“…your longing will be for your husband, and he will dominate you.” – Gen. 3:16

We have only a partial idea of what the role of women in human society was intended to be because sin has skewed the relationship between the sexes. Recognizing how male and female traits would become distorted due to sin, Jehovah predicted the outcome in Genesis 3:16 and we can see the realization of those words in evidence everywhere in the world today. In fact, the domination of men over woman is so pervasive that it often passes for the norm rather than the aberration it really is.

As apostate thinking infected the Christian congregation, so did male bias. The congregation of Jehovah’s Witnesses would have us believe that it alone understands the proper relationship between men and women that should exist in the Christian congregation. Unfortunately, its own literature proves that not to be the case.

The Demotion of Deborah

The Insight book recognizes that Deborah was a prophetess in Israel, but fails to acknowledge her distinctive role as judge. It gives that distinction to Barak. (See it-1 p. 743)

This continues to be our position as evidenced by these excerpts from the August 1, 2015 Watchtower:

“When the Bible first introduces Deborah, it refers to her as “a prophetess.” That designation makes Deborah unusual in the Bible record but hardly unique. Deborah had another responsibility. She was also evidently settling disputes by giving Jehovah’s answer to problems that came up. — Judges 4:4, 5

Deborah lived in the mountainous region of Ephraim, between the towns of Bethel and Ramah. There she would sit beneath a palm tree and serve the people as Jehovah directed.” (p. 12)

“Serve the people”? The writer can’t even bring himself to use the word the Bible uses.

“Now Deborah, a prophetess, the wife of Lappidoth, was judging Israel at that time. 5 She used to sit under Deborah’s palm tree between Ramah and Bethel in the mountainous region of Ephraim; the Israelites would go up to her for judgment.” (Jg 4:4, 5)

Instead of recognizing Deborah as the Judge she was, the article continues the JW tradition of assigning that role to Barak, though he is never referred to in Scripture as – or acting as – a Judge.

“He commissioned her to summon a strong man of faith, Judge Barak, and direct him to rise up against Sisera.” (p. 13)

Gender Bias in Translation

In Romans 16:7, Paul sends his greetings to Andronicus and Junia who are outstanding among the apostles. Now Junia in Greek is a woman’s name. It is derived from the name of the pagan goddess Juno to whom women prayed to help them during childbirth. The NWT substitutes “Junias”, which is a made-up name not found anywhere in classical Greek literature. Junia, on the other hand, is common in such writings and always refers to a woman.

To be fair to the translators of the NWT, this gender sex-change operation is performed in most Bible translations. Why? One must assume that male bias is at play. Church leaders—all male—through the ages, could not stomach the idea of a female apostle.

Jehovah’s View of Women

A prophet is a human who speaks under inspiration. In other words, a human who is serving as God’s spokesperson or his channel of communication. That Jehovah would use women in this role helps us to see how he views women. It should help the male of the species to adjust his thinking despite the bias that creeps in due to the sin we have inherited from Adam. Here are some of the female prophets that Jehovah has used down through the ages:

“Then Miriam the prophetess, Aaron’s sister, took a tambourine in her hand, and all the women followed her with tambourines and with dances.” (Ex 15:20)

“So Hilkiah the priest, Ahikam, Achbor, Shaphan, and Asaiah went to Huldah the prophetess. She was the wife of Shallum son of Tikvah son of Harhas, the caretaker of the wardrobe, and she was dwelling in the Second Quarter of Jerusalem; and they spoke to her there.” (2Ki 22:14)

Deborah was both prophet and judge in Israel. (Judges 4:4, 5)

“Now there was a prophetess, Anna the daughter of Phanuel, of Asher’s tribe. This woman was well along in years and had lived with her husband for seven years after they were married,” (Lu 2:36)

“. . .we entered into the house of Philip the evangelizer, who was one of the seven men, and we stayed with him. 9 This man had four daughters, virgins, that prophesied.” (Ac 21:8, 9)

Why Significant

The significance of this role is borne out by Paul’s words:

“And God has assigned the respective ones in the congregation: first, apostles; second, prophets; third, teachers; then powerful works; then gifts of healings; helpful services; abilities to direct; different tongues.” (1Co 12:28)

“And he gave some as apostles, some as prophets, some as evangelizers, some as shepherds and teachers,” (Eph 4:11)

One can’t help but notice that prophets are listed second, ahead of teachers, shepherds, and well ahead of those with abilities to direct.

