APPENDIX #3: PERSPECTIVES FROM HISTORY

© Rosemary Bardsley 2017

This appendix contains a number of quotes from secular and Church history. Most of the selected quotes express the mindset out of which the traditionalist complementarian position developed. There are, however, some unexpected exceptions.

A. DENYING EQUALITY

Plato suggested that the worst fate would be reincarnation as a woman.

Aristotle ‘regarded a female as “a kind of mutilated male”. He wrote: “Females are imperfect males, accidentally produced by the father’s inadequacy or by the malign influence of a moist south wind.”’ In Generation of Animals quoted by John Stott in Issues Facing Christians Today p255.

Jewish Talmud: William Barclay describes the view of women expressed by the Jewish Talmud: ‘In the Jewish form of morning prayer … a Jewish man every morning gave thanks that God had not made him “a Gentile, a slave or a woman” … In Jewish law a woman was not a person, but a thing. She had no legal rights whatsoever; she was absolutely in her husband’s possession to do with as he willed.’ Ephesians, Daily Study Bible, pp199ff, quoted by John Stott.

‘A Jewish male was forbidden to talk to a woman on the street, even if she were his wife, daughter or sister. It was regarded as impious to teach a woman the law; it would be better for the words of the law to be burned, said the Talmud, than that they should be entrusted to a woman’ [Stott, p261]

Comment: But Jesus both spoke to and taught women.

Rome at the beginning of the NT era: Women had no formal role in public life; they could not vote or stand for office. Legally they were under the authority of either their father or husband. Education of women was basic, or none at all.

Josephus: ‘the woman is inferior to the man in every way’ ibid

Tertullian: ‘You are the devil’s gateway; you are the unsealer of that (forbidden) tree; you are the first deserter of the divine law; you are she who persuaded him whom the devil was not valiant enough to attack. You destroyed so easily God’s image, man. On account of your desert – that is, death – even the Son of God had to die’

Comment: This contradicts the NT teaching about Adam as the one who brought in sin and death. But it is sadly similar to some tradionalist comments on 1Timothy 2:14

Ghandi: ‘A Hindu husband regards himself as lord and master of his wife, who must ever dance attendance upon him.’ Ghandi: An Autobiography, quote by John Stott, p259.

The Koran: ‘Men have authority over women because Allah has made the one superior to the other … As for those from whom you fear disobedience, admonish them and send them to beds apart and beat them.’ The Koran, Penguin, 1956, pp 360f, quoted by John Stott.

John Calvin [1509-1564]
Comments on Genesis 2:
Woman was created as ‘a kind of appendage to man’.

Comment: Even so he affirms male/female equality.

Commenting on 1Corinthians 14:34,35:
‘It appears that the Church of the Corinthians was infected with this fault too, that the talkativeness of women was allowed a place in the sacred assembly, or rather that the fullest liberty was given to it. Hence he forbids them to speak in public, either for the purpose of teaching or of prophesying. This, however, we must understand as referring to ordinary service, or where there is a Church in a regularly constituted state; for a necessity may occur of such a nature as to require that a woman should speak in public; but Paul has merely in view what is becoming in a duly regulated assembly.

Comment: Note: ‘merely ... what is becoming

34. Let them be in subjection, as also saith the law. What connection has the object that he has in view with the subjection under which the law places women? “ what is there,” some one will say, “ hinder their being in subjection, and yet at the same time teaching?” I answer, that the office of teaching (877) is a superiority in the Church, and is, consequently, inconsistent with subjection. For how unseemly a thing it were, that one who is under subjection to one of the members, should preside (878) over the entire body! It is therefore an argument from things inconsistent — If the woman is under subjection, she is, consequently, prohibited from authority to teach in public. (879) And unquestionably, (880) wherever even natural propriety has been maintained, women have in all ages been excluded from the public management of affairs. It is the dictate of common sense, that female government is improper and unseemly. Nay more, while originally they had permission given to them at Rome to plead before a court, (881) the effrontery of Caia Afrania (882) led to their being interdicted, even from this. Paul’ reasoning, however, is simple — that authority to teach is not suitable to the station that a woman occupies, because, if she teaches, she presides over all the men, while it becomes her to be under subjection.’

