1 Cor. 14: Did Sexism Have Some of Its Roots in the Early Church?

Times have changed, but has history?

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At first, I thought Paul was just occasionally chatting breeze, but I realised that it’s much deeper than Paul, himself.

First things first, this goes beyond Paul or 1Cor. 14; women being barred from public participation in church, was a practice of the early church.

P.S. I read from the YouVersion bible app, and I study and read mostly in the AMP (Amplified) version by The Lockman Foundation.

Let’s see.. the footnotes in these verses point out that Paul might have been referring to the unmarried women, as, apparently, he does in other passages, where he specifically talks about women in the church. The footnotes also say that these instructions probably applied to the unmarried women, as well, since he did not address them, separately. Another part of the footnotes also said that, the reference to women was to wives of believing husbands. It kind of implies that, the women were unbelievers. However, I don’t believe that to be the case, because that is not the implication I got from the verses, themselves.

I wouldn’t be surprised, if it turned out that, reading these passages verbatim was why they denied women public participation in the church.

More importantly, whilst reading, I asked myself if this passage could be one of the places from where sexism [incidentally] stemmed. I mean, a lot of the early Christians –and right up to the collapse of the colonialist empires– were known to be zealots. Their lives were guided by Christian doctrines; those were the standards of society, in those days. Based on the study of the behaviour of Christians in the much later part of that time frame, it can be said that they were largely “religious”, not necessarily spiritual. And, yes, there is a world of difference between “religious” and “spiritual”, in Christianity. Just think, “ritualistic lip-service”, and “spirit-led service”. Although, that is a topic for another day. Back to the matter, I wouldn’t be surprised, if it turned out that, reading these kinds of passages verbatim was why the men denied women public participation in the church, in the early days of Christianity, post- bible times.

If women were not allowed to publicly participate in church activities or ask questions, surely, their rights of engagement and ability to participate in a whole lot of other aspects of daily living must have been greatly diminished or overlooked. If their voices felt stifled in church, I don’t see how they could have felt free to talk at home, in public or in the midst of others. Christianity was everything to them.

I can imagine that the men, who had reason to feel superior to women in church, must have felt superior to them at home and elsewhere. I think it’s pretty obvious that there was a strong sense of patriarchy in the early church and among the early Christians, centuries AD. I think people carried that patriarchy from the church to their homes.

Oh, people definitely carried whatever they picked up in church to their homes because, the nucleus of society, in those times, was religion — Christianity. Politics were governed by the laws of Christianity. The law was largely based on the laws of Christianity. Homes were run on the basis of Christianity and what was learned in church. Christianity was the nucleus of society.

And of course, from generation to generation, patriarchy riding high in the clouds –everywhere in the society– must have taught boys and men that they were superior to girls and women in everything. With that as the formula, work your way through the centuries.. where are we now? Still trying to get men to understand that women have a voice that equally needs to be heard, in the church, in the streets, in politics, in the workplace, at home, everywhere!

Thankfully, it’s not all gloom. Although, we are still striving to give women a louder voice, they now have a voice, at least. Women have become prominent in the church and, even so, stereotypically, more involved in public church activities than the men are. We now have female leaders not only in the church, but also in politics, in the workplace, at the top of food chains, in different facets of society. But, patriarchy still has the louder voice. It is still the elder sibling selfishly towering over women, beneath the rays of equality and inclusion.

The practices of excluding women in the bible times were intrinsic to the early church. It was a system that worked in their time, and for a (whatever) reason (I was not alive, then). Times have changed, but has history? Christianity is not as fanatical and widely adopted as it was, then. Yet, over 2,000 years later, women are still begging to be removed from under the bus that is patriarchy.

So, the question remains: did sexism (as did slavery (topic for another day 😉)) unfortunately find some of its roots in the early church and its practices, thereby, influencing society until now? Times have changed, but has history?

