Essay / Theology

Women in Church: Teaching and Talking

Q: How do you explain I Tim 2:12: But I suffer not a woman to teach nor to usurp authority over the man, but to be in silence?” Should women in church teach?

A: The Revised Version gives the meaning more plainly: “But I permit not a woman to teach, nor to have dominion over a man, but to be in quietness.”

The meaning of the passage is determined by the words used and by the context. Paul is giving instructions for the conduct of different classes of individuals in the Church. He first gives instructions as to what the men should do (v. 8), then what the women should do (vs. 9-15), and then what a bishop should do (v. 3:1), and so on.

He has evidently in mind, from the context, married women (note vs. 13-15). Paul’s thought for women generally was that they should marry, though he sets forth elsewhere the excellence of an unmarried life for some of them. And the general teaching is that a woman’s position is that of subjection or subordination to the husband (see vs. 11, 13 and 14). He elsewhere teaches along the same line that the husband is the head of the wife, even as Christ is the head of the Church (Eph. 5:22, 23), and this verse also sets forth the thought that the man should be the one in authority in the home and not the woman; that the man should teach and not the woman, and that the man should have dominion over the woman, and not the woman over the man.

However, the passage does at least imply that the woman should not have the place of authority in the Church, though it does not forbid her teaching the truth, or giving her testimony for Christ. Paul, himself, elsewhere gives instructions just how the woman should prophesy, if she has the gift of prophecy (1 Cor. 11:4, 5), and the Holy Spirit records with approval that Priscilla, a woman, as well as Aquila, her husband, being better instructed in the things of the Lord than Apollos, who was a man, took him aside and expounded unto him the way of God more perfectly (Acts 18:24-26). And Paul in another place speaks approvingly of two women, Euodias and Syntyche, who labored with him in the Gospel (Phil. 4:3).

Q: How do you explain I Corinthians 14:34: “Let your women keep silence in the churches?”

A: What is said in answer to the first question largely answers this question, but the context here is different.

It has been suggested that the word translated “women” here should be translated “wives.” This would be a legitimate translation, but the Greek word here used does mean “women” more commonly than “wives.” However the next verse shows that Paul had primarily the married women in mind.

The full meaning of this verse is determined by the context as in the previous instance. There was confusion in the church in Corinth (v. 33) arising from several people trying to talk at once, and oftentimes to talk in an unknown tongue (vs. 26, 27). There also seems to have been a tendency for the women to just talk in meeting, asking questions of one another and talking to one another while others were prophesying or interpreting.

Paul sent word that this thing should end; that the women should keep silence during meeting and not be talking and interrupting and asking questions; that there should be order in the churches, and that everything should be done decently and in order (v. 40), that if the women didn’t understand what was said, let them quietly and modestly wait until they got home and ask their husbands there (v. 35); that it was a disgraceful thing for a woman to talk in Church.

He also gives instructions, to the same end of maintaining order in the Church, that the men also, even if they had a revelation, or a tongue, or an interpretation, should observe order and only one talk at a time (v. 27). That Paul did not intend to forbid any woman who had the gift of prophesy, or who was led by the Spirit of God to say something, doing it, seems clear from the instructions that he gives in the eleventh chapter as to how a woman should pray, if she were led to pray, and how she should prophesy, if she were led to prophesy (ch. 11:5). Furthermore, we are plainly told that when Paul was in Caesarea that the four daughters of Philip, the evangelist, prophesied (Acts 21:8, 9). Of course, Paul had no use for the noisy, self-assertive woman who always wanted to be seen and heard, and who wished to take the leadership to herself, and Paul in this matter, as in all other matters that he taught, was the mouthpiece of the Holy Spirit.

–Originally published in The King’s Business, January 1915, pp. 71-72.

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