Two Controversial Passages

From the foregoing, it would seem evident that women should have an esteemed role in the Christian congregation. If Jehovah would speak through them, causing them to utter inspired expressions, it would seem inconsistent to have a rule requiring women to remain silent in the congregation. How could we presume to silence a person through whom Jehovah has chosen to speak? Such a rule might seem logical in our male-dominated societies, but it would clearly conflict with Jehovah’s viewpoint as we’ve seen thus far.

Given this, the following two expressions of the apostle Paul seem totally at odds with what we’ve learned thus far.

“. . .As in all the congregations of the holy ones, 34 let the women keep silent in the congregations, for it is not permitted for them to speak. Rather, let them be in subjection, as the Law also says. 35 If they want to learn something, let them ask their husbands at home, for it is disgraceful for a woman to speak in the congregation.” (1Co 14:33-35)

11 Let a woman learn in silence with full submissiveness. 12 I do not permit a woman to teach or to exercise authority over a man, but she is to remain silent. 13 For Adam was formed first, then Eve. 14 Also, Adam was not deceived, but the woman was thoroughly deceived and became a transgressor. 15 However, she will be kept safe through childbearing, provided she continues in faith and love and holiness along with soundness of mind.” (1Ti 2:11-15)

There are no prophets today, though we are told to treat the Governing Body as if they were such, i.e., God’s appointed channel of communication. Nevertheless, the days when someone stands up in the congregation and utters God’s words under inspiration are long gone. (Whether they return in the future, only time will tell.) However, when Paul wrote these words there were female prophets in the congregation. Was Paul inhibiting the voice of God’s spirit? It seems very unlikely.

Men employing the Bible study method of eisegesis—the process of reading meaning into a verse—have made use of these verses to still the voice of women in the congregation. Let us be different. Let us approach these verses with humility, free of preconceptions, and strive to discern what the Bible is really saying.

Paul Answers a Letter

Let us deal with Paul’s words to the Corinthians first. We’ll start with a question: Why was Paul writing this letter?

It had come to his attention from Chloe’s people (1Co 1:11) that there were some serious problems in the Corinthian congregation. There was a notorious case of gross sexual morality that was not being dealt with. (1Co 5:1, 2) There were quarrels, and brothers are taking each other to court. (1Co 1:11; 6:1-8) He perceived there was a danger that the stewards of the congregation might be seeing themselves as exalted. (1Co 4:1, 2, 8, 14) That they may have been going beyond the things written and becoming boastful. (1Co 4:6, 7)

After counselling them on those issues, he states: “Now concerning the things about which you wrote…” (1Co 7:1) Remaining mindful of the reported situation in the congregation, he now begins to respond to issues the elders of Corinth have questioned him about.

It is clear that the brothers and sisters in Corinth had lost their perspective as to the relative importance of the gifts they had been granted by holy spirit. As a result, many were attempting to speak at once and there was confusion at their gatherings; a chaotic atmosphere prevailed which might actually serve to drive away potential converts. (1Co 14:23) Paul shows them that while there are many gifts there is only one spirit uniting them all. (1Co 12:1-11) and that like a human body, even the most insignificant member is highly valued. (1Co 12:12-26) He spends all of chapter 13 showing them that their esteemed gifts are nothing by comparison with the quality all of them must possess: Love! Indeed, if that were to abound in the congregation, all their problems would disappear.

Having established that, Paul shows that of all the gifts, preference should be given to prophesying because this builds up the congregation. (1Co 14:1, 5)

To this point we see that Paul is teaching that love is the most important element in the congregation, that all members are valued, and that of all the gifts of the spirit, the one to be most preferred is that of prophesying. Then he says, “Every man that prays or prophesies having something on his head shames his head; 5 but every woman that prays or prophesies with her head uncovered shames her head, . . .” (1Co 11:4, 5)

How could he extoll the virtue of prophesying and allow a woman to prophesy with her head covered while also requiring women to be silent? It is clearly contradictory and therefore makes no sense. Something is missing and we have to look deeper.

