Women in Leadership – Traditions vs. Scripture

Genesis & 1 Corinthians 14


In these last days, sometimes we become offended by whatever/whoever does not follow our traditions, rather than standing for God and His Image being expressed on earth. It is an easy trap to fall in. We allow culture to become our dictator instead of seeking to love and obey God’s commands. The number one way we do that is to ignore our relationship and understanding of God by neglecting God’s written Word and asking questions – really digging, and for as long as we live.

Instead, we sometimes let those who seem more informed than us tell us what to think, or just go with whatever our peers exercise. God’s Word tells us we are to test the spirits, but we just listen and believe, or reject based on traditional thought. As well, our traditions are where our comforts lie, and changing them can really stir up fear in our minds. Change doesn’t come easy.

This traditional thinking is exactly what Jesus Christ spoke against in Mark chapter seven.

To set the stage, some Pharisees wanted to argue about Jesus Christ’s disciples eating without washing, which was against the tradition of the elders. In the NIV, these traditions are called “law”, with a lower case “l”. The Torah, which is God’s specific doctrine given us in the OT, would begin with an upper case “L”, for Law. Jesus Christ mentioned the Law (Torah and the prophets) often, but not so with the law (tradition). In fact, Jesus Christ spoke against man’s traditions, which were weighing down God’s people.

Mark 7: 5-8: So the Pharisees and teachers of the law asked Jesus, “Why don’t your disciples live according to the tradition of the elders instead of eating their food with defiled hands?” He replied, “Isaiah was right when he prophesied about you hypocrites; as it is written:

‘These people honor me with their lips, but their hearts (minds) are far from me. They worship me in vain; their teachings are merely human rules.’

You have let go of the commands of God and are holding on to human traditions.”

As a new Christian, I was taught that women must not lead because they are weak, easily deceived, created second (!), and unable to deal with the pressures and challenges of leadership. Having spent 4 years in the military, I had a hard time believing any of that, but listened to others older in the faith, and told myself to just “submit” and everything would be okay. We learned that in the military, too.

When the pastor of our church got up one Sunday and repented of believing women were weak, easily deceived, created 2nd so should not rule, and unable to deal with the pressures of leadership, he called it “hating women.” I was shocked to my soul! So many questions bubbled up, and, since he was an approachable guy, I asked them all. Here’s what he said: “I want you to forget everything you’ve been told about what the bible says about women, then I want you to go to the beginning and read the whole bible again, pushing those things you’ve been told out of your mind. See what you find.” Whoa! I can tell you, that was hard!

But, wow, what amazing things I saw. Woman after woman being strong, wise, confident in who God made them to be, and gifted and called by God to lead, whether their leadership was of a nation (like Miriam and Deborah), a church (like Chloe, or Lydia), apostolic (like Junia), or being emissaries for an apostle (like Phoebe), teachers (like Priscilla), or prophets (like Huldah, and the 4 daughters in Phillipi), among so many others.

It rocked my understanding of scripture, of who God is, AND who I am to God. No more thinking women in leadership was a shame, or only for when a “good man” could not be found. God did not say those things about the women He chose to lead. How many others would have stepped up to the plate except for the pressures of traditional thinking? Who knows!

But, women are told to be silent, right?! “That’s what the law says!” Indeed, the “law” does say that, but the Law does not!

Note: we can’t make this one little “l” responsible for our decision – we must look at context and research content. As there is no one way all bibles reflect its use, we must be diligent to study.

Let’s look at just a few of the common misinterpretations of scripture that are often used. They have plagued evil’s God-called enemy (yes, woman) from the point of The Attack in Eden until today. If you haven’t loaded the BLB app on your phone yet, now’s the time! There is a link on Purpose Church Kalispell’s web site. When you touch a verse, the option to go to “Interlinear” will come up. Just tap that, and scroll down. The original language is laid out for you. Tap on whatever word you want to dive in on. It is so cool! Yes, it takes some study to learn how to apply some words properly, but you have to start somewhere, right?

