This is part of a paper distributed to members of The Point Church to promote Bible study and discussion regarding the issue of gender roles in church. Although some material specific to The Point Church has been omitted here, some of the language and applications may still reflect the “in-house” nature of the study. This study was related to a broader consideration of the function and form of our Sunday assemblies at The Point. The material is made available in its present form in the hope that it may prove to be thought provoking and useful to other individuals and churches that may be wrestling with the same issues.
The General Principle
It is apparent from both Testaments (explicitly and emphatically stated in the New Testament) that husbands are responsible for the (godly) leadership of their family (necessitating the wife’s submission, support and cooperation), modelled upon the relationship of Christ to His church (e.g. Ephesians 5:22-33). It is not surprising therefore that the leadership role of the husband over his own household is also characteristic of life in God’s “household” in the form of male leadership of the local church: Oversight of the local church family is invested in those men who, among other things, are proven leaders in their own homes (1 Timothy 3:2-5, 12). Note that it is only certain males, not all males , who are the leaders of the church. The view that all women are automatically subject to all males on the basis of gender alone is not biblically valid and should not be assumed when we talk about male leadership. The Bible addresses male headship to families and, whether considering the home or the local church, even then every male is not automatically invested with authority in a family (cf. Luke 2:42-52).
The biblical principle of male leadership of both the home and the church is grounded in Creation (cf. Genesis 2:18-25; 1 Corinthians 11:3, 7-12; 1 Timothy 2:11-15). The principle thus transcends human culture. But culture is still an important factor and it is worth briefly noticing the influence of culture on tradition and the interpretation of Scripture. The role of women in the church has been a point of contention among biblically conservative churches, especially in the past several decades. Feminism has challenged the assumptions and traditions long held by many churches:
Feminism is a Western social movement (beginning in the mid-nineteenth century) that seeks social justice for women in relation to men (an issue that is legitimate in terms of biblical ethics). But within the broader context of feminism there has arisen a radical feminism that essentially denies any gender distinction at all (this idea is quite unbiblical).
The rise of feminism in Western culture has necessitated a fresh look at biblical teaching regarding the role of women in the church. This is a good thing and ought to sit comfortably with “restorationists” who are both committed and open to examining and re-examining any teaching and practice in the light of Scripture. Cultural shifts play a useful role by presenting Christians with questions to be asked of the Bible that might otherwise never be addressed so earnestly or critically. A change in culture challenges the status quo and as a result our traditions and assumptions are brought under close scrutiny. This process is always challenging, but it is healthy and necessary if Scripture is to retain precedence over cultural conditioning and traditionalism.
In the West, biblical interpretation regarding the role of women has been affected by culture in the past and present. Male chauvinism, which flourished in the pre-feminist era (say, before 1900), facilitated interpretations of texts that relegated women to “second-class” status and tended to protect and perpetuate male domination (e.g. Genesis 3:16b and the assertion that wives are to be subservient to husbands; 1 Timothy 2:14 and the assertion that women are more gullible than men). Until relatively recent times, women in Western societies were shut out of government (e.g. women’s suffrage was only achieved about 100 years ago) and business (e.g. only forty to fifty years ago it was the norm in Australia to exclude women from paid employment once they married or fell pregnant - management and executive positions were effectively male only domains). For many centuries the West has been largely a “man’s world” and many interpretations and traditions which developed during this time have tended to reflect this social milieu rather than being the result of good exegesis and application of Scripture. At the other extreme, many current interpretations of Scripture relating to the role of women in the church are clearly driven by the agenda of radical feminism. In many cases this has resulted in the undermining, if not outright denial, of the inspiration of Scripture. Bible texts that do not serve the cause of radical feminism (e.g. 1 Corinthians 14:34-38; 1 Timothy 2:11-15) are dismissed as a symptom of Paul’s chauvinism (i.e. a fallible and temporary cultural reflection of the first century Graeco-Roman world rather than God’s infallible and abiding truth. Never mind that women dominated much of the pagan religion of the time - the most important being the Oracle of Delphi who was always a woman. If anything, Paul’s teaching directed to the churches at Corinth and Ephesus was counter-cultural!) We need to be careful not to be unduly biased in our interpretation of Scripture by past and present Western culture: we need to be wary of the influence of both male chauvinism and radical feminism upon our thinking. We must also be prepared to accept that God’s will is often counter-cultural and “politically-incorrect” (as light is different to darkness).
When interpreting Scripture we need to be mindful that the word of God has been revealed in a particular historical context. Good exegesis of Scripture requires careful consideration of both the general culture of the day and of the particular situation in which God’s will has been revealed (both of which may be quite foreign to our own experience, e.g. the head covering and prophesying/tongue-speaking of 1 Corinthians 11,14 or the foot washing of John 13). Only after these factors have been carefully considered can we rightly understand God’s will (separating temporal culture and circumstance from abiding truth) and determine appropriate applications of His revealed will to our own contemporary circumstances. We must take into account the situation and culture of the time and place in which God’s word was revealed as well as our own cultural background against which we seek to apply God’s word.
Both types of family relationship (the home and the church) are purposefully regulated by God to reflect His created order (i.e. the priority of creation, “Adam was formed first, then Eve”, 1 Timothy 2:13; the mode of creation, “man did not come from woman, but woman from man”, 1 Corinthians 11:8; and the purpose of creation, “neither was man created for woman, but woman for man” , 1 Corinthians 11:9). Thus, according to Scripture, the sexes are interdependent (1 Corinthians 11:11-12) and they are spiritual equals in terms of their worth and acceptance to God (Galatians 3:28; 1 Peter 3:7b) – but woman was made after man, out of man and for man, and this is the basis of the biblical principle of male leadership of the home and the church.
For those in Christ, a difference in background, circumstance or function does not infer, much less necessitate, a difference in spiritual worth or standing (cf. Galatians 3:28 where equality in Christ is affirmed despite ethnic, gender and social differences. Note that Paul does not say there is no difference at all between a Jew and a Greek - 1 Corinthians 9:19-21 - or a slave and a free person - 1 Corinthians 7:21 - or a man and a woman - 1 Corinthians 11:3ff. Paul’s point here is that regardless of ethnicity, social status or gender - all are children of God on the same basis “in Christ”, Galatians 3:26,27 and all are therefore [equally] heirs according to God’s promise, 3:29). Genesis 1:26-27 affirms the equality of male and female – both are made in the image of God. But Genesis 2:18 just as clearly affirms the complementary character of the male and female functional relationship. Male and female are equal but not identical. This gender difference is expressed through complementary function (i.e. different roles working together to complement one another’s functioning) in the home and the church. The same “equal but different and complementary in function” relationship can be seen in the Godhead: While the Son and the Father are equally God, the Son functions differently and under the authority/headship of the Father (Philippians 2:5-8; 1 Corinthians 11:3; 15:27-28). They are equal, but their roles are different and complementary. Contrary to the protests of radical feminists, there is no inconsistency or contradiction here. A similar picture can be seen in Paul’s “body” analogy of the church (e.g. 1 Corinthians 12) where the equality of Christians is stressed (12:12-13), but diversity of function among Christians is recognised (12:14ff.).
To say that the Bible differentiates between the role of women and that of men in some contexts in the church is a far cry from saying that women do not have important and vital ministries in the church:
Women prayed and prophesied as described in 1 Corinthians 11:1-16 (see discussion below). Female prophets served God under both the old and new covenants (e.g. 2 Kings 22:11-20; Acts 21:9). Though seemingly less common than male prophets, female prophets can be traced back as far as Miriam, Moses’ sister (though there is no evidence of female “writing prophets”), and Joel’s prophecy (cf. Acts 2:16-18) anticipates and affirms the legitimacy of female prophets in the infant church. Whatever the function assigned to prophecy (foretelling, exhortation, revelation, etc.), its distinctive and essential character (for both Old and New Covenant prophets) was speaking by inspiration (2 Peter 1:21) - a phenomenon that did not continue beyond the infancy of the church, diminishing and becoming redundant with the development and preservation (canonisation) of the inspired New Testament Scriptures (Paul seems to allude to the transition of inspiration from persons to Scripture in 1 Corinthians 13).
Women participated in privately teaching men (Acts 18:24-26), although the exact nature of Priscilla’s role here with her husband, Aquila, in teaching Apollos is not clear.
Several women were very active in the church in Rome, including Tryphena and Tryphosa who “laboured in the Lord”, and Persis who “laboured much in the Lord” (Romans 16:12).
Phoebe was a servant of the church in Cenchrea (Romans 16:1), perhaps a deaconess (cf. 1 Timothy 3:11) – perhaps one of the special class of widows who were enrolled in the care of the church as described by Paul in 1 Timothy 5:9-16.
We should not forget the likes of Dorcas (Acts 9:36) or John Mark’s mother, Mary (Acts 12:12) who gave of themselves and their resources for service to the church.
The older Christian women were expected to train the younger women (Titus 2:3-5).
The maternal role of women has vital spiritual significance for both present and future generations of God’s church (1 Timothy 2:15; 2 Timothy 1:5; 3:15
But while these snapshots highlight the fact that women were actively engaged in ministry in the primitive church, they give no evidence that gender distinctions were not honoured in the execution of their labours and ministries.
The exercise of male authority in the home and in the church is leadership based upon Jesus’ own example (Matthew 20:25-28; John 13:1-17; Ephesians 5:25-29; 1 Peter 5:2-4). It is servant leadership motivated by love. It is not autocratic rule or the exercise of rank or power after worldly conceptions of authority. Most religious bodies today seem to conceive of church leadership in this way (e.g. contrast the N.T. idea of priesthood and that of “the Priesthood” held by many churches) so a denial of women’s access to certain roles is seen as a denial of access to power. This misunderstanding of the nature of biblical ministry and authority underlies much of the push for “gender equality” (where equality means identical function ) among churches where women and men “compete” for the “top jobs” – look again at Matthew 20:25-28 – the church is not politics, nor is it a corporate business! Terms such as elder (or its synonyms, pastor/shepherd and bishop/overseer), evangelist and deacon are not given as titles or positions of office with inherent prestige, power and authority (as a modern CEO or Chairman of the Board) in the New Testament - they are descriptive of function and their authority is moral, derived from the respect earned through their selfless service and example in promoting God’s will (Hebrews 13:7, 17). Equal respect and honour is open to all (male and female) as they minister in their respective God ordained functions (e.g. the older women who faithfully teach the younger women are every bit as valuable and honourable as the elders who faithfully shepherd the flock).
