Many of us who’ve returned to the old paths, to the restoration of a Hebraic understanding of our faith, have come out of denominations teaching that women have no role to play in God’s kingdom, except to train up godly children and to be submissive help-meets to our husbands. These denominations teach that in our congregations women must remain silent. In this article, I hope to show (both through scripture and history) that although wives are indeed called to be in submission to their own husbands, and we are certainly charged with training our children (raising them in the fear and admonition of the LORD), that the Most High does use women in other capacities to further the work of His kingdom.
Most of the church’s wrong notions about the roles of women come from the misinterpretation of Paul’s writings. Therefore, as I have done in many of my articles, I will begin by reminding my readers that Peter said some of Paul’s writings are hard to understand, and that the unlearned twist them to their own destruction (2 Peter 3:16). One of Paul’s statements that is so often misunderstood is 1 Corinthians 14:34-35. It reads:
“Let the women keep silence in the churches … for thy are not permitted to speak, but let them subject themselves, just as the Law says. If they desire to learn, let them ask their own husbands at home.”
First I must make it perfectly clear that this “Law” to which Paul refers in verse 34 is NOT a TORAH command. No where in Torah can such a law be found. Paul was referring to the “oral law” of the Pharisees.
Psalm 68:11 (verse 12 in the Massoretic Text) states,
“The Lord announced the word. The women proclaiming it are a great company.” And Joel prophesied: “I will pour out my Spirit on all people. Your sons and daughters will prophesy. . . . Even on my servants, both men and women, I will pour out my Spirit in those days…” ( Joel 2:28–29)
In a culture that frowned upon the religious education of women, Yeshua encouraged a women, who sat as his feet in the position of a disciple, saying, “Mary has chosen the better part, and it will not be taken away from her.” (Luke 10:38–42)
Yeshua used a Samaritan woman to proclaim the gospel to men. “Many of the Samaritans from that town believed in him because of the woman’s testimony.” ( John 4:39; 28–42)
The first human being the risen Messiah commissioned to announce the good news (gospel) of his resurrection was also a woman, Mary Magdalene. (John 20:14–18)
And in Romans 16:1–16, Paul greeted ten people by name, and he referred to all of them as colleagues in his ministry. Seven of those ten were women. I could go on, but I won’t belabor the point.
Why Did Paul Say What He Did?
Before telling you why Paul ordered the women of Corinth to be silent in the congregation, I will ask you, the reader, a question. Why didn’t Paul (3 chapters earlier in 1Cor 11:5) scold those women who were praying and prophesying in the congregation at Corinth for praying and prophesying? Instead, he simply instructed them not to pray and prophesy unveiled for it was as shameful as having their heads shaved. Yet three chapters later, in 1Cor 14:34-35, Paul commands the women of Corinth to be silent in the assembly. He said they should not be allowed to speak and that they should question their own husbands at home if they wanted to learn. The answer to this conundrum can be found in the history of first century, Greco-Roman (Pagan) culture.
Ancient Greco-Roman World of the First Century
Paul’s demand that women must be silent during their religious services can only be properly understood when one knows the role women played in (pagan) religions during this time period. Pisidian Antioch was in the heart of Anatolia. There the religious expression of women took on a very “noisy, wild, and even orgasmic aspect.” Evidence that the religious practice of women crying out in a pagan religious service can be found in a plaque dedicated to the “secret cries of women” that was excavated from the sanctuary of Demeter at Corinth and reads “olylyngos”. (R. Stroud, “The Sanctuary of Demeter and Kore on Acrocorinth,” Hesperia 37, (1968) 299-317.
Paul’s instructions regarding how women should act in a service were directed to specific (and very troubled) congregations that had serious problems regarding undesirable religious practices. (Catherine Kroger, “The Apostle Paul and the Greco-Roman Cults of Women.” (page 39)
“Plutarch, writing in the early second century of the Christian era, said that female worshipers of Osiris shared in shouting and movements similar to women in the sway of Dionysiac frenzy.” (Plutarch Moralia 364 F)
“The Dionysiac cult (among other things) encouraged what we today would call “cross-dressing.” “Men wore veils and long hair as a sign of their dedication to their pagan god, while women unveiled themselves or had their hair shorn to show their dedication.” (Plutarch Moralia 266 C-E.; Athenaeus 12.525); Lucian Dea Syria 6)
This was the reason Paul (the Apostle to Gentiles) had to spend so much of his time in his epistles addressing the appropriate manner of dress for believers (both male and female), and problems like fornication, like getting drunk and over eating while taking the “Lord’s supper” (1Cor 11:21-22). Paul wasn’t establishing new doctrines. He was addressing specific congregational problems in which these new believers in the Messiah were worshiping Israel’s God in the very same ways they’d formerly worshiped their pagan gods, and Paul was not going to let that continue. Paul knew that in the TORAH YHVH had declared that Israel was NOT to worship HIM the way pagans worshiped their gods. Many other Torah commands, like not boiling a kid in it’s mother’s milk, and not not cutting one’s hair at the sides of the head, or clipping the edge of one’s beard, were given for the very same reason; these were all pagan religious practices.
