. And in Greek, the word for woman and wife is the same word. The word for man and husband is the same word.

Here’s what was probably happening. These new Corinthian women converts were less educated than the men, especially Jewish men who had the privilege of attending Torah school since they were kids. If these wives had husbands who were preaching, they shouldn’t take it upon themselves to interrupt the whole assembly and call him out in front of everyone. If these women wanted to participate, then THEY SHOULD BE TAUGHT.

That’s the point that so many have failed to recognize. Paul says the women should be taught. They should ask their questions, and their husbands should help them learn and find answers. It’s not that Paul bans all women for all time from speaking up in church. Paul simply wants – for the sake of order – those who are more educated to be the ones doing the teaching. This already includes women (1 Corinthians 11). But there were certain women causing disruptions, leading to division and disunity. The solution is not to silence all women in all churches for all time, but to teach these women and answer their questions in the proper time and place.

Creation shows us that men and women were created as equals in the Image of God. The inequality and power imbalance was the result of sin, not God’s command. The rest of Scripture is showing us how God is rescuing us from the curse of the Fall. In the Old Testament, women were prophets, political leaders, worship leaders, and religious reformers. In the New Testament, women were deacons and disciples and apostles and coworkers. They were teachers, preachers, church planters, and evangelists. Men and women had equal access to every spiritual gift, and both should have equal opportunity to learn more and to grow in their knowledge of our Lord.

Paul is not saying that all women must remain silent and that they have no place up front leading the church. That would go against everything we see in the Bible, AND it would go against what he has already said himself. Paul, after all, was the one to name women as deacons and apostles and coworkers. It’s seems clear that Paul was not issuing a universal, eternal ban on female leadership in the church.

Unless we take that one verse out of context to say what we want it to say.