Apologetics: A Study of Christian Evidences – Part 2

This post includes a study of the Resurrection of Jesus and of biblical miracles. Here’s the link to open and save the PDF file.

Apologetics: A Study of Christian Evidences – Part 1

This post includes an introduction to Christian evidences, the nature of Christian faith, and the reliability of the New Testament. Here's the link to save the PDF file.

An Evaluation of Muslim Dreams & Visions of Isa (Jesus)

My Goal: The goal of this paper is to evaluate the reported phenomenon of Jesus (Isa) appearing to some Muslims in dreams and visions[1], and to discern if such reports fit the pattern of Scripture as determined through conservative grammatical/historical principles of interpretation (hermeneutics).

My Concerns: I first became aware of the Muslin dreams phenomenon through a Christian brother who spoke with great excitement about a special moving of the Lord within Muslim communities. I wanted to share his excitement because I knew something of the difficulties of Muslim evangelism, and the great joy missionaries experience over even one Muslim coming to faith in Christ. However, over the course of our conversations my questions and concerns started to mount.

In short, I questioned if it was really Jesus appearing to these people, and if so, why? What special circumstances at this point in redemptive history would necessitate Him personally intervening, when He said it would be the Holy Spirit’s role to convict the world of sin, righteousness, and judgment through the preaching of the gospel by human preachers (John 16:8; Rom. 10:14-15; 1 Cor. 1:21)?

I had no desire to resist or even question what God might be doing, but I feared these dreams of Isa might be little more than extra-biblical psychological or spiritual encounters that could supplant God’s Word and potentially lead their participants away from biblical authority rather than into it. And I was greatly concerned to hear the supposedly biblical rationale some of my fellow conservative Bible teachers were offering in defense of this movement. Some former defenders of the centrality and sufficiency of God’s Word in evangelism seemed suddenly to be sacrificing that doctrine on the altar of subjective mystical encounters. I needed to understand why, and to evaluate their rationale by God’s Word. I also needed to examine Isa’s communication to determine if it was consistent with Christ’s communication while He was on earth.

My Prayer: I rejoice that many Muslims are coming to faith in Christ, and I pray the Lord will send many more laborers into those fields. However, as Christians we have a mandate to guard God’s Word with all diligence and to test all claims of divine communication (1 Thess. 5:20-21; Acts 17:11). This study is an attempt to do that.

Throughout this study I raise a number of questions about various aspects of this phenomenon, and I welcome the reader’s responses, whether they agree or disagree with my conclusions. I also welcome input on aspects I may have overlooked but need to consider.;

My Conclusion: This study concludes that the biblical support offered for the Muslim dreams phenomenon, when evaluated within the context of Scripture, does not, in fact, support the phenomenon. Therefore, I conclude that these dreams and visions lack biblical authority and must therefore be viewed as extra-biblical experiences generated from sources other than the Holy Spirit.

Four Representative Descriptions of the Muslim Dreams Phenomenon:

The following quotes are taken from the sources footnoted and reflect the primary views in support of this phenomenon.

Description #1 We are now hearing many stories of people coming to faith in Christ as the result of a dream or vision where He appears to them, inviting them to trust in Him. This is particularly happening in the Muslim world. Many people instantly know it's the Lord Jesus when He appears to them, but some do not. In some dreams and visions, He tells them who He is, and in others He does not—He just loves them and calls them to come to Him. After the dream/vision, the Lord provides someone to identify Him as they continue to seek Him. (We see something similar in the story of Cornelius in Acts 10.)

So, from what I understand, people are putting their trust in Christ, but some don't know anything more about Him than that He is God, He loves them and He invites them to trust in Him. Two recurrent invitations continue to appear in the dreams and visions we are hearing about: 1) "I am the way, the truth and the life," and 2) "You belong to Me. "As people are then able to get a copy of the Bible or talk to a Christian, their knowledge of Christ, the Cross, and the Christian life grows, as well as their faith and their understanding of who Jesus is and what He did.

For years, I have heard that God's only plan for evangelism is for us to share the gospel. But these stories show that sometimes, Jesus goes directly to a person. And, in Revelation 14:6, there is an angel who takes the gospel to men.

So what that means is that if a person has never heard of Jesus through the preaching of the gospel, that is no obstacle for God. He can, and testimony shows that He does, appear directly to—and call a person to—have faith in Him. We still need to diligently pursue the Great Commission and take the gospel to all nations, since evangelism through the changed lives of Christ-followers is still God's main plan. But God's hands are not tied by our inability (or laziness, or selfishness, or disobedience) to get the gospel to everyone He has chosen for eternal life.[2]

Description #2 –There are many ways that people who have grown up and lived their lives in the Western part of the world will differ from the person who has grown up in the Eastern part of the world. Their foods differ. Their clothing differs. These things are mostly accepted and understand, but that same sort of understanding must continue to be brought to the forefront with regard to views on the supernatural.

Dreams and visions have been a known reality especially within the region we now know as the Middle East dating back to the days of Joseph. Both the Bible and the Qur'an document the stories of Joseph and his interpretation of dreams, not to mention the vision he was given. God was moving through dreams and visions then and He continues to speak through them today. Likewise, there is no reason not to believe that he will speak through them in the future. Instead, the words of Joel once again serve as a reminder that old men will “dream dreams” and young men will “see visions.”

In lands where people have never seen the words of God in written form and they may not even know how to read at all, God is still speaking to them and revealing Himself to them through dreams and visions. Within the lives of people so entrenched in the rituals and structure of Islam, God is breaking through with dreams and visions. In societies that are already open to the reality of the supernatural, God is showing himself to be a power above all powers, a name above all names. In the still of the night or the calm of a moment, God is using a form of communication that is not new, but instead echoes through generations. It is not the only way for Him to reach them, but case after case shows that it is one way. Missionaries have a choice to either ignore the reality or dare to believe and ask that God would invade their friends' dreams, too, and reveal the truth of Jesus Christ to them as he has done in the lives of countless individuals.[3]

Description #3 –The visions or dreams we are discussing, and as documented in Muslim countries and elsewhere, come on two occasions. First, they come as heralds of the gospel, to non-believers. . . They open the eyes, point to, or start the search for the gospel message that is to come in its fullness. It is not the gospel itself, which only comes through the word of God, written, or shared by a follower of Jesus either in person or over the radio and such. Think of Cornelius, who received a vision but was presented the gospel by Peter.

Once the gospel is received, the dreams stop. They do not return until and only if there is a great need for spiritual ministering such as under torture or martyrdom. They may, but not always, return under those circumstances as a vision of the waiting glory to come. Think of Steven. This is the pattern that missionaries see and the pattern that is seen in Scripture. . . [The dreams and visions] are not ongoing and indiscriminate in their nature and never add to the canon. They are given to nonbelievers in the first instance and to spiritually needy believers in the second instance.[4]

Description #4 –Just as God used a vision to convert Paul, in like manner He reveals Himself to Muslims through dreams. Just as God prepared Cornelius to hear the Gospel through a vision, so God is preparing a multitude of Muslims to respond to His good news.[5]

Primary Considerations: Below are the primary considerations in this issue, most of which are reflected in one or more of the descriptions quoted above. I will address them in question and answer format.

  1. Should we question an experience that may help lead someone to faith in Christ?
  2. Is this a secondary doctrinal issue?
  3. Are we to test the message or the messenger?
  4. Does this phenomenon constitute ongoing revelation?
  5. Can God communicate the gospel supernaturally?
  6. Is this phenomenon consistent with the Holy Spirit’s convicting role?
  7. Does the church’s failure to evangelize Muslims necessitate Jesus’ personal intervention?
  8. What did Jesus say about His future appearances?
  9. Does Scripture encourage expectations of personal visitations from Jesus?
  10. Is Isa’s message consistent with Scripture?
  11. Are New Testament visions a pattern for Muslim dreams?
  12. Does Joel 2:28 support the Muslim dreams phenomenon?
  13. If Jesus isn’t appearing in these dreams, who is?
  14. Are there cultural considerations that might shed light on this phenomenon?

1. Should we question an experience that helps lead someone to faith in Christ?

Why make an issue of how Muslims come to faith in Christ, as long as they come to faith? And doesn’t the fact that they come to faith legitimize the means by which they come? Those are fair questions, and the most concise answers are: 1) God commands us to be discerning in all things 2) the end doesn’t justify the means if the means fail the test of Scripture, and 3) this isn’t merely an experience; it’s a significant spiritual movement based on subjective mystical encounters that must have objective biblical support before they can be classified as truly Christian. Testing what claims to be from God is every Christian’s responsibility (1 Thess. 5:20-21; 1 John 4:1-3), and exercising caution about claims of Jesus speaking personally to Muslims is as important as exercising caution about any reports of divine communication beyond the text of Scripture.

In Acts 17:11 God commends the Bereans for putting the gospel itself to the test. But testing Muslim dreams is more difficult by far than testing the gospel because the gospel is a singular, cohesive, objective entity readily affirmed by direct biblical support; whereas these personal dreams are numerous, varied, subjective, and virtually impossible to test fully due to their extra-biblical content.

2. Is this a secondary doctrinal issue?

It has been argued that the fact of Muslims coming to Christ is so significant that the means by which they come is inconsequential. Therefore, to question the validity of dreams and visions is to miss the point and to nitpick over “secondary doctrines” when we should be rejoicing over God’s grace toward these people.

However, examining claims of Jesus appearing to Muslims does not diminish the value of Muslim converts. Just as God calls us to evangelize the lost and rejoice in their salvation, He also calls us to guard His Word and rejoice in the truth. One is not to be set against the other by improperly juxtaposing salvation and sound doctrine.

Claims that Jesus personally speaks to individuals today under any circumstances is not a secondary doctrinal issue by any means. Any time someone claims to have heard the voice of God, and especially if they claim to have seen Jesus, it’s of utmost importance to verify what Jesus reportedly did and said.

3. Are we to test the message or the messenger?

Discerning rightly between the message and the messenger is a key component in testing this phenomenon. That is to say, we can’t conclude that Isa is who he claims to be, or who his hearers perceive him to be, simply because his message has some biblical content (i.e., Scripture verses), or because God may use those verses to help bring the dreamers to saving faith. God’s Word will accomplish its intended purposes regardless of the messenger. That’s why Paul could rejoice even when men who wanted nothing more than to cause him grief proclaimed Jesus (Phil. 1:15-18). But even in his rejoicing Paul still exposed the sinful motives of those messengers, thereby demonstrating that the message doesn’t necessarily validate the messenger.

In Gal. 1:8, where Paul’s focus is primarily on the message, he also addresses the messengers, and does so in the strongest possible language: “Even if we or an angel from heaven should preach to you a gospel contrary to that which we have preached to you, let him be accursed.” That’s a hypothetical scenario involving a false message, but coupled with Phil. 1:15-18 it shows the need to test both message and messenger, and to reject the “end justifies the means” approach to the Muslim dreams phenomenon offered by some of its advocates (i.e., “people are getting saved; therefore it must be Jesus appearing to them”).

As important as the messengers are, the power of the gospel to redeem souls is not dependent on their identity or credibility. Therefore one can rejoice in Muslim conversions while still expressing concerns about the messenger, especially since the Isa of Muslim dreams isn’t simply calling Muslim’s to believe in the Jesus of the Bible; he is calling them to believe in him (Isa), therefore claiming to be God and worthy of their worship.

That’s one of my primary concerns with this phenomenon. To believe in the Jesus of the Bible is one thing; to believe in the “Jesus” of one’s dreams is quite another. Muslims who are “coming to Jesus” are equating the two, as are many who minister to Muslims and who pray Isa will appear to more Muslims so more will be “saved. ”Therefore, it may be even more important to discern between this messenger and his message than in either of Paul’s two examples cited above. Paul’s were messengers with false motives or false messages; Isa is a messenger claiming to be God![6]

4. Does this phenomenon constitute ongoing revelation?

Some supporters of Muslim dreams also affirm that divine revelation ceased with the completion of the canon of Scripture. They see no contradiction in those positions because they don’t view these dreams as ongoing revelation. Isa, they say, isn’t adding to Scripture; he’s merely reiterating what has already been revealed (i.e., Scripture verses and biblical principles).