Human government and work (employment) are appointed by God (Romans 13:1; Ephesians 6:5-9; 2 Thessalonians 3:10), but these are not family relationships: Deborah was a Judge in Israel, Esther was a Queen, Lydia was a merchant whose household almost certainly included male slaves, etc. (cf. Daniel 4:17,25 and the reigns of the likes of the Queen of Sheba and Candace, Queen of Ethiopia). Male leadership in the home and the church does not preclude women from exercising authority over men in other contexts. Family is based upon gender (Matthew 19:4-5). Gender relations “in Christ” are included because Jesus’ relation to His church is the model for husband/wife relations in the first place (Ephesians 5:22-33). But the Bible seems to make no direct connection between work or civil government and gender.
What Constitutes Being “In Church”?
Church is a collective term for the community of the redeemed, whether viewed universally or locally. Any gathering of Christians is, in some sense, a gathering of the church. But in terms of being “in church” or coming together “as a church”, Paul seems to use the phrase technically of a local church assembly, “when you come together in one place” (1 Corinthians 11:17-20; 14:23). A key instance is the local faith community’s first day of the week gathering for fellowship through mutual edification and communion in the Lord’s Supper (cf. Acts 20:7). This provides the context for 1 Corinthians 14:35 where Paul regulates the role of women “in church”. But it should also be noted that 1 Timothy 2:11-15 suggests the principle extends to more general mixed-gender contexts also (i.e. not just Sunday assemblies - note Paul’s language, “gathered together”, to describe an assembly for other “family” activities and concerns in 1 Cor. 5:4; Matt.18:15-20, cf. Acts 6:1-7; 15:1-29).
In any local church gathering we have a concrete expression of “family”: all equally children of God - all brothers and sisters through the same spiritual birth - all equally members of God’s family. The fact that God created humanity male and female is the basis of family (Matthew 19:4-5). When it comes to applying gender regulations “in church”, it is the inclusion of both men and women gathered together as (God’s) family that seems to be the critical factor, not the time (e.g. Sunday as opposed to any other day) or purpose (e.g. Sunday “corporate worship” as opposed to any other meeting). The Scriptures make no distinction between meetings of the saints. True, a Christian assembly on the first day of the week is “special” because it is the day of Jesus’ resurrection (and probably the “birthday” of His church) - that is why Jesus’ death, burial and resurrection is celebrated in the Lord’s Supper by the church on Sundays. But this particular significance or emphasis of a Sunday assembly does not make assemblies at any other time or for different purposes/emphases any less “in church”. Being “in church” is characterised by “in Christ - one flesh” relationships, just as being “family” is characterised by “husband and wife - one flesh” relationships (cf. Ephesians 5:25-33, hence, the application of male/female roles in both contexts). This is not to say that gender specific (all male or all female) assemblies of Christians are not “in church” - they are (a group of brothers are still “family”, even if their sisters are not present in the group at that time), but gender specific assemblies are not of direct concern regarding gender regulations “in church” (except as principles of 1 Corinthians 11 - public expressions of female submission/femininity or male authority/masculinity - might apply).
It is simply not possible to draw a circle clearly on the ground and say that inside the circle is “in church” and outside the circle is not “in church”. But perhaps we can draw the clearest picture from Jesus’ comments in Matthew 18:15-20.
In Matthew 18:15-17 Jesus outlines proper procedure for settling disputes between brethren. The strategy develops from one-on-one (involving only the disputants), to incorporating two or three witnesses, to taking the matter to the church. Where the offender cannot be brought to repentance, the church authoritatively exercises discipline (Jesus distinguishes between “the church” and several Christians here: Given that Jesus speaks of the church as “two or three gathered in His name” in verse 20, it is the purpose and function of the gathering, not the number of individuals involved that is the basis for His distinction. The witnesses of verse 16 are seeking to establish the validity of the charge [and ideally to help resolve the dispute at that time], not to render discipline - that authoritative action and responsibility is reserved for the church). Verses 18-19 relate Jesus’ assurance that the church’s action in such cases (i.e. warranted discipline) is condoned by God and occurs by His authority. Then in verse 20, the right[ness] of the church to act in this way is summarised: “For where two or three are gathered in My name, I am there in the midst of them”. The church is described as two or three gathered in Jesus’ name - and the context qualifies such gatherings as being to purposefully meet as God’s family to focus upon their Father’s business - and on occasions such as these, their “brother” Jesus joins them).
When Jesus’ comments are compared with those contexts described by Paul as being “in church” and “gathered together” (as above), I think we can begin to get the picture. Being “in church” is more than any mere casual association of Christians (e.g. at social or recreational events). Being “in church” is when Christians assemble “in Jesus name” - purposefully gathered to focus as God’s family members upon the Father’s business. Unlike informal/social gatherings of Christians, “in church” involves authoritative actions (discipline, congregational decision making, being directed and taught by leaders, etc). This would include Sunday assemblies, but equally any Bible study groups (large or small), any prayer groups (large or small), any disciplinary or special purpose church meetings, etc.
1 Corinthians 11:1-16 and 1 Corinthians 14:33b-35
The matter of the woman’s head covering in chapter 11 provides the background for Paul’s discussion of gender difference in 1 Corinthians 11. The question of the head covering itself is a difficult one. Because its being understood fully is not crucial to the issue of concern here (gender roles), no attempt is made to address it.
Paul begins by praising the Corinthians for keeping his traditions (11:2) - in this case the women retaining the appropriate symbol of authority/submission and thus respecting male (probably their husband’s) headship. This context seems to be more of an explanation or justification for the practice (perhaps responding to a question about it) than a rebuke for their neglecting it, though it seems some at Corinth may have been challenging the apostolic tradition of male leadership/gender distinction and were seeking to discard it (11:16).
Paul was addressing behaviour in some sort of gathering in which women were praying and prophesying. But what kind of assembly is Paul anticipating here? Paul discusses and regulates abuses (of the Lord’s Supper, tongues, prophecy) in what is obviously a whole church assembly in the context of 1 Corinthians 11:17-14:40 (see especially 11:17-20 and 14:23). Were it not for the apparent contradiction between Paul’s teaching regarding women in 11:2-16 (where women prayed and prophesied) and 14:34-35 (where women were to be silent “in church”), it would seem natural to treat all of chapters 11 through 14 as a unit set in the same context: the whole church (mixed-gender) assembled at Corinth.
As noted above, it would seem natural to treat 1 Corinthians 11-14 as a unit dealing with the traditions (regulation of church assemblies) given by Paul. Paul’s language, “every man praying or prophesying … but every woman who prays or prophesies…” (11:4-5), could suggest a situation where both men and women may have been present and both genders were praying and prophesying (with women adopting the appropriate covering).
To harmonise this scenario with 14:34-35 though, the silence of women in church invoked by Paul must not include praying and prophesying. But this is difficult as Paul cites prophecy and regulates its use as well as invoking women’s silence in the same immediate context in chapter 14. “Let two or three prophets speak (laleo), and let the others judge. But if anything is revealed to another who sits by, let the first keep silent (sigao) … let your women keep silent (sigao) in the churches, for they are not permitted to speak (laleo); but they are to be submissive, as the law also says … it is shameful for women to speak (laleo) in church” (14:29-35). Paul here calls upon the prophets (and tongue speakers) to be silent under some circumstances, but at the same time he calls for women to be silent for they are not permitted to speak in church , period . It seems the prophesying spoken of by Paul in 1 Corinthians 14:23-40 does not include or entertain females prophesying in that context . It seems very unlikely, therefore, that 11:2-16 and 14:23-40 speak of the same situation.
Paul’s introduction of his discussion of the Lord’s Supper, “when you come together as a church … when you come together in one place” (1 Corinthians 11:17-20), seems to mark a transition, not just from one subject to another, but from one context or situation to another. The same language (14:23) is used by Paul when he introduces the situation in 14:23-40. It seems certain that a mixed-gender (i.e. whole church) assembly is under consideration in both of these contexts, but does that necessarily include the situation described in 11:2-16?
Paul’s discussion in 10:14-11:1 focuses upon behaviour that brings “glory to God” (10:31). The glory of God (and the glory of man and woman by extension) is still the focus of Paul’s discussion regarding the propriety of the woman’s covering (11:7). This common theme (glory) connects 11:2-16 more closely with the previous section than the following section. Paul’s concern is to uphold gender differentiation as it relates to glory and headship (11:3-7). Men and women doing the same thing (praying and prophesying) but in a different manner (women being covered and men uncovered, 11:4-5) are contrasted (hypothetically?) by Paul to illustrate his point, not necessarily to describe an actual “assembly” – the woman’s covering (be it a veil or hairstyle) was required in any and every context (at least publicly), not just when men/husbands were present together with women/wives (11:14-15). The idea of an assembly in 11:2-16 is only inferred from the fact that women prayed and prophesied which, presumably, occurred in some sort of group context as prophesying is not a solitary exercise. But this falls well short of requiring or proving the presence of men while women were praying and prophesying.
The expectation that older women were to train younger women (Titus 2:3-5) would likely have given rise to women’s meetings where prayer and prophecy would have been common. The practise of groups of women gathering for spiritual purposes was well established among the Jews (e.g. Acts 16:13).
