Women in Scripture
by Christine Egbert
Many of us who have returned to the old paths of the Christian faith, via restoration of the original Hebraic definition of faith, came out from denominations that taught that women have no significant roles to play in furthering God’s kingdom, except for training up godly children and being submissive wives to our husbands. In this article, I hope to show (through Scripture and history) that while a wife is certainly called to be in submission to her own husband and charged with training her children, the Most High uses women, and always has, in other capacities to further the work of God’s Kingdom.
Most of the wrong notions regarding women’s roles come from a misinterpretation of Paul’s writings. But as Peter warned in 2 Peter 3:16, sometimes Paul’s writing is hard to understand, and the unlearned (in Scripture) often twist it to their own destruction.
With that in mind, I will start with 1 Corinthians 14:34-35, which says, “Let the women keep silent in the churches … for they 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 off, I must point out that the “Law” to which Paul refers in verse 34 is NOT a TORAH command of God. Paul was referring to the “oral law” written by the Pharisees. In the Jewish vernacular of the first century, these oral laws are often referred to simply as the Law. One must study the first five books of Scripture to understand which laws are given by God and which ones come from man.
Psalm 68:11 (verse 12 in the Masoretic 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, Jesus (Yeshua) encouraged a woman, who sat at his feet—a position taken by disciples—saying, “Mary has chosen the better part and it will not be taken away from her.” (Luke 10:38-42)
Jesus (Yeshua) used a Samaritan woman to proclaim the gospel, and she proclaimed it even 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 Messiah commissioned to announce the good news (gospel) of His resurrection was the woman, and former prostitute, Mary Magdalene. (John 20:14-18)
Paul, in Romans 16:1-16, greeted ten people, whom he referred to as his colleagues in ministry, by name. Seven of the ten were women.
Why Did Paul Warn Women To Be Silent?
Before revealing the reason Paul ordered certain women in Corinth to be silent in the congregation, I must point out three chapters earlier in, 1 Corinthians 11:5, Paul scolded certain women who were praying and prophesying in the congregation at Corinth for being unveiled. He did not scold them for praying and prophesying, both which require speaking. Paul simply instructed them not to pray and prophesy unveiled for it was shameful, as was having their heads shaved. Then, three chapters later, in 1 Corinthians 14:34-35, he commanded the women of the Corinth fellowship to be silent in the assembly. Paul told them to question their husbands at home if they wanted to learn.
Ancient Greco-Roman World of the First Century
The answer to this conundrum is found in the history of 1st Century, Greco-Roman (Pagan) culture. Paul’s allowing women to pray and prophesy in the congregation, so long as they covered their heads, then ordering other women to be silent, can only be properly understood if one researches the role women played in pagan religious rites during the first century.
Pisidian Antioch was in the heart of Anatolia. There, 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 is found on a plaque, which says, “olylyngos” that is dedicated to the “secret cries of women”. It was excavated from the sanctuary of Demeter at Corinth (R. Stroud, “The Sanctuary of Demeter and Kore on Acrocorinth,” Hesperia 37, (1968) 299-317).
From this we know that Paul’s seemingly contradictory instructions regarding how women should conduct themselves in a worship service was directed at specific (and very troubled) congregations (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).
In his epistles, Paul, the Apostle who was sent to the Gentiles, spent much of his time addressing the appropriate manner of dress, both for males and for females because of these pagan practices. He also had to warn them not to fornicate, get drunk, or overeat when taking the Lord’s supper (1 Corinthians 11:21-22).
Paul was not establishing new doctrines. He was simply addressing specific congregational problems. He was warning new believers, who were still worshiping the way they had always worshiped, NOT to worship Israel’s Messiah that way.
Torah commandments like not boiling a kid in its mother’s milk, not cutting hair at the sides of the head, or clipping the edges of the beard, were given to Israel for the very same reason. These were religious practices of heathen nations, and Israel’s God, Who is Holy and demands His people to be Holy, wanted His people to have nothing to do with these practices.
Women’s Leadership Roles In Scripture
Huldah, a female Prophetess, advised the King in 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 the LORD (Yahweh) 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 the LORD (Yahweh) 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 (she lived in Jerusalem in the second quarter). 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.”
Judges 5:13 says “…the LORD (Yahweh) made me (Deborah) have dominion over the mighty.”
In her book Mama’s Torah (page 32), Batya Ruth Wootten 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 (Deborah) said, ‘The LORD (Yahweh) 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 (Deborah) continued as his co-leader.”
Queen Esther Decreed Law
Esther 9:20-32 explains how the Feast of Purim was created. Verse 32 states: “And the decree of Esther made rise 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 Cenchrea, 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 RSV).
Phoebe as “Diakonos” (διάκονος) in the masculine 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 is the exact word Paul used to describe himself and Apollos in 1 Corinthians 3:5, Tychicus in Ephesians 6:21 and Colossians 4:7, and 1 Timothy 4:6.
On page 33 of Mama’s Torah, the author writes, and I concur with the following, “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 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 appears to have been working in harmony with male leadership they nonetheless acted in leadership capacities themselves. Deborah did not go to her husband, nor to Barak, to inquire about the word of the LORD (Yahweh). 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 them out of positions the Almighty has granted them…”