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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Plato’s Spectacles: How Greek Philosophy has Distorted our View of Women in the Bible

The following presentation was shared at Emmanuel Bible College on March 3, 2015:

Plato’s Spectacles

To view the presentation, please click on the link above.  You will need Powerpoint (or a compatible program) installed on your computer to view the file.

If you would like Bob to share this or similar information at your church, group or organization, please feel free to send him a message on Facebook: https://www.facebook.com/bob.edwards.letmypeoplego.

May God use this information to enlighten and encourage!

P.S. For those who do not have Powerpoint, I have added this PDF version of the presentation.  You can view it using Acrobat reader.  Hope that helps!

Plato’s Spectacles

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