Dear Pastor Joon, As a young women and follower of Christ, I find it difficult to understand 1 Corinthians 11:1-16 and 1 Corinthians 14:34-35. I was hoping to get your input on what is being expressed in these scriptures. Thank you and God bless!
Hey dear sister, in fact, since you happen to know my first name, I’ll also make a sweeping attempt to cover the questionable verses from Apostle Paul about women and ministry. That includes: 1 Corinthians 11:1-16, 14:34-35, 1 Timothy 2:11, Ephesians 5:21-33. I’ve also written about some of these verses here a few years ago. I was a little bit more sassy then, so I apologize in advance for my tone.
Before we get into the verses, I want to graciously offer these considerations. Please feel free to skip around.
1) We may not see eye-to-eye on our interpretations, but disagreement doesn’t have to mean disunity. We can disagree and still be friends. What’s important for a Christian is that we love Jesus, know that he loves us, and that we love one another.
2) Apostle Paul is occasionally called an outdated misogynist for his views on women, but academically and historically, I believe the exact opposite: Paul had such a high regard for women that I’m downright certain it rushed his execution. He declared views that were countercultural to both the Hebrews and the Romans of his day, and are still countercultural. Just one example: Paul wholeheartedly advocated for singleness as a legitimate life-choice in a time when single women were considered uneconomical and sinful.
3) The English translation of Old Testament Hebrew and New Testament Greek is limited in that it’s impossible to have an exact translation of tone, intonation, colloquialisms, and context. Our English Bibles will always sound a little too abrupt. I’ll put it this way: My Asian parents learned English as a second language, and they sometimes sound more “rude” or “aggressive” because they don’t know the proper way to frame words with disclaimers and courtesy. Instead of saying, “Are you busy tomorrow? I’d like to invite you to my place,” they might say, “You come over okay.” They only know the short way of phrasing their intentions, so it comes off as tone-deaf. My parents might say things like, “You people” or “What’s wrong with you” without understanding this can be rude in our modern Anglo-American vernacular. That’s not to excuse when my parents are rude, but to preempt you: our chronological slice of culture tends to filter the Bible as offensive with phrases that never meant to offend. Which brings us to the next point.
4) Words like submit, quiet, and head of the household have such ominous tones today because of heavy verbal baggage and our quick-to-fight culture. We need to release what we think we know about these words in Scripture. Perhaps the irony here is that in labeling these words as “oppressive” or “archaic,” it’s inadvertently given ammo to chauvinists and oppressors when the Bible is not using these terms with our current meanings. Reading the Bible requires a bit of time-travel and historical empathy before we react too quickly.
5) The Bible is going to say some hard things. I can’t water down the tough stuff. The second we pick and choose what we want from Scripture, we’re no longer dealing with a real God, but an idol of our own making. A Bible that never pressed my buttons wouldn’t be a real God at all, but a god in my image. If at any time we push back against the Bible: it’s worth exploring why that happens. Simply, the Bible is always going to challenge some part of our worldview in every culture in every time period, either because it’s wrong or I’m wrong.
As a Christian, I take the view that I’m wrong, though of course, I still wrestle with those difficult parts of the Bible. So it’s worth our time to ask: Why do certain passages of Scripture hit such a raw nerve in my modern sensibilities? What is it offending? Why?
Here are some brief explanations of each of the “problematic passages” about women. I offer these as considerations for you to discern, pick apart, and finally conclude in your own process of conviction. I may very well be wrong in my understanding here and I completely welcome dialogue on this. I’m learning as we all are, and I want to make sure I’m being biblically sound and faithful to my faith.