A Doctrinal Contradiction: However, the doctrine of no ongoing revelation affirms that Christians have no message from God apart from the text of Scripture.[7] In other words, Scripture alone is God’s verbal communication to mankind, which excludes all other supposed communication from Him, including Jesus speaking in contemporary dreams and visions. Therefore, one can’t affirm both cessation of divine revelation and Jesus personally communicating with Muslims (or anyone else). They are mutually exclusive doctrines.

A Divine Encounter: Claiming that these dreams aren’t intended to add to Scripture doesn’t change the fact that they are appeals to divine revelation. Content aside, the encounter itself, if true, is revelatory. It is God revealing Himself personally beyond His self-disclosure in Scripture. Therefore, any personal encounter with God is rightly considered ongoing revelation.

New Messages from Jesus: Additionally, in Muslim dreams Isa is reportedly communicating not only Bible verses, but also messages of encouragement, instruction, exhortation, prophecies, and other information not included in Scripture. That’s ongoing (or additional) revelation, especially since it reportedly comes from God Himself. Granted, it’s not intended to be canonized, but it is divine revelation nonetheless. When Jesus Himself speaks, how can it be anything less than authoritative divine revelation? Fact is, far from being non-revelatory, these hundreds of appearances of Isa suggest a contemporary period of divine revelation rivaling the New Testament era itself.

5. Can God communicate the gospel supernaturally?

Does Scripture disallow Jesus (post-ascension) personally communicating to unbelievers to prepare them to receive the gospel? That’s a fair question, but I think the more appropriate question is: where does Scripture teach that He will do that? And do the biblical accounts of visions serve as parallels or patterns for what is occurring today in some Muslim communities?

Could God Do It? Before answering those questions, I want to comment on the hypothetical question of whether God could communicate His gospel apart from human instrumentality if He chose to do so. The answer, of course, is yes, He could. However, He has already decreed both the end and the means of salvation, and has revealed His decree in Scripture. The end is that all the elect will be saved and none lost (John 6:39-40); the means is through faith in Christ in response to the Spirit-empowered gospel proclaimed by human instrumentality (e.g., Matt. 28:19-20; Acts 2:36-40; Rom. 1:16; 10:13-15).

Jesus personally communicating the gospel at this point in redemptive history would be outside His revealed decree, which would be a highly exceptional situation. That raises the questions of what aspects of Muslim evangelism constitute a highly exceptional situation that would require God to work outside His revealed decree, and is there clear Scriptural support for Him doing so? I will answer those questions below as I examine the texts used to support Isa’s appearances.

6. Is this phenomenon consistent with the Holy Spirit’s convicting role?

Toward the end of His earthly ministry, Jesus told His disciples He had to leave so the Holy Spirit could come. And He told them the Spirit would convict the world of sin, righteousness and judgment, and would guide people into all truth. He would also reveal the things of Christ, impart illumination and saving faith, and regenerate human hearts (cf. John 16:5-15; 1 Cor. 1:12-16).

We know from Romans 1:18-20 and 2:14-15 that general revelation (i.e., external creation and internal conscience) is God’s self-revelation to everyone; that’s why all are without excuse and accountable before Him (Rom. 2:20; 3:9). Also, general revelation is how He pre-conditions His elect to the gospel. Those who by grace respond to general revelation receive additional (special) revelation through God’s Word and the Spirit’s ministry. Why then is it necessary for Jesus to make personal appearances to prepare someone to receive the gospel when that’s the specific role of the Holy Spirit?

All unbelievers are equally lost and can be saved only if the Father grants them faith (John 6:65), draws them (John 6:44), opens their hearts to the truth (Acts 16:14), and teaches them (John 6:45). That’s how every unbeliever comes to faith. There is no unbelief that is beyond the reach of the Holy Spirit’s convicting and regenerating power, and which requires personal visitations from Jesus to convince it of the truth of the gospel.

7. Does the church’s failure to evangelize Muslims necessitate Jesus’ personal intervention?

Some say that Jesus has to intervene personally because the church has failed to evangelize Muslims. However, that could be said of any people group in any area at any time in church history, and even of individuals in our own culture who haven’t heard the gospel because a Christian friend failed to share it. If that were the case, dreams and visions would be commonplace.

Perhaps the church has failed in some measure to evangelize Muslims, and I pray that Christians will be increasingly active in reaching out to them. But the third description of this phenomenon cited above echoes a common assertion that the dreams and visions “open the eyes, point to, or start the search for the gospel message that is to come in its fullness. It is not the gospel itself, which only comes through the word of God, written, or shared by a follower of Jesus either in person or over the radio and such.”

That description argues against failure on the part of the church to reach out to Muslims. If Muslims are receiving the gospel that can only come through God’s Word, written or shared by a follower of Jesus, then of necessity Christians are involved in the process. So despite any evangelistic deficiencies within the church, it appears God is still linking Muslims with Christians, either directly or indirectly, to help get the job done.

However, my main point here is that failure on the church’s part doesn’t necessitate Jesus personally intervening through dreams and visions, because it’s the Holy Spirit’s role to direct the elect to the gospel and the gospel to the elect. Could the Spirit prompt unredeemed elect individuals to dream about Jesus and use those dreams to open their hearts to the gospel? Of course He could. But that’s not what’s being claimed. To have a dream about Jesus, even a Spirit-directed dream, is different from Jesus revealing Himself in a dream. One is natural; the other is supernatural. One is a natural dream; the other is a divine revelation. Those distinctions must be understood and maintained.

8. What did Jesus say about His future appearances?

Immediately after Jesus ascended into heaven, two men (angels) said to the onlookers, “Men of Galilee, why do you stand looking into the sky? This Jesus, who has been taken up from you into heaven, will come in just the same way as you have watched Him go into heaven” (Acts 1:11). And when He does come to earth again, it will be “in the glory of His Father with His angels” (Matt. 16:27). Jesus warned about any supposed appearances prior to that time (Matt. 24).

Those passages refer specifically to Christ’s physical return to earth at some future point in time, but do they also preclude Him appearing in dreams or visions prior to that time? We can’t answer that question conclusively from those texts, but we can conclude that the only teaching Jesus gave concerning His future appearances on earth relate to His physical return. Therefore, we mustn’t conclude that other appearances are permissible unless Scripture elsewhere permits us to do so. With that in mind, I’ll briefly discuss the relevant New Testament “visions” passages below (see #11) to see if they give a green light to modern-day appearances of Jesus in dreams or visions.

9. Does Scripture encourage expectations of personal visitations from Jesus?

Faith based on God’s Word (spoken or written), not personal divine visitations, has been the biblical requirement and standard since the birth of the church. [8] In fact, with the exception of Paul on the road to Damascus, there is no biblical record of Jesus appearing to any unbeliever following His ascension. And Scripture nowhere encourages or even suggests praying for divine appearances as an evangelism strategy or a means of comforting persecuted Christians during the church age. That is utterly foreign to Scripture. Yet the challenges to propagate this phenomenon continue: “Missionaries have a choice to either ignore the reality [of Muslim dreams] or dare to believe and ask that God would invade their friends' dreams, too, and reveal the truth of Jesus Christ to them as he has done in the lives of countless individuals” (italics added).[9]

It’s important to note that Jesus Himself commended those who believed without seeing Him (John 20:24-29)[10], and He corrected the erroneous thinking that a personal appearance of one who has died is more persuasive than hearing God’s Word (Luke 16:19-31).[11] Peter, too, commended believers who loved the Lord without having seen Him (1 Pet. 1:3-9). That’s normal Christian faith. Additionally, there are no instructions or regulating principles in the Pastoral Epistles regarding dreams or visions (with the exception of the Col. 2:18-19 warning about false teachers who take their stand on such experiences), whereas there are numerous and detailed instructions for teaching, preaching, and guarding “the sacred writings which are able to give . . . the wisdom that leads to salvation through faith which is in Christ Jesus” (2 Tim. 3:15; see also 1 Tim. 4:13-16; 2 Tim. 4:1-4; Titus 1:9-11).

10. Is Isa’s message consistent with Scripture?

If Jesus were appearing to unbelieving Muslims, it follows that His message would be consistent with His message to unbelievers while on earth. But that is not the case.

What Isa Reportedly Says: As I read the various accounts of dreams, I’m struck with the impossibility of testing them according to Scripture because their extra-biblical content is so extensive and varied. Many of the dreams contain a verse or two of Scripture, along with encouragement to seek the Savior spoken of in the verses. In many, Isa either identifies himself as Jesus or is assumed to be Jesus by the dreamers.

Reportedly, some of the dreamers had no prior exposure to the Bible or the gospel, but most of the accounts I’ve read indicate the dreamers had some prior exposure to the Bible and/or Christians. Other accounts don’t comment on that aspect of the story.

Most of the content of the dreams relate generally to the circumstances of the various dreamers (e.g., encouragement in trials or rescue from danger, which are common themes). That kind of content can’t be tested by Scripture except by broad measurements such as “does it encourage faith in Christ?” or “is it generally consistent with biblical principles?” But those are vague and inadequate tests for determining the divine origin of a dream or vision, as I will explain below.

What Isa Doesn’t Say: I’m most struck by what Isa doesn’t say in the accounts I’ve read. Although the encounters are said to prepare the dreamers for the gospel, there is little or no mention of sin, repentance, confession, righteousness, or forgiveness; and no presentation of God’s holiness or justice. Simply put, the need for salvation isn’t clarified (or in some cases even mentioned), yet that was at the heart of Christ’s communication with unbelievers when He was on earth. But Isa’s “gospel” is minimalistic and void of any clear and concise call to repentance. Gospel clarity and precision would be especially important for those Muslims who don’t have a biblical background to draw from and who would therefore need to understand what God requires of them.

Does Isa Pass the Test? Jesus used a variety of approaches when speaking with unbelievers, depending on the individual or group (e.g., Nicodemus, Rich Young Ruler, Woman at the Well), but typically He identified who He was, confronted their sin, called them to repentance, called them to believe in Him, cautioned them to count the cost of discipleship, and then to take up their crosses daily and follow Him. He didn’t state all those elements in every case, but collectively they constituted the thrust of His message.

By way of contrast, Isa typically identifies who he is (or the dreamer instinctively knows who he is), and tells the dreamer he loves him and wants him (the dreamer) to follow him (Isa). Sometimes the dreamer is overwhelmed with a sense of love and peace just by being in Isa’s presence (which was never the case with unbelievers in the presence of Jesus). So the message that emerges is one of believing in Isa and following him apparently apart from the Holy Spirit convicting of sin, righteousness, and judgment (John 16:8).

That’s the pattern I see throughout the accounts I’ve read. Consequently I question the substance of the message Isa is delivering, and the substance of the gospel some of these Muslims are affirming. That’s not to say their conversions aren’t genuine, especially given the fuller gospel presentation that some receive subsequent to their initial dreams. But it is to say that the message Isa is giving falls short of the message Jesus typically gave to unbelievers while on earth. That shortcoming is a major point of consideration in discerning if this really is Jesus speaking to these people.

Again, I understand the assertion that Isa isn’t sharing the gospel but is merely preparing dreamers for the gospel that is to come in greater fullness via a human evangelist. But I still question the inconsistencies between Jesus’ preparation of unbelievers while on earth and Isa’s preparation via dreams. Also, in some of the accounts I’ve read, Isa does, in fact, call on the dreamers to believe in him. So the claim that he merely prepares them to receive the gospel isn’t always consistent with the testimony record.