The Problem of Punctuation

Let’s look at the controversial verses again, but this time in context.

“Let two or three prophets speak, and let the others discern the meaning. 30 But if another one receives a revelation while sitting there, let the first speaker keep silent. 31 For you can all prophesy one at a time, so that all may learn and all may be encouraged. 32 And gifts of the spirit of the prophets are to be controlled by the prophets. 33 For God is a God not of disorder but of peace.

As in all the congregations of the holy ones, 34 let the women keep silent in the congregations, for it is not permitted for them to speak. Rather, let them be in subjection, as the Law also says. 35 If they want to learn something, let them ask their husbands at home, for it is disgraceful for a woman to speak in the congregation.

36 Was it from you that the word of God originated, or did it reach only as far as you?

37 If anyone thinks he is a prophet or is gifted with the spirit, he must acknowledge that the things I am writing to you are the Lord’s commandment. 38 But if anyone disregards this, he will be disregarded. 39 So, my brothers, keep striving to prophesy, and yet do not forbid the speaking in tongues. 40 But let all things take place decently and by arrangement.” (1Co 14:29-40)

We must first be aware that in Classical Greek writings from the first century, there are no paragraph separations, punctuation, nor chapter and verse numerations. All these elements were added much later. It is up to the translator to decide where he thinks they should go to convey the meaning to a modern reader.

The translators of the New World Translation of the Holy Scriptures saw fit to divide verse 33 into two sentences and further divide the thought by creating a new paragraph. However, many Bible translators leave verse 33 as a single sentence.

What if verses 34 and 35 are a quote Paul is making from the Corinthian letter? Elsewhere, Paul either directly quotes or clearly references words and thoughts expressed to him in their letter. (For example, click on each Scriptural reference here: 1Co 7:1; 8:1; 15:12, 14. Notice that many translators actually frame the first two in quotes, though these marks did not exist in the original Greek.) Lending support to this understanding is Paul’s use of the Greek disjunctive participle eta (ἤ) twice in verse 36 which can mean “or, than” but is also used as a derisive contrast to what is stated before.[i] It is the Greek way of saying, “Really!” or “Are you kidding me?!” or “What nonsense!” By way of comparison, consider these two verses written to these same Corinthians:

“Or is it only Barʹna·bas and I who do not have the right to refrain from working for a living?” (1Co 9:6)

“Or ‘are we inciting Jehovah to jealousy’? We are not stronger than he is, are we?” (1Co 10:22)

Read them again and replace the “or” (Gr. eta) with one of the three alternate translations above and see if it doesn’t work just as well, or even better.

The NWT fails to provide any translation for the first eta in verse 36 and renders the second simply as “or”. But if we consider the tone of Paul’s words and the use of this participle in other places, an alternate rendering is justified.

So what if the proper punctuation should go like this:

Let two or three prophets speak, and let the others discern the meaning.  But if another one receives a revelation while sitting there, let the first speaker keep silent. For you can all prophesy one at a time, so that all may learn and all may be encouraged. And gifts of the spirit of the prophets are to be controlled by the prophets. For God is a God not of disorder but of peace, as in all the congregations of the holy ones.

“Let the women keep silent in the congregations, for it is not permitted for them to speak. Rather, let them be in subjection, as the Law also says. 35 If they want to learn something, let them ask their husbands at home, for it is disgraceful for a woman to speak in the congregation.”

Are you serious? Did God’s word originate from you? You’re kidding, right? It reached you and stopped? Was it from you that the word of God originated, or did it reach only as far as you? If anyone thinks he is a prophet or is gifted with the spirit, he must acknowledge that the things I am writing to you are the Lord’s commandment. 38 But if anyone disregards this, he will be disregarded. 39 So, my brothers, keep striving to prophesy, and yet do not forbid the speaking in tongues. 40 But let all things take place decently and by arrangement. (1Co 14:29-40)

Now the passage doesn’t conflict with the rest of Paul’s words to the Corinthians. He is not saying that the custom in all the congregations is that women remain silent. Rather, what is common in all congregations is that there be peace and order. He is not saying that the Law says a woman should be silent, for in fact there is no such regulation in the Law of Moses. Given that, the only law remaining must be the oral law or the traditions of men, something Paul detested. Paul justifiably derides such a proud view and then contrasts their traditions with the commandment he has from the Lord Jesus. He ends by stating that if they stick to their law about women, then Jesus will cast them off. So they had better do what they can to promote freeness of speech, which includes doing all things in an orderly manner.

