by Jeffrey W. Hamilton
Some questions are difficult to answer, not because the Bible is unclear on a matter, but because there is a strong bias against the correct answer within the culture.
Today, we have no difficulty speaking against idolatry. Even non-Christians understand that worshiping an idol is a worthless effort, just as God said through the prophet Jeremiah, "Everyone is dull-hearted, without knowledge; Every metalsmith is put to shame by an image; For his molded image is falsehood, And there is no breath in them. They are futile, a work of errors; In the time of their punishment they shall perish" (Jeremiah 10:14-15). Yet, this acceptance that idols are lumps of non-living material has not always been accepted by society as a whole. In the days when the gospel was first taught the worship of idols in the form of Greek and Roman gods was the primary religion. When the apostles taught "We know that an idol is nothing in the world, and that there is no other God but one" as recorded in I Corinthians 8:4, it upset quite a number of people.
In the city of Ephesus, a silversmith realized that the teachings of Christ would have a dire impact on business since his main source of income was making miniature representations of the goddess Diana and her temple. The city of Ephesus was the home of a major temple to Diana and its existence had spawned many supporting industries. This silversmith, named Demetrius, called together the workers of similar occupations, and said, "'Men, you know that we have our prosperity by this trade. Moreover you see and hear that not only at Ephesus, but throughout almost all Asia, this Paul has persuaded and turned away many people, saying that they are not gods which are made with hands. So not only is this trade of ours in danger of falling into disrepute, but also the temple of the great goddess Diana may be despised and her magnificence destroyed, whom all Asia and the world worship.' Now when they heard this, they were full of wrath and cried out, saying, 'Great is Diana of the Ephesians!' So the whole city was filled with confusion" (Acts 19:25-29).
The truth that idols were nothing was not difficult to grasp. People understood quite clearly what the early Christians taught. What made the teaching difficult was that it went against the accepted cultural norm of the day.
While we would like to think that modern society is more sophisticated than these primitive societies, in truth we are no different. Ideas which match our preconceived notions are readily accepted, but ideas that go against the grain of society are harshly rejected. As Solomon noted, "That which has been is what will be, that which is done is what will be done, and there is nothing new under the sun" (Ecclesiastes 1:9).
Take, for example, the topic of homosexuality. It wasn't more than thirty years ago that homosexuality was generally accepted as immoral behavior. Sixty years ago it was rarely mentioned because everyone understood that it was wrong. Yet today the mere objection to it brings an outcry. We seem to be going down a path where reading some passages from the Bible will bring the threat of a lawsuit, such as Leviticus 20:13 which reads, "If a man lies with a male as he lies with a woman, both of them have committed an abomination. They shall surely be put to death. Their blood shall be upon them." "Abomination" by the way refers to something so disgusting that it makes a person nauseous. This is the way homosexuality was view sixty years ago and why it was rarely mentioned. Can you imagine this passage being seriously discussed in some denominations today? Yes, some would be disgusted, but it would be at the idea of anyone condemning two people who were so obviously in love with each other. Or consider the recent outcry against the statement that homosexuals can be converted out of their choice of sexual partners. We are told that homosexuality it genetic despite the lack of evidence. Yes, I know about the two studies that made the claim, but I also know the studies were discredited for being poorly done and for not being repeatable. But the Scriptures teach that a person can leave homosexuality, just as a person can leave any other sin behind. "Do you not know that the unrighteous will not inherit the kingdom of God? Do not be deceived. Neither fornicators, nor idolaters, nor adulterers, nor homosexuals, nor sodomites, nor thieves, nor covetous, nor drunkards, nor revilers, nor extortioners will inherit the kingdom of God. And such were some of you. But you were washed, but you were sanctified, but you were justified in the name of the Lord Jesus and by the Spirit of our God" (I Corinthians 6:9-11). Among the Corinthian brethren were former homosexuals. They had chosen the homosexual life in the past, but now they had changed.
Or, consider the question of the age of the earth. Most people agree that the simple, straightforward reading of the Scriptures indicates the Earth is several thousand years old, most likely about 6,000 years old. Yet simultaneously most people are convinced that science has proven that the world is billions of years old. And so many spend countless hours wrestling with the Scriptures to make it match what they know to be a fact. Few stop to question the facts. Yes, there are some evidence which can be interpreted as giving the appearance of a very old universe. But those interpretations are based on assumptions – assumptions such as the lack of supernatural events or that the worldwide flood of Noah' s day never happened. Facts are facts, but we are allowing the interpretation of facts to also considered as fact. Because of this, people, including science journals and other scholars, reject any interpretation of the evidence that contradicts the prevailing interpretation. Evidence that contradicts current belief has been destroyed – I know of one instance of this down in Texas. Evidence that points to a young Earth is ignored, and there are quite a number of them. Christians have to remember that "the world through its wisdom did not come to know God" (I Corinthians 1:21). So why do Christians try to bend the wisdom of God to match what the world has developed in its wisdom? Is it not because standing by the wisdom of God is unpopular in today's society? Since when has Christianity been a matter of popularity? As Paul once said, "For do I now persuade men, or God? Or do I seek to please men? For if I still pleased men, I would not be a bondservant of Christ" (Galatians 1:10).