Common interpretations (traditions) that are used to reject female leadership in the church:

1) The woman was made 2nd, deceived, cursed in the garden at “The Fall”, and a grasper of power. Gen 1:24 – 3:19. *

a.  2nd fiddle: If you are about to give someone something of great import, do you ever talk to them first? Do you find ways to show them its value? If you have more than one child, do you let the elder child treat the younger one(s) like lesser creatures, or are they all wonderful, unique pieces of life created inside your own bodies? In fact, in Genesis 2:18 God said the man was “not good” in his current state of aloneness. He brought all the animals to the man to see and to name. They all had equal counterparts, but the man did not, nor was any living being on earth yet comparable to him. God was showing the man the great value of what God was about to do. So, God gave a woman to him, and it was only at this point that God said that everything was very good, and ceased His acts of creation. There was heaven and earth. There were animals, birds, and fish, and they had counterparts as well. The earth was given a garden. At this point in creation, there was no power struggle, but, instead, there was goodness all around that reflected the wonder and balance of the creator.

God indeed said that humans were to have reign over all the earth and what was in it. The original language calls out humans, not men only. Male and female were co-rulers, assigned to reflect God’s Image, and all was very good.

b.  Deception: The woman fully acknowledged that she had been deceived. I don’t know anyone past very young children who would say they’ve never been deceived. Deception is not gender-based. What is the cure? Learning. Anyone can do that, too. In fact, in 1 Timothy, we will see teaching and learning as a resolution for those in a new church and coming from a place of idol worship, who were teaching heresy. Learning was the answer, not millenniums of suppression. In the book of Acts, Priscilla and Aquila’s response to Apollos, who was a vivacious preacher of Jesus, but who was not teaching proper doctrine, was to take him aside and teach him. He responded well, and went on to apostolic influence in Christendom.

c.  Cursed: Look in the original language – the serpent was cursed, and the soil was cursed. Two curses only. Yes, humans faced their future lives in the consequence of mortality that God warned them about before The Attack ever occurred, but they were not specifically cursed in Genesis chapter three. In fact, woman was given a blessing in that she would be at war until evil was finally crushed by her own seed (Christ).

The word used in these passages for curse – “’arar” is used only against the serpent (evil’s tool for thriving) and the ground (mankind’s tool for thriving). Things were going to be more difficult, but they were not cursed in and of themselves. Childbirth would be more difficult, as it would come from a mortal body now, just as work in the soil would be sorrowful toil, instead of merely tending the garden with the “super” bodies given sustenance by the Tree of Life.

d.  Grasper: In verse 16, the word “desire” does NOT mean a deviate sexual longing, or grasping for power. First, how can a newlywed’s sexual desire for her husband be deviate??? That desire was given by God.

As to grasping for power, remember – she was already a ruler. If she had no authority in the garden, the serpent would have looked to someone else who did. That authority was given by God in Genesis 1:27-28. She and her husband were equals from her first breath. The root of the Hebrew word (tesuwqah) used here for “desire” is “shuwq.” [pronounced “shook”] It means “to be abundant, to overflow.” Her abundant love for her husband remained, although their relationship would be more difficult now. There is no inkling of her grasping for something the man had that she did not in any of these verses. They shared all of life together, by God’s design.

Tradition has led us astray in regards to several thought patterns about the garden, and we need to have better understanding in these areas so they can no longer sully our understanding of other verses in God’s Word. We start here with 1 Corinthians.

2)  Women are to be silent, as the law says. (1 Cor 14:34-36) Context, missing links, and connections.

a.  Context, context, context! Let’s take a look at the context of scripture surrounding these few verses that are so often pulled out and used as a stand-alone rule to suppress half of The Kingdom of Christ.

