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…”
Paul did indeed mean what he said. Women are not to take the authority of teaching the Torah to men, nor are they to publicly debate in the Ekklesia, nor are they to usurp authority over men. Not because they are not capable of understanding the Torah or explaining it, but because that is simply the order YHVH created – and He had reason for that.
1Ti 2:11 Let a woman learn in silence, in all subjection.
1Ti 2:12 And I do not allow a woman to debate publicly nor to usurp the authority of a man, but to be in silence.
1Ti 2:13 For Adam was formed first, then Eve.
1Ti 2:14 And Adam was not deceived, but the woman being deceived has come to be in transgression;
1Ti 2:15 Yet she shall live by means of her children, if they continue in the faith, and in love, and in holiness, and in chastity.
In verses 13 and 14, we are told by Paul exactly why he does not permit a woman to teach (publicly debate) or usurp authority over men, and it all goes back to the garden. In the garden we have explicit instructions from YHVH to Adam concerning the Tree of the Knowledge of Good and Evil…
Gen 2:17 but of the Tree of the Knowledge of Good and Evil you may not eat, for in the day that you eat of it, surely you shall die.
The phrase translated as “surely die” is the Hebrew phrase “Muwth Muwth”, which means total death, both physically and spiritually. And indeed, the day they ate of it they began to die physically (their physical body began to decay) and spiritually (they no longer had an eternal connection to YHVH).
However, when Eve is approached by Satan, who asks her what YHVH said about the fruit of the Tree of the Knowledge of Good and Evil, she replies…
Gen 3:2 And the woman said to the serpent, of the fruit of the trees of the garden, We may eat,
Gen 3:3 but of the fruit of the tree in the middle of the garden, Elohim has said, You shall not eat of it, nor shall you touch it, lest you die.
The word translated as “die” here is the Hebrew word “Muwth”. Now this may seem similar, but it is not. When the word is said twice in a row it indicates total death (physical and spiritual), but when it is said just once it indicates only “physical death”. Eve misunderstood and misquoted the only commandment YHVH had given Adam.
When a word is repeated twice in a row in the Hebrew language it carries a different, more complete meaning. Such as the word translated as “holy” – the Hebrew Word “Kodesh”. When the word is written twice in a row as in “Kodesh Kodesh”, the meaning becomes “Most Holy”, such as in reference to what lies behind the veil in the Holy of Holies.
Now, Satan’s response to Eve is…
Gen 3:4 And the serpent said to the woman, surely, you shall not die,
Here, the Enemy uses the phrase “Muwth Muwth” for “die”, indicating the total physical and spiritual death.
This conversation is what Paul is talking about. Eve stepped out from the covering of her husband, to publicly debate Satan, and in doing so misquoted the one and only commandment of YHVH. This is why Paul says a woman is not to teach (publicly debate) the Torah.
In addition, because of her actions, YHVH puts a curse on her and Adam. But it is the part of the curse that falls on her that is important to acknowledge in understanding why Paul also does not allow a woman to usurp authority over a man…
Gen 3:16 He said to the woman, I will greatly increase your sorrow and your conception; you shall bear sons in sorrow, and your desire shall be toward your husband; and he shall rule over you.
The word translated as “desire” is the Hebrew word “T’shuwqah” which means desire, longing, craving – as in a beast that wants to devour something. The curse placed on Eve was that she would desire to dominate her husband, but that he would rule over her.
This desire to dominate was not something that came about from the culture of Rome, or anywhere else. It was part of the curse placed on Eve, and all women, at the garden. Women desire to dominate men, even in the Ekklesia. Paul was making it clear that they would not be allowed to do that. But there is a role for the woman in the church…
1Ti 2:15 Yet she shall live by means of her children, if they continue in the faith, and in love, and in holiness, and in chastity.
The phrase translated as “shall live”, or “shall be saved” in some Bibles, is the Greek word “Sozo” which means to save, keep safe and sound, to rescue from danger or destruction – such as in delivering from the penalties of the judgment.
The phrase “by means of her children”, or the word “childbearing” in some Bibles, is the Greek word “Teknogonia” which means childbearing, or the performance of maternal duties (such as teaching your children the Torah).
What Paul is saying is that, even though the judgment of the curse brought down on the woman prohibits her from having authority over men, she shall be in charge of teaching her children the ways of YHVH by teaching them the Torah – if she and her husband live a life of faith (in YHVH), love (in each other), holiness (being set apart) and chastity (self control).
The scriptures make it clear that women can serve as deacons (table waiters), prophetesses, host a “house church”, preach the good news (share their testimony with others), or even serve as a judge.
However, your interpretation of judges is inaccurate. Judges were appointed by Moses at the recommendation of his father in law, Jethro (Exodus 18), They are not “leaders” but were meant to handle the disputes that come about between the people. And Deborah did arise as a “mother” in Israel, but a “mother” is not the leader of the family – the father is. Plus, the scriptures says this…
Jdg 5:9 My heart was toward the lawgivers of Israel, who volunteered among the people; bless YAHWEH!
Deborah did not call herself a Lawgiver. The Lawgivers were the Levitical priesthood, the true leaders of Israel (Romans 13 describes the duties and authority of the Levitical priesthood). Deborah said her heart was towards the Lawgivers, but she did not count herself as one.
Women can teach Torah to other women and children. They can co-teach alongside their husband (as their covering and the leader) when men are present. But Paul is quite clear, as is the Torah, that they are not to teach Torah to men under their own authority.
Good article it clears up a lot of muddled thinking… most grateful Anna/