Women In Leadership Roles In The Scriptures
Huldah, The Female Prophetess, Advises The King
2 Kings 22:10-14
“And Shaphan the scribe told the king, saying, Hilkiah the priest has given a book to me; and Shaphan read it before the king. And it happened when the king heard the Words of the Book of the Law, he tore his garments. And the king commanded Hilkiah the priest, and Ahikam the son of Shaphan, and Achbor the son of Micaiah, and Shaphan the scribe, and Asahiah the king’s servant, saying, ‘Go, inquire of Jehovah for me, and for the people, and for all Judah, as to the Words of this Book that has been found; for great is the wrath of Jehovah that has been kindled against us, because our fathers have not listened to the Words of this Book, to do according to all that which is written concerning us.’ And Hilkiah the priest, and Ahikam, and Achbor, and Shaphan, and Asahiah, went to Huldah the prophetess, the wife of Shallum, the son of Tikvah, the son of Harhas, the keeper of the wardrobe (and she lived in Jerusalem in the second quarter ). And they spoke with her. And she said to them…”
Deborah: A Judge and Leader of Israel
Judges 5:7 The leaders ceased in Israel; they ceased until I, Deborah, arose. I arose as a mother in Israel. And Judges 5:13 says “…the LORD made me (Deborah) have dominion over the mighty.”
Batya Ruth Wootten, in her book Mama’s Torah, on page 32 wrote the following: “Judges 5:7 tells us, ‘The rulers ceased in Israel until thou didst arise, Deborah…’ And in Judges 5:13 we read that D’vorah said, ‘ YHVH made me have dominion over the mighty.’ This woman urged military leader Barak to arise and take command of the troops, but he refused to do so unless D’vorah continued as his co-leader.”
Queen Esther Decrees A Law
Esther 9:20-32 explains how the Feast of Purim got inaugurated. Verse 32 says: “And the decree Esther made confined these matters of Purim. And it was written in the book.”
Women Sang in the Temple
Ezra 2:64-65 The whole congregation together was forty two thousand, three hundred and sixty, besides their male slaves and their slave-girls, these were seven thousand, three hundred and thirty seven; and among them two hundred singing men and singing women.
The Ministry of Phoebe
“I commend to you our sister Phoebe, a deaconess of the church at Cenchreaee, that you may receive her in the Lord as befits the saints, and help her in whatever she may require from you, for she has been a helper of many and of myself as well.” (Romans 16: 1-2, Revised Standard Version- RSV).
Phoebe as “Diakonos” (dia,konoj) dia,konoj: masculine, it means servant; helper, minister; deacon; deaconess. The evidence declares that Phoebe possessed a significantly high level of responsibility and leadership. Several translations, however, have rendered “diakonos” in the feminine, but it is actually masculine. It’s the exact same word Paul used to describe himself and Apollos (1 Cor 3: 5), Tychicus (Eph 6: 21; Col. 4: 7), and Timothy (1 Tim 4: 6).
Some Closing thoughts . . .
On page 33 of Mama’s Torah, the author writes this (and I concur), “Now before we go off, running and leaping and claiming that we women can do anything, let us first note an important point about each of these women: Each one appears to have been working in concert with a family member or in harmony with some form of male headship. Miriam worked with Moses. The singers worked with the priests. Huldah worked with King Josiah. Deborah worked with her husband and with Barak. And Esther worked with her relative, Mordechai. On the other hand, we note that even though each of these women appear to have been working in harmony with male leadership they nonetheless acted in leadership capacities themselves. For example, Deborah did not go to her husband, nor to Barak, to inquire about the word of the Lord. The Father gave His word directly to her. Yet she worked in concert with the men the Father placed in her life. We, who follow in the footsteps of these women, should have similar doors open to us in our day. To refuse any of these positions to women is to take from them positions the Almighty has already granted them…”