Discernment Or Silence Regarding Women In Worship?

Context or "Ballpark" Scriptures (3.9.15)

"But every women who prays or prophesies with her head uncovered [without permission of husband and pastor] dishonors her head..." 1Corinthians11,5 

In other words, women in Corinth, at some point, were fully welcome to pray and prophesy, the latter arguably being the highest public service possible.

"The word of the Lord is living and active, sharper than a two-edged sword, piercing the soul and spirit, and of joints and marrow, and is a discerner of the thoughts and intents of the heart. " Hebrews 4,12

"I desire therefore that men pray everywhere [Luke Timothy Johnson "in every place"], lifting up holy hands, without wrath and doubting."  1Timothy2,8.

This phrase "pray everywhere" is curious unless women have been assembling without the benefit of men in Ephesus, in separate assemblies (cf Luke Timothy Johnson, The Anchor Bible, 2,8, Doubleday, 2001, p.198. Johnson doesn't come right out and state this, but he does assess this verse as indicating multiple assemblies, and this verse makes plain that men have to be there).

So the issue could be women in the still thriving and loud and proud local female priesthood tradition of the Amazon Artemis, a virginal huntress goddess, became Christians, and then expected to exercise similar leadership in congregations without any men at all.

The Artemis priestesses didn't need any men. Her priesthood consisted primarily of upper class Ephesian virgins and lasted at least several hundred years. It was was administrated at first by a Persian eunich ("Megabyxos"). This cult was so lucrative and dominant in Ephesus that history shows that by 44AD local male priest devotees of Artemis joined in. (Jan N. Bremmer, "Priestly Personelle of the Ephesian Artemesion: Anatolian, Persian, Greek and Roman Aspects." 2008, p. 14).

So at the time of 1-2 Timothy Ephesus was clearly a religious environment that exalted goddesses and women outside the context of the Judeo Christian God, outside of Christian marriage and family, and outside the norms of the Apostolic and pastoral governance of the Christian church.   

"Let a women 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." 1Timothy 2,11-12

More Background on Ephesus And Women In Public Worship

The battle to prevent the failure of the Christian church at Ephesus in some sense defines the lives of both the Apostle Paul and his faith son Timothy. This explains Paul's severe and serious tone, but it serves to consider that Paul is addressing Ephesus in particular. At 1Corinthians11,5 he had no intent whatsoever to silence women.

Paul stated that he "fought with beasts at Ephesus" (1Corinthians15,32). He wasn't kidding. John the Revelator addressed Ephesus as the first of the seven churches in Asia Minor (Revelation 2). Furthermore, this church was the worthy subject of another letter, a master spiritual treatise, "the letter to the Ephesians."

Ephesus was the third largest city in the Greco Roman world, and the gateway for the gospel in Asia, and the base for all the churches of Asia Minor, and the Roman provincial capital since 29 AD. It was "beastly" because of the fierce opposition of the local patroness-goddess cult of  "Artemis." The Romans knew her as "Diana."

By 1000 BC, as "Cybele", she had a primitive shrine before the Greeks even got to Asia Minor. Since 600 BC she, as "Artemis", had a temple- with bigger dimensions than a professional soccer field- dedicated to her. When it burned down in 356 BC, it was built again, one of the "Seven Wonders of the World." Paul and his fellow Christian Jews knew her as "Asherah" back in Canaan. Scholars tell us that in 263 AD the Goths destroyed this temple, and yet as late as 500 AD the battle between Christianity and Artemis was still on in that they found a Christian inscription rejoicing that the cross had replaced her idol (background: Harper Collins Bible Dictionary, Paul Achtmeier, Editor, 1997, p. 73. The Romans imported Cybele as their "Magna Mater" after a Sybilline book in 218 BC recommended her patronage in the second "Punic" war against Carthage, Wikipaedia, "Cybele"). 

Anyway, in the Apostolic days the Ephesus "Chamber of Commerce" was very zealous in protecting the local silversmiths who sold little cash cow idols of her. So since Paul wouldn't stop preaching his Jewish Christian monotheism, and their trade sufferred, they rioted and started to round up Christians (Acts 19,33ff).

So Ephesian Christianity was a mix of tumult within and riots without. It likely stood fourth in terms of numbers, after the cult of Artemis, after the many male and female Greek gods and their temples, and after the flegdling Roman Imperial cult.

It also had with what we moderns call "gender" issues, in that perhaps some church women were steeped in this dominant native cult, and the then existing more "liberated" Greek culture, and the higher status of some rich women in the ruling cultural and religious tradition of Artemis.

This supremely strategic church in Ephesus is overseen by a young and wimpy second generation apostle, Timothy, who also might fail, after Paul had burned his bridges. This city and its church severely tried the patience of both the Apostle Paul and John the Revelator according to 1-3 John.

Are some of you thinking "all this context too speculative for the study of scripture?"

I don't think so. Only by attempting to understand the local gender-religious, and the scriptural, and the apostolic contexts can Paul's silencing  women in Ephesus be explained, discerned, followed, and perhaps localized.

What Was Going On With The Ephesian Church Women?