If 1 Corinthians 11:2-16 and 14:23-40 are entertaining different contexts (the former including a women-only meeting, the latter a mixed-gender meeting), there is no contradiction in Paul’s teaching. However, if the contexts are taken as being the same, it is difficult to uphold the integrity of Paul and the inspiration of Scripture - a contradiction is evident and people will tend to choose one and ignore the other according to their own bias and at the expense of harmonising Scripture.
What is the “silence” of 1 Corinthians 14:34-35?
It has been noted that 1 Corinthians 14:23-40 pertains specifically to a whole church (mixed-gender) assembly at Corinth. In 1 Corinthians 11:2-16 Paul had explained the basis of gender differentiation and how that was to be honoured and expressed by women maintaining the appropriate head covering. In 1 Corinthians 14:34-35, Paul now applies the same principle of gender differentiation specifically to the “in church” situation and teaches how the principle is to be honoured and expressed through limiting the role of women (note that the regulation is given on the basis of gender, “it is shameful for women to speak in church”).
The silence (sigao - to keep silent, hold one’s peace) required of women “in church” occurs in the context of other calls for silence (sigao in each instance):
14:27-28 “If anyone speaks (laleo) in a tongue, let there be two or at most three, each in turn, and let one interpret. But if there is no interpreter, let him keep silent (sigao) in church, and let him speak to himself and to God”.
14:29-33a “Let two or three prophets speak (laleo), and let the others judge. But if anything is revealed to another who sits by, let the first keep silent (sigao). For you can all prophesy one by one, that all may learn and all may be encouraged … For God is not the author of confusion but of peace”.
14:33b-35 “As in all the churches of the saints, let your women keep silent (sigao) in the churches, for they are not permitted to speak (laleo); but they are to be submissive, as the law also says. And if they want to learn something, let them ask their own husbands at home; for it is shameful for women to speak (laleo) in church”.
Paul addresses three types of speaker here: tongue speakers, prophets, and women. Paul’s contention is that tongue speaking is only appropriate “in church” when it edifies (14:26b). Because unknown languages cannot edify others without interpretation, the tongue speaker was to refrain from speaking (keep silent) when no interpreter was present. Both tongue speakers and prophets were to speak in turn rather than talking over one another and creating confusion (14:33a). To this end, when one prophet was speaking and another received a message from the Spirit, the former was to keep silent (cease from speaking).
The speaking under consideration here (tongues and prophecy) is authoritative speaking/teaching in the form of inspired revelation. The key character of the speaking was to be intelligibility with a view to edification, convicting the hearts of the hearers (14:2-4, 20-26). This is the type of speaking Paul entertains when he says women are to keep silent in church (unlike the tongue speakers and prophets, the prohibition against women speaking is not conditioned to apply only under certain circumstances - it is because of their gender that they had no part in this type of speaking “in church”, 14:35b).
Further, each prophet’s message was subjected to the judgement of the other prophets (14:29). The term (diakrino) translated “judge” here conveys the idea of interrogation and discernment, even contention (as in a debate), and it was part of the authoritative teaching process . Women are therefore also excluded from this authoritative form of questioning in church (14:35). Paul is not here prohibiting women from commenting or seeking clarification on some matter for their learning - such speaking is not (necessarily) authoritative (cf. 1 Timothy 2:11 where Paul expects that women WILL learn in the company of men in a quiet – hesuchia, not sigao – and submissive manner). Paul is teaching that any woman who takes the formal/leading part (through speaking authoritatively in the form of inspired revelation or interrogation) in the teaching process in a mixed-gender assembly steps outside her gender-defined role of submission (14:34b, cf. 1 Timothy 2:11-15). Female submission to male headship and authority is the issue here. Excluding females from authoritative speaking/teaching is the appropriate expression of that principle “in church” (as head covering was the appropriate expression of that same principle in the broader context). To import any other type of speaking into Paul’s prohibition is to arbitrarily ignore and go beyond the context. This interpretation would allow women to ask questions in a discussion situation, but regulates the motivation and tone of the questions: the motivation should be to learn rather than test; and the tone should be submissive rather than aggressive or argumentative. (The regulation of tone applies equally to men, but mature men have the right, and sometimes the responsibility, to test).
The church at Corinth was established by Paul in about 51 A.D. and 1 Corinthians was written about five years later. At this early stage there is no indication of elders, etc., and their teaching seems to have been in the hands of inspired persons. Paul’s language here suggests that only other prophets were to interrogate the prophets. It is not just women who were excluded from authoritative teaching “in church” - prophecy and interrogation of the prophets seems to have been limited to the prophets. As with general church oversight (i.e. elders/shepherds), authoritative teaching roles “in church” are limited to certain qualified men - it is not open to females, but neither is it open to all males (In 1 Corinthians 14, those speaking authoritatively were the prophets and tongue-speakers - being so gifted was the qualification. Today, teaching “qualifications” may be determined along the lines of maturity, knowledge of Scripture, giftedness, etc).
The NIV probably has it right when it connects “For God is not a God of disorder but of peace” with verse 32 and “As in all the congregations of the saints” with verse 34.
The speaking (laleo) that is regulated in 14:26-35 is inspired authoritative teaching (tongues – interpretation; prophecy – interrogation). Thus it is the authoritative speaking of the immediate context that provides the background for Paul’s demanding women’s silence. I would paraphrase Paul this way: “When it comes to authoritative teaching/speaking, women are to be silent - the women are not permitted to speak authoritatively in church”. If one is not satisfied to limit the extent and nature of the silence of women “in church” to the type of speaking in the same context, what determines the limitations for the silence invoked? Common sense (or something) has prevented an outright ban on women speaking in any and every manner “in church” (though, if taken out of context , this is what the passage literally requires). Female participation in responsive readings, singing, saying amen to a prayer, correcting children, engaging in appropriate discussion, (not to mention Scripture reading, responding to questions, offering invited comments, etc. in mixed-gender Bible classes) are all generally accepted “in church” – but often, it seems, arbitrarily so. Take singing for example: If the prohibition against women speaking in 1 Corinthians 14:34 is unqualified and general, then on what basis is a passage like Ephesians 5:19, “speaking to one another in psalms and hymns and spiritual songs, singing and making melody in your heart to the Lord”, allowed to over-ride Paul’s prohibition against women speaking “in church”? Ephesians 5:18-21 speaks generally of the Spirit filled life. Though it may be applied to an “in church” situation (e.g. 1 Corinthians 14:15,26), Paul is not specifically or even especially speaking of behaviour “in church” in Ephesians 5 as he is in 1 Corinthians 14. Nor does Paul explicitly include women in the singing of Ephesians 5, whereas he does explicitly exclude women from the speaking of 1 Corinthians 14. If we do not limit the extent and nature of the silence imposed upon women by Paul in 1 Corinthians 14 to the type of speaking in the same context (i.e. authoritative speaking), we are left only with arbitrary line-drawing – and whose “line” shall we settle for and why? Biblically speaking, female participation in congregational singing or any other manner of speaking that is not fairly construed as exercising authority “in church” is allowed to women.
There seems little doubt that Paul refers to the Law of Moses here. Paul, in chapter 11, has already established for the Corinthians the gender distinction on the basis of the order, form and purpose of creation recorded in Genesis 2. Some have supposed that Paul only sought to prevent a few disorderly women from yelling out in the middle of the meeting - that Paul’s teaching is limited to a specific problem at Corinth rather than teaching and applying a universal rule – some have even constructed a scenario based upon (apparently) common Jewish synagogue arrangements with women seated separately from the men and shouting questions across the room at their husbands. But these scenarios are conjectural and ignore Paul’s stated reason and scope for his teaching. Paul cites the principle of female submission (already fully developed in chapter 11) and the law (the creation account which Paul elaborated upon in chapter 11 – perhaps Paul includes here the more general flow of the law with male priests, etc.) as the basis for his regulation of female roles “in church”. It is not limited to any local problem. Paul applied this teaching to all the churches of the saints (14:33b), not just Corinth. Similarly, Paul applied the women’s covering (which is based upon the same headship/submission principle as the women’s silence “in church”) to all the churches of God (11:16).
This passage is notoriously difficult but it should not be interpreted in a way that contradicts Paul’s clearly stated expectation that women DO learn (matheo, to learn, understand) in the company of men (1 Timothy 2:11). The NIV translation is helpful, “If they want to inquire about something, they should ask their own husbands at home”. The questioning already mentioned in the context of 1 Corinthians 14 is the interrogation of the prophets in the course of passing judgment on their prophecies (14:29). Women (i.e. prophetesses) were not permitted to speak (prophesy) “in church” (14:34), nor were they permitted to interrogate the (other) prophets “in church” (14:35) – that excluded women from both sides of the authoritative teaching process then practised “in church” at Corinth. A woman could not participate in the public inquiry/debate process in the assembly and remain quietly disposed and submissive at the same time. To do so would bring shame to herself?, to the prophet?, to her husband?, to God? - probably to all of the above (just as a woman prophesying at other times while uncovered was shameful, dishonouring God and men/husbands). But a woman is not left without recourse – she should postpone her concerns for later discussion with her husband (aner, a male, not limited to husbands) in the privacy of the home (the actions of Priscilla and Aquila in taking Apollos aside privately to correct him may reflect this idea, Acts 18:24-26).
1 Timothy 2:11-15
The context of 1 Timothy 2:11-15 seems to be more general than 1 Corinthians 14:34-35, though the principle and application is essentially the same. 1 Timothy 2:11-15 is part of a broader context dealing with “how you ought to conduct yourself in the house of God, which is the church of the living God, the pillar and ground of the truth” (1 Timothy 3:14-15). Paul has just finished outlining the qualities of elders and deacons (3:1-13). Before that he discussed the behaviour of Christian males (aner, 2:8) in general, and then Christian females (gune, 2:9ff.) in general. Paul may not speak specifically to behaviour “in church” here (as in 1 Corinthians 14), but his discussion of the relationship between Christian men and women (2:11-12) clearly applies “in church”.
