Why I’m an Advocate for Women’s Equality

I grew up in a home where male authority was the norm. My father learned from his father that men are supposed to be “leaders.” The denomination my father was raised in also taught that men alone should teach and lead in the church. When I first embraced Christianity, I faithfully attended a “complementarian” church. Like my father, they taught me that men should be leaders, and that women should submit to this leadership. They not only taught this verbally, they lived it every Sunday. Only men could teach and preach from the pulpit. Only men could be elders. Only men could be ushers. Only men served communion. I was asked to lead Bible studies; not because I knew the Bible (I didn’t), but because I was male. I was also encouraged to pursue a career in “ministry.”

I was taught that men are supposed to be “servant-leaders.” Feminists, I was told, simply didn’t understand that men were actually serving women by providing them with godly leadership. In a strange kind of way, this seemed to make sense. I was encouraged to guard my faith against the “sinful ways of the world;” namely, “women’s liberation.”

So why in the world do I now advocate the equality of women in the Christian faith?

It all started at a leadership conference I attended with representatives from churches all across Canada and the United States. It was big. One of the speakers challenged us to respond in faith and obedience if we believed God was calling us to full-time ministry as pastors. Many young men went to the front of the auditorium to answer this call—along with one young woman.

What I saw that day made an impact. The young men at the front actually began yelling at her. She was accused of heresy and rebellion for daring to think that God would call a woman to be a pastor. In her defense, she mentioned something about a verse in Galatians that said there is neither male nor female in Christ. She was asked to provide the exact chapter and verse number, and when she could not, she was mocked for her lack of Bible knowledge. She left the conference in tears, and I never saw her again.

What in the world was I witnessing? I couldn’t help thinking of a Bible story concerning a woman caught in adultery and the crowd of religious men who wanted to stone her to death. The woman at the conference, however, simply wanted to obey God and preach the gospel! The religious men in the Bible story were rebuked by Jesus. What would he say to my male friends and colleagues who shouted accusations at this women, mocked her, and drove her from our meeting? I began to wonder.

Shortly after this troubling experience, I went to Bible College. Here I met dozens of women who claimed that they had received a call from God to lead and/or teach in the church. Some women felt called to be pastors; one felt called to be a priest. They shared their stories and pointed out passages in the Bible where women were clearly depicted as prophets, teachers or leaders. One of these women explained to me that a woman named Junia was even an apostle! She further explained that hundreds of years after the New Testament was written, translators began to change this female apostle’s name to a man’s. I couldn’t believe it! I didn’t believe it. My church taught me that the inerrancy of our English Bible had been providentially preserved by the sovereignty of God. My church certainly wouldn’t lie about something that important; and they couldn’t possibly be mistaken, could they?

I became troubled. Firmly believing that we should bring our troubles to God in prayer and ask him for guidance, I did just that. I told God that I was bothered by what I was seeing and hearing. I asked him to help me understand his heart for women, and sort through the conflicting messages I was getting from other Christians.

In answer to this prayer, I believe God responded. At first, it seemed that he asked me if I really wanted to know the answers to my questions. He seemed to be saying that I would find the answers difficult. Not knowing what to expect, and truly wanting to learn, I said, “Yes Lord, please teach me.”

There are two large universities close to my home. Each has a number of church colleges and/or a seminary on campus. I felt compelled to access the library resources there concerning the Bible, church history and women.

I’ll never forget what I found, or how I felt when I first discovered it. It began with a review of what the early church fathers said about women:

”For it is improper for a woman to speak in an assembly, no matter what she says, even if she says admirable things, or even saintly things, that is of little consequence, since they come from the mouth of a woman.” (Origen, 258 A.D., Fragments on First Corinthians)

“What is the difference whether it is in a wife or a mother, it is still Eve the temptress that we must beware of in any woman… I fail to see what use woman can be to man, if one excludes the function of bearing children.” (Saint Augustine, 354 – 430 A.D., De genesi ad litteram)

I then read similar comments from Protestant Reformers, who were strongly influenced by the church fathers who came before them:

“[A woman] is formed to obey; for gunaikokratia (the government of women) has always been regarded by all wise persons as a monstrous thing; and, therefore, so to speak, it will be a mingling of heaven and earth, if women usurp the right to teach.” (John Calvin, commentary on 1 Timothy 2:12).

“The word and works of God are quite clear, that women were made either to be wives or prostitutes.” (Martin Luther, Works)

Then I came across a historical book that continues to haunt me. It contained court transcripts of all of the women killed by men, acting on the authority of the church, during the Inquisition. It had their names, and the charges against them. Many of the women were found guilty of “witchcraft;” specifically, something called “love magic.” This meant that a man had allegedly been so bewitched by a woman that he couldn’t help committing adultery with her, or perhaps even raping her. Sexual sins committed by men were blamed exclusively on their female partners or victims. I read hundreds of names, maybe thousands. I lost count. I became dizzy. I didn’t realize it at first, but I had stopped breathing. I felt like I was going to die. Something inside me broke.

This notion that women must be subject to men had nothing to do with God, the gospel, servant-leadership, or the love of Jesus Christ. It was born of fear, hatred, and a felt “need” for control. It was prejudice, and it had led to subjugation, oppression and even mass murder.

“Now do you understand?” I felt the Spirit of God say to me. I was speechless. “Teach what you have learned.”

Since those early days, I have learned that many of the church’s most influential theologians had a profound prejudice against women. It shows itself in their commentary work, and even in their Bible translation. Old Testament passages have been changed by the addition of vowel marks. Verses that once condemned excessive taxation now criticize the leadership of women (c.f. Isaiah 3:12, LXX vs. Masoretic Text). Greek words used to prohibit violence or murder now prohibit women from “exercising authority” (c.f. 1 Timothy 2:12, “authentein” in New Testament Manuscripts & “authentas” in the LXX vs. English translations). Phoebe, a woman who was a “leader” in the early church (prostatis), is now referred to as “a good friend” (Romans 16:2, Good News for Modern Man). “Junia” the apostle, or “Julia” according to the earliest Greek manuscript, became Junias—a man. Commands such as, “Wives submit to your husbands” (Eph. 5:22), are not found in the earliest Greek manuscripts of the New Testament. They are only found in later manuscripts and today’s English translations. In the earliest manuscripts the only command in this passage is addressed to all Christians, regardless of their sex: “submit to one another out of reverence for Christ” (Eph. 5:21).