1.  1 Corinthians was written by Paul from Ephesus in response to questions sent to him, and some disturbing reports of how things were going in the new church family in Corinth, specifically from the church that met in Chloe’s home (yes, a woman), but to all who worshipped there. (Chapter 1)

In Chapter 11, there is division over head coverings (another area we could address if we had a book to write, but too much for here). In these passages, the argument is over head coverings, NOT over whether or not a woman should prophesy in the church. It is obviously permitted that women are speaking in the church. The head covering question would not arise if they were suppressed. In chapter 14, the verses go from the proper format for prophesying then skip right into a verse that forbids women to speak at all, or ask questions. It always confused me as the leap was not contextual, and fought with Chapter 11’s open policy on women speaking. So here’s the deal.

a. 1 Cor 7:1 is the beginning of Paul answering specific questions that were sent to him. He says so very clearly. Then, he dives right in. If you have several different bibles to look at, you will see that some use quotation marks in the last half of verse one, and some do not. God bless interpreters, who are always researching ancient texts and the scriptural copies we have to try their best to make them understandable to us lay people! The NIV gets closer, here, with proper use of quotations many times, but they don’t get it all. In some cases the NIV uses semicolons (:) as the precursor to the answer, which works fine.

A good example of the use of quotations is 1 Cor 10:23. Neither the KJV, NKJV, or Amplified, among others, use quotation marks in this passage, and some of them lead the reader to believe that what is quoted as a question in the NIV 2011 version is actually Paul giving instruction. It gives a very different message to say “Yes, I have the right to do anything,” rather than putting it in quotations so that the next half of the verse actually says that NOT everything is beneficial, which is Paul’s real point. These statements that were sent to Paul for clarification sought the good of the one, instead of the good of others. (verse 24)

b. So let’s take that understanding to 1 Cor 14:33-38. Remember, these verses are in the context of orderly worship services, established directly above.

1 Cor 14:34-38 –

34-35: Let your women keep silence in the churches: for it is not permitted unto them to speak; but they are commanded to be under obedience, as also saith the law. And if they will learn anything, let them ask their husbands at home: for it is a shame for women to speak in the church.

36-37: What? Came the word of God out from you? Or came it unto you only? If any man (person) think himself to be a prophet, or spiritual, let him acknowledge that the things that I write unto you are the commandments of the Lord.

38: But if any man be ignorant, let him be ignorant. (KJV)

Remember our conversation about upper case “L” versus lower case “l”? If you go over every stitch of the Torah, you will find no place that mentions what the above passage refers to as “law.” Different versions use either upper or lower case “l”, the NIV 2011 version uses a lower case letter. This is not Torah, it is from oral traditions like the Midrash or Tanahk. Those books are opinions recorded by Rabbis, trying to make sense of difficult passages, or speaking their own opinions and expecting them to be followed, like the Pharisees did with hand washing. I can tell you that some of those oral traditions say terrible things about women that you will never find in God’s Word. Some of those oral traditions have influenced us, even until this very day, with unfortunate outcomes.

So what do we do with verses 34-35 to keep them in context to the whole of Paul’s writing, and with all of scripture? We put them in quotations. Those 2 verses were a statement sent to Paul for clarification. Remember, Chloe was a leader in the Corinthian church! Sounds like some real pressure there. **

To further this idea, we look at verse 36, and clarify. Some bibles leave the “What?” out all together, but it is there in the original language. It can mean many things, like “No way!”one of which is “What utter nonsense…” When you consider the passages in context, that makes sense. Paul is taking an absolute stand against what was being said. We don’t have to guess about it, we can look it up in the Torah to see that it does not exist. And we know that this is not the only place where Paul stands against what was sent to him. Pharisees were experts in the law; Paul knew what he was talking about.

c. Missing links. We have found several as we look at this passage, but let’s call them out here.

1. There is no passage in the OT that says “Let your women keep silence in the churches: for it is not permitted unto  them to speak; but they are commanded to be under obedience”.