Males (specifically) are to be praying (in light of Paul’s earlier comments, 2:1-7) in every place (some see a reference to Christian assemblies here so would argue the context is as specific as 1 Corinthians 14 - I am increasingly inclined to agree). A customary posture for prayer was raised hands - the emphasis here is on “holy hands” - their prayers should flow from holy lives, void of anger and dispute.
Females are to be modest and decent, characterised by good deeds that flow from godly lives.
A woman is to learn (this emphasis was new for both Jews and Greeks). In doing so she is to be quiet (hesuchia – quietly disposed, peaceable – not sigao as in 1 Corinthians 14. cf. 2 Thessalonians 3:11-12; 1 Timothy 2:2) and submissive. A female (gune) is not permitted to teach (a male, cf. Titus 2:4-5) or exercise authority over a male (aner). This is essentially identical in principle to Paul’s teaching in 1 Corinthians. The principle is easier to identify here because it is clearly stated as a general rule rather than being developed and applied to specific situations as it is in 1 Corinthians 11 and 14. The idea of authority (authenteo) is primarily conveyed through teaching so Paul connects the two closely. The distinction between speaking in general and speaking authoritatively is important to make in 1 Corinthians 14 (where, I believe, the context clearly warrants the distinction). But in 1 Timothy 2:12 it is the specific term, teach (didasko, as opposed to the general term for speak, laleo ), that necessarily involves authoritative speaking. Teaching is an authoritative action and process. I would paraphrase Paul as follows: “I do not allow a woman to teach or (in any other way) exercise authority over a man, but to remain quietly disposed (as any good learner should)”. The meaning of authority here has been a point of contention. Following is W. E. Vine’s definition:
AUTHENTEO, from autos, self, and a lost noun hentes , probably signifying working (Eng., authentic), to exercise authority on one’s own account, to domineer over, is used in 1 Timothy 2:12, A.V., “to usurp authority”, R.V., “to have dominion”. In the earlier usage of the word it signified one who with his own hand killed others or himself. Later it came to denote one who acts on his own authority; hence, to exercise authority, dominion.
Some have adopted the earlier usage to equate authority here with murder. They have then connected the idea of false teaching at Ephesus (e.g. 1 Timothy 4:1-3; 2 Timothy 3:1-9) with Paul’s instruction in 1 Timothy 2:11-12. The claim is that some women in the church at Ephesus were false teachers (thus, figuratively, spiritual murderers and usurpers) and that it was these women only that Paul addressed in 2:11-12. In similar fashion to the “disruptive women” at Corinth scenario, the idea is that Paul’s teaching is not universal, but is limited only to a specific situation at Ephesus at this time. This scenario is objectionable for two reasons:
The concern about false teaching in 1 Timothy (which is when Paul regulates the role of women at Ephesus, some 4-5 years before 2 Timothy was written) is not a particularly strong or pervasive theme in the letter - the departure from the faith is mentioned as an anticipated general development (not necessarily peculiar to Ephesus, but note Acts 20:29-30) rather than a present problem (1 Timothy 4:1). Further, in 2 Timothy where false teaching has become a problem affecting Ephesus, it is the women who are deceived (2 Timothy 3:6-7), not the women doing the deceiving. The theory lacks sufficient evidence to be persuasive, but more conclusively:
As was the case with speculations regarding “disruptive wives/women” at Corinth, the “female false teachers” at Ephesus conjecture ignores Paul’s own stated reasons for his teaching (1 Timothy 2:13-15, see discussion below). Consistent with his teaching in 1 Corinthians, Paul cites creation as the basis for his regulation of women’s roles in relation to men - the teaching is general, not limited in its application.
Authority (authenteo, as opposed to the more common term, exousia, which relates to the power or strength to rule) here conveys the idea of the right to act on one’s own account. Paul denies this right to women because of the order and mode of creation (2:13). His point here is briefer but essentially the same as in 1 Corinthians 11:2-16. Woman was created after man and from man: the woman’s being was purposefully derived from the man and she therefore does not have the right to act on her own account in relation to men. In God’s economy this is expressed: a) in the home by the wife’s submission to her husband, and b) in the church by women not teaching or exercising authority over the men (note: Paul does not prohibit a Christian woman from privately teaching the gospel to a non-Christian man here. He is addressing Christian-to-Christian church “family” relations).
For a female to exercise authority (authenteo, which is essentially the opposite of submission) over males in the church would be to usurp the place of the male in the order of God’s creation and divine purposes (which the church is to reflect). This is probably Paul’s point in alluding to Genesis 3 in 2:14, “and Adam was not deceived, but the woman being deceived, fell into transgression”. Paul is not suggesting that women are more gullible or susceptible to sin than men - she is the weaker vessel, not the weakest link. Nor is he trying to shift the blame for sin from Adam to Eve - Paul gives those honours to Adam (Romans 5:12). He simply uses this example to illustrate or dramatise the consequences of reversing the gender roles: Eve took the lead while Adam consented and followed … and so did sin.
Paul is not here limiting the woman’s role to domestic duties, but child bearing (not house-work!) symbolises the major sphere of influence exercised by women because of their physiological and emotional capabilities (by God’s design). Commitment to nurturing a godly family through faith, love, holiness and self-control is surely one of the most challenging, honourable and essential ministries of all (cf. 1 Timothy 5:9-10 where, if there is a list of “qualifications” for women’s [formal] ministry in the church, this is it. Many historians have concluded from early church writings that these “widows” functioned as “deaconesses” [females functioning formally as servants of the church]. It is interesting to read Paul’s discussion in 1 Timothy 5 from this perspective and contrast the “qualifications” of male [formal] ministries of overseer and deacon discussed in 1 Timothy 3). It is also interesting and probably significant that Paul’s discussion of women in the church (2:9-15, characterised by godliness with submission through learning and quietness) leads directly into his discussion of male leaders in the church (3:1-13, characterised by godliness with authority through teaching and oversight).
Male and female are equal but different and complementary in function.
This functional difference is expressed in the biblical principle of male headship and female submission and is derived from the order, mode and purpose of God’s creation of humankind.
The principle of male headship and female submission is expressed through “family” relationships: the home and the church.
The principle of male headship and female submission is expressed in the church by Christians as follows:
Expressions of femininity/submission and masculinity/authority are to be observed by Christians because they reflect and honour God’s purposeful order of human creation.
A woman may not teach or exercise authority over a man in the general context of God’s household.
Women may not engage in authoritative speaking “in church” (i.e. assemblies with both women and men present).
Oversight of the local church is limited to qualified men who are proven leaders of their own homes.
Some Observations and Practical Application
It is vital to understand the nature of authority (authenteo) in applying biblical teaching regarding the role of women in the church.
In both 1 Corinthians 14:34-35 and 1 Timothy 2:12 it is (specifically and only) authoritative behaviour (primarily expressed in teaching) that is not permitted to women in relation to men.
The basic idea of authenteo is to exercise authority on one’s own account. Because woman was created after man, from man, and for man, she should not behave in a way that contradicts or violates her derivative origin: the woman’s functional relationship to the man is therefore characterised by submission. In the home this is expressed by submission to her husband; in the church it is expressed by not exercising authority over a man.
The primary expression of authority in the church is through public teaching. The teacher (whether an elder, teacher, evangelist, prophet) takes it upon herself or himself to interpret and apply God’s word for the hearers with a view to gaining their obedience (herein is the idea of acting on one’s own account or authority , and hence the heightened accountability of the teacher/leader to God, cf. James 3:1; Hebrews 13:17). Women may teach women (and children), but they cannot behave in this way towards Christian men without dishonouring both the men and God (because it violates the gender relationship established at creation).
Much speaking which is appropriate “in church” is not of this authoritative sort and Paul’s forbidding women to speak (authoritatively) should not be generalised to include just any and all speaking. If we lose sight of the principle at stake (in this case, authority and submission based upon the order, mode and purpose of creation), we can tend to create all sorts of rules and taboos that are not sustained by Scripture. Consider, for example, the issue of dancing. The principle of concern is avoiding lasciviousness (absence of restraint, moral indecency). Because some dancing is morally indecent, Christians have rightly rejected such practices. But in time the tendency to generalise has resulted in a rejection of all forms of dance: “it is a sin to engage in lascivious dancing” has become “it is a sin to dance”, period! Applying principles is hard work. Often there are grey areas that are uncomfortable and difficult to work through. Laziness inclines us to avoid these problems and look for easy solutions and “cover-all-the-bases” strategies and we often end up overlooking the principle and focus instead on making and enforcing “rules” that aren’t biblically necessary. Our “rules” may even frustrate or prevent God’s desired outcome (such as a woman’s learning and encouragement). In evaluating appropriate women’s roles in church, the simple (hard!) question is this: “does it constitute exercising authority over men?”
Our Western culture of “doing church” has tended to confuse and muddy the issue of what constitutes exercising authority. Before the time of the Roman Emperor Constantine (c. 300 A.D.) Christians generally met in homes or similar informal contexts (certainly the “house church” seems to be the common experience of most first century churches evidenced in the New Testament). But Constantine’s favour toward Christianity led to an explosion in the number of professed Christians and increasingly gave the church (worldly) prestige and power (much to the church’s detriment). Churches at this time generally made the transition from meeting in homes to assembling in the basilica (Roman public halls with an apse and colonnades) with an increasingly formalised and ritualised style of worship. In this environment the typical assembly of Christians took on the character of an audience witnessing a performance rather than a family participating in edifying and encouraging one another (the clergy/laity distinction that began to develop well before the time of Constantine contributed to this also). For the most part, the audience/performer character of Christian worship assemblies still prevails. In this way we have been conditioned to think of the person “up front” as the one exercising authority - the one who is positioned before the audience or uses a microphone or stands at a lectern or on a podium is thereby invested with authority. This environmental conditioning, coupled with the practical necessity of using expedients such as microphones and podiums to be heard and seen (factors essential to effective communication among a larger group of people), conspires against women speaking at all because to speak under these circumstances will almost always be (mis)construed as exercising authority. The type and nature of her speaking - which is the only genuine test of exercising authority in this case - is overshadowed by the perception created by the audience/performer context. Before she opens her mouth, she has already been judged to be the “performer” by virtue of having the attention of the “audience” - she has moved into the spot light and therefore must be exercising authority over the men present! In reality, authority has nothing to do with the use of expedients such as microphones and lecterns. Authority is expressed in the purpose, manner and content of the speaking.
