Today, on the frontlines of the Coronavirus, are many medical personal, both men and women. I suspect however that the vast majority of the nurses are female, risking their lives in the physical realm for others. Yet, often the only thing we hear about women is what they are not allowed to do in the spiritual realm of the Christian church. Of course, this is based on 1 Timothy 2:12 where the Apostle Paul says, “I do not permit a woman to teach or to exercise authority over a man; rather, she is to remain quiet.” The word “Teach” here comes from the Greek Word “Didache.” The actual word in the context is “διδάσκειν” which is a verb in the present infinitive active tense. This reference to teaching then is a reference to the public teaching of the official and orthodox teachings of Christianity. This verse by Paul, taken in isolation by itself alone, has often been misunderstood and mis-interpreted; sometimes legalistically. Part of what can help us is to better understand it is to look at Bible stories, church history, and the writings of Luther.
- In the 1985 Commission on Theology and Church Relationships (CTCR) pamphlet “Women in the Church” the LCMS authors of this official publication remind us of the service of women in the Old Testament (OT). They remind us that Ruth and Ester were each the subject entire books of the Bible, which were named after them. In the case of Ester, she pleaded with her husband the King for, and secured from him, the protection lives of the entire nation of Israel held captive in Babylon. In the case of Ruth, she became part of the family tree from whom Jesus descended.
2. The CTCR here also reminds us of the three prophetesses in the Old Testament whom spoke for God. First was Miriam, the sister of Moses (ex. 15:21-22), who sang public praise to God for the escape of the Israelites from Egypt. She was one through whom God spoke (Num. 12:1-2) and is referred to as leader on par with Moses and Aaron (Mic. 6:3-4). Then there was Deborah who was called a judge in Israel (Judges 4:4) and later exercised decisive leadership by calling forth the men to fight for freedom. The General of troops said that he would only fight if Deborah led the way whereupon she gave the command to attack and the victory was won. Finally, there was the prophetess Huldah (2 Kings 22:14) who told Josiah, the King of Judah, what the book of the Law of God meant. Clearly, women were not barred from leadership when the circumstances required it.
When the Bible speaks of OT worship it also mentions women such as Hannah who approached the sanctuary (1 Samuel 1), ministered at the door to the tent of meeting, and this did play some part in worship. Women also participated in the choirs and temple processionals.
3. During the ministry of Jesus, He had many intentional and positive interactions with women to include the Samaritan Woman at the well (John 4:7-30), the Canaanite women who sought healing for her demon processed daughter (15:21-27), and the woman who suffered from an issue of blood and was healed by Jesus (Mark 5:25-34). These women are known in the NT for their powerful testimonies about Jesus. Jesus was also ministered to by women (Luke 8:1-3, Mark 15:40-41) during His ministry. Women accompanied Jesus to the site of his crucifixion-when the men had abandoned Him-and were the first at the empty tomb.
- In the New Testament Apostolic church women were present in the upper room on Pentecost (Acts 1:14). They functioned also as prophets of a sort (Acts 21:9, 1 Corinthians 1:5). In Acts 18:24-28 Priscilla is engaged with her husband, Aquila, in teaching the great orator Apollo. Priscilla must have been, therefore, well educated in the teachings of the Christian faith and a most capable instructor.
- Luther on Women: Genesis 2:23; in a marriage, everything the husband has belongs also to his wife. They not only share their property but also their money, food and drink, marital bed, and their home. In addition to all of this they are to be of one spirit and mind. The only true difference between a husband and his wife is their physical anatomy. They are otherwise the same. Consequently, the wife also owns whatever belongs to the husband. In comparison with the first marriage (of Adam and Eve) our marriages today are poor copies of the original design. If a married woman is moral, honorable, dedicated and loyal, and one who fears God, she with her husband will equally share the concerns, obligations, and responsibilities of their household. This is why God created her and why she was named woman. Even though our wives today don’t come from the actual flesh of their husbands, like Eve did, they are still a head of the household the same as their husband, because they are our wives. The law which was given after the fall into sin, and which places wives under their husbands, is not invalidated by this headship. Like other punishments, this one doesn’t cloud the glorious life humans enjoyed originally in Eden. This Bible verse reminds us that Moses was describing the innocence and purity that humans enjoyed in Eden before the fall, and he wasn’t describing the miserable lives experienced at times today in marriages of sinful people. In Eden a husband and wife’s authority was equal. Now, we as men, are obligated to work by the sweat of our brows, and wives are obligated to submit to their husband’s authority. Nevertheless, we still see a remainder of God’s original design in marriage because wives are named Woman and because they own possessions and property together with their husbands.
Because Luther went to the Word of God as his standard, he was able even in the 1500’s to understand clearly God’s creation of women, and their role in society and the home. He valued them and their service. After all, his wife was a former nun. Of course, all of this begs the question, “How is Christianity today doing at embracing and encouraging our women to serve God in Scripturally appropriate manners?” And, “What exactly are the appropriate expressions of their gifts in service to the church and the Gospel, without violating the prescriptions of 1 Timothy 2:12?”