Today’s complementarian theology is built on a legacy of fear, control and prejudice. Terms like “servant-leadership” have a pleasant sound to them, but Jesus did not use them. Rather, he told all of his followers, “Do not be called leaders; for One is your Leader, that is, Christ” (Matthew 23:10).

The young woman at the leadership conference, who said “yes” to the Lord’s call to be a pastor, was right: “There is neither Jew nor Gentile, neither slave nor free, nor is there male and female, for you are all one in Christ Jesus” (Galatians 3:28).

My male friends, who mocked and shouted at her, were wrong. More to the point, I was wrong. I had unknowingly been influenced by the patriarchal norms of a prejudiced and fallen world. These norms had found their way into my home as a child, into our society, and yes even into the church. Paul wrote to the church in Rome concerning this very influence: “Do not conform to the pattern of this world, but be transformed by the renewing of your mind. Then you will be able to test and approve what God’s will is—his good, pleasing and perfect will” (Romans 12:2).

Why do I advocate women’s equality? The love of Christ compels me.

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A Call to End the Justification of Racism and Sexism through the Abuse of God’s Word

In South Africa, the white leaders of Apartheid, who called themselves “Christian,” defended “white authority” by claiming that it was “God-ordained”:

“According to the theocentric way, which is our church’s way of thinking, the human being receives what is justly his when God gives him his God-ordained share … The rights and privileges of people [are] very different according to God’s free will … Justice in the world does not depend on whether each and every one is treated equally but on whether one is treated according to what God has ordained for him in the light of the inequalities which He Himself has created…”

These white leaders also claimed that they were obeying God by acting as the benevolent “guardians” of other people groups:

“Whether we like it or not, we are the guardians of the coloureds and the natives too, and we shall have the right to give reckoning to God about our guardianship.”

Appealing to the United Nations for equality among people of all races was described by these leaders as “an outrageous transgression of authority.”
http://smu-facweb.smu.ca/~wmills/course322/14aReligion_natm.html

The white leaders of Apartheid also denied that they were claiming a position of superiority over other races: “Say not that we are superior and they are inferior, but simply that we are different…” http://www.projectcensored.org/unfinished-revolution-interviews-white-south-africa/

In his book entitled, “Southern Slavery As it Was,” a complementarian writer for the Council on Biblical Manhood and Womanhood, Doug Wilson, defends the institution of slavery by saying that it produced “a genuine affection between the races that we believe we can say has never existed in any nation before the War or since.”

He also claims that the institution of slavery was clearly supported by the Bible:

“And nothing is clearer — the New Testament opposes anything like the abolitionism of our country prior to the War Between the States. The New Testament contains many instructions for Christian slave owners, and requires a respectful submissive demeanor for Christian slaves.” https://timfall.wordpress.com/2015/05/01/prominent-pastor-defends-slavery-as-being-good-for-black-people-in-america/

In Doug Wilson’s mind, to advocate for racial equality and the abolition of slavery was to ignore the authority of the Bible.

This same author for the CBMW also claims that women “need” men to function as their providers and protectors (i.e. guardians):

“The best thing in the church for the women is for the men to be men. For a man to teach the word of God with authority (and not as the scribes) is not withholding anything from the women at all — it is a gift to the women. Godly women are grieved by usurping women, and annoyed by effeminate men. They are fed by men who teach the Bible with boldness. They need that sort of provision and protection, and they know that they do. We should know that also.” http://cbmw.org/uncategorized/brothers-we-are-not-sisters/

Though women are depicted as dependent upon male provision and protection, Wilson claims that this does not make them “inferior,” but rather “different”:

“To say that one thing is not another thing is not to register a complaint against either. To say that the sun is not the moon is not to criticize the moon, and to say that the land is not the sea is not to file a complaint against the sea. God establishes differences in the world with the intention of them complementing one another, and not so that his variegated world would try to melt itself down into one great indistinguishable mass.” http://cbmw.org/uncategorized/brothers-we-are-not-sisters/

Another CBMW author attempts to rationalize the subordination of all women to male authority using similar language:

“God said in his word that there are two institutions in which the man is to be the leader. One is the home, and the other is the church. Friend that is not chauvinism, that is not sexism, that is not fundamentalism, that is Bible. Now having said that ladies, let me reiterate a previous statement. This does not mean and it does not imply that women are inferior to men. Paul not only gives the picture of authority, he defends the practice of authority. He reminds us…men and women are different.” http://cbmw.org/uncategorized/the-way-it-is/

In all of the quotations cited above, some men are claiming the right to rule over others on the basis of their race or their sex. Further, they depict their right to rule over others as a “gift” or a benevolent “service” to other people groups, who are portrayed as dependent upon this kind of protective “guardianship.” How do they justify such outrageous racist and sexist beliefs? They claim that they are found in the “Word of God.”

For millennia, human beings have attempted to rationalize injustice and oppression by claiming that they have the support of God.

God does not agree:

“To do what is right and just is more acceptable to the LORD than sacrifice” (Proverbs 21:3).

“Righteousness and justice are the foundation of your throne; love and faithfulness go before you” (Psalm 89:14).

“The Spirit of the Lord is on me, because he has anointed me to proclaim good news to the poor. He has sent me to proclaim freedom for the prisoners and recovery of sight for the blind, to set the oppressed free” (Luke 4:18).

”There is neither Jew nor Gentile, neither slave nor free, nor is there male and female, for you are all one in Christ Jesus” (Galatians 3:28).

Not only did God extend salvation to Jews, Gentiles, men, women, slaves and free, but we are told that the salvation we have in Christ must be made known through our actions and by the transformation of our thinking:

“If you really keep the royal law found in Scripture, “Love your neighbor as yourself,” you are doing right. But if you show favoritism, you sin and are convicted by the law as lawbreakers” (James 2:8-9).