Additionally, I have to wonder why Jesus wouldn’t share the gospel with Muslims if He were appearing to them. He’s the most capable and powerful evangelist the world has ever known. Yes, Rom. 10:13-15 says salvation comes by hearing the gospel preached by a human, and that is part of the divine decree I mentioned above. But those who affirm that Jesus is appearing to Muslims also affirm by implication that God isn’t confined to His own decree in these instances, so why would the human evangelist be necessary at all except in a follow-up capacity?

11. Are New Testament visions a pattern for Muslim dreams?

Descriptive or Prescriptive? One task of an interpreter of Scripture is to determine if a passage is descriptive or prescriptive. In other words, does the passage describe what occurred in the past, or does it prescribe what will or should occur in the future, or both? For example, determining if the Acts chapter two account of the Day of Pentecost only describes what did occur as a unique event in the history of the church, or whether it also prescribes a pattern for what should occur in each believer’s life, will determine one’s position on Pentecostalism. Determining whether Paul’s teachings on the role of women were descriptive of the culture of his day or prescriptive for every culture will determine one’s position on the role of women in the church today.

Similarly, determining if the accounts of biblical visions describe what did occur during a unique time in revelatory and/or redemptive history, or whether they also prescribe a pattern for what should occur today will, in large part, determine one’s position on the current Muslim phenomenon. So with that in mind, I’ll briefly examine the New Testament accounts used in support of the Muslim dreams phenomenon.

Consider the Context: I should first mention that in support of Muslim dreams, their advocates often cite the occurrences of similar phenomenon in Scripture. And without question God did use dreams and visions on occasion in both the Old and New Testaments when they served His purposes. But we must consider not only the fact of their use in Scripture, but also the reasons for their use and the historical and redemptive contexts in which they were used. If those considerations have contemporary parallels in the Muslim phenomenon, then it may have biblical support. If they don’t have parallels, the phenomenon isn’t “just as” or “in like manner” as the biblical accounts (to quote Rick Love), and therefore lacks direct biblical support.

I’ll confine my examination to the New Testament visions that have been appealed to in support of the Muslim dreams phenomenon, or that help us evaluate that phenomenon. Those passages are:

  1. Acts 7:55-56 – Stephen’s vision of heaven
  2. Acts 9:1-10 – God’s visions to Paul and Ananias
  3. Acts 10:3 – The vision to Cornelius to send for Peter in Joppa
  4. Acts 10:9 – Peter’s visions of the “sheet” and animals
  5. Acts 10:19 – Peter is “thinking about the vision” and the Spirit interrupts him
  6. Acts 16:6 – Paul’s vision of the man of Macedonia beckoning him to come there
  7. Acts 18:9 – Jesus speaks to Paul in a vision to encourage him to keep preaching
  8. 2 Corinthians 12:1 – Paul says he had momentous visions
  9. Revelation 1:9-17 – John’s vision of the ascended and glorified Christ

A Brief Examination of Those Visions:

a. Acts 7:55-56 – Stephen – “Being full of the Holy Spirit, [Stephen] gazed intently into heaven and saw the glory of God, and Jesus standing at the right hand of God; and he said, ‘Behold, I see the heavens opened up and the Son of Man standing at the right hand of God.’”

Stephen was a man “full of grace and power”, who “was performing great wonders and signs among the people” (Acts 6:8). His vision of heaven, while facing martyrdom, followed his powerfully and confrontive sermon to the Jewish Council, and is often offered as a pattern for the dreams and visions some Muslims experience during similar trials. But to my knowledge Stephen was the only New Testament saint to have a vision of Christ or heaven just prior to his death. So Stephen serves as an example of how God can comfort His children during martyrdom, but doesn’t establish a pattern for Him doing so either then or now.

Unique Apostolic Period: More importantly, although Stephen was not an apostle per se, he ministered in the power of the Holy Spirit during the apostolic period, which was a unique transitional period in which God was giving new revelation through His messengers, and confirming the messengers and the message by miraculous signs and wonders (Acts 6:8; Heb. 2:3-4; 2 Cor. 12:12). Those signs and wonders, as well as the personal revelations, were directly linked to the birth of the church, to apostolic preaching, and to inspiration of the New Testament Scriptures.

Those events and that period of time have no parallel in church history, so their context can’t be duplicated. Therefore, the experiences of Steven and his apostolic companions must be viewed as descriptive unless Scripture indicates otherwise. That’s a point I’ll return to repeatedly in the considerations that follow because the contexts that reveal God communicating one-on-one to His messengers also reveal His reasons for doing so. And those reasons were directly linked to non-repeatable historical and revelatory events. So it isn’t exegetically permissible to pull an experience like Steven’s vision out of its context and place it into a context of contemporary Muslim dreams without a more definitive biblical rationale.

New Testament Pattern for Persecution: I praise the Lord for encouraging and undergirding His children during times of persecution or martyrdom, and I certainly don’t question His ability to do that. Although Stephen’s vision was unique and therefore doesn’t serve as a pattern or norm, Scripture does give us a pattern for undergoing persecution:

In this [your eternal inheritance] you greatly rejoice, even though now for a little while, if necessary, you have been distressed by various trials, that the proof of your faith, being more precious than gold which is perishable, even though tested by fire, may be found to result in praise and glory and honor at the revelation of Jesus Christ; and though you have not seen Him, you love Him, and though you do not see Him now, but believe in Him, you greatly rejoice with joy inexpressible and full of glory, obtaining as the outcome of your faith the salvation of your souls (1 Pet. 1:6-9, italics added. See also Rom. 5:1-5; James 1:2-4).

In that passage Peter makes clear that “the revelation of Jesus Christ” was yet future for those believers, and that the firey testing of their faith, apart from any visions or appearances of Jesus, was what produced faith like pure gold, which would result in praise, glory and honor to Christ.

That’s the New Testament pattern for discerning God’s will in persecution, which doesn’t eliminate the possibility of Jesus appearing to persecuted Christians today, but it does raise the question of what it is about today’s persecutions that would prompt Jesus to appear when He didn’t do so even in Peter’s time when the church was relatively young and Christians were being severely persecuted and definitely in need of encouragement?

b. Acts 9:1-10 – God’s visions to Paul and Ananias concerning Ananias’ healing ministry to the newly converted Paul.

Paul described this experience as “a heavenly vision” (Acts 26:19) even though it included time-space manifestations, some of which were also witnessed by his companions (Acts 9:7). Apparently Paul did not see Jesus Himself, but saw “a light brighter than the sun” (Acts 26:13) and heard Jesus’ voice (Acts 9:3-4ff; 26:14ff).

This was an encounter wherein Jesus personally called an unbeliever to faith. But this, of course, was no ordinary unbeliever, and the unique apostolic ministry to which Paul was being called makes this encounter utterly unique and directly related to the canonical revelation that was to follow. Does Paul’s vision establish a pattern for contemporary Muslim dreams as Rick Love and others assert? The fact that Paul had a “vision” is similar, but the reason for that vision has no modern parallel because it was linked inextricably to Paul’s apostolic calling, divine revelation, and the future disclosure of God’s Word.

The same is true of Ananias’ vision, which apparently involved hearing the Lord’s voice but not seeing Him. His vision was directly linked to Paul’s, and therefore it, too, has no direct modern parallel. Both of those accounts are descriptive of what happened in the past, but not prescriptive of what should happen in the future.

c. Acts 10:3 – The vision to Cornelius to send for Peter in Joppa. (See notes under Acts 10:19 below.)

d. Acts 10:9 – As the messengers arrive from Cornelius, Peter falls into a trance and has the three visions of a “sheet” of animals coming down from heaven; this is the divine lesson that teaches him to accept the gentiles as co-participants in the Abrahamic covenant blessings. (See notes under Acts 10:19 below.)

e. Acts 10:19 – Peter is “thinking about the vision” and the Spirit interrupts him.

The visions Peter and Cornelius experienced are often cited as patterns for Isa preparing unbelieving Muslims to receive the gospel from Christian evangelists. But Peter and Cornelius aren’t a pattern even for New Testament evangelism, much less modern-day evangelism. Theirs was a unique situation in which the Lord drew them together supernaturally for a specific purpose that has no parallel today or in any other period of church history.

Further, there is no correlation between Cornelius’ experience and Muslim unbelievers whom Isa is reportedly preparing to receive the gospel. Cornelius was not an unbeliever, but “a devout man, and one who feared God with all his household, and gave many alms to the Jewish people, and prayed to God continually” (Acts 10:1-2). He did not see Jesus, but an angel (Acts 10:3, 7, 30-31) and was then directed by the Holy Spirit to send for Peter (Acts 10:20). Cornelius’ vision was clearly revelatory and intended to be included in the canon of Scripture (as were Peter’s).

But beyond those dissimilarities is the unique role their visions played in redemptive and revelatory history. Peter’s visions were intended to teach him that God was including gentiles in His covenant promises. Peter represented Jewish believers to whom the gospel was entrusted, and through whom it was first proclaimed following Christ’s Ascension. He also represented apostolic authority. Cornelius represented gentiles, who were previously outside the covenant (cf. Eph. 2:11-12) but who were now to be included.

Given the animosity between Jews and gentiles, and the other Jew/gentile dynamics present at that time, Peter and his apostolic companions needed to know that God was including gentiles in the covenant promises (Acts 10:28-29), and that the Holy Spirit had been given to them just as He had been given to the Jews at Pentecost (Acts 10:44-48; 11:1-18). Similarly, Cornelius and his fellow gentile believers needed to know that the Apostles were God’s authoritative ambassadors of the gospel. Those mutual understandings were critical for the foundation and unity of the early church, and that’s why Peter and Cornelius had to meet face to face.

My assumption is that most Muslims are gentiles, and therefore would already be included in the covenant promises upon exercising faith in Christ. So there would be no need for God to move among them as a people group in a parallel fashion as He did with Peter and Cornelius. So there is no apparent pattern that Peter and Cornelius set for the current Muslim phenomenon. Yes, they had visions, but those visions were set in a unique and non-repeatable redemptive context.

f. Acts 16:6 – Paul’s vision of the man of Macedonia beckoning him to come there.

I’ve already commented on the unique nature and context of Paul’s visions, so I needn’t repeat myself here or in “g.” and “h.” below, except to emphasize once again that they were directly linked to apostolic authority, the birth of the church, and biblical revelation, which means they have no contemporary parallels.

g. Acts 18:9 – Jesus speaks to Paul in a vision to encourage him to keep preaching.

h. 2 Corinthians 12:1 – Paul says he had momentous visions.

i. Revelation 1:9-17 – John has a vision of the ascended and glorified Christ. It’s interesting to note that John’s reaction was to “fall at His feet as a dead man” (v. 17). John knew Jesus well, and even described himself as “the disciple whom Jesus loved” (John 21:20). But when he saw Christ in His ascended glory, he fell down as if dead. That’s a far cry from the reactions of Muslims who reportedly have seen Jesus in dreams and visions in which He is typically described simply as a man in a white robe who made them feel an overwhelming sense of love.

Conclusion: In light of their unique contexts I must conclude that the New Testament vision passages do not lend biblical support to contemporary Muslim dreams.

12. Does Joel 2:28 support the Muslim dreams phenomenon?

Joel 2:28 is a favorite verse for supporters of Muslim dreams because it speaks of a time when dreams and visions will be common: “And it will come about after this that I will pour out My Spirit on all mankind; and your sons and daughters will prophesy, your old men will dream dreams, your young men will see visions.” There’s no doubt Joel prophesied that such a time would come, but are Muslim dreams part of its fulfillment?

Joel’s prophecy has elements that are difficult to interpret, but its key elements are clear and identify a time that is yet future as the time of its fulfillment. A full exegesis of that passage is beyond the scope of this paper[12], but note that verse 28 begins, “and it will come about after this” (italics added), which refers back to verses 2-27. Those verses speak of events that have not yet occurred, and of a time when God will bless Israel and she will know that He is her God. Then verse 28 will occur.