In attempting to overcome this sort of difficulty many have developed the idea that “in church” relates only to “the worship hour” which is marked out by an opening and closing prayer. Therefore what is inappropriate before the closing prayer becomes appropriate after it (even though the group and context remains the same). But this distinction is artificial and arbitrary. The New Testament talks of Christian “worship” as a whole of life affair (Romans 12:1; Hebrews 13:10-16). To talk of a “worship hour” or “going to worship” is not biblical in either terminology or concept. At best we might think of an assembly of Christians as corporate or community “worship” (but this still tends toward a departmentalised and ritualistic concept of worship which is not Christian). The focus is relational: God’s community in assembly (whether for communion or praise or Bible study or prayer or any other form of encouragement and edification). “In church” is the concrete expression of God’s family characterised by the presence of males and females (brothers and sisters) gathered together as God’s children. A mixed-gender Bible study group on a week-night is as much “in church” as a Sunday morning assembly (identifying “in church” by the presence of all members is impractical, if not impossible - if one member is absent, are we no longer “in church”?) Strictly speaking, even our social fellowship on Sunday mornings is still “in church” too – this plays an important spiritual role through promoting relationship building and encouragement.
When we focus on that which is truly biblical - the principle that women may not exercise authority over men in the church - it becomes apparent that many of our traditional limitations on women “in church” have gone far beyond what is necessary to honour God’s will. In many cases we have imposed prohibitions upon women’s roles that simply cannot be justified biblically. Of course it is important that women honour God’s principle of male headship and female submission in the home and the church. That often calls for the women to leave themselves vulnerable to the frequent failures and inadequacies of us men when we lead poorly (in the home and the church) with the wrong motivation, or incompetently; or when we fail altogether to provide leadership when we should. Men need to be willing to be a little vulnerable too (women might abuse their roles occasionally as do men - but the check against that is biblical teaching, not man-made rules of exclusion) by allowing women the freedom to serve and grow according to their God given opportunities “in church”.
A Few Words on the Exercise of Authority in Church …
One of the key concerns of men and women alike is how to apply a woman’s freedom to speak appropriately “in church” (i.e. when Christians assemble “in Jesus name” - purposefully gathered to focus upon the Father’s business as God’s family - Matthew 18:15-20) without her over stepping the mark: Where is “the mark”? At what point does a woman’s speaking with or to a man “in church” become “teaching or exercising authority” over that man?
We have in the past highlighted the difference between the worldly model of leadership (exercising authority) and the godly/biblical model of leadership (exercising authority). The worldly model conceives of authority being exercised through an office with inherent power and prestige - we are “subordinate” to the “officer” because of the “superior office” they hold. The biblical model, in stark contrast, conceives of authority as being:
Delegated from King Jesus. Christ is the only “officer” in the church - Christians have only one Lord. When operating with this delegated authority, the [biblically qualified] leader represents Jesus and that is the primary reason they warrant our submission. We submit to the biblically qualified leader (teacher, elder, etc. - Christ’s “gifts” to His church for our equipping and edification, Ephesians 4:11ff.) out of our reverence and loyalty to the One they represent (Jesus) and our desire to achieve the intended outcome of their leading (Christ-likeness).
A matter of a greater degree of service and therefore an expression of godly stewardship, love and self-sacrifice, not power or prestige.
A matter of giftedness, experience, knowledge, character and maturity (not a “position” to be bought or a higher rung of a “corporate ladder” to be attained, but a matter of earned respect and responsibility because of their possession of these qualities and qualifications).
The exercise of authority “in church” comes into play when one exercises that authority! This is not as silly as it might first seem. The exercise of authority “in church” is a FUNCTION, not an OFFICE. This was even so with the apostles: Paul’s “apostleship” didn’t require Barnabas to submit to him 100% of the time (Acts 15:36-41, Paul’s authority as an apostle only applied when he was functioning as Christ’s representative in revealing – by inspiration – Jesus’ will: e.g. 1 Corinthians 14:37); Peter’s “apostleship” did not prevent him from being wrong at those times when he was not functioning authoritatively as Christ’s representative revealing – by inspiration – Jesus’ will (Galatians 2:11ff). So a [biblically qualified] leader today (e.g. shepherd, deacon, teacher) exercises authority only at the time he is actually serving in his role as leader.
The idea of “office” is hard to eliminate from our thinking. An “officer” holds authority 100% of the time - as long as they “hold office” (because their authority is inherent in “the office” - “the boss is never wrong even when he or she is wrong”!) This gives rise to the idea of “class” or “rank” or “clergy/laity” distinctions. One bows down to another of a higher class (e.g. those with the “office” of royalty). One salutes another of a higher rank (i.e. one “office[er]” is superior to another). But in the church there is leadership without class distinction or rank (leadership without “offices” - no one is “superior” to any other!)
A (biblical) leader or teacher only exercises authority when they lead or teach - i.e. at the time they actually function as a leader or teacher. Think about it. When is a teacher “exercising authority”? When they teach. At all other times, they relate to brothers and sisters in Christ in the same way as everybody else in God’s family. The authority is inherent in their role (not any office or title) - so authority is exercised only when the teacher functions in their role as a teacher. A shepherd leader responds to a situation (by teaching or counselling or arbitrating, etc.) when the need arises. Because of their responsibility (derived from their being biblically qualified), they must rise to the occasion (i.e. “lead”) when the occasion arises (ability/qualification + opportunity = responsibility). On such occasions, they are exercising authority and our response should be to submit.
Nathan Holyoak asked me two very good questions recently: As a young man in the church without a (formal) leadership role (not a shepherd, not a teacher, etc); how do I relate to the women in the church (do I exercise authority over them in any way just because I am a male?), and how do they relate to me as a man (do they submit to me in any sense just because they are female?) Put simply, the answer is NO* (and YES!**) to both questions. Submission is rendered to biblically qualified men (i.e. leaders) only at those times when they function in their authoritative roles - authority is inherent in the function, not any “office”. *There is no occasion for anyone (male or female) “in church” to submit to men who are not leading or teaching beyond the general sense in which **WE ALL SUBMIT TO ONE ANOTHER – Ephesians 5:21 - as part of the package of loving one another, considering and honouring one another, etc. Our relationships together in Christ are characterised by MUTUAL SUBMISSION except at those times when a qualified leader is called upon to lead (thereby exercising authority and requiring our submission).
Let me try to illustrate this point: Each line below represents a Christian. The lines in parallel represent our normal “family” relationships (encouraging, loving, considering, honouring and submitting to one another). There is no class distinction, no difference in rank, no “office” or “clergy”. But when the occasion arises (teaching needs to be done, shepherding needs to be done, etc.), those men who are biblically qualified for the task (and therefore have the right and responsibility to serve in this way, cf. 1 Corinthians 6:4) step up to exercise authority (to which the rest of us submit) by functioning in their God given role.
Leaders in the church always warrant everybody’s respect (by virtue of their qualities, qualifications and service) and they need to be recognised and appointed to that role (not an office!). But leaders in the church only exercise authority at those times when they function in their authoritative role (which isn’t all of the time). It is at these times we are called upon to be in submission to them. Are we always under the authority of leaders and in submission to them? No - they hold no “office”! We have only one Lord! We live (24 hours a day, seven days a week) accountable to and under submission to Christ. When [biblically qualified] leaders formally lead their brothers and sisters “in church”, they are functioning as Christ’s gifts to us in equipping and edifying Christ’s body - and in that sense, they represent Christ. When they cease equipping (teaching, exhorting, arbitrating, counselling, rebuking, etc.), they cease exercising authority.
Of course, there is a general sense in which every Christian (male and female, young and old, parents and children) should be a teacher, an evangelist, a counsellor, a servant, etc. This occurs informally in the context of encouraging and submitting to one another in Christ, both “in” and “out” of church. But that is not to say there are not (formally recognised and qualified) teachers, shepherds, deacons and evangelists in the church (cf. 1 Corinthians 12:29). When we talk about leading “in church”, it is specifically the latter (formally recognised) types of roles that we are addressing. Where men are involved (i.e. in mixed-gender assemblies of two or more Christians), even the most mature and gifted of women are prohibited from functioning in this way (1 Timothy 2:12, but they should function in this way both “in” and “out” of church toward other women, Titus 2:3-4). At all times among Christians, there should be mutual respect and honour towards one another as God’s children.
The “qualifications” of a “teacher” (which I would draw largely from books like 1 & 2 Timothy, Titus) are, I think, somewhat relative to the particular “in church” context under consideration. Gender specific gatherings of Christians (i.e. all males or all females in a group) are still “in church”, but these sorts of contexts are not directly relevant where gender roles are concerned - except for those principles which might be drawn from 1 Corinthians 11 regarding women and public expressions of submission/femininity. In an “entire church” context, those who serve as authoritative teachers will be those most qualified for the task in the church. But in, say, a mixed-gender gathering involving only “youth/young adult” Christians (**this relates to Nathan’s questions above and still may constitute an “in church” context - depending upon the purpose and nature of the gathering), a young man or men might “exercise authority” who would not be considered qualified to command (full) authority in a Sunday assembly of the entire church. In a gathering of youth/young adults (as members of God’s family assembled to focus upon God’s business), the male leadership principle still applies and a young woman should not “teach or exercise authority” over the young men in such contexts.
With “men in training” as teachers, etc., their authority can only be regarded as being partial when they teach - their teaching is authoritative only in proportion to their stage of development and relative to those Christians whom they are teaching (e.g. a youth speaking to other Christian youth carries more authority than when the same youth might address adult Christians).