“Do not conform to the pattern of this world, but be transformed by the renewing of your mind. Then you will be able to test and approve what God’s will is–his good, pleasing and perfect will” (Romans 12:2). Paul wrote these comments to a patriarchal culture that was sustained by slavery.

God stands against those who misrepresent his words to justify evil:

“How can you say, ‘We are wise, for we have the law of the LORD,’ when actually the lying pen of the scribes has handled it falsely?” (Jeremiah 8:8).

“Every word of God is tested; He is a shield to those who take refuge in Him. Do not add to His words Or He will reprove you, and you will be proved a liar” (Proverbs 30:5-6).

If you are using the Bible to justify racism, sexism or any other form of injustice, you should know that God wants you to stop. He wants you to admit to yourself the error of your ways and humbly ask him to help you change. He wants you to “love your neighbor as you love yourself.” He wants you to follow the example of the one you claim to serve:

“In your relationships with one another, have the same mindset as Christ Jesus:
Who, being in very nature God,
did not consider equality with God something to be used to his own advantage;
rather, he made himself nothing
by taking the very nature of a servant,
being made in human likeness.
And being found in appearance as a man,
he humbled himself
by becoming obedient to death—
even death on a cross!”
(Philippians 2:5-8)

If you do not listen to what God has to say about racism, sexism or any other form of oppression; and if you continue to misuse the Bible to rationalize doing harm to others, you will one day stand before God to give an account: “And the King shall answer and say unto them, ‘Verily I say unto you, Inasmuch as ye have done it unto one of the least of these, ye have done it unto me’” (Matthew 25:40&45). The way you treat your neighbor–and every human being is your neighbor–is the way you treat God.

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Apostle’s Warning: Restoring Paul’s Original Message in his First Letter to Timothy

The apostle Paul’s first letter to Timothy is an urgent warning against a form of false teaching that was finding its way into the church community of Ephesus–the capital of Lydia in Asia Minor.

Specifically, Paul warns against false teachers who devoted themselves to myths and endless genealogies (1 Timothy 1:3-4). They claimed to be teachers of the law, but did not know what they were talking about (1 Timothy 1:7). They taught a doctrine of asceticism that vilified the body and its appetites; followers had to abstain from marriage and the eating of certain foods (1 Timothy 4:3). Paul refers to this teaching as demonic (1 Timothy 4:1), and he encourages Timothy to guard the gospel against opposing ideas that are falsely called “gnosis,” meaning knowledge (1 Timothy 6:20).

Paul also prohibits “a woman” from teaching or engaging in something he called “authentein” against “a man” (1 Timothy 2:12). Along with this prohibition, he makes reference to the salvation of women in childbirth (1 Timothy 2:15), and briefly reviews the story of humanity’s creation and fall into sin (1 Timothy 2:13-14).

Since Erasmus compiled his Greek/Latin Bible in the 16th century, “authentein” has been understood to mean “exercise authority.” Erasmus used the Latin expression “auctoritatum.” He used Jerome’s Latin Vulgate of the 4th century to aid his translation. Jerome translated “authentein” into the Latin “dominari.” This can mean “to dominate” or “to exercise dominion.” Erasmus’ Bible became the basis for the first English translations of 1 Timothy 2:12 as a prohibition against female authority (Wilshire, L.E. 2010. Insight into Two Biblical Passages: Anatomy of a Prohibition 1 Timothy 2:12, the TLG Computer, and the Christian Church. Lanham, MD: University Press of America, Inc.).

An important question must be asked: “Do these translations of Jerome and Erasmus reflect Paul’s intended meaning when he wrote to Timothy prohibiting authentein?” Frankly, I don’t believe they do.

To help us understand what this word meant to the apostle Paul, I think it is helpful to examine the Bible he quoted from in his epistles; namely, the Greek Septuagint (http://www.bible-researcher.com/quote01.html).

In the Septuagint, a noun form of “authentein” is used in following passage:

“Do you remember the ancient inhabitants of your holy land? You scorned them for their unholy ways, for their sorcery and profane rituals, their callous killing of children, their cannibal feasts on human flesh and blood. They practiced secret rituals in which parents slaughtered their own defenseless children” (Wisdom of Solomon, 12:3-6, TIB).

The parents in this passage, who slaughter their children in profane rituals to false gods, are referred to as “authentas.”

Similar uses of this word can be found throughout the Greek literature of the New Testament era. Writing in the same time period as the apostle Paul, Diodorus Siculus used the word on three separate occasions to mean: “perpetrators of sacrilege,” “author of crimes,” or “supporters of violent actions.” Also writing in the 1st century A.D., Flavius Josephus used the term twice to mean: “perpetrator of a crime” and “perpetrators of a slaughter.” In the same period, Philo Judaeus used the term once to mean “being one’s own murderer” (Wilshire, p. 28).

Why would Paul use this word in his letter to Timothy? In other instances of the New Testament where Paul talks about “exercising authority,” he uses the term “exousia.” Were violent crimes or rituals being performed in or around Ephesus in the worship of false gods or goddesses, just as they were in the passage from the Wisdom of Solomon? Historically, the answer to this question is a straightforward “yes;” child sacrifices were indeed performed in this area of the world by a matriarchal culture that worshiped a goddess named Cybele.

A historian from the 1st century B.C., Pompeius Trogus, had this to say about the culture and its customary violence towards males:

“[The women]…dismissed all thought of intermarriage with their neighbours, calling it slavery rather than marriage. They embarked instead upon an enterprise unparalleled in the whole of history, that of building up a state without men and then actually defending it themselves, out of contempt for the male sex…. Then, with peace assured by their military success, they entered into sexual relationships with surrounding peoples so that their line would not die out. Males born of such unions they put to death, but girls they brought up in a way that adapted them to their own way of life…. After conquering most of Europe, they also seized a number of city-states in Asia. Here they founded Ephesus” (as cited in Yardly, J. 1994. Epitome of the Philippic History of Pompeius Trogus. Atlanta, GA: Scholars Press, p. 29).