Many advocates of Muslim dreams reference Pentecost and Peter’s description of the phenomenon accompanying the coming of the Holy Spirit on that occasion as initiating the era of dreams and visions prophesied by Joel – an era, they say, that will continue throughout the church age. In Acts 2:16 Peter does describe the phenomenon onlookers were witnessing at Pentecost as “what was spoken of through the prophet Joel.” He then quotes Joel 2:28-32:

“And it shall be in the last days,” God says, “That I will pour forth of My Spirit upon all mankind; and your sons and your daughters shall prophesy, and your young men shall see visions, and your old men shall dream dreams; even upon My bondslaves, both men and women, I will in those days pour forth of My Spirit and they shall prophesy. And I will grant wonders in the sky above, and signs on the earth beneath, blood, and fire, and vapor of smoke. The sun shall be turned into darkness, and the moon into blood, before the great and glorious day of the Lord shall come. And it shall be, that everyone who calls on the name of the Lord shall be saved” (Acts 2:17-21).

It’s clear from the description of the cosmic signs in Joel’s prophecy that Pentecost was only a partial fulfillment of that prophecy, with its complete fulfillment yet to come. Dr. Irvin Busenitz comments:

The cosmic signs of Joel 2:30-31 [3:3-4] are significantly absent in Luke’s account of Pentecost. The sun was not darkened; the moon did not turn to blood. There is no blood, fire, or columns of smoke. Joel mentions nothing of speaking supernaturally generated foreign languages nor does Acts give evidence of supernatural dreams.[13]

Nathan Busenitz adds, “If the continuationist [those who believe that the signs and wonders of the Apostolic age continue throughout the church age] is going to apply the prophecy and dreams of Joel 2 to the entire church age, he must explain why the cosmic signs of Joel 2/Acts 2 are not also a continuing part of the church age.”[14] That’s the challenge for those who appeal to Joel 2:28 in support of Muslim dreams as well.

Dr. Irvin Busenitz continues:

Only two points of contact are found [between Joel’s prophecy and Pentecost]: God’s Spirit was poured out, and those who called upon the name of the Lord were saved. But it is these two elements of Joel’s prophecy – the Spirit poured out and salvation for those who call on the Lord – that provide the connecting link to Pentecost. They lead logically to the central focus of Peter’s sermon. Consequently, it appears best to view Joel’s prophecy as fulfilled in a preliminary fashion at the time of Pentecost, with a complete fulfillment reserved for the time surrounding the Second Advent.

There were no dreams or visions at Pentecost, nor did Joel indicate that Jesus would appear in dreams and visions when His Prophecy was fulfilled. He speaks only of the fact of dreams and visions, not of their content. Therefore, it’s incumbent upon those who defend Muslim dreams on the basis of Joel 2:28 to demonstrate more convincingly how Joel’s prophecy supports this phenomenon.

13. If Jesus isn’t appearing in these dreams, who is?

If the Isa of Muslim dreams is not the Jesus of the Bible, who is he? One option is a false Christ appearing as an angel of light (2 Cor. 11:4, 13-15). But what could the enemy of our souls hope to gain from doing that? Consider this: we’ve already seen that people with sinful motives have preached Christ for selfish gain (Phil. 1:15-18), so it’s reasonable to envision the author of pride and selfishness doing the same and in the process potentially:

  • Diverting worship from Christ to himself, which has been his goal from the beginning (Isa. 14:12-14; Matt. 4:9).
  • Deceiving Muslims into thinking they’re worshiping the true Jesus when, in fact, they’re worshiping the person in their dreams. All the accounts I’ve read unquestioningly equate Isa with Jesus.
  • Diluting the primacy, centrality and authority of God’s Word by establishing faith based on subjective revelations and experiences (John 20:24-29).
  • Creating expectations of evangelism linked to visitations from Jesus. (Some Muslim outreach strategies now include praying that Isa will appear to even more Muslims so more will be saved.)
  • Creating expectations of additional visitations from Jesus, such as during times of persecution, and the inevitable disillusionment and confusion that result when those expectations aren’t met.
  • Causing division within the Body of Christ over this issue.

I mention those to illustrate how the enemy could benefit from a phenomenon that on the surface may seems like a kingdom divided. I haven’t concluded that visions of Isa are necessarily demonic, nor do I believe Muslims are not being genuinely saved. But Muslims who come to Christ do so in the same way everyone else throughout church history has: the Holy Spirit opens their hearts to the truth (Acts 16:14). But the spiritual harm that can result from connecting their faith to subjective mystical experiences can be great, as certain parallel revelatory claims of the Pentecostal and Charismatic Movements (as well as various cultic groups) have demonstrated over the years.

When it comes to personal revelations from God, the difference between the Muslim phenomenon and other revelatory claims is simply one of degree, not kind. Consequently, an experiential and mystical foundation has already been laid for the communities of former Muslims who have seen Isa and now profess faith in Christ.

14. Are there cultural considerations that might shed light on this phenomenon?

Another option to the question of who is appearing to these Muslims has to do with cultural considerations. In my research I sought the counsel of Dr. William Barrick, Professor of Old Testament at The Master’s Seminary. Dr. Barrick ministered among Muslims in Bangladesh for 15 years and offered these observations about reported appearances of Jesus to Muslim converts there:

  1. Most turned out to be pure imagination upon close questioning and examination. None had really seen him while awake—almost every single one had had some sort of dream.
  2. Muslims can be extremely susceptible to charismatic doctrine and practices, because much of folk Islam is infused with the same things seen in charismatic circles (speaking in tongues, healings, miracles, extreme emotionalism).
  3. Muslims revere special experiences and make them up in order to provide (1) a viable [in their opinion] response to those who accuse them of abandoning Islam, (2) a means of identifying with the testimony and life of persecution lived by the Apostle Paul, and (3) dreams are taken very, very seriously—about anything.
  4. Those who had dreams about Jesus seem to have all had some prior contact with Christians, the Gospel, or with the Scriptures that left an indelible impression. What was revealed in the dream had first been revealed to them in real life experience. The dreams merely replicated those experiences. The appearance of Jesus in their dreams matched exactly the appearance of Him they had seen as a child in a Christian flannel graph lesson or in some Christian literature. The verses of Scripture (John 3:16 being a favorite) in their dreams was one they had been taught or heard.[15]

Dr. Barrick adds, “Paul’s Epistle to the Colossians deals with those who claim special experiences (such as visions) and counters their error with the realities of the work and Person of Christ.”

Conclusion: If Muslims were having dreams about Jesus, which resulted in opening their hearts to the gospel, I’d say, “Praise the Lord”, because I believe the Holy Spirit can use natural dreams to convict people of their need for salvation and direct them to the gospel if He so chooses. However, the reports I’m hearing and reading claim that Jesus Himself, in the person of Isa, is appearing to Muslims in dreams. I must reject the accuracy of those claims for all the reasons outlined above, and conclude that such dreams and visions lack biblical authority and must therefore be viewed as extra-biblical experiences generated from sources other than the Holy Spirit. I must also continue to pray that the gospel of Jesus Christ, not dreams and visions of Isa, will permeate Muslim communities throughout the world for the glory of our Lord and the salvation of many precious souls.


[1] For the sake of brevity, I will hereafter refer to the phenomenon simply as “Muslim dreams”.

[2] Sue Bohlin, What About the Person Who Never Heard of Jesus?, Probe Ministries, www.probe.org.

[3] Good News for the Crescent World, Dreams and Visions in the World of Folk Islam: Could These be a Pathway to Jesus Christ?, http://www.gnfcw.com/images/dreams_and_visions.pdf.

[4] Former Missions Chairman of a conservative evangelical church. I cite this unpublished source because it’s a concise summary of the supposed biblical support for Muslim dreams.

[5] Rick Love, Muslims, Magic and the Kingdom of God (Pasadena, William Carey Library, 2000), 156.

[6] See #9 below for an examination of Isa’s message.

[7] C.f. The Chicago Statement on Biblical Hermeneutics, Article XXV:We denythat the preacher has any message from God apart from the text of Scripture” in Explaining Hermeneutics: A Commentary on the Chicago Statement on Biblical Hermeneutics. Oakland, California: International Council on Biblical Inerrancy, 1983 (http://www.bible-researcher.com/chicago2.html).

[8] Cases such as Paul, Cornelius, and Steven are directly related to the unique Apostolic era, as discussed in section #11 below.

[9] Good News for the Crescent World, Dreams and Visions in the World of Folk Islam: Could These be a Pathway to Jesus Christ?, http://www.gnfcw.com/images/dreams_and_visions.pdf.

[10] Jesus said to Thomas, “Because you have seen Me, have you believed? Blessed are they who did not see, and yet believed."

[11] In Luke 16:19-31, Jesus tells the story of the rich man & Lazarus. While suffering torment in Hades, the rich man begged Abraham to send Lazarus to warn his five brothers so they wouldn’t end up there too. Abraham responded, “They have Moses and the prophets; let them hear them.” The rich man replied, “No, father Abraham, but if someone goes to them from the dead, they will repent!” But Abraham said to him, “If they do not listen to Moses and the Prophets, they will not be persuaded even if someone rises from the dead.” (vv. 29-31). That text alone should erase any question about the sufficiency of God’s Word in bringing the lost to salvation apart from any miraculous encounter or mystical experience.

[12] For a full treatment of Joel’s prophecy, I recommend Dr. Irvin Busenitz’s commentary, Joel and Obadiah: A Mentor Commentary, Christian Focus, or Charles L. Feinberg, The Minor Prophets, Moody Press.

[13] Irvin Busenitz, Joel and Obadiah: A Mentor Commentary, Christian Focus, p. 193.

[14] Nathan Busenitz, Now that's the Spirit – Assessing and Addressing Evangelical Charismatics, Notes from 2006 Grace Community Church Shepherds’ Conference, p. 3.

[15] Irvin Busenitz, Joel and Obadiah: A Mentor Commentary, Christian Focus, p. 194.

[16] The Arabic translation of the Christian Scriptures dates back to about 867 AD (the Mt. Sinai Arabic Codex 151, and includes the Biblical text, marginal comments, lectionary notes, and glosses). Therefore, many Muslims have had the Bible in their language for more than 1,000 years. (c.f. http://www.arabicbible.com/bible/ codex_151.htm.

A Woman’s Right to Preach: Is It Biblical? – Part 4

10. Argument From Slavery As A Model For The Role Of Women

a. Summary of the argument

The passages of Scripture instructing slaves to be subject to their masters (e.g., 1 Pet. 2:13-14) are adaptations of the principle of authority and submission to the existence of slavery in that culture. They are not intended to condone, mandate, or perpetuate slavery, but simply to apply Christian principles to an institution of the time. As the ignorance and prejudice that kept men and women in bondage to others disappeared, the need for those principles disappeared as well.

The relationship between slaves and masters parallels that of wives and husband. In fact, some of the passages addressing slaves and masters also address wives and husbands. As with slavery, those passages are simply cultural adaptations of authority and submission to accommodate the role expectations of that day. They are not intended to condone or perpetuate the subservience of women, or restrict them from leadership in the church indefinitely. To the extent that women's roles change and their contributions to society and the church are recognized and appreciated, the need for hose principles diminishes.

b. Representative quotes

1) "There are several comparable elements that suggest [a parallel between male and female and master and slave relationships]. We have seen, in Galatians 3:28, the distinctions between slave and free and male and female, although they continue to exist, are superseded by equality in Christ in the church.

"The instructions in Paul's letters prominently modify the relations between slaves and masters, and between husbands and wives, as in Ephesians5:22-33. Similarly Paul places restrictions on both slaves and women by instructing slaves to obey their masters and women to be subservient to their husbands and to refrain from exercising equality in the authoritative offices of the congregation.