May a mature Christian woman teach or exercise authority over a male Christian youth? Caution needs to be exercised here, but as a general rule I think she may. Our society tends (in my opinion) to give too many “rights and privileges” to youth (i.e. teens and younger). Because the biblical principle regulating the right and responsibility of teaching and exercising authority “in church” is based upon gender - specifically relations between “men” and “women” – I think the question of whether and when a male can be regarded as a man (as opposed to a boy) is more relevant to the issue than whether or not he is a Christian. This calls for human judgement, but I doubt that any male who is not (at least) in his late teens should be regarded as a “man” (the O.T. seems to place adulthood at twenty years of age, cf. Exodus 30:14; Numbers 32:11 where moral accountability is pegged at twenty years of age and up).
Authority (authenteo, 1 Timothy 2:12) was earlier defined as “acting on one’s own account”. Leaders in the church (teachers, elders, deacons) act with delegated authority from Jesus. In this sense they act on Christ’s account, on Christ’s behalf as His instruments or “gifts” (Ephesians 4:11) - they are leaders because of meeting the biblical qualifications set down by God/Christ through His Spirit in His word, not because the leaders say so or we say so (cf. Acts 20:28). But in another sense, when it comes to exercising that (delegated) authority, biblically qualified leaders nonetheless act on their own account (harnessing and drawing upon their own experience and knowledge that qualifies them to be leaders in the first place). For example, the teacher gives an exposition of Scripture. They have studied the word. They have prayed for God’s help. They have brought to the process all of their maturity and previous learning and experience. They seek to convey the Bible text’s meaning and proper application and call for our obedience (to God and His will). These actions derive largely from the teacher - they are acting by Christ’s authority, but they are also operating on their own account (hence the greater degree of accountability of teachers to God, James 3:1).
Any type of communication (speech or actions) is “teaching” of a sort (implicit teaching). We “learn” something from or about someone in every communication. Even singing is a “type” of teaching (Colossians 3:16). But this is not the sort of teaching under consideration and prohibited to women in 1 Corinthians 14 or 1 Timothy 2. Here the teaching is explicit and authoritative (and usually public): Prophesying, interrogating the prophets, tongue speaking (1 Corinthians 14), and teaching (authoritatively) over a (Christian) man (1 Timothy 2).
Explicit and authoritative teaching can be identified by the context and purpose of the meeting/discussion. It is more than just a casual conversation or informal meeting between brethren (read again the earlier material on what constitutes being “in church” on pages 6-7. Being “in church” is when Christians assemble “in Jesus name” - purposefully gathered as God’s family members to focus upon their Father’s business). It normally takes the form of a “Bible lesson” in a gathering for (primarily or in part) the purpose of studying and applying God’s will (either formally - as in preaching and exhortation, or semi-formally - as in a Bible class with a teacher and one or a hundred students). Teaching or exercising authority over a (Christian) man in these contexts is prohibited to a woman.
But where is the line between “contributing/participating” and “teaching/exercising authority” in such cases?
Hopefully the continuum illustration on the next page might help. A mixed-gender “in church” context is assumed:
There are no simple, straightforward “black and white” rules to operate by. There are many factors involved ranging from attitude to context to the content and purpose of the speaking. It is not always easy to clearly “draw the line” between submissiveness and non-submissiveness, though it is usually evident when “the line” has been crossed. There is a big difference between speaking at the invitation of a teacher, or courteously volunteering some relevant and helpful thoughts or experiences, or respectfully requesting clarification from the teacher or expressing a view or interpretation of Scripture (even if it is different to the teacher’s) on the one hand, and debating and arguing (which, for those not qualified or authorised to do so, is clearly to usurp authority over the teacher/as a teacher) on the other hand. Yes, sometimes a woman (or unqualified male) might cross the line. They ought to be prepared to be gently steered back to the other side (or openly rebuked if they persist) - and leaders should be prepared to do this appropriately and when necessary (thus pulling them back from sin, Galatians 6:1). We need biblical understanding of the principles at stake and the sincere desire to honour God through the proper application of His will. We need to exercise spiritual maturity and self-control (and be prepared to be called to account when and if we fail to do so). This calls for us to be vulnerable (occasionally someone may do the wrong thing) and patient and gentle and loving towards one another (and love assumes the best of others!, 1 Corinthians 13:7). We need to resist the temptation to make arbitrary rules to “protect” ourselves and others against violating God’s will - that is well-intentioned Phariseeism that stifles spiritual growth and maturity. In the Christian family generally, all brothers and sisters in Christ should be characterised by love for one another (Ephesians 5:1-2) expressed, in part, through their submission to one another (Ephesians 5:21). But in certain specific roles (functions), God has ordained a “hierarchy” of submission and headship that “kicks in” when the role is exercised (learners/equippers: 4:11ff; wives/husbands: Ephesians 5:22-23; children/parents: 6:1-3; employee/employer: 6:5-8; younger women/older women: Titus 2:3-4). “In church”, explicit/authoritative teaching and any other form of exercising authority (including shepherding) over men is exclusively the responsibility of certain (biblically qualified) men (1 Corinthians 14:34-35; 1 Timothy 2:11-12).
Reflections on Events in a Garden Long Ago …
Adam and Eve lived in God’s paradise as His honoured guests and, so far as I can tell, they had only one restriction placed upon them: don’t eat the fruit of one tree - just one of many, many trees (it was a “garden”!) Overlooking the multitude of blessings given to them by God, Satan focused Eve’s attention on that one limitation and she came to resent it. Satan dangled the lie that God was holding out on them and she swallowed it. It bugged her to the point of dissatisfaction and then rebellion. And Adam stood by as her willing accomplice. He abdicated his responsibility to lead and betrayed both Eve and their Creator in the process.
Christians, we need to focus upon God’s multitude of blessings and humbly accept those limitations and responsibilities He gives to each one of us.
God isn’t holding out on us - He didn’t even hold back His Son for our sake!
Three Approaches to Paul’s Regulations for Women in Church
There are basically three “conservative” approaches to interpreting the silence enjoined upon women by Paul in 1 Corinthians 14:34-35:
The Limited Application Approach
Paul’s command that women be silent in church is addressed only to a particular group of women at Corinth at that time; usually supposed to be disruptive wives whose behaviour was creating confusion in the assembly and hindering edification (as were the unruly tongue speakers and prophets). Hence, the women were told to cease from their disruptive talk and to save their questions for their husbands at home. Similarly, Paul’s prohibition against a woman teaching or exercising authority over a man (1 Timothy 2:11 ff) is supposed to be addressed and limited to female false teachers at Ephesus at that time. There are many different variations on this approach but they all have at least two things in common:
While not without merit in giving attention to the context, they rely heavily on assertion and speculation and are far from conclusive.
This approach rejects the idea that Paul is applying a universal rule of behaviour for all women in all churches. But this is difficult to reconcile with Paul’s stated reason for requiring their submission expressed by their silence - “the Law” (assuming by “the Law” Paul refers to the creation mode and purpose common to all humanity raised by him earlier in chapter 11:3, 7-10). And Paul’s, “it is shameful for women to speak in church”, certainly sounds more general than specific in its scope. Further, this approach either denies or at least effectively rejects any meaningful application or expression of the biblical principle of gender hierarchy, (and remember it is a matter of voluntary function, not inferiority/superiority) when it comes to the family of God, the church. On this view, the principle of gender hierarchy is only relevant to the home (i.e. husbands and wives) and does not apply to church family relations at all. But this position is difficult to sustain for several reasons:
Adam and Eve were both the first man and woman and the first husband and wife. The resulting ambiguity between male/female and husband/wife is not helped by the fact that the Greek words gune and aner can be translated as woman (i.e. female) or wife and man (i.e. male) or husband respectively (translators rely upon the context to choose which). From a biblical perspective, the two “family” relations of home and church are essentially related and overlap (note the similarities between 1 Timothy 2:9-15 and 1 Peter 3:1-6), as the point below further demonstrates.
One key N.T. context outlining the wife’s submission to her husband (Ephesians 5:25-33) is actually modelled upon the church in its relationship to Christ and therefore the husband and wife leader/submission roles are derived from the relationship between Christ and His “bride”, not the other way around. Those who lead with Jesus’ [delegated] authority in the church do so on Christ’s behalf, relating to the church as Christ himself would (e.g. 2 Corinthians 5:20; 1 Peter 5:2-4; Hebrews 13:17).
God’s gender hierarchy governing church behaviour in 1 Corinthians 11:3ff is developed from Christ being head of every man (it is difficult to limit this to husbands only), and woman being [created] from and for (i.e. to be complementary to) man (which is applicable to all women, not just wives). It is not at all certain that the woman’s head covering of 1 Corinthians 11 related exclusively to a wife and her husband. Evidence suggests that the head covering was a symbol of “femaleness” (as opposed to “maleness”) and was related to the manner of arranging and covering hair in the Greco-Roman world. Of course it included husbands and wives, but was more generally a cultural symbol of gender distinction affecting all men and women (cultures with similar “dress regulations” today apply them in this general way, not just to husbands and wives).
To limit Paul’s teaching to husbands and wives only, one has to ignore the difficulty above in 1 Cor.11 and the general nature of his statement, “it is shameful for women to speak in church” (14:35b), as well as the context of 1 Timothy 2:11-15 that clearly relates Paul’s teaching to the church in community (cf. 2:8; 3:14-15).
It is difficult to see why women would have been excluded from functioning as elders in the early church - and both Scripture and history attest that was the case in all churches, both Jewish and gentile - if there were no gender based role distinctions at all in God’s family, the church. Scripture consistently relates authoritative/priestly roles of teaching (cf. Leviticus 10:8-11; Deuteronomy 17:8-13; Micah 3:11), prayer, sacrifice, etc., exclusively to males in ecclesiastic or community contexts. For example, Patriarchs like Job, Noah, Abraham, Isaac and Jacob led their families in sacrifice, the Levitical Priesthood needs no explanation, and though all in Christ are collectively a “priesthood” (1 Peter 2:4-10, cf. Romans 12:1-2; Hebrews 13:15-17), the N.T. nonetheless connects community or ecclesiastic (i.e. God’s family) authority and leadership exclusively with males.