Another historian from this time period, Diodorus Siculus, offers a similar commentary:

“Beside the river of Thermadon, therefore, a nation ruled by females held sway, in which women pursued the arts of war just like men…. To the men she [the nation’s Queen] relegated the spinning of wool and other household tasks of women. She promulgated laws whereby she led forth the women to martial strife, while on the men she fastened humiliation and servitude. She would maim the arms and legs of male children, making them useless for service in war” (as cited in Murphy, E. 1989. The Antiquities of Asia: A Translation with Notes of Book II of the Library of History of Diodorus Siculus, New Brunswick, NJ: Transaction Publishers, p. 58).

This culture’s “contempt for the male sex” is highlighted in their spiritual mythology. Historian, John Ferguson, explains:

“The most familiar name of the Asiatic mother in the Roman world was Cybele, and to her the [following] myths are attached. At Pessinus the story was told how the Great Mother was sleeping in the form of a rock. Zeus tried to rape her, but spilled his seed on the ground. Still, she, who is the ground, bore a child against her will, a bisexual monster named Agdistis. Dionysus set himself to tame this creature, drugging him with wine, and tying his male sex-organs to a tree so that on awakening he castrated himself. From the blood sprang an almond (or in some versions pomegranate) tree. The daughter of the river-god Sangarius plucked fruit from this and placed it in her lap, from where it impregnated her. Her father tried to kill her, and to expose the baby on birth, but each time Cybele intervened, and the child grew into the handsome boy Attis. Cybele fell in love with the lad; we often see him standing by her throne on coins and medallions of the second or third century AD, or on a fine bronze plate now in Berlin, or riding with her in her lion-drawn chariot, again on coins or on the superb dish (patera) from Parabiago in Milan, where they are surrounded by sun, moon, earth and sea, time and the seasons. Their love was doomed. The goddess caught Attis in infidelity and drove him mad, so that he castrated himself under a pine-tree and bled to death. But this is not the end; in the Roman ceremonies the festival of mourning (tristia) was followed by a festival of joy (hilaria). The old year is dead, but the new year lives and Attis rises again” (Ferguson, J. 1970. The Religions of the Roman Empire. Ithaca, NY: Cornell University Press, pp. 25-26).

In this mythology, the female Cybele is depicted as life-giving and pure. Male gods Zeus and Attis are authors of sexual sin. Attis is caught in an act of sexual infidelity. He atones for this by castrating himself. He dies as a result of this act, liberating him from the limitations of “the flesh;” he then rises again, now purified of his male sexuality.

New priests of the goddess Cybele would re-enact this mythology every year in an annual rite of self-emasculation:

“On the Day of Blood (24 March), the cult priests, in mourning for Attis, flagellated and castrated themselves, and ran through the streets proudly holding their bloody genitals, which they eventually threw into a house. The honored household was then duty bound to supply the emasculated priests with women’s clothing and ornaments, which they would wear for the rest of their lives. Many spectators, caught up in the intense emotionality of the occasion, the frenetic music of cymbals and drums, and the sight of flowing blood, followed the priests’ example and castrated themselves. This day of sorrow and irrevocable sacrifice was followed by the Day of Joy, the Hilaria, which celebrated Attis’ resurrection” (Favazza, A.R. 2011. Bodies Under Siege: Self-mutilation, Nonsuicidal Self-injury, and Body Modification in Culture and Psychiatry. Baltimore, MD: The John Hopkins University Press, p. 159).

Renouncing their masculinity enabled these men to be embraced by the goddess as her spokesmen. After the ritual, they would reportedly fall into a trance-like state and begin to prophesy. Romans who witnessed this referred to the priests as “interpreters of the divine word” (Favazza, p. 160). In addition to undergoing ritual castration, and shunning marriage, these men fasted from certain foods. Female worshipers looked to Cybele as the goddess who would save them if they had difficulty in childbirth (Farnell, L.R. 1977. The Cults of the Greek States: Volume II. New Rochelle, NY: Caratzas Brothers, Publishers, p. 444).

This religious sect in Asia Minor possessed a number of the characteristics of the false teachers Paul was writing to warn Timothy about. They were forbidden to marry and commanded to abstain from certain foods. Their renunciation of the body through ritual castration allegedly enabled them to receive special knowledge (gnosis) from their goddess. Their practices were rooted in mythology, and elsewhere in the New Testament Paul refers to idol worship as demonic (1 Corinthians 10:20-21).  Women who worshiped this goddess did so in the hope that they would be saved if they experienced difficulty in childbirth (c.f. 1 Timothy 2:15).  The matriarchal sexism of this mythology stands in stark contrast to the creation account found in Genesis, cited by Paul, in which Adam is also a source of life, and Eve plays a role in humanity’s fall (c.f. 1 Timothy 2:13-14).

I’ve been asked if there is any evidence that the priests of Cybele were continuing to practice ritual emasculation during the New Testament era. A thorough review of available literature demonstrates that this practice was known throughout the Roman Empire from the 3rd century B.C., when Cybele was formally recognized as a goddess of the state, at least to the time of Emperor Julian (361 A.D.), who praised the annual rite, calling it a “holy and inexpressible harvest’ (Julian, Oratio V, 168D, as cited in Henig, M. 1984. Religion in Roman Britain, London England: BT Batsford Ltd., p. 97). For a period of time, Rome attempted to outlaw the practice of self-castration in a law called the Lex Cornelia:

“The relevant laws banning the creation of eunuchs are included within the Lex Cornelia about murderers and poisoners; a law primarily aimed at punishing premeditated and intentional murder….  However, the bounds of the law expand also to cover…Jews who circumcise anyone who is not another Jew.  By this reasoning, genital mutilation is a kind of murder; it is equivalent in the eyes of the law to actions deliberately taken with the intention of causing the death of a human being, even though the victim is intended to survive the procedure. The law clearly covers both voluntary and involuntary castration, thus providing uncharacteristically strong protections against this particular bodily injury that do not apply to other amputations. Indeed, it is even possible to be punished more harshly for voluntarily having one’s self castrated than for accidentally killing another person” (Jones-Lewis, M.J. 2015. The Heterosexualized Eunuch in the Roman Empire, online).  A thorough overview of Rome’s attempts to legislate against castration in and around the New Testament era can also be found in Elizabeth Wyner Mark’s book entitled, “The Covenant of Circumcision: New Perspectives on an Ancient Jewish Rite.”