"What is of great significance is the parallelism between the grounds on which the apostle supports his instructions to both slave and women. In 1 Timothy 6:1 he urges slaves to respect their masters 'so that God's name and our teaching may not be slandered' In Titus 2:5 he requires women to be subject to their husbands 'so that no one will malign the word of God'" (Clarence Boomsma, Male and Female, One in Christ, p. 48).

2) "Paul, ever careful not to upset the delicate cultural fabric of his day, encouraged women to continue to submit. What is new is how they are to submit: as to the Lord" (Austin H. Stouffer, "The Ordination of Women: YES", Christianity Today, February 20, 1981, p. 13).

3) "Those who today will admit slavery is wrong but still maintain that husbands must have authority over their wives are inconsistent. If they were consistent with their method of interpretation, which does not take enough account of cultural differences, it is likely that, had they lived one hundred fifty years ago, hey would have had to have opposed the abolitionists as subverters of the moral order–as many Bible-quoting white slave owners and their allies did. Many of the traditions which today use Scripture to subordinate women once did the same for slavery before that idea was anathema in our culture" (Craig Keener, Paul, Women and Wives, p. 207-8).

4) "Submit yourselves for the Lord's sake to every authority instituted among men: whether to the king, as the supreme authority, or to governors, who are sent by him … Slaves, submit yourselves to your masters with all respect … Wives, in the same way be submissive to your husbands … Husbands, in the same way be considerate as you live with your wives" (1 Peter 2:13-14, 18; 3:1, 7).

"[In that passage] Peter makes an interesting point about the position of women. He argues that we as Christians should submit ourselves to every man-made institution, and goes on to list several of those authorities 'instituted among men'–kings, governors, masters. Then i 1 Peter 3:1 he states that in the same way wives should submit to their husbands, because–it is implied–female submission is 'instituted among men.'

"In other words, Christians are expected to operate within the parameters placed around them by society. If slavery is an unchangeable part of the society, then servants are expected to obey their masters–until slavery is no longer 'instituted among man.' As we earnestly seek a true biblical role for women, God forbid that we withhold any gift he desire her to exercise for even one day longer than society requires!" (Stouffer, "The Ordination of Women: YES", p. 14).

c. Responses

1) We disagree that all distinctions between male and female have been superseded by equality in Christ (Gal. 3:28).

Galatians 3:28 speaks of spiritual equality, not equality of function (see our more detailed discussion above).

2) We disagree that it is inconsistent to admit slavery is wrong while maintaining that husbands have authority over their wives.

a) Marriage was instituted by God, slavery was not.

(1) Genesis 2:24; 3:16 – "For this cause a man shall leave his father and his mother, and shall cleave to his wife; and they shall become one flesh…. Your desire shall be for your husband, and he shall rule over you."

(2) Although there are some scriptural similarities between the male/female and master/slave relationships, one significant difference is that "the existence of slavery is not rooted in any creation ordnance, but the existence of marriage is" (John Piper and Wayne Grudem, "An Overview of Central Concerns: Questions and Answers," in Recovering Biblical Manhood and Womanhood, p. 65).

b) Those who used the master/slave passages in the New Testament to oppose abolitionists were wrong, but that doesn't constitute guilt-by-association for those who appeal to the same passages in support of authority and submission within marriage. Nor does it mean that God's will is for submission within marriage to go the way of slavery.

Boomsma and others place great significance on the parallelism between the grounds on which Paul supports his instructions to both slaves and women (i.e., that God's name and Word would not be slandered – 1 Tim. 6:1; Titus 2:5).

However, "It is necessary to ask whether Paul groups together regulations for members of the household not because the relationships are parallel, but for mere convenience since all deal with the membership of many households of that day. As a matter of fact, it would appear that these relationships have quite different bases. Paul is quite willing for the slave's status to change to one of freedom (compare Philemon and also 1 Cor. 7:21). He never insists that slavery is instituted by God and therefore to be perpetuated. Paul is simply giving directions on how slaves and masters should live if they are in that situation" (Knight, "The Ordination of Women: NO", p. 17).

c) The basis for Paul's teaching is different for women and children than for slaves.

"We face a different situation concerning children. Paul grounds his word to children in the permanent word of the Ten Commandments (Eph. 6:1-3). And, likewise, when we ask about the basis for the uniform teaching on the role relationship of husband and wife in marriage, we find it is God's activity in Creation [a evidenced by Paul quoting Genesis 2:24 in Ephesians 5:31, and the specific correlation of Genesis 2 with headship in 1 Corinthians 11]" (Knight "The Ordination of Women: NO", p. 17).

d) Regarding a woman's role in the church, the basis for Paul's teaching isn't that God may not be slandered (although that certainly is implied), but that the Law, the order of creation, and the fall require it (cf. 1 Cor. 14:34; 1 Tim. 2:13-14).

3) We agree that Christians are expected to operate within the parameters placed around them by society (e.g., if slavery is an unchangeable part of the society, then servants are expected to obey their masters–until slavery is no longer 'instituted among man').

But Paul's instructions regarding a woman's submission in marriage and in the church aren't simply concessions to the role expectations of his society, and therefore subject to change as society changes.

a) Regarding authority and submission in the church, we have discussed that point in the sections on 1 Corinthians 11:4-5, 14:34-35, and 1 Timothy 2:11-15 above.

b) Regarding authority and submission in slavery, as long as slavery exists in a society, Christian slaves are to be submissive to their masters as God commands (and masters are to treat their slaves with fairness and respect). If slavery is done away with, the principles are no longer applicable.

c) Regarding authority and submission in marriage, as long as marriage exists in a society, Christian wives are to be submissive to their own husbands as God commands (and husbands are to love their wives as Christ loved the church).

However, unlike slavery, marriage and its corresponding authority and submission, was instituted by God, and therefore cannot be done away with. Even if a society were to outlaw marriage, Christians in that society would have to obey God rather than man.

4) Using slavery as a model for the role of women has a domino effect on other relationships. For example, if we abolish submission of wives to their husbands because it parallels slavery, to be consistent we must also abolish submission of children to their parents, because it is taught in the same passages.

a) Ephesians 5:22-6:9 – "Wives, be subject to your own husbands, as to the Lord… Husbands, love your wives, just as Christ also loved the church… Children, obey your parents in the Lord… Slaves, be obedient to those who are your masters to the flesh … as to Christ… And, masters, do the same to [your slaves]" (emphasis added).

b) Colossians 3:18-4:1 – Wives, be subject to your husbands, as is fitting in the Lord. Husbands, love your wives … Children, be obedient to your parents in all things, for this is well-pleasing to the Lord…. Slaves, in all things obey those who are your masters on earth…. Masters, grant to your slaves justice and fairness" (emphasis added).

Key Principles:

  • The basis for Paul's teaching is different for women than for slaves, therefore the relationships are not parallel.
  • A major flaw in the slave/master argument is that slavery is not rooted in any creation ordinance, whereas marriage is.
  • Authority and submission within marriage is not a concession to society's standards; it is God's design for marriage in any society.
  • If we abolish submission of wives to their husbands because it parallels slavery, to be consistent we must also abolish submission of children to their parents.

11. Argument From Biblical Precedence

a. Summary of the argument

Whatever else Paul may have had in mind when he penned the restrictions in 1 Corinthians 14 and 1 Timothy 2, he wasn't forbidding women to lead and preach in the church. We know that because elsewhere he not only acknowledges that certain women did, in fact, minister in those capacities, but he also commends them for dong so.

b. Examples

1) The example of Phoebe

Romans 16:1-2 – "I commend to you our sister Phoebe, who is a servant of the church which is at Cenchrea; that you receive her in the Lord in a manner worthy of the saints, and that you help her in whatever matter she may have need of you; for she herself has also been a helper of many, and of myself as well."

a) Mrs. Booth comments: "I would draw attention to the fact that Phoebe, a Christian woman whom we find in our version of the Scripture (Romans 16:1) spoken of only as any common servant attached to a congregation, was nothing less than one of those gifted by the Holy Spirit for publishing the glad tidings, or preaching the Gospel. The manner in which the Apostle (whose only care was the propagation of evangelical truth) speaks of her, shows that she was what he in Greek styled her, a deacon or preacher of the Word" (Female Ministry, p.10).

b) The phrase "a helper of many" (v. 2) refers to one who is a leader in the congregation.

"In verse 2, the word translated 'help' further elucidates [Phoebe’s] function. Cognate terms from the same root are applied to those who exercised leadership in the churches, for example, 'those … who are over you in the Lord' (1 Thessalonians 5:12). In Romans 12:8 the same word is rendered 'leader,' and in 1 Timothy 5:17 it is applied to 'the elders who direct the affairs of the church.' Thus the term used by Paul could indicate that Phoebe not only fulfilled the function of a deacon but also had some administrative roll" (Sanders, Paul the Leader, pp. 168-69).

Responses:

a) Without doubt Phoebe was a very special lady whom Paul commended in a special way.

(1) The Revised Standard Version says, "I commend to you our sister Phoebe, a deaconess of the Church at Cenchrea,that you may receive her in the Lord as befits the saints" (emphasis added).

(2) If Paul had called Phoebe an overseer or elder, or commended her for faithfully preaching the Word, that would be a different story. But he commended her in a more general way, using the same term that is commonly used of every faithful servant of the Lord, regardless of their specific ministry.

(3) The Greek word translated "deaconess" in the RSV is diakonos, the same word translated "deacon" elsewhere (cf. 1 Tim. 3:8-12). Paul commended Phoebe as a woman who served the Cenchrean church–perhaps as a deaconess–and specifically calls her a deacon (because diakonos has no female form in the Greek language).

However, the nature of her ministry is speculative since Paul isn't specific. To argue from diakonos that she was a preacher of the Word in a local assembly, or perhaps in several churches, not only stretches the text, but also reads an implication into the word that isn't necessarily there.

(4) "Even if for argument's sake we say that Phoebe is a 'deacon,' the apostle's prohibition is not overturned. The very distinction in the New Testament between the official deacon and elder (or bishop) is that an elder holds the teaching or ruling office, while the deacon is in the serving office, one not inherently involving teaching or ruling. Thus even if we grant that Phoebe is a church deacon, the New Testament has still not placed her in the ruling or teaching office" (Knight, "The Ordination of Women: NO", p. 19).

(5) Admittedly Paul sometimes uses diakonos with reference to himself and others who did preach and teach in local assemblies (1 Cor. 3:5), but he also uses it of those for whom we have no record of any such ministry (cf. Eph. 6:21; Col. 4:7; 1 Tim. 3:11).

b) We disagree that "a helper of many" (v. 2) refers to a leader in the congregation.

George Knight comments: "An appeal to the usage of the feminine word prostatis (NASB and RSV: 'a helper of many') is often made to attempt to establish Phoebe as a leader in the congregation.

"The argument often proceeds from this word to a verb with the same root (proistemi) and the similar masculine noun (prostates). It usually insists that since the masculine noun and the verb are directly associated with leadership, the feminine noun must be also. As a matter of fact, New Testament Greek lexicons and classical Greek lexicons consistently indicate that this is not the case, and that the feminine noun indicates one who is a 'helper' or 'patroness' but not a leader.

"Paul Jewett, although contending that the word means more than that she was only a deaconess, candidly admits that 'in this passage, prostatis, literally 'a woman set over others,' should hardly be taken to mean that Phoebe was a woman 'ruler.' Rather the meaning would seem to be that she was one who cared for the affairs of others by aiding them with her resources'" (cited in "The Ordination of Women: NO", pp. 18-19).

c) Since Romans 16:1 is general in nature, we can't know the specific nature of Phoebe's ministry. We do know that Paul trusted her explicitly, knowing she would never make inappropriate requests. Certainly she would have understood any parameters Paul may have placed on women in ministry (e.g., 1 Cor. 14:34-35; 1 Tim. 2:11-15). To argue for the absence of parameters based on Paul's gracious commendation of her faithful service is to go beyond what the text actually says.