With this understanding, Scriptural harmony is restored and the proper role of women, long established by Jehovah, is preserved.

The Situation in Ephesus

The second Scripture that causes significant controversy is that of 1 Timothy 2:11-15:

11 Let a woman learn in silence with full submissiveness. 12 I do not permit a woman to teach or to exercise authority over a man, but she is to remain silent. 13 For Adam was formed first, then Eve. 14 Also, Adam was not deceived, but the woman was thoroughly deceived and became a transgressor. 15 However, she will be kept safe through childbearing, provided she continues in faith and love and holiness along with soundness of mind.” (1Ti 2:11-15)

Paul’s words to Timothy make for very odd reading if one views them in isolation. For example, the remark about childbearing raises some interesting questions. Is Paul suggesting that barren women cannot be kept safe? Are those who keep their virginity so that they can serve the Lord more fully not protected because of not having borne children? That would seem to contradict Paul’s words at 1 Corinthians 7:9. And just exactly how does bearing children safeguard a woman?

Used in isolation, these verses have been employed by men down through the centuries to subjugate women, but such is not the message of our Lord. Again, to properly understand what the writer is saying, we must read the entire letter. Today, we write more letters than ever before in history. This is what email has made possible. However, we have also learned how dangerous email can be in the creation of misunderstandings between friends. I have often been surprised at how easily something I have said in an email has been misunderstood or taken the wrong way. Admittedly, I am just as guilty of doing this as the next fellow. Nevertheless, I have learned that before responding to a statement that seems particularly controversial or offensive, the best course is to reread the entire email carefully and slowly while taking into account the personality of the friend who sent it. This will often put the questioned sentence into the right perspective.

Therefore, we will not consider these verses in isolation but as part of a single letter. We will also consider the writer who is Paul and the recipient, Timothy, whom Paul considers as his own son. (1Ti 1:1, 2) Next, we will bear in mind that Timothy was in Ephesus at the time of this writing. (1Ti 1:3) In those days of limited communication and travel, every city had its own distinct culture, presenting its own unique challenges to the fledgling Christian congregation. Paul’s counsel would surely have taken that into account in his letter.

At the time of writing, Timothy is also in a position of authority, for Paul instructs him to “command certain ones not to teach different doctrine, nor to pay attention to false stories and to genealogies.” (1Ti 1:3, 4) The “certain ones” in question are not identified. Male bias—and yes, women are influenced by it as well—might cause us to assume Paul is referring to men. But he does not specify, so let us not jump to conclusions. All we can say for sure is that these individuals, be they male and/or female, “want to be teachers of law, but they do not understand either the things they are saying or the things they insist on so strongly.” (1Ti 1:7)

Timothy is no ordinary elder either. Prophecies were made concerning him. (1Ti 1:18; 4:14) Nevertheless, he is still young and somewhat sickly, it seems. (1Ti 4:12; 5:23) Certain ones are apparently trying to exploit these traits to gain the upper hand in the congregation.

Something else which is noteworthy about this letter is the emphasis on issues involving women. There is far more direction to women in this letter than in any of the other writings of Paul. They are counselled about appropriate styles of dress (1Ti 2:9, 10); about proper conduct (1Ti 3:11); about gossip and idleness (1Ti 5:13). Timothy is instructed about the proper way to treat women, both young and old (1Ti 5:2) and on fair treatment of widows (1Ti 5:3-16). He is also warned specifically to “reject irreverent false stories, like those told by old women.” (1Ti 4:7)

Why all this emphasis on women, and why the specific warning to reject false stories told by old women? To help answer that we need to consider the culture of Ephesus at that time. You will recall what happened when Paul first preached in Ephesus. There was a great outcry from the silversmiths who made money from fabricating shrines to Artemis (aka, Diana), the multi-breasted goddess of the Ephesians. (Acts 19:23-34)

ArtemisA cult had been built up around the worship of Diana that held that Eve was God’s first creation after which he made Adam, and that it was Adam who had been deceived by the serpent, not Eve. The members of this cult blamed men for the woes of the world. It is therefore likely that some of the women in the congregation were being influenced by this thinking. Perhaps some had even converted from this cult to the pure worship of Christianity.