If it is only conjugal submission (i.e. wives submitting to their own husbands) under consideration in 1 Corinthians 11 and 14 and 1 Timothy 2:11, then we have a rather strange situation. Only those wives with husbands present would be prohibited from teaching the church because in so doing they would be exercising authority over their own husband - which is curious given that expertise in being good wives and homemakers is the very focus and criteria for female spiritual ministry and maturity in the N.T. (cf. 1 Timothy 5:9ff; Titus 2:3-5). If any women were qualified to teach the whole assembly, you would think it would have been the mature married women! Further, doesn’t that interpretation of 1 Timothy 2:11 contradict 1 Peter 3:1-2 (where, I take it, the wife’s teaching her unbelieving husband in both word and deed is encouraged by Peter)?
The Unqualified Silence Approach
Paul’s command that women be silent in church is understood to be a universal rule of behaviour for all women in all churches. As with approach 3 below (qualified silence), any universal rule of behaviour interpretation has apparent difficulties at two points:
First (in the immediate context) is Paul’s, “if they want to inquire about something, they should ask their own husbands at home”. Is Paul’s limitation on women applied only to women with husbands (i.e. wives) or does his reference to wives assume and stand for all females (including widows, virgins, etc)? Aner could be translated as either man (i.e. male) or husband here, but husband seems the most natural rendering in this context. The probable solution is that the women who were speaking in church at Corinth (and presumably some were doing this in order to draw Paul’s attention to correct the matter) happened to be certain married women. In that case, we would have a universal rule (all women must be silent in the churches, 35b) applied to a specific situation. Some of the married women were questioning their husbands in church at Corinth and Paul corrected them by demanding they cease from their speaking in church (which probably refers specifically to their unseemly questioning of their husbands) and direct their enquiries to their husbands at home instead, 34-35a). This would be typical of Paul’s practical “task” approach to theology (as distinct from “systematic theology”) as he most often teaches and develops theological truths in the course of addressing actual issues or circumstances faced by the churches and individuals he wrote to (e.g. 1 Corinthians 6:15-20; 11:3ff; Philippians 2:1-11).
Second (in the more remote context) is the apparent contradiction with 11:3-16 where Paul addresses women praying and prophesying in an assembly. How could Paul acknowledge and seemingly approve of women praying and prophesying in church (11:3ff) but then later prohibit, or at least limit, their speaking in church (14:34-35)? There are basically three avenues of addressing this difficulty:
The context of 11:3-16 is different to that addressed in 14:26-35 (usually, the former is thought to be a women’s only assembly, the latter being a whole church assembly addressed from 11:17 onwards). This is the view developed and argued earlier in this paper.
Paul waited until the end of his discourse on behaviour in church to enjoin silence upon the women in church (a very unlikely scenario).
The assembly in 1 Corinthians 11 is the same as that in chapter 14 - the women prophesying (i.e. speaking forth the word of God by inspiration) should be equated (today) with Scripture reading: i.e. Publicly reading appropriate portions of our translations of the inspired Scriptures to edify and encourage as opposed to authoritative interpretation and application (i.e. teaching) of Scripture. This point (iii) works for the qualified silence approach, but not for the unqualified silence approach.
“Prophesying” is notoriously difficult to define but consider:
Paul distinguishes between prophets and apostles, evangelists (e.g. Timothy and Titus) and teachers/pastors in Ephesians 4:11. Similar distinctions are made by him in 1 Corinthians 12:4-11 where “the gift of prophecy” is distinct from “the word of wisdom”, “the word of knowledge”, “the discerning of spirits” and “the interpretation of tongues”. These latter gifts seem to relate naturally to the role of teaching and the exercise of authority - authenteo, “exercising authority on one’s own account”. All the biblical evidence points to the conclusion that apostles, evangelists and pastors/teachers were exclusively male. In contrast, there is ample N.T. evidence of both female and male prophets being active in the early church.
Note Peter’s point (2 Peter 1:19-21) that prophecy is not derived from man’s own will or private interpretation (i.e. prophets do not exercise authenteo), but the prophet is merely the Spirit’s vehicle (as, today, with one who merely reads Scripture publicly in church without elaboration).
When one considers the activities connected with prophesying, especially in the Old Testament, it is apparent that the function was broad in its application: It was related to ecstatic behaviour (among prophets of Yahweh as well as prophets of pagan gods); predictions of future events; revelations from God (“thus saith the LORD”); rebuking unfaithfulness to the Mosaic covenant and calling for repentance, etc. There is evidence that at least some prophets were responsible for recording Israel’s history. There were both true and false prophets of Yahweh. Defining the work of a prophet is not easy, beyond the basic meaning of “spokesperson for God”;. But prophesying did not seem to relate to the official teaching of God’s law - that responsibility seems to have been ideally intended for the priests under the old covenant (cf. Leviticus 10:8-11; Deuteronomy 17:8-13; Micah 3:11) and apostles, pastors/teachers and evangelists under the new covenant.
That women prayed (with appropriate head covering) in 1 Corinthians 11:1-16 does not necessarily mean they were leading the prayers over the men present, but rather participating in the public prayers led by men, cf. 1 Timothy 2:8.
With the unqualified silence approach, the silence (sigao) of 1 Cor.14:34-35 is essentially interpreted in isolation from the context (i.e. the two verses are taken as a stand alone statement or command unrelated to the preceding instructions and the broader context of chapters 11-14) and is therefore understood to prohibit women from speaking at all (without qualification) in church. But note that Paul uses sigao (to hold one’s peace), not phimoo (to muzzle) in 1 Corinthians 14:34-35. Sigao presupposes that the women were speaking and only the context can inform us of the manner and extent of the speech that they were to refrain from, thus holding their peace. The same term is used by Paul when telling the tongue speakers and prophets to hold their peace (sigao) under certain conditions (14:28,30). If somebody is speaking inappropriately and one tells them to hold their peace (sigao), one is requiring them to refrain from that particular (inappropriate) speech. One has not thereby prohibited them from speaking in a manner that would be deemed appropriate. If one wanted to accomplish the latter, one would require them to be muzzled (phimoo) - thus prohibiting any and all speech to that person, period.
In ignoring the context of Paul’s command the unqualified silence approach is poor exegesis and it is fraught with practical difficulties and inconsistencies.
In practice, it has come to rely upon arbitrary distinctions between meetings of the church to be workable where “the Sunday worship service” or “worship hour” (typically defined by its association with the Lord’s Supper) is distinguished from any other assembly of the church (e.g. Bible studies, singing devotionals, prayer meetings, etc., where women are permitted to speak to varying degrees governed by somewhat ambiguous and subjective guidelines). The difficulty here is twofold: First, the Scriptures do not seem to support any hard and fast distinctions between assemblies of Christians - from a biblical viewpoint, the distinctions seem artificial and forced. Second, and much more importantly, the focus upon distinguishing between meetings of Christians has tended to cause the essential principle underlying Paul’s male/female role distinctions in church in the first place (i.e. gender hierarchy) to be pushed into the background or overlooked entirely. Trying to distinguish between assemblies gives rise to the wrong questions and focus. The right question to ask is: “how should Christian women and men relate to one another when functioning together as members of God’s family?” - not, “what type of assembly is it?” The Bible simply doesn’t entertain the latter question so one will never come up with a clear and satisfactory biblical answer. However, the Bible does give us both the why and the how answers to the former question.
It doesn’t take much reflection to recognise the inconsistency with which this unqualified silence is applied, even if “the Sunday worship hour” idea is granted. Silence (sigao) in 1 Cor.14:34 means “to hold one’s peace”. To be consistent (if Paul is to be interpreted as demanding unqualified silence), no woman should speak in any way or under any circumstance during “the worship hour”. No woman should sing, reply to a responsive reading, say amen to a prayer, say thank you or give a greeting - nothing but absolute silence! When Paul’s command is divorced from its theological mooring (male leadership/female submission) as this approach tends to do by dislocating verses 34 and 35 from the broader context of chapters 11-14, Paul’s instruction to women is reduced to an absurdity (where this interpretation is followed to its logical conclusion), rather than the appropriate and intelligible application of a biblical principle to a particular context (i.e. the exercise of authority and submission among male and female Christians assembled as God’s family) expressed by the women refraining from teaching or exercising authoritatively over the men.
If adopted consistently, this unqualified silence would make the chief purposes and outcomes of Christian assemblies extremely difficult if not impossible for women to attain or practice: They could not praise God with their lips in the assembly (Psalm 22:22, cf. Hebrews 2:12; 13:15), nor could they provoke others to love and good works (Hebrews 10:24-25). Both the vertical and horizontal dimensions of the assembly are seriously handicapped, to say the very least. I’m not suggesting that those who are literally mute cannot benefit from assembling with the church - they use sign language to overcome such communication barriers. In the case of women generally though, what is the point of assembling if you are barred from communicating with and joining in praising God with those you are assembled with? Paul would not teach something that inhibits and prevents (in the case of women) the biblically stated purposes of Christian assemblies. Surely this ought to strongly suggest to us that this approach to interpreting Paul in 1 Corinthians 14:34-35 is amiss!
The Qualified Silence Approach
Like approach #2 above, Paul’s command that women be silent in church is understood to be a universal rule of behaviour for all women in all churches. But unlike approach #2 above, the silence is understood to be qualified by the context. Paul does not give a blanket prohibition against any and all manner of speaking, but specifically prohibits women from authoritative teaching in mixed gender assemblies of Christians. 1 Corinthians 14:34-35 is thus a practical application of the principles Paul stated to the church in Ephesus (via Timothy) in 1 Timothy 2:8ff.
