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  • Mariah Martin


1 Corinthians 14:31-40 and 1 Timothy 2:11, 12

When trying to figure out what to preach this Sunday, I asked my dad if he had any suggestions, and he jokingly offered that I preach on the verses in the Bible that talk about women being silent in church. I laughed and was like, no really, what should I preach on?

It was a joke, but after considering other texts, I couldn’t get Dad’s idea out of my head. Why not? Why not preach on the Bible verses that have prevented countless women from doing exactly what I am doing right now? I have always been one to take on a challenge, especially when it comes to diving into tricky Bible stories.

So, because I am possibly insane, I decided to take Dad’s suggestion seriously.

1 Corinthians 14 and 1 Timothy 2 seem clear. Women are not to speak in church.

Women are not to teach a man, but learn in quiet submission.

So how can I, with any integrity, stand in front of you all right now? How can you, as a Bible loving congregation—a congregation that generally treats the Bible as authoritative in your lives—how can you be ok with having a woman behind the pulpit?

When I went to Hesston College, my calling to ministry was fresh, new. I enrolled in the Bible and Ministry major, excited and ready to learn all I could about the Bible and pastoral leadership.

During my first week at Hesston, one of my peers came up to me and asked,

“You are in Bible and Ministry, right? How to you reconcile your major

with the Bible verses that prohibit women from speaking in church?”

I was totally taken off guard. I started sputtering things about the new covenant in Jesus, thinking that he was referring to a law in the Old Testament. I had no idea passages telling women to be silent in church even existed.

I also had never heard 1 Peter 3, 1 Ephesians 5, or Colossians 3, passages that tell women to submit themselves to their husbands, for husbands are the head of the household.

In some ways I am glad no one from my family or congregation tried to discourage my call to ministry. At the same time, I was completely unprepared for anyone to use the Bible against my calling.

I was embarrassed at my ignorance and I was left feeling confused at the dissonance between the certainty of the call I felt within me and the realization that maybe this call was unbiblical. Did God not want me to be a pastor? Am I being unfaithful?

So, I called my dad and he gave me a short explanation for how he interprets those passages, then he told me to go and talk to Michelle Hershberger, my Bible professor at Hesston College.

She told me about her painful history in a church where it was the women who were uncomfortable with having a female pastor. Ironically they were the ones speaking out in church, saying that Michelle’s leadership was unbiblical.

She also taught me a bit about the context of the scriptures. Feeling somewhat reassured I went on and continued my studies. I trusted the feeling, the tug inside of me.

But, you can bet that I wasn’t ready to leave those passages alone. At Goshen College, and in seminary at AMBS, I continued to do research, writing posts and papers about these passages. I wanted to figure out the “right” interpretation.

And I still do.

I want to stand in front of you, deliver this epic speech that deconstructs the passage, revealing the empowering underbelly, revealing the Truth that lies within the ink. However it is not that simple. There is no one interpretation that settles all the rest. Every person who tries to research and write about these passages comes out with a different angle. It becomes a game of emphasis. Which sentence, which word, what context do you raise to the top as the most important, revealing element? It seems that the deeper you go into the biblical scholarship, the more complicated and technical it gets.

I could stand up here and tell you what I think. I could teach you about the Corinthian and Ephesian context that surrounds 1 Corinthians and 1 Timothy. But I am not sure what good that would do.

Would an intelligent, well researched, logical argument about how I reconcile these passages with my own calling make a difference in how you view these passages? It might, it might not.

We can’t always help the beliefs we have grown up with. Our parents, our friends, our surroundings, which news channels we watch, our surroundings in general, all impact how we view life and how we view the Bible. We all might have different understandings of what the Bible is, and how it impacts our life.

Therefore I think that if we are going to get our hands dirty with these passages we need to back up and examine different questions about the authority of the Bible first.

We need to ask ourselves, what role does the Bible play in my life?

What influence does it have over my actions and beliefs?

What does biblical “authority” or “inspiration” mean?

How does the original cultural/historical context make a difference in how you understand the words you read?

If we are to call ourselves Christian, if the Bible plays a significant role in our lives, then we must explore these questions. Otherwise we will stumble through our lives, we will accept without question what we hear from the pulpit, or from society.

We can’t always help the beliefs we have grown up in, or our context, but we do have the responsibility now to examine our beliefs critically.

My job is not to stand up here and convince you of what you should believe.

My job is to help you think.

My job is not to provide the right answers, it is to ask helpful questions.

My job is to encourage you to ask questions.

My job is to help you examine your own beliefs.

Why do you believe what you believe?

If we don’t ask these questions then we won’t take responsibility for the ways our thoughts about the Bible affect our actions.

What are the real-world consequences that result from our beliefs about the Bible?

Ok, lets put these questions into a real-life situation.

I read an article about women in Zimbabwe and the epidemic HIV/AIDs crisis.