Some of the Ephesian church women were too blinged out, too sexy for themselves (v.9)  and for public worship. And besides, with a newcomer's enthusiastic unawarenesss for protocol, some apparently disrupted services by asking questions out loud, 1Timothy 2,11.

And then some others, perhaps disrupted public worship by [estatic?] prophesying or teaching, as scheduled by Timothy or spontaneously, 1Timothy 2,12.

Or, Timothy gave them teaching authority. 

It is interesting that Paul takes pains to say here at v. 12 "I do not permit women to teach." This suggests Timothy gave them authority. Or,  perhaps they usurped this in that the lead pastor role was vacant (1Timothy3,1). Whatever the nature of their vocal participation, they were likely silenced by Paul not  necessarily for the fact that they were women (although Paul could have said that, but because what they said was uninspired and invalid (1Timothy4,7, "old wives tales" and 1Timothy4,1-3, forbidding marriage). And they wouldn't back off, and then started to meet without men, 1Timothy2,8. This left Timothy in over his head.

This is the more likely scenario than Paul turned grumpy, or didn't value the gospel contribution of women. He sure liked Prisca, and Lydia, and many others, who were clearly valued leaders-evangelists: "There is neither Jew or Greek, there is neither slave or free, there is neither male or female..." Galatians3,28

But here in Ephesus Paul had to step in.

If what the women were preaching was kosher, or evangelistic, ie under male authority, would Paul ever have pulled rank on Timothy? (1Corinthians11,5)

Moreover, some other Ephesus folks- we don't know if this was gender-based- were heeding "seducing" spirits ("old wives tales" 1Timothy4,7) that forbad marriage and meat eating (1Timothy 4,1-3). Perhaps, this was a group swearing off marriage, like Artemis' priestesses, and per 1Timothy2,8 were content to worship without men, and were teaching these doctrines with a claimed or apparent teaching authority of their own.

Given all these deep-seated difficult situations in Ephesus, 1Timothy 2,15 decrees that women will be saved by child-bearing, faith and self-control within marriage.

(There was also the pressing issue concerning the Christian protective order of widows who lived on the church debit card. There were too many young and restless ones (1Timothy 5,3ff), and thus Paul had to limit this group to those under 60 years old. Some apparently were doing a door to door evangelism type of thing, "speaking things which they ought not." 1Timothy 5,13 This likely either means they were spreading the teaching of the erring sisters, about marriage and foods, or just spreading ordinary church gossip.)

Is This Silencing in Ephesus A Ruling For All The Church Now?

Given this tumultuous context, wherein the present and future stability of Christianity in Ephesus is under real threat from the ruling principality of Artemis, over one thousand years old (cf Ephesians 6,12), the silencing, upon the scriptural discernment of this Christian, appears more likely a local issue than a springboard for universal church practice thereafter.

It also helps to state clearly that the pastoral teaching gift, prohibited to women by Paul at 1Timothy2,12, is distinct from the evangelist gift per Ephesians 4,11 in that an evangelist doesn't necessarily have teaching authority over anybody, only the local elders-lead pastor has that.

But no one can dispute that women were the first Christian evangelists- those at the empty tomb, the first to see Jesus risen. Is it strange that they might bring this gospel into the various assemblies of the Christian church after that? 

And what about Miriam, Deborah, Sarah, Mary, all prophesying and magnifying the Lord?

Yes up until the late 19th century and the beginings of the Pentecostal movement  the culture and the church both read 1Timothy2,8-15 as a slam dunk against even women praying and prophesying in all churches, even if as allowed under the biblical cover of a husband and pastor per 1Corinthians11,5.

But it now appears to many bible-believing Christians that the Holy Ghost and the living word of God are still speaking in this regard. If a woman can pray and prophesy in a public assembly, the latter gift higher than that of evangelizing, under the cover of her husband and pastor, might not she not also be able to evangelize under that same cover? 

Isn't she already doing that for other women and children in almost every evangelical church?   

This calls for fresh discernment and perhaps fresh teaching across the body of Christ, especially when we also see pastors regularly inviting wives and kinfolk to preach in public, but not someone who is unconnected to their family?

Discernment Or Silence?

As biblical Christians we live by faith, and are governed by the revealed word, properly studied, taught, and discerned, "living and active," and the Spirit, properly and fully discerned. We also test spirits to see which come from God.

Our modern situation is different and a bit better than the Ephesus of 1Timothy in that women in our present day, bible-based women anyway, are not seriously wanting to do church without men willing and gifted with pastoral and Apostolic leadership.

So our discernent might not be as difficult or contentious as we might think.

But we are still left with a choice: are we willing to discern afresh the revealed word and what the Spirit is now saying as to the public voice of faithful women in our Lord's church?

So we ask you Lord Jesus to guide your elders and pastors and apostles and prophets, and all your faithful in this discernment, that we would all be faithful to You, Your word, and your saving gospel, in Jesus name I pray. 






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Tobin Hitt is the founder of the Zion Pentecost Mission. He is open to gospel partnership with all, and identifies with Paul's description of our mission as ambassadors for our king, Jesus, urging all to reconcile with God (2Cor.20-21). He resides in Cheshire, Connecticut.