Comment: Calvin uses arguments from inconsistency, history and secular culture.

35. If they wish to learn anything. That he may not seem, by this means, to shut out women from opportunities of learning, he desires them, if they are in doubt as to anything, to inquire in private, that they may not stir up any disputation in public. When he says, husbands, he does not prohibit them from consulting the Prophets themselves, if necessary. For all husbands are not competent to give an answer in such a case; but, as he is reasoning here as to external polity, he reckons it sufficient to point out what is unseemly, that the Corinthians may guard against it. In the meantime, it is the part of the prudent reader to consider, that the things of which he here treats are intermediate and indifferent, in which there is nothing unlawful, but what is at variance with propriety and edification.

Comment: Calvin’s final sentence rather moderates the significance of Paul’s instructions. Calvin points out that the issue of women teaching in a mixed gathering of the church is ‘intermediate’ and ‘indifferent’. For a woman to teach is not ‘unlawful’, but simply ‘at variance with propriety and edification’. In this he is seeing Paul’s instructions as conditioned by the prevailing perspectives of what was proper and acceptable.

John Wesley [1703-1791] – in his early years
Commenting on 1Timothy 2:13: ‘... woman was originally the inferior’ [Explanatory notes on the New Testament, 1754]

Comment: But Wesley’s attitude to women altered during the years of his ministry; in later years he ordained women. His changed attitude is expressed in the second quote in Section B below.

James Macknight D.D [1835] [an example of the traditionalist view]
Commenting on 1Corinthians 11:
‘the wearing of the veil being an expression of inferiority, by appearing in public unveiled, she renounceth her subjection to the man her superior’

‘the different mental and bodily accomplishments of man and woman’

‘women being formed to sweeten the toils of men by their beauty ...’

Commenting on 1Timothy 2:11ff
On v11: ‘Let every woman receive instruction in religious matters from the men in silence, with entire submission, on account of their imperfect education and inferior understanding.’

On v13: ‘The natural inferiority of the woman, God shewed at the creation’

On v14: ‘Besides, that women are naturally inferior to man in understanding, is plain from this – Adam was not deceived by the devil ...’ ‘he attacked the woman, knowing her to be the weaker of the two’. ‘... the fall of the first man stands as a warning to his posterity, to beware of the pernicious influence which the love of women ... may have upon them to lead them into sin’. ‘The apostle’s doctrine concerning the inferiority of the woman to the man in point of understanding, is to be interpreted of the sex in general, and not of every individual; it being well known, that some women, in understanding, are superior to most men. Nevertheless, being generally inferior, it is a fit reason for their being restrained from pretending to direct men in affairs of importance; which is all the apostle meant to prove.

Comment: Macknight grounds his interpretation of Paul on the basis of the ‘imperfect education and inferior understanding of women’, and on the assumption that Genesis 2 indicates a ‘natural inferiority’.

E.J. Young [1966]:
‘Emancipation of women is an illusion; woman cannot free herself. She is not the equal of the man; only before God is she equal.’ He refers to ‘an original divinely-planned subordination for the woman’ but does not see this as the negative thing it became after the fall.

Comment: Although denying the original equality of women, and using the emotive term ‘subordination’, Young, in context, seems to have a fairly good grasp of the changes to the divinely appointed order that resulted from the fall, and of the redemption of women from those changes by the Gospel, including the Christian man’s responsibility to implement that redemption – ‘Christian husbands are not to domineer over their wives and relegate them to a position of abject obedience and servitude’.

Roman Catholic, Orthodox and high Anglican churches
These churches hold a specific view of the priesthood that reserves priestly functions to men. This excludes women from presiding at Holy Communion and from being ordained as ‘priests’.