Passages in the Bible, including the passages you heard this morning are being used to ‘put women in their place’.

What does that look like? It means that the Bible is used to: “Encourage women, especially married ones, to submit themselves even in abusive and death-trapping relationships or marriages.”[1]

What does this abuse look like? I won’t read the sickening details, but the Zimbabwean Musasa Project identified four main categories of abuse suffered by Zimbabwean women:

1. physical violence, 2) sexual abuse 3) psychological abuse and 4) economic abuse.

These categories of abuse have characterized most marriages and relationships in Zimbabwe, and in most cases women are at the receiving end. Further, women are always blamed if a couple is infected by HIV or AIDS. Sometimes women will endure abuse to “gain financial security and social respect.” Women are, “forced by circumstances to plead with (their husbands) for resumption of unprotected sex, even if (they know) that (their) husband is promiscuous and in some cases HIV positive.”

Bible verses like the ones read today are used to make many women remain silent about their situation and abusive circumstances and thus not to seek counseling or treatment.

“In cases where they do seek counselling from religious leaders like pastors, priests, elders and deacons (most of whom are men), [Bible] texts are cited to make women appreciate and acknowledge that their situation will either improve or is God-given or predestined.”

The women who stay silent and endure abuse are rewarded by being: “regarded as ‘cultured and virtuous women.’” A woman who stands her ground against abuse is stereotyped as: ‘bigheaded, irreligious, malicious, uncultured and indecent.’”

If you are comforting yourself right now by telling yourself that this horrible situation is in Africa, it is culturally bound, and doesn’t happen here in the U.S., that is simply not the case.

It happens here, all the time. Rachel Held Evans spoke in her book, Inspired about comforting a woman who stayed in an abusive relationship because she was trying to be faithful.

I just talked to someone in our community who endured and witnessed horrible sexual harassment while participating in a Mennonite-lead organization. This included unwanted touch and demeaning pet names. At one point she found another girl crying and when she asked why she was crying, the girl told her about frightening interactions she had with the same man. The girl, through tears, asked, “Is this normal?”

When this person went to report the man’s behavior, she was told to “let the past be the past” and to “let it go.” The man got a stern talking to but could stay. The girls were forced to continue working with him. This same man refused to go to church with the group because they were attending a church with a female pastor.

There are countless other stories just like this. Here in the land of the free. Here in our community. So, what if Paul did actually say and mean the words written

in 1 Corinthians 14 and 1 Timothy 2?

Say he meant this as a universal law for all time. Say he really was promoting women to be treated as second class citizens. He was, after all, influenced by the philosophy of Aristotle, who believed that it was a scientific conclusion that women are inferior.

In fact he believed that “women are a ‘deformed male.’” Aristotle believed that the rational soul came from the man, that the physical part, the body (which was believed to be more Earthy and therefore impure and polluted) came from the female.

“The goal of each human seed is therefore to become a male, and the birth of a girl is due to unfortunate circumstances, like cold weather or drinking cold water before intercourse.”[2]

This was the philosophical climate that Paul lived in.

So say he believed this about women, does that mean that—because his words are Scripture, then the abuse women have endured as a result is justified?

This is not an easy thought, not an easy conversation to have. But this is just a glimpse of the ways in which the Bible is used to harm rather than to heal.

We cannot ignore this and still call ourselves Bible believing, faithful Christians.

Our interpretations of scripture have consequences. We might believe that our faith convictions are personal, between us and God, but our beliefs create a blueprint for our actions. Our actions affect others and can have a helpful and healthy impact, or they can be harmful and result in even deadly consequences.

We need to start asking questions when the Bible is used as a weapon, when it is used as duct tape, silencing voices that speak truth to power.

Listen to a portion of one of the articles I read, which was titled “Putting Women in Their Place”:

"Not all women in Paul’s day were intellectually impoverished or hopelessly contaminated by pagan practices, yet Paul seems to prohibit all women from teaching in Ephesus. The limitations thus placed temporarily on genuinely gifted women are less harmful to the congregation than the confusion fostered by the existence of women leaders in this gnostic context would be. (One can see definite application to our own day, in which all too many women have brought the angry, divisive cultural baggage of radical feminism into their justifiable quest for a share of Church leadership. Perhaps, ironically, periods of feminist ideology are the times in which the Church does need to consider temporary limitations on women in leadership.)"[3]

What is this man saying here? It’s wordy, I know. He is saying that even at the expense of women being silenced, Paul was justified in his words. Further, because I am “angry” at the ways in which women have been harmed by the Bible, I too should be silenced, my leadership limited—even if I am “genuinely gifted”.

However, this man does not get to decide if I am silent or not. He does not get to decide if you are silenced or not.

Luckily this person was not there to silence Esther, who is celebrated in the Bible for speaking up when she wasn’t supposed to, willing to speak out and save her people, even if it resulted in her death.