Paul’s teaching is a further application of the principle governing gender relations established and developed earlier in 1 Corinthians (from the Law - specifically the creation account) when discussing the issue of “head covering” (11:3ff). The gender specific nature of the command in 14:35b and Paul’s reference to the woman’s submission derived from the Law (14:34) supports that connection. Paul now applies that same principle to regulate the functional roles of Christian women and men when meeting as God’s family together in church. It is the male/female composition of the assembly of members of God’s family, (not the type, time or place of the assembly), that is the critical factor here. It should be remembered that the gender hierarchy is applied directly by God essentially and only to family relations (i.e. the home and the church, cf. Matthew 19:4-6 with Ephesians 5:25-33; 1 Timothy 2:11 with 3:15). There is no evidence that God applies this principle to any other context (e.g. secular work and government - hence, Deborah was a Judge, Lydia a merchant, etc) beyond any indirect connection through requiring Christians to conform to (non-sinful) gender distinctions that human cultures may develop (e.g. the woman’s head covering and man’s non-covering at Corinth). In family contexts, God’s gender hierarchy is to be expressed:
In the home with the wife voluntarily submitting to the husband’s leadership which, in turn, is to be modelled on Christ’s love for His church (Ephesians 5:25ff). In the church with women refraining from teaching or exercising authority over men (1 Timothy 2:11). Male church leadership is again to be modelled on Jesus’ own example (Matthew 20:25-28; 1 Peter 5:1-4).
The women’s speaking and questioning of 14:34-35 is understood as follows: Questioning/interrogation has already been mentioned in the context with the judging of prophecy (14:29). If it is valid that prophesying is essentially the same (today) as Scripture reading, then the interrogation of the prophets would equate with our idea of teaching - authoritatively establishing and conveying the proper understanding and application of Scripture to others. The situation would look like this: First, a revelation is given by a prophet. Second, others (i.e. teachers), some of whom may have been prophets as well, judge the prophecy by testing it in light of previous revelation and giving the interpretation and application. Given that both the common rabbinic method of teaching and the common Greek method of teaching at this time were heavily characterised by questioning***, it seems feasible these women were censured by Paul for stepping beyond the bounds of submission (14:34) by engaging the men (including their husbands) in the authoritative teaching/questioning process (14:35, cf. 1 Timothy 2:11). If the distinction between prophet and teacher is not granted and the women only meeting scenario for 1 Corinthians 11 is adopted, the silence of 14:34-35 would include the prophesying (and tongue speaking) as well as the interrogation of the prophets (14:29). Further, there is also the possibility that the women/wives and men/husbands were seated on opposite sides of a room as in a synagogue, (some scholars argue that was probably the case - but it remains speculative), so questions of this (sometimes argumentative) nature directed by wives to their husbands across a room would have been all the more disruptive to the order and peace of the assembly (cf. 1 Corinthians 14:26, 33, 40). Whether or not the synagogue theory is true, the non-submissive “liberated” and rebellious spirit evidenced by these women (the same ones who were discarding their head coverings? - Paul was even anticipating resistance to his direct command from some, 14:36-37) would have been discomforting and disruptive in any assembly.
*** “The method of instruction used by the rabbis was to set up questions and reply themselves or have their students reply. Dialogue was also used by the Greeks (Socrates) for instruction” (footnote in Susan T. Foh, Women & the Word of God, 1979, p. 120).
This is what I think was happening at Corinth…
Some women (especially certain wives) at Corinth were “pushing the envelope” on gender distinctions by discarding their head covering (chapter 11) and engaging in the authoritative teaching process by questioning the teachers, including their husbands, in church (chapter 14). Their behaviour violated God’s gender hierarchy principle grounded in the order, mode and purpose of creation and relating (directly) to family contexts (both the home and the church). Paul addresses their rejection of the appropriate expressions of female/wifely submission in both cases. He explains to them why they must retain their head covering (even in church), and he commands them to refrain from exercising dominion or authority over men, especially their husbands, in church. It is likely that the women’s questioning (and attitude) was also contributing to the general confusion and lack of peace in the meeting, so Paul addresses the problem of the women’s disruptive and “unlawful” non-submissiveness while correcting unruly tongue speaking and disorderly prophesying in their meetings. It seems to me that this interpretation harmonises Paul’s teaching on women in church in both 1 Corinthians and 1 Timothy more than adequately. It does justice to Paul’s meaning by giving careful consideration to the context of 1 Corinthians 11-14 (while avoiding unwarranted or agenda driven speculation and assertions) and it avoids the problems and contradictions characteristic of the other two interpretive approaches.
If I am correct in equating first century inspired prophesying in church with twenty first century public Bible reading in church, then 1 Corinthians 11 suggests strongly that women may do this as well as men in church. This same conclusion is implied if the women only meeting scenario in 1 Corinthians 11 is accepted (assuming the action of public Bible reading is not in and of itself exercising authenteo). Further, and obviously, there is no question about the appropriateness of women participating in singing, asking questions to facilitate their learning, saying amen to a prayer, sharing some relevant news/prayer requests with the church, etc.
On my understanding, the only “speaking” prohibited to a woman in church (i.e. any mixed gender assembly of Christians) is AUTHORITATIVE (authenteo) SPEAKING: TEACHING (over men) and LEADING IN PRAYER (over men).
As discussed earlier, occasionally it will take careful spiritual discernment and maturity to determine whether some types of speaking are authoritative or not (and where one is unsure, don’t rush ahead! Romans 14:23), but for the most part the distinction is quite clear.
1 Corinthians 14:34-35
1 Timothy 2:11-15
Let your women keep silent (to hold one’s peace) in the churches, for they are not permitted to speak; but they are to be submissive, as the law also says. 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.
Let a woman learn in silence (quiet disposition) with all submission. And I do not permit a woman to teach or to have authority over a man, but to be in silence (quiet disposition). For Adam was formed first, then Eve.
CONTEXT: IN CHURCH (i.e. mixed gender assemblies of Christians):
- 1 Corinthians 14:23, 26, 34-35 (presumably a Sunday “whole church” assembly, cf. 1 Cor.11:17-18)
- 1 Timothy 2:8, 12 (by inference, any mixed gender assembly - the issue seems to turn on relationships between Christian men and women gathered for public prayer and teaching rather than the particular time or place of their meeting)
REGULATION: SUBMISSION (of females/wives to males/husbands) EXPRESSED:
- A By women (wives) keeping their peace (1 Cor.14:35b) and saving their questions for their husbands at home (1 Cor.14:35a)
- B By women retaining submissiveness (1 Cor.14:34)
- B By women learning with a submissive and quiet disposition (1 Tim.2:11)
- A By women not teaching or exercising authority over a man (1 Tim.2:11)
REASON: BIBLICAL AND ONTOLOGICAL BASIS (argued from the order, mode and purpose of creation):
- The Law (1 Cor.14:34, cf. 11:3, 7-10)
- Adam was formed first, then Eve (1 Tim.2:12)
If there is a strong parallelism between Paul’s teaching in 1 Corinthians 14:34-35 and 1 Timothy 2:11-15 (and it seems to me there is), then the two texts will help interpret one another (I have set out the “regulations” above in chiastic form to highlight the parallelism). There is no doubt in my mind that the same principle (i.e. male leadership/female submission in family relationships - “gender hierarchy”) underlies Paul’s teaching in both cases. The difference is, in 1 Corinthians 14 Paul applies the principle while addressing a specific situation in the church at Corinth (where some wives were asking unseemly questions of their husbands), whereas in 1 Timothy 2 he states the principle while outlining appropriate behaviour for men and women in church in general (just as he goes on to outline the qualities of elders and deacons in general, cf. 1 Timothy 3:14-15).
Some other translations
Let the women keep silent in the churches; for they are not permitted to speak, but let them subject themselves, just as the Law also says. And if they desire to learn anything, let them ask their own husbands at home; for it is improper for a woman to speak in church.
Let a woman quietly receive instruction with entire submissiveness. But I do not allow a woman to teach or exercise authority over a man, but to remain quiet. For it was Adam who was first created…
As in all the congregations of the saints, women should remain silent in the churches. They are not allowed to speak, but must be in submission, as the Law says. If they want to inquire about something, they should ask their own husbands at home; for it is disgraceful for a woman to speak in the church.
A woman should learn in quietness and full submission. I do not permit a woman to teach or to have authority over a man; she must be silent. For Adam was formed first…
As in all congregations of God’s people, women should not address the meeting. They have no licence to speak, but should keep their place as the law directs. If there is something they want to know, they can ask their husbands at home. It is a shocking thing that a woman should address the congregation.
(Note: the NEB has some interpretation in its translation here, but I think it is on the right track)
A woman must be a learner, listening quietly and with due submission. I do not permit a woman to be a teacher, nor must woman domineer over man; she should be quiet. For Adam was created first…
Food for thought on the idea of female/wifely submission
If I am right in identifying the biblical principle of gender hierarchy as underlying Paul’s regulating women’s behaviour in both 1 Corinthians 11-14 and 1 Timothy 2, then the same principle as it applies to husband and wife relations might be helpful to consider: The godly wife’s submission to her husband does not exclude her from discussing questions and issues with her husband affecting their relationship and the home (cf. 1 Peter 3:7, where understanding or consideration necessitates communication - the husband who exploits God’s gender hierarchy to treat his wife as inferior and as one whose opinion is not worth considering is being chauvinistic, not biblical). The wife respecting and submitting to her husband’s authority will allow him to make the final decision, voluntarily deferring to him even if she disagrees with his judgement (assuming we’re not talking of matters violating God’s will). Taking responsibility for the final decision is the authoritative aspect of the process, so it is reserved for the husband on the basis of God’s gender hierarchy. Similarly, women are not excluded from every manner of speaking and contributing in a mixed gender assembly, but they are excluded from authoritative actions performed in a mixed gender assembly: Specifically formal teaching (where one is authoritatively declaring to all those present the meaning and application of God’s word) and public prayer (where the one praying authoritatively represents all those present, not just themselves, before God).