FF Bruce comments:

‘The recent debates about the admission of women to the priesthood in the Church of England and similar communities arise largely from a conception of Christian priesthood which we’ (the Brethren) ‘do not share. In these debates it has been freely conceded by many that women may perform in church practically all the ministries performed by a nonconformist pastor. The one thing she may not do is to celebrate the Eucharist.
The concept of priesthood implied in such a position is of a restricted order to which certain selected men are solemnly ordained. The exclusion of women from this order is defended by a variety of arguments, some of which are more unconvincing than others. Without the presence and action of such an ordained priest, it is held, a communion service is irregular, if not invalid.’

While some in the Anglican church are pushing for ordination of women, there is resistance by others, especially by those who are seeking reunion with the Roman Catholic and/or Orthodox churches.

 

B. PERMITTING WOMEN THE RIGHT TO SPEAK

Quakers: Speaking in the public ‘Friends’ meeting was open to women from the very beginning of the Quaker movement [1650s].

Wesley & Methodism: In his later years Wesley both encouraged and authorised women to preach. After his death this acceptance of women preachers declined, and during the 1800s women were denied the right to preach to mixed gatherings. Women were formally given the same rights etc in Wesleyan Methodism in 1918.

Wesley in a sermon ‘On visiting the sick’: ‘"Indeed it has long passed for a maxim with many, that "women are only to be seen, not heard." And accordingly many of them are brought up in such a manner as if they were only designed for agreeable playthings! But is this doing honour to the sex or is it a real kindness to them No; it is the deepest unkindness; it is horrid cruelty; it is mere Turkish barbarity. And I know not how any woman of sense and spirit can submit to it. Let all you that have it in your power assert the right which the God of nature has given you. Yield not to that vile bondage any longer. You, as well as men, are rational creatures. You, like them, were made in the image of God; you are equally candidates for immortality...’

Finney: Allowed women to speak and pray publically. He believed that the Holy Spirit would not ignore half of the human race.

The Holiness movement: [Wesleyan Methodist; Free Methodist Church; Church of God; Salvation Army; Church of the Nazarene; Christian & Missionary Alliance] – a history of appointing women clergy.] Here is a statement from a 1939 Church of God publication:

‘the prevalence of women preachers is a fair measure of the spirituality of a church, a country, or an age. As the church grows more apostolic and more deeply spiritual, women preachers and workers abound in that church; as it grows more worldly and cold, the ministry of women is despised and gradually ceases altogether. It is of the nature of paganism to hate foreign people and to despise women, but the spirit of the gospel is exactly opposite

Pentecostal and Charismatic: Recognize and authorize egalitarian participation on the basis of spiritual gifts.

Comments: Both Wesley and Finney may have been influenced by a degree of pragmatism: women were needed to maintain the momentum of these ‘awakenings’.

As well as egalitarian participation based on gender neutral spiritual gifting, there is also in some of these groups an acceptance of egalitarian participation based on the supposed existential moving of the Spirit: if the Spirit moves a woman to prophesy or preach who is man to forbid it! While this appears to parallel Peter’s validation of his baptising Cornelius [Acts 11:17], it actually does not do so. The action of the Spirit in Acts 10:44-48 was an objective, observable, verifiable event. The supposed action of the Spirit in moving someone to speak or giving someone a ‘word’ is subjective, non-observable, non-verifiable. Indeed, most false cults, and one world religion, exist because of subjective experiences interpreted as communication from God.

New Apostolic Reformation: The NAR, a contemporary expression of the ‘third wave’ of the Pentecostal/Charismatic movement, unashamedly denies the sufficiency of the written Scriptures for twenty-first century people. God, they say, is giving new revelation today through powerful anointed prophets and apostles, revelation that is at least as authoritative as the written Word. It includes women as ‘apostles’ and ‘prophets’.

Liberal churches: Churches whose liberal theology permits them to discard whatever parts of the Bible they want to tend to very easily discard Paul’s instructions about women in the church.

Comment: The actions and teaching of those who do not recognize the authority, sufficiency and finality of Scripture ought never be our standard or our guide.