When The Bible Is Used As A Tool For Oppression

Sermon January 19, 2020 | PastorBryon

INTRODUCTION

If you have a Bible with you today I’d like you to pick it up and look at it. Did you know the book you hold in your hands was written or began to be written around 1400 B.C? It holds the all time record for most copies printed. It is one of the oldest documents in the world.

Now you may wonder about the authenticity of such an old book. In 1947 the world was surprised by the discovery of what is known as the Dead Sea Scrolls. This was an accidental discovery of over 900 ancient documents by some kids playing near the Dead Sea. Among these documents were every book of the Bible’s Old Testament accepts the book of Ester.

This was an amazing find. The texts are incredibly similar to the documents we already have. The variations are less than two percent, and not a single teaching or doctrine of the Bible has been altered. Rather than posing a threat to the Christian faith, the Dead Sea Scrolls have, in fact, provided convincing support for the genuineness of God’s revelation as given to us in the Bible.

I say that to say this, we can rest assure the Bible we hold today has been preserved and that the message has not been altered. Even in the many translations and variations the teachings and meanings remain the same as when they were written.

So the word of God is here unaltered, infallible and reliable.

So now let’s talk about interpretation because that’s a horse of a different color. Just like any other writing the Bible is meaningless unless you keep it in its proper context.

What is context?

Context is the circumstances that form the setting for an event, statement, or idea, and in terms of which it can be fully understood and assessed.

Here’s an example of Scripture often taken out of context. “God will never give you more than you can handle.”

This one isn’t even in the Bible, but it’s so commonly quoted that it needs to be addressed. It’s a misquotation of 1 Corinthians 10:13, which reads “No temptation has overtaken you except what is common to mankind. And God is faithful; he will not let you be tempted beyond what you can bear. But when you are tempted, he will also provide a way out so that you can endure it.” This is a very different message than the misquoted version.

Why would we need God at all if we never encountered a situation to difficult to handle? Was the Holocaust not “more than you can handle,” for its survivors?

Now the problem with interpretation is that too often people try to interpret the Bible with an outlined goal already in place. For instance, pre-world war 2 Germany saw a young Adolf Hitler rising to power on the platform of Christianity. He used the Bible to support his claim that the Jews were inferior and enemies of God.

In a speech Hitler gave at a National Socialist meeting on April 12, 1922, he elaborated on his view of Jesus as a fighter against diabolical Jews:

{Hitler} My feelings as a Christian point me to my Lord and Savior as a fighter. It points me to the man who once in loneliness surrounded only by a few followers recognized these Jews for what they were and summoned men to fight against them.

Time and again Hitler used the Bible to convince Germany’s 97% Christian population that God’s word teaches them to oppress the Jews. He used words such as Christ-Killer and referred to scripture such as Matthew 21:12-13 where Christ ran the money changers out of the temple referring to them as a brood of vipers. He demonized the Jews and used the word of God to make his case.

Now maybe you think that’s crazy and just an extreme case. Let’s take a look at a situation that’s a little closer to home.

During the period of American slavery if you had asked the majority of slave-owners how they would define themselves they would have used the term, ‘Christian’. So how did they justify their actions of oppressing an entire race as Christians? They used the Bible. It all came down to interpretation. Two scriptures were used to justify their actions. One from the Old Testament Gen 18:27 Where Noah’s youngest son did some things that made Noah speak a curse over him. They reasoned that the African Americans were the descendants of the cursed son and deserved slavery. It’s what God wants. Second is where Paul said, slaves obey your masters. So here it was, the Bible used to justify the oppression of people.

Now none of the Christians throughout history would have agreed they were oppressing those that were on the receiving end of injustice. In fact, pastors who preached that slavery was unjust and not Biblical were deemed liberals and teaching heresy.

We can relate that to what happens today when we challenge the church’s position on women in ministry or especially women as pastors. Pastors are criticized for watering down the gospel, giving in to social pressures. There are some people who would walk out of a church rather than even consider this theology might be wrong.

Now I grew up mostly as a Southern Baptist and have held to this belief and to be honest at one point in my life I would have been that person who would have walked out because I cared more about being right than God’s truth. There are two main passages we use to establish this doctrine that supports women aren’t to be leaders or have authority over men.

  1. 1 Tim 2:11-12 Let a woman learn in silence with all submission. 12 And I do not permit a woman to teach or to have authority over a man, but to be in silence.
  2. 1 Cor 14:34-35 Let your women keep silent in the churches, for they are not permitted to speak; but they are to be submissive, as the law also says. 35 And if they want to learn something, let them ask their own husbands at home; for it is shameful for women to speak in church.

These two scriptures aren’t parables and they aren’t using symbolism nor are they psalms and so the church views them as a literal.

1 What does a literal application of these verses really look like?

Let’s consider 1 Timothy 2:11-12 in its context, in which Paul says “I do not permit a woman to teach or have authority over a man; she is to keep silent.” Many churches interpret this passage as prohibiting women from serving in the office of senior pastor, but think that it’s still okay for women to be Sunday school teachers, youth workers, worship leaders, missionaries, etc.

Based on a literal interpretation of this scripture, all teaching and authority over men is prohibited without exception, so any attempt to limit the women from only serving as pastors wouldn’t be Biblical. No if we say this scripture is proof women can be pastors we also have to say they can’t be worship team leaders, youth leaders, ministry leaders or hold any position that is one of leadership. Further if we are going to take this as a literal translation we need to back up a few verses to verse 9. Just before Paul forbids women from teaching or having authority over men, he also forbids them from braiding their hair, wearing jewelry, and wearing expensive clothes. Now I have no doubt there are church’s that try to adhere to this strict interpretation.