2) The example of Priscilla

Romans 16:3-4 – "Greet Prisca [Priscilla] and Aquila, my fellow workers in Christ Jesus, who for my life risked their own necks, to whom not only do I give thanks, but also all the churches of the Gentiles."

a) Both Priscilla and her husband Aquila were fellow workers with Paul, and, according to Acts 18:26, both instructed Apollos in the gospel ("They took him aside and explained to him the way of God more accurately").

b) "Priscilla (verse 3) appears to have been more dynamic than her husband Aquila, but together they functioned as a husband-wife pastoral team, conducting a church in their homes at Corinth and Rome.

"That she exercised a teaching ministry is explicitly cited in Scripture (Acts 18:26), for she and her husband took the eloquent Apollos to their home and thoroughly explained the way of God. There is no suggestion that in doing so Priscilla was acting contrary to Paul's teaching. She shared with Aquila the title and task of 'fellow worker.' Paul described the indebtedness of 'all the churches of the Gentiles' to their joint ministry (verse 4)" (Sanders, Paul the Leader, p. 16).

Responses:

a) We agree that Priscilla shared ministry responsibilities with her husband Aquila, although the precise nature and extent of her ministries are not known.

b) We agree that she exercised a teaching ministry of some sort because on one occasion she assisted her husband in thoroughly explaining the way of God to Apollos (Acts 18:26). However, that meeting took place in private and therefore did not violate Paul's prohibition against women teaching or exercising authority over a man in the public meeting of the assembly (1 Cor. 14:34-35; 1 Tim. 2:11-15).

c) We do not see any biblical support for Sanders' view that she appears to have been more dynamic than her husband. But even if that were true, it would have no bearing on the issue at hand.

d) Sharing the title of "fellow worker" with her husband does not mean she functioned in the same role as Aquila, but that they both were outstanding in whatever roles they filled.

3) The example of Junias

Romans 16:7 – "Salute Andronicus and Junia, my kinsmen and my fellow-prisoners, who are of note among the Apostles; who also were in Christ before me" (KJV).

The NASB reads, "Greet Andronicus and Junias, my kinsmen, and my fellow prisoners, who are outstanding among the apostles, who also were in Christ before me" (emphasis added).

a) Junias was a woman, and was also an exemplary apostle.

b) "Ancient commentators concluded that Andronicus and Junias were a married couple. Junias is not found elsewhere as a man's name. Of Junias, Chrysostom wrote, 'Indeed to be apostles at all is a great thing. But to be even among these of note just consider what a great encomium this is. But they were of note owing to their works, to their achievements. Oh! how great is the devotion of this woman, that she should be even counted worthy of the appellation of apostle'" (Sanders, Paul the Leader, p. 169).

Responses:

a) This is a difficult passage to interpret precisely because Junias could have been either a male or female name, and the phrase "outstanding among the apostles" is ambiguous.

b) R.C.H. Lenski concludes:

"This is Junias, a man, not Junia (Julia), a woman, wife or sister of Andronicus…. Chrysostom may exclaim in admiration because of a woman apostle: such an apostle would be strange indeed. So also there is no difficulty regarding 'my kinsmen,' which Paul applies to Jews in general in 9:3, and certainly uses in this sense here in v. 10 and 21….

"These two men of Paul's own nationality at one time suffered with Paul as true soldiers of the Lord in his great campaign. Of course, when, where, how we do not know. In fact, they stand out as men of note not only in Paul's estimation but in the estimation of all the apostles [‘Outstanding among the apostles (or, “in the sphere of the twelve in Jerusalem”)]" (The Interpretation of St. Paul's Epistle to the Romans, p. 905-07).

c) William Hendriksen agrees that both are men, but understands them to have been apostles in the looser sense of the word (i.e., messengers, which is the literal meaning of "apostle").

"Extend greetings to Andronicus and Junias, fellow-countrymen of mine . . . men who are apostles, and as such, of note, and who were Christians even before I was" (New Testament Commentary: Romans Chapters 9-16, p. 505).

d) John MacArthur and others view Junias as the wife of Andronicus and explain "outstanding among the apostles" in this way:

"It seems likely that the meaning here is that Andronicus and Junias performed outstanding service in the Lord's work while working among, and possibly under, some of the ordained apostles, such as Paul and Peter. That interpretation is supported by Paul's remark that those two believers were in Christ before me, that is, were converted to Christ before he was.

"At the time of Paul's conversion most converts were still living in or near Jerusalem, where several of the Twelve were leaders in the church. If, therefore, Paul's two kinsmen were converted before he was, it is likely that they lived in Jerusalem and performed their outstanding service among the apostles in that city" (The MacArthur New Testament Commentary: Romans 9-16, p. 365).

e) John Murray doesn't comment on the gender of Junias, but shares MacArthur's conclusion regarding their supposed apostleship:

"'Of note among the apostle' may mean that they were apostles themselves. If so then the word 'apostles' would be used in a more general sense of messenger (cf. II Cor. 8:23; Phil. 2:25). Since, however, the term has usually in Paul the more restricted sense, it is more probable that the sense is that these persons were well known to the apostles and were distinguished for their faith and service.

"The explanation is ready at hand; they were Christians before Paul and, no doubt, were associated with the circle of apostles in Judea if not in Jerusalem" (The New International Commentary on the New Testament: The Epistle to the Romans, pp. 229-30).

f) We conclude that there seems to be no compelling reason from the verse itself to regard Junias as a female apostle, despite Chrysostom's comment to the contrary.

4) The example of Philip's daughters

Acts 21:9 – "Now [Philip the evangelist] had four virgin daughters who were prophetesses."

Clearly, these women prophesied.

Responses:

a) We agree that these women prophesied. But we have no record of the context in which they exercised their prophetic gifts.

b) Our only interest here is in whether or not they preached or prophesied in the public assembly, and there is no clear indication that they did.

5) The example of Euodia and Syntyche

Philippians 4:2-3 – "I urge Euodia and I urge Syntyche to live in harmony in the Lord. Indeed, true comrade, I ask you also to help these women who have shared my struggle in the cause of the gospel, together with Clement also, and the rest of my fellow workers, whose names are in the book of life."

"Euodia and Syntyche … apparently held positions of leadership so influential in the church that their disagreement endangered its unity. Although not condoning their estrangement, Paul commended them most warmly. They 'contended at [Paul’s] side in the cause of the gospel,' sharing the common task and ministry. He identified them with Clement and the other fellow workers in the proclamation of the gospel" (Sanders, Paul the Leader, p. 170).

Responses:

a) We agree that these ladies ministered in significant ways and were apparently held in high esteem by Paul and others in the church at Philippi.

b) To have shared Paul's struggle in the cause of the gospel speaks very highly of their loyalty and commitment, but does not necessarily mean they taught, preached, or held positions of authority over men in the church.

(1) Many of those who affirm a woman's right to preach assume that when Paul commends a woman as a fellow-worker, he is indicating that she did the same things he did (i.e., evangelize, preach, teach, and administrate in the local church). But Christian ministry is very broad, and Paul was concerned with more than preaching the gospel (He taught the whole counsel of God, and his epistles cover virtually every aspect of ministry and church life).

(2) If Paul is specific about a person's ministry (e.g., 2 Tim. 4:1ff), we can draw specific conclusions. But when he uses more general terms, we must be careful not to read more into his words than he intended to convey.

c) Paul's commendation of Euodia and Syntyche is gracious but general, and indicates that "they exerted themselves and eagerly co-operated in the interests of the gospel with the apostle, and also with Clement and the other fellow labourers whom Paul had at Philippi" (Jac. J. Muller, The New International Commentary on the New Testament: The Epistle of Paul to the Philippians, p. 139). Beyond that, we should not speculate.

6) The example of the women gathered with the apostles on the Day of Pentecost

Acts 1:14; 2:1, 4 – "These all with one mind were continually devoting themselves to prayer, along with the women, and Mary the mother of Jesus, and with His brothers."

"We are in the first of these passages expressly told that the women were assembled with the disciples on the day of Pentecost; and in the second, that the cloven tongues sat upon them each, and the Holy Ghost filled them all, and they spake as the Spirit gave them utterance…. The tongues were only emblematical of the office which the Spirit was henceforth to sustain to His people. The Spirit was given alike to the female as to the male disciple" (Booth, Female Ministry, p. 16).

Responses:

a) We agree that the gift of the Holy Spirit is given to every believer–male and female alike (cf. Rom. 8:9).

b) We agree that women did prophesy in the early years of the church.

c) Further, it is likely that women spoke in tongues in the early years of the church, although Paul forbade them to do so in public worship services (cf. our conclusions regarding 1 Cor. 14:34-35 above).

d) However, a careful study of Acts 1:14 and 2:1, 4 will not support the conclusion that women were with the disciples on the Day of Pentecost, that they spoke in tongues and prophesied along with the disciples, and that they thereby officially initiated their own prophetic office.

For example:

(1) Acts 1:14 doesn't expressly say that the women were assembled with the disciples on the Day of Pentecost. It says they were among the 120 people gathered together with the disciples in an upper room sometime prior to the Day of Pentecost (cf. vv. 12-26).

(2) Chapter two begins, "And when the day of Pentecost had come, they [the twelve disciples, not the 120 – cf. 1:26] were all together in one place." Also, it was the disciples whom Jesus said would be "baptized with the Holy Spirit not many days from now" (Acts 1:5).

(3) Verse 2 adds that "suddenly there came from heaven a noise like a violent, rushing wind, and it filled the whole house where they were sitting." Perhaps the disciples were gathered in the temple area rather than in a private house–the language of the text allows for either. It had to be someplace where the crowd could hear the noise and assemble (v. 6). Note also Luke 24:53, which says that the disciples were continually in the temple after Jesus' departure.

(4) When some mockers accused the tongues-speakers of being drunk (v. 13), Peter took his stand with the eleven (again indicating that it was only the disciples speaking in tongues) and said, "Men of Judea, and all you who live in Jerusalem, let this be known to you, and give heed to my words. For these men are not drunk, as you suppose, for it is only the third hour of the day" (vv. 14-15, emphasis added).

Peter explained that "these men" (the disciples with whom he stood) were not drunk. He made no mention of women or men other than the disciples.

Unfortunately the King James Version blurs verse 15 somewhat by translating it "For these are not drunk, as ye suppose" (emphasis added). "These" leaves room for more than the twelve disciples speaking in tongues and being accused of drunkenness. But the word Peter uses is ουτοι, which is a masculine plural pronoun that the New American Standard text rightly translates as "these men" (see also the NIV).

(5) Whether or not women spoke in tongues and prophesied on the Day of Pentecost perhaps isn't as significant to this discussion as some of the other points we've explored, but careful exegesis is always important. Conclusions drawn from inaccurate or incomplete interpretive procedures simply add confusion to the issue.

Key principle:

We do not wish in any way to diminish the godly character or significant contributions of the women mentioned above–or of countless other faithful women throughout history who have rendered exemplary service to the Lord. We simply point out that the examples cited above, which are used in support of a women's right to preach, give no clear example of a woman in the role of pastor, elder, preacher, or teacher, in a local congregation.

12. Argument From The Early Church Fathers

a. Summary of the argument

1) The writings of some of the Church Fathers tell of dynamic women who prophesied (preached) in the early church.

2) For example:

a) Justin Martyr

"Justin Martyr, who lived till about A.D. 150, says, in his dialogue with Trypho, the Jew, that 'both men and women were seen among them who had the extraordinary gifts of the Spirit of God, according as the prophet Joel had foretold, by which he endeavored to convince the Jews that the latter days were come" (cited by Booth, p. 11).

b) Irenaeus

"Dodwell, in his dissertations of Irenaeus says, 'that the gift of the spirit of prophecy was given to others besides the Apostle: and that not only in first and second, but in the third century–even to the time of Constantine–all sorts and ranks of men had these gifts; yea, and women too'" (cited by Booth, p. 11).

c) Eusebius

"Eusebius speaks of Potomania Ammias, a prophetess, in Philadelphia, and others, 'who were equally distinguished for their love and zeal in the cause of Christ'" (cited by Booth, p. 11).

b. Response

Like the argument from biblical precedence, this argument appeals to the record of godly women who served the Lord with distinction. However, none of the sources cited relate the context in which these women ministered, and therefore do not directly support the view that women preached and/or held leadership positions in the early church.

