When studying Scripture about a certain topic, I think the best and most helpful approach is to study it from beginning to end, from Genesis to Revelation. The Bible is one cohesive story with a lot of twists and turns along the way. It was written by approximately 40 different authors across three different continents spanning multiple Empires and about 2,000 years of human history.
We must recognize the diversity of thought going into the writings of Scripture. Moses and Solomon and Daniel and Paul are all writing from VERY different times, places, and circumstances. Is there disagreement in the Bible? Yep. And I’m comfortable with that. The Bible is not so much a source for answers about God as it is a debate stage about God. That’s why God can seem very different from the Law, the Psalms, the Prophets, and the Gospels.
The amazing thing, though, is that even through the diversity and arguments, we can see themes and principles developing throughout the story from beginning to end.
Take baptism for instance. Water is there in the opening lines of the Bible. Water represents chaos, evil, and death. But we see God bringing life out of the water. Creation rises from the chaos of water. In Exodus there is deliverance from the Egyptians through the waters of the Red Sea. In Joshua the Israelites enter the promised land through the waters of the Jordan River. Passing through the waters from chaos into freedom and new life is a major theme for the story of Israel, and that’s the story at the beginning of Jesus’ ministry. The book of Revelation looks ahead to a time when there would no longer be any “sea.” Chaos and evil and death have been done away with. There is only new life, new creation.
We can do this same exercise with blood and grace and the Trinity and the Kingdom of Heaven. The creative team behind The Bible Project on YouTube does and amazing job with their videos showing how major themes are developed throughout the course of Scripture. Definitely check them out.
Here’s the point in all of this. When it comes to foundational truths of our faith, we cannot simply latch onto one or two verses. That would be like judging a song based on four notes in the bridge rather than the song as a whole.
But that’s exactly what we do when it comes to our understanding of women in the church. We disregard the rest of Scripture and focus in on five sentences from Paul’s letters and say that women cannot have a voice in the public worship assembly of the church – ever. Period. Case closed.
I usually wouldn’t do this, but here’s a thought experiment. If I were to disregard Acts 2:38 and 1 Peter 3:21, I could still use the bulk of Scripture to make a case for the sacrament of baptism. If I were to ignore 1 Corinthians 11:23-26, I could still make a case for the sacrament of communion. If I were to disregard Ephesians 5:19 and Colossians 3:16, I could still make the case for congregational singing in worship.
Are you with me? Do you see where I’m going with this?
If I were to disregard 1 Corinthians 14:34-35 and 1 Timothy 2:11-12, I could NOT make the case for prohibiting women from serving and leading in the church. The issue is not brought up anywhere else. It’s an entire prohibition based on five sentences while purposefully disregarding the rest of Scripture.
We have two options when it comes to these five sentences.
1) Either Paul contradicts himself and the rest of the Bible in the worst way, or
2) we have been misunderstanding or misapplying what Paul was saying.
So let me be clear. The BIBLE does not say that women are to be silent and submissive to men in every church for all time. PAUL instructs certain women in certain churches who are causing certain problems to be quiet and submissive so that they can learn and become educated so that they can then contribute in a way that encourages and builds up the church.
I am not going to go back and trace the theme of male and female equality throughout Scripture. I’ve already done that in about 20,000 words worth of posts. Please go back and read those if you are so inclined.
If we are going to be faithful workers who “rightly handle the word of God,” then we must handle the WHOLE word of God. Paul’s instructions in those two passages are beneficial and have their place. But they must be viewed and studied within the larger framework of the Bible and the story we are all a part of.