Despite legal prohibitions against self-castration, we find evidence that the priests of Cybele continued the practice:

“Two other historical anecdotes from the late second and early first centuries B.C….concern the first unequivocal evidence for self-castration in honor of the Magna Mater [Cybele] and the Roman reaction to it. In 101 B.C., a slave of a certain Servilius Caepio castrated himself in the service of the Mater Idaea; as a result he was exiled from Rome and forbidden ever to return. In itself this need not indicate total condemnation of the cult, for exile was a comparatively mild punishment for a slave. The second anecdote is more telling; in 77 B.C., a slave named Genucius received an inheritance from a freedman named Naevius Anius. Genucius, a priest of the Magna Mater, was a eunuch and was ultimately denied his inheritance on the grounds that he was neither man nor woman. Moreover, Genucius was not even allowed to plead his own case, lest the court be polluted by his obscene presence and corrupt voice. Valerius Maximus, who describes the incident, reinforces his account with a strong tone of moral condemnation, the first we note, of the eunuch Galli in Rome. Roman approval of the goddess did not extend to her eunuch priests” (Roller, L.E. 1999. In Search of God the Mother: The Cult of Anatolian Cybele. Berkeley CA: University of California Press, p. 292).

So, we have evidence that the practice was longstanding throughout the history of the Roman Empire, and that it continued even when legally prohibited. We also see that self-castration was viewed as the “crime” of “self-murder,” even if the victim/perpetrator survived. The reader may remember that “authentein” in the Greek literature of the apostle Paul’s day meant: being “one’s own murderer,” or the “perpetrator of a crime.” It could also mean one who supported this kind of action.

Historical accounts by Philo of Alexandria, Flavius Josephus and Pliny the Elder share compelling evidence that the asceticism of the Cybele cult strongly influenced the beliefs and practices of a sect within Judaism known as the Essenes. Specifically, the Essenes encouraged celibacy, fasted from wine and rich foods, and believed that their denial of the body and its passions granted them access to special revelation knowledge (gnosis) from God. After fasting from all bodily indulgences (sex, food and sleep) they would receive what they called the secret allegorical meanings behind Mosaic Law. They considered themselves to be “teachers of the law,” and they supported this claim by tracing “endless genealogies” of their leaders, allegedly back to the priesthood of Zadok.

Jones points out that the Essenes’ understanding of the rite of circumcision may also have been distorted by the ascetic beliefs and ritual castration of Cybele’s priests (Jones, A.H. 1985. Essenes: The Elect of Israel and the Priests of Artemis. Lanham, MD: University Press of America, Inc.). Similarly,  Elizabeth Wyner Mark demonstrates that influential Jewish thinkers, such as Philo of Alexandria, associated Jewish circumcision with ritual castration, viewing both as symbolic of the attainment of freedom from the body and its passions:

“In a number of little-known passages, Philo portrays the biblical character Joseph, conventionally a model of the idealized statesman, as a eunuch…. This portrayal is especially provocative, because in these cases the interpretation does not derive from negative hermeneutic play on the complexities of Joseph’s…character, but is instead aimed at depicting Joseph as a paragon of self-control and abstinence….   In his writings, Philo consistently uses the same language of ‘excision’ to describe both castration and circumcision as symbols of the separation of soul from body and of the rejection of physicality….  Within Philo’s Platonizing framework…castration, similar to circumcision, provides an apt metaphor for spiritual progress. For Philo, all circumcised Jewish men have in some respects undergone an alteration to their reproductive organs as a ritual of sanctification to ensure their inclusion in a sacred community” (Wyner Mark, E. 2003.  The Covenant of Circumcision: New Perspectives on an Ancient Jewish Rite. Lebanon, NH: Brandeis University Press, pp. 78-82).

Philo wrote his comments in support of circumcision, castration and asceticism in the same time period that the apostle Paul was writing his warnings against this very belief system.

A 3rd century work by St. Hippolytus, entitled “The Refutation of All Heresies,” highlights another possible connection between the Essenes and Paul’s prohibition against “authentein.”  Hippolytus explains that the Essenes were divided into four sub-sects.  One of these was known as the Secarii; they were given this name because of their practice of forcibly circumcising non-Jewish men, or “slaughtering” those who refused to comply:

“But the adherents of another party, if they happen to hear anyone maintaining a discussion concerning God and his laws–supposing such to be an uncircumcised person, they will closely watch him, and when they meet a person of this description in any place alone, they will threaten to slay him if he refuses to undergo the rite of circumcision.  Now, if the latter does not wish to comply with this request, an Essene spares not, but even slaughters” (Book IX, Chapter XXI).

The reader may remember that “authentein” can refer to those who perpetrate a slaughter.  It may also refer to ritual violence or murder.  This form of forced circumcision against a non-Jew was also specifically prohibited under the Roman Lex Cornelia de sicariis et venificis (the law against murderers and poisoners) referred to earlier.

I provide a detailed review of the evident influence of Cybele mythology on the beliefs and practices of the Essenes in my book entitled, “Let My People Go: A Call to End the Oppression of Women in the Church, Revised and Expanded.”