Key principle:

None of the sources commonly cited in support of this argument directly support the view that women preached and/or held leadership positions in the early church.

CONCLUSION

Of necessity we have dwelt on the few prohibitions Scripture places on women in ministry, and have concluded that women are not to preach or teach in the corporate gathering of the local assembly, or hold authoritative leadership roles in the church (e.g., Pastor or elder), or in any other way to exercise authority over men.

Those prohibitions must be taken seriously, but they should never overshadow the myriad of other ministries available to women, and in which godly women have served faithfully throughout church history (including, but not limited to, praying or prophesying within biblical guidelines and with a proper attitude of submission [1 Cor. 11:3-4; Acts 21:9], witnessing to women or men in public, praying with believers or non-believers in a non-leadership role, and teaching God’s Word to children and other women [Titus 2:3-4;1 Tim. 5:16]).

It is our sincere prayer that every Christian woman will experience the joy and satisfaction that comes with ministering her spiritual gifts within biblical guidelines to the glory of Christ and for the edification of His church.


Summary of Key Principles

1. Argument from Natural Qualifications:

  • The right to preach is not based on natural abilities, but on biblical authority and God's sovereign design for His church.

2. Argument from Superior Ability:

  • Biblical guidelines, not superior communication skills, must decide the question of a woman's right to preach.
  • The Holy Spirit's power and blessing are the keys to truly effective preaching.

3. Argument from Intellectual and Moral Pursuits

  • We do not deny a woman's intelligence or her ability to preach.
  • However, having the ability to do something and having God's permission to do it are two different things.
  • Only when women minister within their God-given parameters can they truly develop their capabilities fully (both for the glory of God and the benefit of their fellow Christians).

4. Argument from Historical Precedence:

  • God's will in this matter isn't determined by majority vote, personal experience, or a subjective "call." It's determined by divine revelation alone.
  • Because Christians do something doesn't necessarily make it a Christian thing to do.
  • The Lord will honor His Word despite the messenger.
  • To question the right of women to preach doesn't necessarily impugn the motives of women preachers.

5. Argument from Galatians 3:28

  • Galatians 3:28 speaks of spiritual equality, not functional equality.
  • The right to preach and teach is a functional distinction within the Body of Christ.
  • Authority and submission doesn't imply personal superiority or inferiority.
  • Christ Himself demonstrated the importance of authority and submission.

6. Argument from Joel 2:28-29 & Acts 2:17-18:

  • Joel prophesied that women as well as men would prophesy, and women as well as men did prophesy.
  • Joel doesn't indicate that prophecy will continue throughout the church age.
  • Pentecost was only a partial fulfillment of Joel's prophecy–a foretaste of what is to come in fullness in connection with Christ's Second Coming.
  • Joel and Peter didn't comment on the role of prophecy in the church. Paul does that in the passages we will examine later.
  • In the New Testament, prophecy and preaching are not synonymous.
  • New Testament prophecy has a revelatory element to it; preaching doesn't.
  • All New Testament prophets had a predictive element to their ministries.
  • Teachers and preachers have replaced prophets in the church.

7. Argument from 1 Corinthians 11:4-5:

  • The context of 11:4-5 is not the local assembly. Paul doesn't address corporate worship until verse 17.
  • First Corinthians 14:34-35 and 1 Timothy 2:12-13 are the interpretive keys that unlock the meaning of 1 Corinthians 11:4-5.
  • Both men and women prayed or prophesied in Paul's day.
  • Paul regulated the practice but did not prohibit it.
  • Paul addresses the issue of male headship in this passage, which is rooted in creation, not culture.
  • Paul's point is that whenever and wherever it is appropriate for men or women to pray or prophesy, they should do so in the appropriate manner.
  • In this passage Paul does not denote a place where praying and prophesying were appropriate.
  • In chapter 14 and 1 Timothy 2:11-15, Paul says that the church service was not an appropriate place for women to pray or prophesy.
  • Although women are not permitted to teach or exercise authority over men, they may participate in public prayer meetings.

8. Argument from 1 Corinthians 14:34-35:

  • First Corinthians 11:4-5 is not the interpretive key to this passage.
  • Paul does not prohibit women from ever speaking in a church service, but only from tongues, prophesy, and asking inappropriate questions.
  • The principles Paul teaches here apply to every congregation in every age.
  • Paul bases his teaching on God's Law and the order of creation.

9. Argument from 1 Timothy 2:11-15:

  • The context of 1 Timothy 2:11-15 is the local assembly.
  • Paul does not require absolute silence from women during a church service, but He does forbid them to be teachers and to exercise authority over a man.
  • Paul's prohibitions are based on the order of creation and the Fall.
  • Everyone who preaches or teaches God's Word exercises authority over his or her hearers.

10. Argument from slavery as a Model for the Role of Women:

  • The basis for Paul's teaching is different for women than for slaves, therefore the relationships are not parallel.
  • A major flaw in the slave/master argument is that slavery is not rooted in any creation ordinance, whereas marriage is.
  • Authority and submission within marriage is not a concession to society's standards; it is God's design for marriage in any society.
  • If we abolish submission of wives to their husbands because it parallels slavery, to be consistent we must also abolish submission of children to their parents.

11. Argument from Biblical Precedence:

  • The examples commonly cited in support of this argument give no clear example of a women in the role of pastor, elder, teacher, or preacher in a local congregation.

12. Argument from Early Church Fathers:

  • None of the sources commonly cited in support of this argument directly support the view that women preached and/or held leadership positions in the early church.

Bibliography

  • Boomsma, Clarence Male and Female, One in Christ. Grand Rapids, Baker, 1993.
  • Booth, Catherine Female Ministry: Woman's Right to Preach the Gospel. New York, The Salvation Army Supplies Printing and Publishing Department, 1975.
  • Clarke, Adam Clarke's Commentary: Vol. VI, Romans to Revelation. New York, Abingdon-Cokesbury Press.
  • Fee, Gordon D. New International Commentary on the New Testament: The First Epistle to the Corinthians. Grand Rapids, William B. Eerdmans Publishing Company, 1987.
  • Felix, Paul W., Sr. "The Hermeneutics of Evangelical Feminism" in The Master's Seminary Journal (5/2, Fall 1994). Panorama City.
  • Foh, Susan Women & the Word of God: A Response to Biblical Feminism. Grand Rapids, Baker Book House, 1980.
  • Gould, J. Glenn Beacon Bible Commentary, 1 Timothy. Kansas City, Beacon Hill Press, 1965.
  • Grosheide, F.W. The New International Commentary: Commentary on the First Epistle to the Corinthians. m. B. Eerdmans Publishing Co., 1953.
  • Hendriksen, William New Testament Commentary: Romans Chapters 9-16. Grand Rapids, Baker Books, 1981.
  • Howe, E.M. "Ordination of Women" in Evangelical Dictionary of Theology. Grand Rapids, Baker Book House, 1984.
  • Keene, Craig Paul, Women and Wives. Peabody, Hendrickson, 1992.
  • Kent, Homer A. Jr. The Pastoral Epistles. Chicago, Moody Press, 1982.
  • Kistemaker, Simon J. New Testament Commentary: 1 Corinthians. Grand Rapids, Baker Books, 1993.
  • Knight, George W. III, "The Ordination of Women: NO" in Christianity Today. February 20, 1981.
  • Knight, George The Pastoral Epistles: A Commentary on the Greek Text. Grand Rapids, Wm. B. Eerdmans Publishing Company, 1992.
  • Kroeger, R.C. and C.C. Kroeger I Suffer Not a Woman. Grand Rapids, Baker, 1992.
  • Lenski, R.C.H. The Interpretation of St. Paul's Epistles to the Colossians, to the Thessalonians, to Timothy, to Titus and to Philemon. Minneapolis, Augsburg Publishing House, 1961.
  • The Interpretation of St. Paul's First and Second Epistles to the Corinthians. Minneapolis, Augsburg Publishing House, 1963.
  • The Interpretation of St. Paul's Epistle to the Romans. Minneapolis, Augsburg Publishing House, 1961.
  • MacArthur, John Jr. Different By Design: Discovering God's Will for Today's Man and Woman. Wheaton, Victor Books, 1994.
  • The MacArthur New Testament Commentary: 1 Corinthians. Chicago, Moody Press, 1984.
  • The MacArthur New Testament Commentary: Romans 9-16. Chicago, Moody Press, 1994.
  • Marshall, Alfred The NASB Interlinear Greek-English New Testament. Grand Rapids, Zondervan Publishing House, 1984.
  • Metz, Donald S. Beacon Bible Commentary: 1 Corinthians. Kansas City, Beacon Hill Press, 1968.
  • Muller, Jac. J. The New International Commentary on the New Testament: The Epistle of Paul to the Philippians. Grand Rapids, Wm. B. Eerdmans Publishing Co., 1988.
  • Murray, John The New International Commentary on the New Testament: The Epistle to the Romans. Grand Rapids, Wm. B. Eerdmans Publishing Co., 1979.
  • Nicholson, Roy S. The Wesleyan Bible Commentary: 1 Timothy. Grand Rapids, Wm. B. Eerdmans Publishing Co., 1971.
  • Piper, John and Wayne Grudem "An Overview of Central Concerns: Questions and Answers" in Recovering Biblical Manhood and Womanhood. Westchester, Crossway, 1991.
  • Price, Betty Women Current Events and the Word of God. Panorama City, Logos Bible Institute class syllabus.
  • Rienecker, Fritz and Cleon Rogers Linguistic Key to the Greek New Testament. Grand Rapids, Zondervan Publishing House, 1982.
  • Ryrie, Charles The Role of Women in the Church. Chicago, Moody Press, 1970.
  • Ryrie Study Bible. Chicago, Moody Press, 1978.
  • Sanders, J. Oswald Paul the Leader. Colorado Springs, NAVPRESS, 1984.
  • Spencer, Aida Besancon Beyond the Curse. Peabody, Hendrickson, 1989.
  • Stouffer, Austin H. "The Ordination of Women: YES" in Christianity Today. February 20, 1981.
  • Summers, Ray Essentials of New Testament Greek. Nashville, Broadman Press, 1950.
  • Thomas, Robert L. Understanding Spiritual Gifts. Chicago, Moody Press, 1978.
  • Vine, W.E., Merrill F. Unger,William White, Jr. Vine's Complete Expository Dictionary of Old and New Testament Words. Nashville, Thomas Nelson Publishers, 1985.
  • Women and Their Role in the Church. Springfield, Immanuel Bible Church Elder Position Paper.

A Woman’s Right to Preach: Is It Biblical? – Part 3

7. Arguments From 1 Corinthians 11:4-5

1 Corinthians 11:4-5 – "Every man who has something on his head while praying or prophesying, disgraces his head. But ever woman who has her head uncovered while praying or prophesying, disgraces her head; for she is one and the same with her whose head is shaved."

a. Our interpretive task

1) The Bible is God's Word and therefore will never contradict itself when rightly interpreted. Therefore, if there is an apparent contradiction, we must explore the biblical data more carefully and allow the clearer statements of Scripture to shed light on the more obscure statements.

2) Regarding a woman's right to preach, we face an apparent contradiction between Paul's teaching in 1 Corinthians 11:4-5 (a woman should cover her head when praying or prophesying), 1 Corinthians 14:34-35 (women are not permitted to speak in the church), and 1 Timothy 2:12-13 (women are not permitted to teach or exercise authority over a man, but to remain quiet).