Author: Manuella

There's an eternity worth of things to say, but to keep it short, I'm a very deep individual, an avid reader and student of humans and the things around us that we interact with. If you ask me, everything has the capacity to be the topic of a deep discussion, including toilet paper. In a discussion, I'd be that person that gets everyone (including the one who's making the most noise) to go "oooooooohh!!" My thoughts spark elements in people's brains. I love imparting knowledge and I kind of have an issue with conveniently unenlightened people, who like to voice their every opinion. I love the spiritual stuff!! God is too awesome for words. There's always something to blow my mind each time I plug in. God is so deep, it's ceaselessly fascinating for me. You should totally visit the spiritual part of my mind. It's indescribable. Insane adrenaline flowing in there!

6 thoughts on “1 Cor. 14: Did Sexism Have Some of Its Roots in the Early Church?”

  1. It’s important to remember that Corinth wasn’t just any church – it had different problems than the Ephesian or Thessalonian churches. For one, there were factions in the church that preferred different teachers. Apollos was from Alexandria and spent some time in Ephesus. Cephas is Simon Peter’s Aramaic name and was possibly popular among Jewish Christians. Paul’s ministry was primarily to the Gentile populations; and Christ needs no introduction. The year was roughly 55 A.D., so Christianity was little more than a backwards cult on the fringes of the Empire with little influence.
    We know that the early church had a faction of Jewish Christians who were referred to as Judiazers, they are most famous for their attempt to teach that new believers must be circumcised. Well, that applies pretty much to men only. Do you think that such an ardent group, from a tradition that reserved the speaking roles of praising God to men only would be open to the idea that as Christians, women should openly, vocally, praise their God?
    Add in the cultural factor, that as a patriarchal society that tended to gender segregate it’s population, then you can see that sexism itself had it’s roots in what was already accepted. You see, a couple hundred years before the church was founded, Aristotle wrote that women were deformed men, they were inferior knock-offs of the original. He said that it was right that men were the ones who were in charge.
    Aristotle’s ideas informed the Roman way of thinking. The Romans wrote into law household codes that made the father the head of the household with complete rule over his wife, his sons, his son’s wives, his son’s children, his unmarried daughters, and his staff of servants. As the Roman Empire grew to take control over the entire Meditteranean region, it’s ideas about the superiority of men were spread as civilized teachings in support of their culture’s superiority over all the others they defeated. Sexism, in other words, was a fact of life in their culture that was accepted as a fact of life in all realms, physical and spiritual. It would have been harder for the church to accept a measure of equality or even slightly less inequality because of the rampant sexism.
    But it seems oddly contradictory of Paul to be like: “Women can pray and prophesy (if they wear a headcovering)” in 1 Corinthians 11 and to be “Women must be silent” and “everyone should take turns prophesying” in 1 Corinthians 14. The theory I like best to explain what’s going on is treating this passage like a back-and-forth letter where Paul has quoted a specific comment from the letter that was sent to him from the Corinthians and then responded to it just below, so it would be more like:
    Corinthians: Women should remain silent in the churches. They are not allowed to speak, but must be in submission, as the law says. If they want to inquire about something, they should ask their own husbands at home; for it is disgraceful for a woman to speak in the church.
    Paul: Or did the word of God originate with you? Or are you the only people it has reached? If anyone thinks they are a prophet or otherwise gifted by the Spirit, let them acknowledge that what I am writing to you is the Lord’s command. But if anyone ignores this, they will themselves be ignored. Therefore, my brothers and sisters, be eager to prophesy, and do not forbid speaking in tongues. But everything should be done in a fitting and orderly way.
    If you take into account that not even the Jewish Christians could deny that God had made Huldah a prophetess, then this becomes a bit of a sarcastic comment along the lines: “Of course women can speak because God speaks through women like Huldah!”
    The reason why sexism is so rampant in modern Christianity is that teachings in the Bible that were written for a patriarchal society have been taught in such a way that these teachings are for us even now. That’s why a group of my friends have really gotten into head coverings, submitting to male headship, and focusing on women-only ministries. The Bible has become an anchor, a standard by which we are all to live. And if the Bible says that women must be silent, it’s because God wants women to be silent at all times, all over the world, during church. We have divorced the cultural and historical context from Bible passages in an attempt to make them eternal, applicable teachings to everyone, everywhere, until the end of time. In the process, that means sanctifying sexism as God’s original design. So when the world has these anti-discrimination laws and is trying it’s best to challenge sexism, the only real source of it left is from the church.
    That’s why out here where the church has a lot of influence, men still prefer to do business with men, banks put everything in a husband’s name by default, and women are expected to live traditionally as the dutiful wife and nurturing mother because it’s what their church tells them is what God wants, and the church only got that idea – originally, from what their patriarchal culture told them was right given the obvious differences between men and women in a society that disadvantaged women at every turn. Of course under-educated women might be noisy in a church setting, but that doesn’t mean that as a gender they out to remain silent, the only true solution is educating women – and the whole point of teaching people is turn them into teachers themselves, which is a speaking role if there ever was one.