St. Hippolytus also clearly indicates that the mythology of Cybele and Attis, along with its priestly rite of castration, formed the foundation for Gnostic teaching in the early Christian church:

“Perhaps because it was written in Greek, or perhaps because of doctrinal reasons or religious politics, this work by St. Hippolytus was not known in the western part of the Christian Mediterranean. Book 5, which is of particular interest to us here, was found only in the nineteenth century, at Mount Athos, along with six other books. For us, the Refutation of All Heresies is a privileged source, revealing what could have most likely developed at the end of the second century in terms of applied comparativism. In his itinerary of errors, Hippolytus’ outraged gaze fell on the Naassenes, a Gnostic sect who acquired their name from a curious etymology, he says, combining the Hebrew naas (serpent) and the Greek naos (temple)…. The fact that the Naassenes privileged Attis, the Mother of the gods [Cybele], and the ritual of the galli demonstrates their clear interest in the metroac ritual celebrated in March, which was evidently known to them in an Anatolian version. One of the names under which they identified Attis was Papas, which directly relates to the well-documented cults in Phrygian epigraphy during the first centuries of the empire” (Borgeaud, P. Lysa Hochroth trans., Mother of the Gods: from Cybele to the Virgin Mary, Baltimore, Maryland: John Hopkins University Press, p. 102).

According to the Naassenes’ belief system, the castration of Attis freed “the soul from the earthly zones, the inferior areas of creation” (Borgeaud, p. 105). The rite of castration was therefore viewed by this Gnostic sect as symbolic of the spiritual journey that every Christian must undergo—the liberation of the spirit from matter. This is how they made sense of Jesus’ death and resurrection. They saw it in terms of freedom from the body and its “inferior” appetites.

To summarize available historical data, we have clear evidence of ascetic cults in Asia Minor that commanded people abstain from marriage and certain kinds of foods. They taught what the apostle Paul would have referred to as false teaching. Their beliefs and practices were based on mythology that was dualistic, hierarchical and profoundly sexist. Some of those influenced by this mythology claimed to be teachers of the law. They claimed to have secret knowledge (gnosis), and attempted to legitimize their authority by appealing to endless genealogies. This belief system influenced the foundation of a Gnostic sect within the early church known as the Naassenes. They based their understanding of Jesus’ death and resurrection on the myth of Attis, whose castration was re-enacted annually, even though under Roman law it was a crime compared to murder. It is also the case that a branch of an ascetic sect within Judaism (the Secarii) was forcing Gentile men to undergo circumcision.  If the men resisted, they were killed.  According to the Septuagint and the Greek literature of Paul’s day, the apostle’s language in 1 Timothy 2:12 therefore likely prohibits “self-murder,” “sacrilege,” “perpetrating a crime,” “perpetrating a slaughter,” or the “supporting of violent actions.” This language is an accurate reflection of the crime of self-castration that formed the basis of the Gnostic asceticism Paul was evidently warning Timothy about.  It also accurately reflects the crime of forcible circumcision and/or murder perpetrated against Gentile men by an extremist branch of the Essenes.

Rather than preventing women from exercising authority, abounding evidence suggests that the apostle Paul was prohibiting the teaching and practice of ascetic spirituality that was symbolized by ritual violence against men.

If evidence supporting this view of Paul’s letter to Timothy is indeed so abundant, why has the church historically understood 1 Timothy 2:12 as a prohibition against women in authority? Borgeaud suggests that important information may not have been widely available to the Western church because of “doctrinal reasons” and “religious politics.” Interestingly, Borgeaud highlights the similarities between Naassene Gnosticism and neo-Platonism (p. 104). Influential theologians and Bible translators including Origen, Ambrose, Augustine, Jerome, Erasmus and John Calvin all admittedly made sense of the Bible through the interpretive lenses of neo-Platonic philosophy. I provide detailed evidence of the manner in which this dualistic, hierarchical and sexist philosophy has historically distorted the church’s understanding of the Bible and the Christian faith in my book entitled, “A God I’d Like to Meet: Separating the Love of God from Harmful Traditional Beliefs.”

Like the spirituality of the Cybele cult, neo-Platonism was also dualistic, ascetic, hierarchical and sexist.  Men rather than women, however, were placed at the top of the neo-Platonic hierarchy. In contrast to any form of hierarchical paradigm, the apostle Paul teaches us that there is neither male nor female in Christ (Galatians 3:28). All are called to love one another and serve our Lord not according to sex, but rather in accordance with the gifts we are given by the Holy Spirit (1 Corinthians 12:4-11).

My prayer is now that the church will let go of long-held traditions based on philosophies that are foreign to the Bible. May we consider the available evidence with open minds and humble hearts, and may the Spirit of God bring freedom and healing to us all. In the name of Christ Jesus our Lord, Amen.

“See to it that no one takes you captive through hollow and deceptive philosophy, which depends on human tradition and the elemental spiritual forces.” (Colossians 2:8)

By request, I have made an expanded version of this blog (with additional information and references) available in the form of a book, available here in paperback and Kindle formats: http://www.amazon.com/Apostles-Warning-Restoring-Original-Message-ebook/dp/B01BT8AAJ2/ref=tmm_kin_swatch_0?_encoding=UTF8&qid=1455866417&sr=8-1 (link is to the book’s second edition)

I recently completed the second edition of the book to include additional research that I found compelling, and to present the text in proper APA format.  The additional research includes a quotation from Tatian in the 2nd century A.D. about ongoing ritual violence associated with the worship of Artemis.  It also includes a sample from Polybius’ Histories, in which he uses the word “authenten” to refer to the “perpetrator of a massacre.”  I then share some additional information about Rome’s perspective on Cybele/Artemis worship, and how the Empire viewed the cult as a threat to male authority.  Finally, I’ve included some information shared by Richard and Catherine Clark Kroeger about how the ritual castration of Cybele and Artemis’ priests was viewed as “depriving men of power.”  The last two pieces of research may help us understand how a prohibition against violence done to men by a female-dominated ascetic cult could later be viewed as a usurpation of male authority.  I hope that readers find the blog and the book thought-provoking and informative.

 

 

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The Subordination of Women in the Church: Where things went wrong, and what we can now do to stand for love and equality

A man named Origen attended a school in Alexandria, Egypt in the 3rd Century A.D..  What was he studying?  Something called neo-Platonic philosophy.  He was being taught by a man named Ammonius Saccas.

Believe it or not, this seemingly abstract bit of historical information is one of the main reasons so many theologians have believed and taught that women may not share authority with men in the church or in the home.

