Does the Bible promote sexism?

by Pastor Dave on March 27, 2012

Greetings Fellow Journeyers,

Hopefully you are enjoying the Journey through the scriptures and have recently enjoyed the reading and meditation on John’s gospel. Today we begin the reading of Paul’s letter to Titus whom Paul left in charge of the newly formed church in Crete. In chapter 1 Paul instructs Titus to help organize a new church, which included raising up Elders to lead the church. An interesting thing struck me today as I was reading Chapter 1. Notice what it says in verse 6, “An elder must be blameless, the husband of but one wife, a man whose children believe and are not open to the charge of being wild and disobedient.” A quick reading of the text might lead you to conclude that only men are allowed to be elders in the church. If one continues to carry out this line of thinking, you could also be led to believe that the Bible promotes a kind of sexism. Then you might be thinking, “Hey, at Living Springs we have women pastors and elders, what’s up with that when the Bible says that only men should be elders?”

How do we interpret Scripture?

Well this brings us to the very important role of Biblical interpretation. Whenever interpreting what a scripture means for today, you must first understand that the Bible was first written in a particular context at a particular time, with a particular set of circumstances. Just a straight reading of scripture, without doing some interpretive work, can lead to problems. For example, a straight reading of Titus chapter one might lead you to conclude that all Cretans are “always liars, evil brutes, and lazy gluttons” as it says in verse 12. Now, this may be true of Pastor Mark who lives in Crete today, but would certainly not be true of all Cretans today (silliness intended). Furthermore, Crete is in the Mediterranean sea, and not in Illinois.

Let me give you a better example. In 1 Corinthians 11:5 it says that “every woman who prays or prophesies with her head uncovered [in the context of public worship] dishonors her head… she should cover her head.” So does this mean that if women pray, prophesy or speak in church today they should wear a head covering? There are some today who feel they should, however I don’t think so. What is important to understand about the apostle Paul is that he was, in the words of William Lane, a task theologian. He was first and foremost a missionary, and he shaped his theology to suit his particular missionary task. Paul was always addressing a particular life situation on the mission field. At the time, when Paul wrote those words if a woman took off her head covering in public and exposed her hair, this was a sign of loose morals and sexual promiscuity. This is not the case today, and so therefore, most Bible teachers, pastors and scholars would conclude that it is not necessary to do so today. We not only need to consider the context of the time when the scriptures were written, but also our context today when discussing what is important in public worship, or the leadership of the church today. We need to ask what did the scripture mean then, and then consider, how do we apply it today.

So, how do we interpret Titus 1, and women in leadership?

Now, back to our discussion on Titus 1. It appears from the first chapter of Titus that Paul was instructing that only men be elders in the church. Does this mean that only men should be elders or pastors today? I would suggest not. While the first rule of interpretation is to ask what did the scripture mean back then, a second can be to ask if there are any other scriptures that would be helpful in interpreting this passage. I would like to offer…

5 Reasons it is not necessary to conclude a male-only leadership in the church today

  1. The Particular context of this passage is that Paul was speaking to a male dominated, sexist culture where women were often viewed (sadly) more like property than as equals. As a task theologian ministering in a particular cultural context, he was being sensitive to that context, and therefore directed Titus to look for male elders. To not do so would have been culturally extraordinarily disruptive and untenable. To discover how we should approach this today it is important that we look at the rest of scripture and the trajectory of where the scriptures are pointing.
  2. A strong argument for Female leadership comes from Galatians 3:28 which says, “There is neither Jew nor Greek, slave nor free, male nor female for you are all one in Christ Jesus.” Christ came to break down the walls of division, bigotry, racism and sexism and definitely declares our oneness, unity and equality of all people.
  3. There is also evidence in scripture of women serving in every capacity and every level of leadership in the church and outside the church. There are deaconesses 1 Timothy 3:11 (wives can also be translated deaconesses here), pastors (2 Timothy 4:19 – Priscilla and Aquila were house church pastors and Priscilla was mentioned first – which most scholars believed that this meant she was the lead pastor), prophetesses (e.g. Anna Luke 2:36); and even Women Apostles which if there were a hierarchy of leadership they would be at the top (e.g. Junias – a woman who was outstanding among the apostles). There were also Women Political leaders such as Deborah (not only a political but a military leader) and Esther.
  4. Another strong argument for women in all positions of leadership is that of gift distribution. All of the gifts and offices are given by the Spirit, and are never distributed along gender, age, or ethnic lines – ever! Would God distribute gifts and then not give women the platform in which to use them?
  5. Not only did the scriptures not promote sexism, but was always way ahead of the times in liberating and honoring women. If you look at Jesus interaction with women (e.g. John 4 the woman at the well) over and over again he broke down walls and honored women, which was scandalous at the time. Also, many of Paul’s teachings including Galatians 3:28 (mentioned above) and Ephesians 5:21 where Paul taught husbands and wives to “submit to one another out of reverence for Christ” would have been downright unheard of and scandalous at the time.

To conclude I would say that there have been massive books and theological treaties written on this subject, there is infinitely more that could be said on this topic, and there are beautiful Christians that differ on the interpretation. My hope was to show how the Bible was not only not sexist, but was incredibly progressive, and empowering to women.

Blessings as you read, study, and interpret God’s Word.

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