Even many of the churches who hold to the belief that woman shouldn’t have leadership roles in churches intuitively know that verses that deal with jewelry and clothes are culturally relative. But then all of a sudden when Paul says, “by the way, don’t let a woman teach or have authority,” why do so many Christians conclude that these verses must be teaching eternal truth?

 

Now let’s take a look at 1 Corinthians 14:34–35. Paul says “a woman should remain silent in a church, it’s disgraceful for her to talk.” He even says that if women have questions during the service, they should ask their husbands afterward. So, if we’re going to interpret these verses literally and apply them consistently, not only should women not teach or have authority, they also should not be allowed to ask questions in church. We’re not just talking about worship service, we are talking from the time you enter the doors. I don’t know of any church that would turn away a woman with a question and send her home to ask her husband. What about single women? Are they out of luck? Maybe something else is going on in this context that would make more sense out of this passage.

There are all kinds of problems with this interpretation. One is found just 3 chapters over in chapter 11 of 1 Corinthians. Paul says that when a woman prays or prophesies in church, she should have a veil on her head. But in order to pray or prophesy in church, a woman would have to be speaking? Apparently Paul was okay with women praying and prophesying in church as long as they are veiled. So what does it mean three chapters later when Paul says that it’s a disgrace for women to speak in church? From the context of his own letter, it’s clear that Paul’s apparent prohibition of women speaking in church is not a universal and unequivocal principle for all churches of all time periods in all cultures.

 

When interpreting scripture we have to remember to keep it in the right context. This includes cultural relativity.

We can usually discern what transcends all cultures verses what is only culturally relative by answering this question.

Is the issue in this passage uniformly addressed throughout Scripture? Or does it coincide with the rest of scripture; is it in-line with the teachings of Jesus? If it is, we can be confident that the teaching is probably appropriate for us to apply today. But where the Bible itself offers different teachings on a particular issue depending on the context that is an indication that we’re dealing with an issue that is culturally conditioned.

We have to remember, 1st century women were considered to be just above the level of slaves. They didn’t have any rights and they weren’t allowed to be educated.

What is the universal truth of the Bible? Do these interpretations line themselves with the teachings of Jesus?

Galatians 3:28 says: “There is no longer Jew nor Greek, slave nor free, male and female; for all of you are one in Christ Jesus.” Jesus demonstrated this ideal by affirming women in spite of the cultural stigma against them.

This example is expressed throughout Jesus’ ministry

  • It is illustrated in Acts 2 when God pours his Spirit out on men and women equally at Pentecost.
  • It’s seen by Jesus’ interaction with the woman at the well in John 4:1-26
  • We find it in Luke 10 when Mary sits at Christ’s feet while Mary labors. Jesus commends Mary
  • In Matthew 15:21-28 Jesus breaks the culture barrier as a Canaanite women not only speaks to Jesus but acts as a teacher and Jesus recognizes her faith and shows acceptance

The Good News of Jesus doesn’t support limiting women’s roles in ministry; in fact, just the opposite.

  • Acts 21:8–9 mentions that the four daughters of Philip the evangelist were known for their gifts of prophecy. Early Christians considered prophecy one of the highest—some argue that it was the highest—positions in the church. They did not make a clear distinction between prophets and preachers because both were responsible for speaking the word of God under the Holy Spirit’s anointing
  • In Romans 16 Paul exhorts women who hold positions of leadership within the church to include the position of deacon and prophet.

Certainly we can see something else must be going on here. How can the Bible teach in some passages that it supports the equality of women in ministry and other passages teach women are limited in their service? The answer is it doesn’t. Again, it comes down to interpretation.

Just like the Germans, the American slave-owners and even the early Puritans who burned witches at the stake in the name of God, our modern church has utilized scripture to justify oppressing women. Now the modern church will say, no it’s not oppression. Men and women are equal with separate roles, says the oppressor. Listen up, no matter what you tell yourself that makes you feel better about this interpretation at the end of the day those separate roles amount to oppression and it’s all about the strong holding power over the weak.

2 Jesus tells us that the harvest is plentiful but the workers are few, but instead of empowering as many workers as we can, many churches arbitrarily disqualify over half of them. This doesn’t just cripple the church; it also alienates and undermines the value of individual Christian women.

I want to challenge you today if you came in here this morning with the traditional belief that women can’t hold roles as leaders to spend some time in the Bible and in prayer, not to disprove me but to seek out God’s truth and to have the courage to accept what you find.

In closing let me leave you with this final verse that expresses the Bibles deep distaste for oppression.

Ecclesiastes 4:1-3 So I returned, and considered all the oppression that are done under the sun: and behold the tears of such as were oppressed, and they had no comforter; and on the side of their oppressors there was power; but they had no comforter. Wherefore I praised the dead which are already dead more than the living which are yet alive. Yea, better is he then both they, which hath not yet been, who hath not seen the evil work that is done under the sun.

~AMEN


Work Sited:
1. Boyd, Greg | The case for women in ministry | RE|NEW | December 29, 2017 | reknew.org/2017/12/women-in-ministry.
2. Boyd, Greg | The case for women in ministry | RE|NEW | December 29, 2017 | reknew.org/2017/12/women-in-ministry.
Delia Halverson, Rev. Kabamba Kiboko, Rev. Dr. Laceye Warner, Rev. M. Lynn Scott Women Called to Ministry | 2015 |   General Board of Higher Education and Ministry, The United Methodist Church 
Beck, James | Two views of women in ministry | Zondervan | 2010

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