How is this possible?  Alongside Origen was a classmate named Plotinus.  The works of these two men were discovered and embraced by an influential church leader in the 4th Century A.D. named Ambrose, the Bishop of Milan.  He in turn passed this philosophy on to St. Augustine, the influential theologian and Bishop of Hippo.  Hoping to provide a theological foundation for badly needed reform in the church, John Calvin encouraged the readers of his work entitled “the Institutes of the Christian Religion” to make sense of the Bible through the interpretive lenses of St. Augustine’s philosophy.

I wish the rest was “history,” as they say; but sadly, this philosophical framework–neo-Platonism–continues to dominate much of today’s preaching on what is wrongly called the “biblical” roles of men and women.

What did the neo-Platonists teach? They taught that the universe is best explained by a philosophy of dualism.  In other words, they broke reality down into various sets of two opposing principles: spirit versus body, mind versus emotion, man versus woman.  They also taught that the “natural order” of the universe was best understood in terms of hierarchy.  In other words, they said that the universe is functioning as it should when spirit “rules” body, mind “rules” emotion, and men “rule” women.  They also taught that the “best born” free men should rule over slaves.

How did neo-Platonists define evil?  They said that evil exists where one principle usurps the authority of another.  Sound familiar? Any “mingling of the classes” was described as “injustice.”

St. Augustine used this interpretive framework to make sense of the creation account found in the book of Genesis.  For example, when he saw Adam refer to Eve as “flesh of my flesh,” he automatically assumed that Adam must represent the spirit.  Just as spirit must rule over flesh, he concluded, so too must men rule over women.  This passage of the Bible (Genesis 2:22-23), however, says nothing about a hierarchy of authority–unless you force it into a neo-Platonic context; and that is exactly what St. Augustine did.

When John Calvin wrote his commentary on Genesis, he came to the same conclusions as St. Augustine.  That should come as no surprise, since in his commentary work, Calvin cites both St. Augustine and Plato as his influential sources.

Augustine and Calvin’s view of Genesis then impacted their understanding of all of the apostle Paul’s references to the creation account found throughout his epistles.  Both theologians automatically assumed that Paul was reinforcing the dualistic hierarchy they wrongly perceived in Genesis.

To complicate matters further, two notable Bible translators were also strongly influenced by neo-Platonic philosophy: St. Jerome of the 4th century A.D. and Erasmus of the 16th century.  Jerome’s Bible became the authorized Latin translation for the Roman Catholic Church.  Erasmus’ Bible became the basis for our first English translations, which then went on to influence popular English versions from the King James to today’s English Standard Version.

In all of these Bibles, there is mounting evidence that texts have been modified to fit into a neo-Platonic framework.  Commands are added regarding women that do not appear in the oldest Greek manuscripts (e.g. Wives submit to your husbands).  The leadership of women is maligned as sinful (c.f. Isaiah 3:12 and 1 Timothy 2:12).  Words translated as “leader” “ruler” “minister” for men are translated as “servant” or “helper” for women.  Headings are added that do not appear in the manuscripts, and that change the meaning of various passages.  Punctuation is added (or not added where it is probably necessary) to obscure or change the meaning of various texts.  Neutral, or in some cases female, pronouns in the Greek manuscripts are all rendered as male.

Due to the overwhelming influence of neo-Platonic philosophy, the Christian faith has suffered immensely.  In some instances, it no longer shares the message that was taught and lived by Jesus and the apostles.  Perhaps most notably, the Bible teaches that sin (evil) is the opposite of love, not the inversion of a neo-Platonic hierarchy.  Instead of following Jesus’ example of love, many churches now focus on the importance of power, control and exclusively male authority.  This is a travesty.

When I attended Bible College, many years ago, I first became aware that my understanding of the Bible was not shared by scholars referred to as “egalitarians.”  At the time, I wasn’t aware that my own theology had been influenced by a neo-Platonic framework.  It was then that I embarked upon a journey of many decades to try to understand why some Christians did not understand the Bible as I did.

What I discovered shook me to the core.  I’ve summarized it here today, honestly because I just felt I had to “get it out” so to speak.  It’s painful for me to see the ongoing influence of this philosophy on the church, on the gospel message, on our understanding of God, and on women in particular.

Someone might say that I haven’t supported my conclusions with any references.  Well, as far as this post goes, that’s correct.  This is from the heart.

I do, however, detail all of the reference material from Plato’s original works, to those of Origen, Plotinus, Augustine, Jerome, Erasmus, Calvin and today’s neo-Calvinist leaders in my book entitled, “A God I’d Like to Meet: Separating the Love of God from Harmful Traditional Beliefs.”

As much as possible, I reference primary source material from all of these philosophers, theologians, commentators and translators.  I investigate manuscript evidence found in the oldest available copies of the biblical text.  I also draw from the work of historians dating back as far as the 2nd century B.C..

Anyone who wants to read more about this, or investigate the references, or learn what we can do now as a church to restore the message of Jesus and his earliest followers is welcome and encouraged to read it.  I pray that it helps make a difference.  We must remove the lenses of neo-Platonic philosophy from our understanding of the life and teachings of Jesus Christ.

http://www.amazon.com/God-Like-Meet-Separating-Traditional-ebook/dp/B00NP913IG/ref=tmm_kin_swatch_0?_encoding=UTF8&sr=8-1&qid=1426016996

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7 Examples of Women Exercising Authority or Teaching in the Bible

Example 1: Queen Esther

So Queen Esther, daughter of Abihail, along with Mordecai the Jew, wrote with full authority to confirm this second letter concerning Purim. And Mordecai sent letters to all the Jews in the 127 provinces of Xerxes’ kingdom—words of goodwill and assurance— to establish these days of Purim at their designated times, as Mordecai the Jew and Queen Esther had decreed for them, and as they had established for themselves and their descendants in regard to their times of fasting and lamentation. Esther’s decree confirmed these regulations about Purim, and it was written down in the records. (Esther 9:29-32, NIV)

Note: Esther’s position of authority as Queen significantly contributed to Israel’s salvation from Haman’s genocidal plot.  Her authority also instituted the celebration of Purim.

