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Why do we need another book on women, the Bible, and women’s roles? Well that’s easy: there are still factions of Christianity that use eight little verses to try keep women out of the workforce, out of having a career, and out of leadership positions in the church. As long as these eight little verses are used to interpret the hundreds of verses about women in the Bible, we need books like Women Who Didn’t Shut Up & Sit Down. Here’s a sneak peak from the Introduction.

Those eight little verses

What are these eight little verses that control how women through 5,000 years of Jewish and Christian history are portrayed? What are these eight little verses that are used to keep women in their proper silent and submissive place in both The Hebrew Scriptures and the New Testament? Here they are:

As in all the churches of the saints, women should be silent in the churches. For they are not permitted to speak, but should be subordinate, as the law also says. If there is anything they desire to know, let them ask their husbands at home. For it is shameful for a woman to speak in church (1 Corinthians 14:33b-35).

Let a woman learn in silence with full submission. I permit no woman to teach or to have authority over a man; she is to keep silent. For Adam was formed first, then Eve; and Adam was not deceived, but the woman was deceived and became a transgressor. Yet she will be saved through childbearing, provided they continue in faith and love and holiness, with modesty (1 Timothy 2:11-15).

If you just went “Huh?” (or even WTF?!?), don’t worry, you’re not the only one. It’s shameful for a woman to speak in church? A woman has to keep silent because of Eve? And my personal favorite: Women “will be saved through childbearing.” (This is my favorite because my husband and I have chosen not to have children. Guess I’m unsaveable.)

So, what are we in the 21st century supposed to think about this? Do Christians (particularly Christian women) have to be held in rigid gender roles based on these verses? Do women have no choice but to sit down and shut up because these eight verses are used to marginalize and negate any Scripture regarding women working, women making their own decisions, and women in authority? That’s the way these eight verses have been used through the 2,000 years of the Christian Church. But I’ve learned that just because something in the Bible has been interpreted in a certain way for millennia doesn’t that interpretation is right. Look at slavery. Over 100 years ago Christians were using passages in the Bible to justify slavery. Now no American is going to use those passages in Scripture to justify slavery today. We recognize, that even though endorsed in the Bible, slavery is wrong. It’s unethical. We’ve changed how we interpret the slavery passages in the Bible. Why can’t we change how we interpret the passages about women?

According to those who want to interpret the Bible literally as the inerrant word of Godde in all things, to do this, would be to undermine all of Christianity. But all of Christianity wasn’t undermined by not literally obeying the passages about slavery. Why are women so different? My answer is: it’s no different. In fact, my challenge to the inerrantists is to take their literalism to its logical conclusion. In the Near Eastern world that is the setting of the Bible, women were property. That’s why instructions to women, children, and slaves were lumped together: they were all the property of the man who was the head of the household, or the paterfamilias. We now believe it is not right for one human being to own another: slavery is illegal. We no longer believe that children are the property of their parents; in fact, children are taken away from parents who neglect and abuse them. In First World countries (like the United States), we no longer believe that women are the property of men. The only way these verses make sense is if you continue to believe that women are the property of men. Women could not have authority over their husbands because they were property. Women had to submit to their husbands because they were property. So why do complementarians continue to take these verses literally when the foundation for these verses is longer valid? Honestly I don’t know. They try to make it sound like they don’t want to make out that women are property. They contort the creation narratives in Genesis into all sorts of horrible shapes to show female submission is the way Godde made things to be. But in the end, the only reason I can see why they hold so tenaciously to these verses is that they believe women are property.

They also don’t admit that there are major translation issues with these verses, and both epistles these verses show up in were written to very troubled churches about very specific situations. They do not want to admit these verses are not as cut and dry as they seem, and they refuse to admit that these instructions were just at that place for that time (like slavery). They want to make these verses universal: meant for all time.

I first want to take a look at these problem verses as they are called. I’m going to give the historical and sociological background to 1 Corinthians and 1 Timothy. Then I’m going to show the different ways these verses can be translated. Finally I’ll show there are interpretations of these verses that are true to the Bible as sacred scripture but do not shackle women to be the property of men.

Then we get to the fun stuff. We get to the women in the Bible that show these verses were never meant to be taken for all time, forever, amen. I’ve divided them into three groups: women who didn’t submit, women who didn’t shut up, and women who held authority over both men and women, mainly as religious leaders. We will see that women through the course of biblical history may have been viewed as the property of men, but they didn’t act like. The stood their ground, they spoke their minds, they made decisions that changed the course of Godde’s people, and they were leaders in both secular and sacred circles.


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