Now that the foundation has been laid, I would like to address a question to which the Bible gives a straight forward answer, but the answer is rejected because society thinks the answer is wrong. The question is "May women be preachers?"
Many people in the world and among the denominations have not considered this question. It hasn't even entered their minds that such a thing is questionable. Of course there are many women who preach in the various denominations. About the only time it comes up is when someone reads a passage, such as I Timothy 2:11-12, "Let a woman learn in silence with all submission. And I do not permit a woman to teach or to have authority over a man, but to be in silence." Just reading that passage gets a lot of people riled. I remember during my college days a professor telling me that she liked Christianity, but she didn't like Paul's writings because he was a male chauvinist pig. I don't think she fully comprehended that Paul wrote about half the New Testament. If she did, she probably would have decided that she didn't like Christianity.
The typical response is that this was the prevailing attitude of that day and time, but it is no longer true. Paul's statements just reflected the culture of his day. To illustrate the danger of this argument, let us change the topic for a moment to lying. Lying is accepted in our society today. In fact, we are told that in certain jobs, such as politicians, it is a requirement of the job to lie at times. Can we then argue that Paul's statements against lying simply reflect the culture of his day and do not apply to our culture since we accept lying in our culture? Take any topic you desire and before you know it, the Bible is no longer the source of Truth but an time-limited opinion of truth. Of course, this is the attitude many have toward the Bible.
The reality, though, is that the Bible is not a document meant to be changed by mankind as they see the need. The Bible is God's covenant with man. Covenants are similar to modern-day contracts. There are terms and conditions which must be met and those term must be fixed else the contract would be impossible to fulfill. The Bible is God's commandments to man. If man accepts the orders of God, there are promises of reward. If man rejects God's rule over his life, there are promises of punishment. Jesus stated, "Heaven and earth will pass away, but My words will by no means pass away" (Luke 21:33). Our Lord's orders are permanent, more permanent than this universe. And it is upon these words which our lives will be judged. "He who rejects Me, and does not receive My words, has that which judges him--the word that I have spoken will judge him in the last day" (John 12:48). Right and wrong is not based on societal opinion but on the unchanging teachings of God.
The commands of Jesus were what the apostles then taught the early church and recorded for us in our Bibles. "And Jesus came and spoke to them, saying, 'All authority has been given to Me in heaven and on earth. Go therefore and make disciples of all the nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit, teaching them to observe all things that I have commanded you'" (Matthew 28:18-20). This is why Paul was so adamant that his teaching must not be changed. Paul wasn't teaching his opinion or the cultural norm of his day; he was passing on the words of Jesus as given to him by the Holy Spirit. "I marvel that you are turning away so soon from Him who called you in the grace of Christ, to a different gospel, which is not another; but there are some who trouble you and want to pervert the gospel of Christ. But even if we, or an angel from heaven, preach any other gospel to you than what we have preached to you, let him be accursed" (Galatians 1:6-8).
Now consider Paul's instructions concerning the conduct of worship in the church. "Let your women keep silent in the churches, for they are not permitted to speak; but they are to be submissive, as the law also says. And if they want to learn something, let them ask their own husbands at home; for it is shameful for women to speak in church. Or did the word of God come originally from you? Or was it you only that it reached? If anyone thinks himself to be a prophet or spiritual, let him acknowledge that the things which I write to you are the commandments of the Lord" (I Corinthians 14:34-37). The word of God was not a message directed only the Corinthians. It was not limited to their day or to their culture. It was not up to them to decide what they would or would not follow. When Paul told them that women were to keep silent in the churches and that in the churches they were not permitted to speak, he challenged the prophets among them to check with God because then they would "acknowledge that the things which I write to you are the commandments of the Lord."
If women were to keep silent in the churches (not just the Corinthian church, but in all churches), how then could a woman preach the word of God in the assembly of the church? The simple answer is that it cannot be done. Paul's statement is that they could not even question what was done in the service while those services were being conducted. "And if they want to learn something, let them ask their own husbands at home; for it is shameful for women to speak in church." In giving this command from God, Paul left absolutely no wiggle room. It is direct. It is clear. And it is very, very blunt.