Example 2: Eve

Then God said, “Let us make humankind in our image, after our likeness, so they may rule over the fish of the sea and the birds of the air, over the cattle, and over all the earth, and over all the creatures that move on the earth.” God created humankind in his own image, in the image of God he created them, male and female he created them.

God blessed them and said to them, “Be fruitful and multiply! Fill the earth and subdue it! Rule over the fish of the sea and the birds of the air and every creature that moves on the ground. (Genesis 1:26-28, NET)

Note: Contrary to what some commentators say, Adam and Eve shared authority over the animals in the creation narrative found in the book of Genesis.

Example 3: Deborah

Now Deborah, a prophet, the wife of Lappidoth, was leading Israel at that time. She held court under the Palm of Deborah between Ramah and Bethel in the hill country of Ephraim, and the Israelites went up to her to have their disputes decided. (Judges 4:4-5, NIV)

Note: Deborah was a prophetic leader and judge in Israel.  Her judgments carried authority over all of Israel, women and men alike.  She issued commands to men, including military leaders, as God’s spokesperson.

Example 4: Wisdom Personified

Out in the open wisdom calls aloud,
she raises her voice in the public square;
on top of the wall she cries out,
at the city gate she makes her speech:
“How long will you who are simple love your simple ways?
How long will mockers delight in mockery
and fools hate knowledge?
Repent at my rebuke!
Then I will pour out my thoughts to you,
I will make known to you my teachings.” (Proverbs 1:20-23, NIV)

Note: The Wisdom Literature found in the Greek Septuagint Bible frequently refers to Wisdom and the Holy Spirit of God as a woman.

Example 5: Phoebe

And I commend you to Phoebe our sister — being a ministrant of the assembly that [is] in Cenchrea — that ye may receive her in the Lord, as doth become saints, and may assist her in whatever matter she may have need of you — for she also became a leader of many, and of myself. (Romans 16:1-2, YLT)

Note: The words used of Phoebe in this passage are typically translated as “minister” “deacon” “leader” or “ruler” when they refer to men.

Example 6: Junia

Greet Andronicus and Junia, my fellow Jews who have been in prison with me. They are outstanding among the apostles, and they were in Christ before I was. (Romans 16:7, NIV)

Note: Centuries after Paul commended Junia for her outstanding apostolic ministry, scribes and translators in the church changed her name to the male form, Junias.  Now that it has been well established that Junia was in fact a woman, some attempt to say she was simply “well known by the apostles.”  Both modifications of the text attempt to squeeze these words of Paul into a patriarchal worldview.

Example 7: Priscilla

Meanwhile a Jew named Apollos, a native of Alexandria, came to Ephesus. He was a learned man, with a thorough knowledge of the Scriptures.  He had been instructed in the way of the Lord, and he spoke with great fervor and taught about Jesus accurately, though he knew only the baptism of John.  He began to speak boldly in the synagogue. When Priscilla and Aquila heard him, they invited him to their home and explained to him the way of God more adequately. (Acts 18:24-26)

Note: Priscilla was teaching Apollos, a Jewish man, “the way of God more adequately.”  She was teaching a man spiritual things.  She was doing this in Ephesus.  This location was the evident destination of Paul’s first letter to Timothy.  This letter has been wrongly translated to suggest that women may not “teach” or “exercise authority” over men.  This translation occurs first in Erasmus’ 16th century Latin Bible.  It became the basis for traditional English translations from the King James to today’s ESV.

Does the Bible permit women to teach and exercise authority in the church and in the world?  Women are not merely permitted to lead, their leadership and teaching abilities are repeatedly celebrated.  They are gifts of God.  On International Women’s Day, I invite you join with me in celebrating alongside our Creator.

 

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A Woman in Authority, Who Refused to be Silent: In Celebration of Purim

Then Haman said to King Xerxes, “There is a certain people dispersed among the peoples in all the provinces of your kingdom who keep themselves separate. Their customs are different from those of all other people, and they do not obey the king’s laws; it is not in the king’s best interest to tolerate them. If it pleases the king, let a decree be issued to destroy them, and I will give ten thousand talents of silver to the king’s administrators for the royal treasury.”
So the king took his signet ring from his finger and gave it to Haman son of Hammedatha, the Agagite, the enemy of the Jews. “Keep the money,” the king said to Haman, “and do with the people as you please.” (Esther 3:8-10)

This is the biblical account of Haman’s plot to perpetrate genocide against the people of Israel while they were in exile. He was unsuccessful.

God used a woman in authority, Queen Esther, to stop him. She exposed the evil machinations of Haman to her husband, King Xerxes:

Then Queen Esther answered, “If I have found favor with you, Your Majesty, and if it pleases you, grant me my life—this is my petition. And spare my people—this is my request. For I and my people have been sold to be destroyed, killed and annihilated.” (Esther 7:3-4)

Up to this point, the King had been unaware that it was the Queen’s own people that Haman planned to destroy. When Xerxes learned the truth, he was outraged:

King Xerxes asked Queen Esther, “Who is he? Where is he—the man who has dared to do such a thing?” (Esther 7:5)

The Queen named the would-be murderer, and the King promptly ordered his execution.

This is the deliverance of Israel that is celebrated during the feast of Purim, underway across the world even now. And who instituted this celebration that is still observed? Once again, it was Queen Esther, exercising her “full authority”:

So Queen Esther, daughter of Abihail, along with Mordecai the Jew, wrote with full authority to confirm this second letter concerning Purim. And Mordecai sent letters to all the Jews in the 127 provinces of Xerxes’ kingdom—words of goodwill and assurance— to establish these days of Purim at their designated times, as Mordecai the Jew and Queen Esther had decreed for them, and as they had established for themselves and their descendants in regard to their times of fasting and lamentation. Esther’s decree confirmed these regulations about Purim, and it was written down in the records. (Esther 9:29-32)

I’m thankful to God that he raised up Esther, a woman, to a position of authority; and that she had the courage to speak on behalf of her people. An unthinkable tragedy was averted as a result of her courage and God’s intervention.

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