The Role of Women in the Congregation
Paul’s teaching regarding the treatment of women in the congregation, puts a question mark over his own degree of ‘new dispensation’ spirituality. One has to recognize his orthodox Jewish background to understand this. Typically to Jewish tradition in the worship services, he advises the new dispensation Messianic congregations: “Let the women learn in silence with all subjection” (I Tim. 2:11). The ladies clearly had no voice in the general discussion in this apostle’s meetings – they were just to accept what was told them. “Women are to remain quiet at meetings, since they have no permission to speak. They must keep in the background as the Law itself lays it down. If they have any questions to ask, they should ask their husbands at home – it does not seem right for a woman to raise her voice at meetings,” (1 Cor. 14:34).
If we are to follow Paul dogmatically, why not in this instruction also? His reference to it being part of “the Law” is totally incorrect – the Torah has no such directive. Jewish traditional custom, yes! Was “Law” simply a broad term with Paul?
In 1 Cor. 7:25-40, Paul embarks on a further contradictory advisory position regarding virginity and sexual practices of married couples. If it was not written by a once orthodox observant Jew (Paul), it would have been a perfect doctrinal essay for Catholic Celibacy – which makes one think: who really wrote this section of Scripture? Judaism advocates active reproduction of life, according to God’s Command in Gen. 1:28 “God blessed them saying: ‘Be fruitful, multiply, fill the earth and conquer it”. Paul prescribes non-marriage and even withholding of sexual relations within marriage. God saw that “it is not good that the man be alone, I will make him a help mate …” Gen. 2:18. So God created a female partner for Adam! Paul says it is better to stay single and not give your daughter away in marriage! He puts marriage as a good second, as a fatal alternative because of reigning immorality. In other words, “O.K. rather than immorality, if you cannot exercise self-control, then get married!” Sex between married partners is sin – is the loud and clear message of this section.
There surely should be no doubt in any one’s mind that this man’s writings have furnished a lot of male tyrants with what they have been told to be divine authority for keeping women in subjection. Many a bullheaded little self – styled demigod has taken advantage of the authority of these verses. One thing is certain, if the men of the apostolic day, generally, were anything like the men of today, the women had a very poor chance of learning anything of value concerning spiritual things!
Is this the spiritual Restoration which God had in mind for the new Dispensation faithful? Today, every congregational leader is aware of the fact that the most spiritual folks in their congregation are women. Were it not for the devotion of women, a great many congregations would have folded up a long time ago and congregational social and charity drives would not have existed!
Any criticism against Paul’s instruction regarding women’s subjection to their husbands in “everything” whatsoever (Eph. 5:24), would quickly be qualified by the Paulinists as applying to “spiritual” husbands only. It would be impossible for a woman married to an unconverted man to comply with this ruling – in fact, it would be unscriptural. If Paul is so infallible, why did he not qualify it and give some guidance to women in such a relationship?
It is clear, that Paul was not totally correct in his directives regarding women in the congregation. Could he then not have faltered in some other points of spiritual interpretation and guidance also?