We mentioned earlier, another statement of Paul' s that is found in I Timothy 2:11-12, "Let a woman learn in silence with all submission. And I do not permit a woman to teach or to have authority over a man, but to be in silence." Once again, the rule is bluntly presented in a clear fashion. The Greek word that is translated "silence" in this passage is not the same as the one in I Corinthians 14. The one in I Corinthians 14 means complete silence or no talking. The word in I Timothy 2 means quietness or non-assertiveness. The key point is that a woman is not to be in a position of authority over a man, such as in the teaching of God' s word. Here the command is not limited to the church's worship service as it was in I Corinthians 14. It is a general rule for the conduct of life; just as the rule for modest dress, which immediately proceeds this command, doesn't apply only to the dress of a woman in church services.
Paul presents supporting evidence for his command. "For Adam was formed first, then Eve. And Adam was not deceived, but the woman being deceived, fell into transgression." (I Timothy 2:13-14). Those who claim that Paul' s teaching was based on the current cultural norm run into a severe snag because Paul doesn't appeal to his current culture, but to the very beginning of mankind. God's law, relayed by Paul, has nothing to do with whether men are better than women. God gave this law for two reasons.
First, it continues the ancient rule of birth order. The firstborn in a household became the head of the house when the father died. Since Adam was created first, men have been made responsible for the teaching of God's word. This is not to say that a woman cannot teach at all, but it does mean that the responsibility for the accuracy of what is taught is given to men and men will be held accountable. Whether a man wants the responsibility or not, it is a man' s duty because God made man first.
Second, the command was given by God because Eve was deceived by the serpent. In other words, God is saying that it is a consequence of Eve's sin. Just as discomfort in pregnancy and pain in childbirth was a consequence, so God declared that women learn God's word in quietness and not to exercise authority over a man when teaching. Could a woman preach without exercising authority over a man? Not hardly. The preacher, Titus, was told, "Speak these things, exhort, and rebuke with all authority. Let no one despise you" (Titus 2:15). It is the nature of the job of a preacher to exercise authority when teaching. A woman cannot fulfill this command to preachers without violating the command God gave to women.
To many people in our society, male-only preachers is discrimination against women. However, think for a moment about other roles assigned by God to a select group of people. In the Old Testament, priests could only come from the tribe of Levi. "Now behold, I Myself have taken the Levites from among the children of Israel instead of every firstborn who opens the womb among the children of Israel. Therefore the Levites shall be Mine" (Numbers 3:12). Did this mean that Levites were better people than those from the other tribes? It would be foolish to think so. Many commentators see this selection as a reward for the tribes backing of Moses during the rebellion with the golden calf. So then, what about later generations? They weren't the ones who stood with Moses, why couldn't members of other tribes serve in the temple? The thought did cross the minds of some. King Uzziah, in his pride, decided to burn incense before God. "So Azariah the priest went in after him, and with him were eighty priests of the LORD-valiant men. And they withstood King Uzziah, and said to him, It is not for you, Uzziah, to burn incense to the LORD, but for the priests, the sons of Aaron, who are consecrated to burn incense. Get out of the sanctuary, for you have trespassed! You shall have no honor from the LORD God. Then Uzziah became furious; and he had a censer in his hand to burn incense. And while he was angry with the priests, leprosy broke out on his forehead, before the priests in the house of the LORD, beside the incense altar. And Azariah the chief priest and all the priests looked at him, and there, on his forehead, he was leprous; so they thrust him out of that place. Indeed he also hurried to get out, because the LORD had struck him" (II Chronicles 26:17-20). God had His reasons for selecting one tribe and it wasn't up to man to change the rule.
The very idea that there are duties assigned to men that are forbidden to women grates against the ears of today's society. Hence, we have people rejecting Paul's message because he was unmarried. They declare that he is self-serving, sexist, bigoted, and a woman-hater. All such charges are untrue. It was Paul who also wrote, "There is neither Jew nor Greek, there is neither slave nor free, there is neither male nor female; for you are all one in Christ Jesus" (Galatians 3:28). But you know that statement did not stop men from being men, women from being women, freemen from being free, slaves from being slaves, Jews from being Jews, or Gentiles from being Gentiles. The reality is that Paul didn't have an option in what he taught or wrote. "But I make known to you, brethren, that the gospel which was preached by me is not according to man. For I neither received it from man, nor was I taught it, but it came through the revelation of Jesus Christ" (Galatians 1:11-12). The disallowance of women preachers is not Paul's opinion, it is the command of God.