2. Leaving out quotations here allows traditions taught about women to fight against scripturally accurate verses letting women speak in the same letter.

3. This same letter mentions a female church leader – Chloe. How can she be exalted in Paul’s letter if women are to be silent? There are several places where Paul praises women, even as his co-workers in Christ.

4. There are other places in this letter that contradict what was originally sent to Paul, so it is not out of place to see him call them on the carpet for what was said.

5. Paul’s statement in verses 36-38 constitutes a strong opposition to keeping women silent. You can’t really make it work without feeling it is disjointed from the above verses to try to make it sound like he is agreeing.

d. Connections. Again, there are several.

1. Paul’s writing style is to call out a question or statement, then clarify. It happens in this letter many times.

2. Paul takes women prophesying and praying in churches (properly) for granted in the same letter, indeed within just a few paragraphs of 1 Cor 14:33-38.

3. Paul speaks in many of his letters very fondly of women, and he chooses to work with them side-by-side in the cause of Christ.

4. Paul mentions Junia (Rom 16:7) as an apostle, along with (her husband) Andronicus. They are not only related to Paul, but were Christians before him, and spent time in prison for their faith.

5. Paul himself sent women to prison for being Christians. Normally in that culture, women would have been ignored, as they were seen as benign, or inconsequential. They had to be doing things in The Kingdom that Paul saw as dangerous, and worthy of imprisonment. They were out there crushing evil!

6. Paul, in the book of Romans, sent a woman (Phoebe) as his official emissary to the church in Rome. In those days, the carrier of such a letter would more than likely have read it to the receivers, and was expected to answer questions, properly representing the meaning of Paul’s words.

7. Paul was a Pharisee. His love of scripture and defense of it would never have allowed him to go against Torah by working with women if it had truly been forbidden. The Torah (and prophets) was the only book of law they had then. The enlightenment he was given on the road to Damascus by Jesus Christ Himself, and 3 days of fasting and praying afterwards, brought him to repentance on many issues of tradition, and saw him doing things that his former Pharisee friends and other leaders tried to kill him for. He defended them all with scripture, not with chants of “freedom” in the house, or from his current culture. If he hadn’t used scripture to make them look so bad, they would have 1) ignored him as a fool, instead of trying to take him out, or 2) easily had him executed as a heretic, like they did to Stephen.


* For a deeper dive on the garden, and to expound on some of the information I have included above, please see the book (and many others they have written together and separately) called Familiar Leadership Heresies Uncovered by Reverend Bruce C. E. Fleming, and Joy Fleming, PhD, PsyD.

**Special Note: I do here want to point out another option that Kenneth Bailey, a missionary to the middle-east and its culture, maintains. In some middle-eastern cultures women and men sat separately in meetings, and women in new Christendom had not been educated, nor  probably even spoke much of the language used in public meetings. They led quite suppressed lives. This led to boredom and talking, which disrupted the meetings, so this passage looks to address that issue. It is problematic still in that there was no law as quoted (in all the churches), but it is an option that is widely taught, and I greatly respect K. Bailey’s work, “Christ Through Middle Eastern Eyes”, which I listen to repeatedly, get stretched in my understandings in yet another area, then rest a bit, and go back for more. I highly recommend this book, which is available as an “audio”, and esteem Kenneth Bailey. Perhaps they were mentioning a “law” they had circulated in churches in that particular area, and Paul was quoting it??? Either way, Paul was having none of silencing the women, but rather expected them to be educated and included.

When taken in context, pushing out missing links, and embracing correct connections throughout scripture, we can see that Paul was coming against the silencing of women in 1 Corinthians 14, and we can be comfortable with, and should absolutely expect to see, gifted and called women of good character in leadership alongside their gifted and called brothers of good character in Christ.

I would love to talk to you about 1 Timothy passages, and others, as well, but that would make this lesson a very long one. Please watch for it, though!

Leaona Huston
January 29, 2021