With that in mind, let us notice something else distinctive about Paul’s wording. All his counsel to women throughout the letter is expressed in the plural. Then, abruptly he changes to the singular in 1 Timothy 2:12: “I do not permit a woman….” This lends weight to the argument that he is referring to a particular woman who is presenting a challenge to Timothy’s divinely ordained authority. (1Ti 1:18; 4:14) This understanding is bolstered when we consider that when Paul says, “I do not permit a woman…to exercise authority over a man…”, he is not using the common Greek word for authority which is exousia. That word was used by the chief priests and elders when they challenged Jesus at Mark 11:28 saying, “By what authority (exousia) do you do these things?” However, the word Paul uses to Timothy is authentien which carries the idea of a usurping of authority.

HELPS Word-studies gives: “properly, to unilaterally take up arms, i.e. acting as an autocrat – literally, self-appointed (acting without submission).

What fits with all this is the picture of a particular woman, an older woman (1Ti 4:7) was leading a group of “certain ones” (1Ti 1:3, 6), who was trying to usurp Timothy’s divinely ordained authority by challenging him the midst of the congregation with a “different doctrine” and “false stories” (1Ti 1:3, 4, 7; 4:7).

If this were the case, then it would also explain the otherwise incongruous reference to Adam and Eve. Paul was setting the record straight and adding the weight of his office to re-establish the true story as portrayed in the Scriptures, not the false story from the cult of Diana (Artemis to the Greeks).[ii]

This brings us finally to the seemingly bizarre reference to childbearing as a means of keeping the woman safe.

As you can see from this screen grab, a word is missing from the rendering the NWT gives this verse.

1Ti2-15

The missing word is the definite article, “the”, which changes the whole meaning of the verse. Let us not be too hard on the NWT translators in this instance, because the vast majority of translations omit the definite article here, save for a few.

“…she will be saved through the birth of the Child…” – International Standard Version

“she [and all women] will be saved through the birth of the child” – GOD’S WORD Translation

“she shall be saved through the childbearing” – Darby Bible Translation

“she shall be saved through the child-bearing” – Young’s Literal Translation

In the context of this passage which references Adam and Eve, the childbearing that Paul is referring to may very well be that referred to at Genesis 3:15. It is the offspring (the bearing of children) via the woman which results in the salvation of all women and men, when that seed finally crushes Satan in the head. Rather than focusing on Eve and the alleged superior role of women, these “certain ones” should be focusing on the seed or offspring of the woman through whom all are saved.

The Role of Women

Jehovah himself tells us how he feels about the female of the species:

Jehovah himself gives the saying;
The women telling the good news are a large army.
(Ps 68:11)

Paul speaks highly of women throughout his letters and recognizes them as supportive companions, hosting congregations in their homes, prophesying in the congregations, speaking in tongues, and caring for the needy. While the roles of men and women differ based on their makeup and God’s purpose, both are made in God’s image and reflect his glory. (Ge 1:27) Both will share in the same reward as kings and priests in the kingdom of the heavens. (Ga 3:28; Re 1:6)

There is more for us to learn on this subject, but as we free ourselves from the false teachings of men, we must also strive to free ourselves from the prejudices and biased thinking of our former belief systems and also of our cultural heritage. As a new creation let us be made new in the force of God’s spirit. (2Co 5:17; Eph 4:23)

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[i] See point 5 of this link.

[ii] An Examination of the Isis Cult with Preliminary Exploration into New Testament Studies by Elizabeth A. McCabe p. 102-105; Hidden Voices: Biblical Women and Our Christian Heritage by Heidi Bright Parales p. 110