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    1. Firstly, thank you for reading and engaging, Jamie! I love your response. It highlights part of the problems that I vaguely made reference to (because it’s a topic for another day): the difference between those who understand what they’re reading in the bible and have depth of knowledge, understanding and insight, and those who just read the bible (usually because it’s a routine) and take what they see at face value, seeking no further enlightenment or understanding.

      Now, on another note, you have read on Aristotle’s views of women, many who read the bible have not. From what I read in the bible, the church started when the human population became more than just a few hands working for food. The women had, long before the NT, generally been relegated to roles in every part of society, that suggested subordination. However, I won’t discuss much on that, because I don’t usually buy into the scientific and social science history of the human existence, so I won’t be able to engage much in that aspect.

      I know!! The differences in 1 Cor. 11 & 14! That’s why I said that I thought that Paul was just “occasionally” chatting breeze. 😄 Your explanatory theory is good, it makes good sense.

      Finally, this paragraph: “The reason why sexism is so rampant in modern Christianity is that ….” is so detailed. The undertones of patriarchy in those teachings are archaic! Paul said (enough times, throughout 1Cor.) that, these were practices that were intrinsic to the church, at the time! Funny story, I didn’t see anywhere in those verses (33-36), where Paul said that the teachings were of God. He simply said that they were practices of the church, at the time. Wherever Paul needed to, he made a distinction between his own teachings and beliefs, and the ones of God.

      Your discourse is engaging and interesting!

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      1. Unfortunately, because they are in the Bible, they have become the Word of God and therefore the Will of God. It was really confusing when Paul wrote elsewhere in 1 Corinthians 7 (I think): “I say, (not Christ …) and “Christ says, (not I)” Well, which is it? In all honesty, it seems not to matter – the guys who interpret the Bible do so to give them the most power to run the church, which gives them all the power they need to interpret the Bible and say just about anything they want.

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      2. That is true. They are in the in the bible, and consequently, the will of God. However, there are other doctrines that beg the question of subjective application and conviction, such as the one about unmarried women staying unmarried, so that, they can remain undistracted in their service to God. That is a thing of preference and personal conviction, as you must have noticed between the Pentecostals and the Catholics.

        Essentially, the application of the whole bible, esp. the NT and with the exception of direct instructions and messages from God, is based on personal conviction. In Nigeria, here, some of the most Spirit-filled churches and parishes are led by women. Glory to God!

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      3. I’m glad. I was worried that the increasing emphasis on complementarianism would exacerbate the inequality of gender roles in African nations in particular because of what was already culturally acceptable being given a divine stamp of approval. Here in the states, there’s a limited influence on what the church can do – our anti-discrimination laws make sure every woman has a fair shot outside of the church – but in the churches, guys run the show and sometimes don’t let women do much of anything. I think that the Southern Baptist denomination has roughly 80% male leadership. Women who aren’t the Beth Moores of the world have limited roles in what they can and cannot do and the vast majority of the time, the only leadership roles waiting for them are in traditionally feminine areas, like being a director of the children’s ministry (meaning she has the responsibilities of a youth pastor, but not the title nor the pay), or running the soup kitchen to feed the poor or ministry of delivering food to the shut-ins. Women aren’t really allowed to preach and teach, unless it’s to other women only.

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      4. That’s very interesting. Thankfully, women — although, still significantly limited in some churches here — are generally allowed to hold titles and become actual leaders, with all the associated accolades.

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