Luckily this person wasn’t there to silence the Canaanite woman who taught Jesus and the Disciples that their mission was for more than just the sons of Israel. The very woman who Jesus praised for her faithfulness.

This man was not able to silence the little servant girl in 2 Kings who spoke up when it mattered, helping heal Naaman from his leprosy.

What if Miriam hadn’t said anything to help the Egyptian women with her brother Moses? What if she was hushed when she tried to sing her praises to her Lord who set her people free?

What if Mary, the mother of Jesus, was silenced unable to say yes to the call God placed in her life? What if she was told her voice was inappropriate, too loud, too angry? Then we wouldn’t have the Magnificat, some of the most powerful, evocative, and prophetic words that I have ever heard.

What if Jesus hadn’t listened to the woman at the well and she didn’t run back to her town evangelizing, telling others of the good news she witnessed with Jesus?

In fact, if the women who witnessed the empty tomb were silenced, we may not have the gospel at all. Empty tombs can’t speak for themselves. The resurrected Jesus chose women to proclaim what had been done for all of humanity.

The Bible is brimming with women who went out of their way to speak their truth,

no matter the cost. Because of their bold voices and bravery, we can humbly graft ourselves into a fearless line of women whose hearts would burst if they didn’t shout from the rooftops all that God is doing, all the ways God is making things new.

The Bible burst with women proclaiming that they believe in a Jesus who encouraged them to speak out, to share the good news of a Jesus who empowered women and took them as disciples. The same Jesus who flipped tables out of anger for the ways in which the church was exploiting people.

A Jesus who healed, a Jesus who died on the cross for you.

A Jesus who rose again and defeated death itself. A Jesus who could not stand to let evil reign.

And you better believe that this very Jesus would praise you for your faithfulness, would commend you for speaking out, for speaking truth to silence. For refusing to stifle the love and passion you feel for the Creator of the universe.

I found my voice. I am content knowing that I can still love the Bible

and I can be in leadership, teaching even men. Now, I am using my voice to encourage you to find your own voice.

How have you been silenced in harmful ways?

I don’t mean holding your tongue when you have an unkind or unhelpful comment to make. I mean, what are the ways you have been told to be quiet

when you have revealed deep truths about yourself? What are the ways your dreams and desires have been ignored or diminished?

Have you been told that you don’t have a spot at the table, simply because of your gender, or any other part of yourself that you can’t control?

Were you told as a child to be quiet? To reign in your spark because it was “too much”? Was there a specific time you can remember when you internalized

the idea that your voice isn’t as valid as someone else’s?

Your voice matters. So speak up, speak with kindness and wisdom. Speak from your heart.

In front of me is a display of different pieces from my journey to find my voice. They are bits of inspiration and encouragement. They are moments when other people saw the spark in me, people who recognized my calling, and affirmed it. They are the wind beneath my wings.

I encourage you to go home and maybe compile your own creation, a collage of pictures or quotes or special objects that represent pieces of your life that have given you strength, inspiration, courage. Little reminders that your voice matters.

Because it does.

So speak up.


[1] “‘A Woman Should Learn in Quietness and Full Submission’ (1 Timothy 2:11): E...,” n.d., (244).

[2] Women Tongue Speakers, Be Silent:

A Reconstruction Through Paul’s Rhetoric (95).

[3] Barron, Bruce. “Putting Women in Their Place: 1 Timothy 2 and Evangelical Views of Women in Church Leadership.” Journal of the Evangelical Theological Society 33, no. 4 (December 1990): 451–59.

Works Consulted

This image was created by: Alison Jane P. de Silva

“‘A Woman Should Learn in Quietness and Full Submission’ (1 Timothy 2:11): E...,” n.d. Barron, Bruce. “Putting Women in Their Place: 1 Timothy 2 and Evangelical Views of Women in Church Leadership.” Journal of the Evangelical Theological Society 33, no. 4 (December 1990): 451–59.

Allison, Robert W. “Let Women Be Silent in the Churches (1 Cor 14:33b-36): What Did Paul Really Say, and What Did It Mean?” Journal for the Study of the New Testament 10, no. 32 (January 1988): 27–60.

Isbell, Charles D. “Glossolalia and Propheteialalia: A Study of 1 Corinthians 14.” Wesleyan Theological Journal 10 (1975): 15–22.

Janzen, Marshall. “Orderly Participation or Silenced Women?: Clashing Views on Decent Worship in 1 Corinthians 14.” Direction 42, no. 1 (2013): 55–70.

“Pauline Commands and Women in 1 Corinthians 14: EBSCOhost.” Accessed August 22, 2019.

“‘Women Tongue Speakers, Be Silent’: A Reconstruction through Paul’s Rhetori...: EBSCOhost.” Accessed August 23, 2019.

“The ‘women’ of 1 Timothy 3:11: EBSCOhost.” Accessed August 23, 2019.

“Wealthy Women at Ephesus: 1 Timothy 2:8-15 in Social Context,” n.d.

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