The fight continues on: should women be allowed to hold leadership roles in the Church? Can a woman preach, considering what Paul said in 1 Corinthians? How can a lady be the head of any religious activity?
The argument has gone on for years, between egalitarian and complementarians.
Complementarians arguing that women are to be submissive and subject to men, while egalitarians argue that women and men are equal in value and ability, able to lead and teach just as well as men.
The fight becomes who has the best Scripture. Who’s Bible verse proves they are right better? Who is the most right?
While I don’t want to get into that fight here, an impartial piece of history may tell us where the Early Church would have landed on this issue.
It is hard to find an impartial piece of evidence from the Bible on this issue. One, because the authors of the Bible were writing with their own bias. They wrote with their own agenda, their own emphasis and thoughts on things. Two, because we read those thoughts, emphasis, and agendas with our own.
But that doesn’t make it impossible. We just need someone that didn’t or doesn’t share our faith or have a reason to swing evidence one way or the other.
Interestingly enough, such a man existed and such evidence can be found.
His name was Pliny the Younger. He was the governor of what is now northwestern Turkey, living from AD 61 to AD 111. Pliny asked for advice on how to govern from his superior, specifically in regards to a growing religion called Christianity.
Pliny the Younger was not Jewish, not a believer in Jesus. He had no allegiance to a monotheistic religion, therefore not caring about how their internal structure worked. Like whether or not a woman could preach or lead.
In one of the letters that have survived from those days, there is a reference to the Christians and women, and whether they could or could not be leaders.
“I [Pliny the Younger] therefore thought it the more necessary to extract the real truth, with the assistance of torture, from TWO FEMALE SLAVES, who were called DEACONESSES: but I could discover nothing more than depraved and excessive superstition.’
– Excerpt From: Peter J. Williams. “Can We Trust the Gospels?.’ emphasis added
WHAT IT MEANS
Pliny asked his superior for advice on dealing with Christians. In telling the higher up on what he had done to drive out those that believed in this Jesus and the “depraved and excessive superstition”, he tells us something about the inner workings of the Early Church.
Two females were deaconesses.
A high-level official role within the Church was held by a woman. And a slave woman at that. Not a prominent woman, a woman that was free or a Roman citizen, or had money like we would think of today. No.
Pliny says that he tortured to deaconesses that were slave women. These women had masters. They answered to someone. They said “yes sir” when an order was given.
And they were important leaders in the church, on the same or similar level as Stephen was. The man that was part of the council to distribute food and take care of the widows in Acts 6.
As I’ve said, Pliny has no reason to make something up about a religion he doesn’t care about. And torturing people because of their religion does speak to his complete rejection of it. So why lie about the structure of Christianity?
Why say these slave women were leaders, deaconesses unless it was true?
What Pliny says is also confirmed by Scripture. Paul wrote to the church in Colossae,
“Here there is no Gentile or Jew, circumcised or uncircumcised, barbarian, Scythian, slave or free, but Christ is all, and is in all.”
Paul’s teaching declared that there was no one superior within the Body of Christ.
A slave woman would be just as valuable, just as able to teach, to preach, to be a deacon(ess) as a free man.
Yes, this impartial evidence does swing my way, the way I think and believe and read Scripture. And I’m sure many people will come at the evidence and try to punch holes in it. They’ll say things like “this doesn’t have the authority of the Bible behind it” and “Pliny isn’t a reliable source“.
I hope I’m not adding to the infighting between Christians. I don’t want to make things worse for the Body of Christ.
What I hope is add something to the conversation, something beyond this verse and that verse to prove who is right or wrong. Something more credible than my interpretation against yours.
This article first appeared on Christian Thought Sandbox.