3) Obviously, if praying and prophesying involve verbal communication, a woman can't do it and remain silent at the same time. Resolving this apparent contradiction is the key to understanding whether or not a woman has the right to preach, and any conclusions we draw must harmonize all three passages.

4) Toward that end we must determine whether 1 Corinthians 11:4-5 is the key to understanding the other two passages, or if they are the key to understanding this passage. The differences of opinion among commentators will be evident as we discuss each passage.

5) Our conclusion is that 1 Corinthians 14:34-35 and 1 Timothy 2:12-13 are the clearer statements and therefore shed light on 1 Corinthians 11:4-5.

b. Main points, representative quotes, and our responses

1) First Corinthians 11:4-5 "seems to prove beyond the possibility of dispute that in the early times women were permitted to speak [i.e., prophesy] to the 'edification and comfort' o Christians, and that the Lord graciously endowed them with grace and gifts for this service. What He did then, may He not be doing now?" (Booth, Female Ministry, p. 8).

Response:

1) We agree that in the early church women were permitted to speak to the edification and comfort of Christians within certain parameters. We disagree that they were permitted to do so from the pulpit or pew in the corporate assembly (as we discuss below).

2) This passage shows the equality of men and women when praying or prophesying in the public assembly. Whatever kind of praying or prophesying men did, women did the same. And Paul never forbade the practice; he merely gave guidelines for its proper exercise.

a) "Verses 4 and 5 are parallel and reveal the equality of men and women in the church. In the Old Testament era, not the woman but the man received the sign of the covenant (e.g., Gen. 17). He served as representative for the woman. But in the New Testament era, male and female are one in Christ Jesus (Gal. 3:28). That is, both man and woman are equal before the Lord.

"This becomes evident when Paul ascribes the religious functions of praying and prophesying to both man and woman. Both men and women know that their prophesying consists of teaching and preaching God's revelation or exhorting and counseling others from the Scriptures" (Simon J. Kistemaker, New Testament Commentary: 1 Corinthians, p. 369).

b) "Whatever may be the meaning of praying and prophesying in respect to the man, they have precisely the same meaning in respect to the woman…. The only difference marked by the Apostle was that the man had his head uncovered, because he was representative of Christ; the woman had hers covered because she was placed by the order of God in subjection to the man; and because it was the custom both among Greeks and Romans, and among the Jews in express law that no woman should be seen abroad without a veil.

"This was and is the custom through all the East, and none but public prostitutes go without veils; if a woman should appear in public without a veil, she would dishonour her head–her husband. And she must appear like those woman who have their hair shaven off as the punishment of adultery" (Dr. Adam Clarke, cited in Female Ministry, p. 7).

Responses:

a) We have already seen that Galatians 3:28 speaks of spiritual equality, not functional equality.

b) We agree that whatever praying or prophesying means for men in 1 Corinthians 11:4-5, it means the same for women.

c) We also agree that Paul did not prohibit praying and prophesying, but merely regulated it.

d) However, we disagree that the context of 1 Corinthians 11:3-4 is the local assembly.

(1) It is not conclusive that Paul had the public assembly in mind. His point is that whenever and wherever it is appropriate for men and/or women to pray or prophesy, they should do so with the proper symbols of submission so the male/female distinctions aren't blurred. In chapter 14 he gives guidelines for the appropriate use of tongues and prophecy when the church gathers for worship, and there forbids women to participate (see also 1 Tim. 2:12).

(2) "Paul does not establish the setting as the official service of worship in the church. It is likely he was referring to praying or prophesying in places other than the church gathering. That would certainly fit with the very clear directives in 1 Corinthians 14:34 and 1 Timothy 2:12…"

"The New Testament places no restrictions on a woman's witnessing in public to others, even to a man. Nor does it prohibit omen from taking non-leadership roles of praying with believers or for unbelievers. Likewise there are no prohibitions against teaching children and other women (cf. Titus 2:3-4; 1 Tim. 5:16). Women may have the gift of prophecy, as did Philip's four daughters (Acts 21:9), but they are not to prophesy in the meetings of the church where men are present." (MacArthur, Different by Design, p. 39).

(3) "It is only necessary to combine the relevant passages to get the composite truth. Women may pray and prophesy within the boundaries of God's revelation, and with a proper sense of submission. And it is critical that their deportment in so doing reflects God's order. Certainly they must not appear rebellious against God's will" (John MacArthur, The MacArthur New Testament Commentary: 1 Corinthians, p. 257).

(4) "This verse assumes that women will pray and prophesy in the presence of others but that would not have to be the public assembly. For women to lead the public assembly would violate other passages which Paul wrote" (Betty Price, Women, Current Events and the Word of God, Logos Bible Institute class syllabus, p. 31).

(5) "The fact that the work of the prophets was for the benefit of the churches does not imply that their prophetic utterances were mad or should be made only in the churches. On the contrary, the Scripture teaches other possibilities…. Of special importance is Acts 21:11f., where the activities of Agabus are not pictured as taking place in a meeting of the congregation. This lead us to the conclusion that Paul in ch. 11 speaks of a praying and a prophesying (of women) in public rather than in the meetings of the congregation" (F.W. Grosheide, The New International Commentary: Commentary on the First Epistle to the Corinthians, pp 251-52).

(6) "It is quite essential to note that no modifier is attached to the participles to denote a place where [praying and prophesying] were exercised. So we on our part should not introduce one… By omitting reference to a place Paul says this: 'Wherever and whenever it is proper and right for a man or for a woman to pray or to prophesy, the difference of sex should be marked as I indicate'…

"An issue has been made of the point that Paul speaks of a woman as prophesying as though it were a matter of course that she should prophesy just as she also prays, and just as the man, too, prays and prophesies. Paul is said to contradict himself when he forbids the woman to prophesy in 14:34-36. The matter becomes clear when we observe that from 11:17 onward until the end of chapter 14 Paul deals with the gatherings of the congregation for public worship and with regulations pertaining to public assemblies.

"The transition is decidedly marked: 'that ye come together,' i.e., for public worship, v. 17; 'when ye come together in church' (ecclesia, no article), v. 18; and again: 'when ye assemble together,' i.e., for public worship, v. 20. In these public assemblies Paul forbids the women, not only to prophesy, but to speak at all, 14:34-36 and assigns the reason for this prohibition just as he does in 1 Tim. 2:11, etc." (R.C.H. Lenski, The Interpretation of St. Paul's First and Second Epistles to the Corinthians, pp. 436-37).

d. Additional considerations

1) We disagree with those who maintain hat Paul is addressing a specific cultural situation in Corinth that doesn't apply to the church in general.

The woman's head covering may have been a cultural symbol of her submission to male headship, but the principle of authority and submission that t symbolizes is universal.

"The principle of women's subordination to men, not the particular mark or symbol of that subordination, was Paul's focus here. While covering the head appears to have been a customary symbol of subordination in Corinthian society, the principle of male headship is not a custom but an established fact of God's order and creation, and it should never be compromised" (MacArthur, Different by Design, p. 41).

2) Some commentators maintain that the context of 1 Corinthians 11:4-5 s the public assembly, and prophesying refers to the broad sense of speaking forth for God, which could simply be a word of praise or a song, not preaching or teaching (1 Chron. 25:1; Ps. 68:24-26; Luke 2:36-38). But that position is weak because Paul addresses men as well as women, and there is no reason to suppose that prophesying on the part of men was restricted to praise or song.

3) Some, like Dr. Charles Ryrie, believe that "in the light of what he says in 14:34-35, it is doubtful that Paul approve of those activities by the women at Corinth. He simply acknowledges that these were unauthorized practices" (Ryrie Study Bible, p. 1741). But if that were the case, it seems that Paul would have stopped the practice all together rather than merely regulating it.

4) One additional view that attempts to harmonize Paul's instructions in 1 Corinthians and 1 Timothy teaches that he permitted women to pray and prophecy in public services as long as they did so with the appropriate symbol of submission, but did not permit them to teach or exercise authority over a man. That view recognizes a difference between prophecy and preaching or teaching (see our discussion on pages 10-12 above).

a) Commenting on 1 Timothy 2:12, Susan Foh says, "Teaching does not include praying and prophesying (1 Cor. 11:2-16). The teaching forbidden to women is habitual teaching, as suggested by the infinitive in the present tense [lit., “I do not permit a woman to be a teacher”]" (Women & the Word of God: A Response to Biblical Feminism, p. 124).

b) If our conclusions are correct that women are not to be teachers in the public assembly of the church, and that the gift of prophecy has ceased (as we discussed earlier in this study), neither women nor men have a prophetic ministry today. Therefore, the only thing remaining to determine is to what extent women may pray in public worship services. In that regard Paul assigns the leadership role to men (cf. 1 Tim. 2:1-8), but there is New Testament precedence for women participating in prayer meetings (e.g., Acts 1:13-14 records a prayer meeting where women and men were present [including the apostles] and "all with one mind were continually devoting themselves to prayer" – v. 14).

Key Principles:

  • The context of 1 Corinthians 11:4-5 is not the local assembly. Paul doesn't address corporate worship until verse 17.
  • First Corinthians 14:34-35 and 1 Timothy 2:12-13 are the interpretive keys that unlock the meaning of 1 Corinthians 11:4-5.
  • Both men and women prayed or prophesied in Paul's day.
  • Paul regulated the practice but did not prohibit it.
  • In this passage Paul addresses the issue of male headship, which is rooted in creation, not culture.
  • In this passage Paul does not denote a place where praying and prophesying were appropriate.
  • Paul's point is that whenever and wherever it is appropriate for men or women to pray or prophesy, they should do so in the appropriate manner.
  • In 1 Corinthians 14 and 1 Timothy 2:11-15, Paul says that the church service was not an appropriate place for women to pray or prophesy.
  • Although women are not permitted to teach or exercise authority over men, they may participate in public prayer meetings.

8. Arguments From 1 Corinthians 14:34-35

1 Corinthians 14:34-35 – "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."

a. Note

The points listed below represent various views of this passage as it relates to a woman's role in the church. They are not listed in any particular order and may not directly relate to each other.

b. Main points, representative quotes, and our responses

1) Whatever the specific issue is in this passage, Paul isn't prohibiting women from every form of speaking in the church service. That would contradict 1 Corinthians 11:4-5, where he permits them to pray and prophesy within certain guidelines.

Responses:

a) We agree that Paul doesn't preclude women from ever speaking in the assembly. The context of chapter 14 is tongues and prophecy in the public worship service, which he forbade women to practice, along with asking inappropriate questions (as we'll discus in more detail later).

b) Even if Paul were requiring complete silence from women, this passage would not contradict 1 Corinthians 11:4-5.

(1) We've already seen that the context of 1 Corinthians 11:4-5 may not be the public church service. If that's he case, Paul can prohibit women from speaking in the church in this passage without contradicting other passages.

(2) Also, interpreting this passage on the basis of 1 Corinthians 11:4-5 violates the principle of allowing a clearer or more specific passage of Scripture to shed light on a vague or more general passage. In this passage the context of the public church service is clear; that is not the case in the early verses of chapter 11.

2) Similar to the subject of veils in chapter 11, Paul is addressing a cultural issue unique to the early church, and his solution isn't intended to apply throughout the entire church age. That's why he specifically says "Let your women keep silence in the churches" (KJV, emphasis added).

"It is believed that these rigorous strictures were occasioned by the fact that many in the Corinthian church were recent converts from paganism, and that the new freedom which they enjoyed in Christ had led to certain extravagances which were unseemly and irreverent. It is at least possible that a similar reason afforded occasion for these admonitions to Timothy [1 Tim. 2:11-15], who pastored a church hewn out of the heathenism of Ephesus. We cannot accept the idea that even at Corinth the stipulations [Paul gives] were to be applied in every case" (J. Glenn Gould, Beacon Bible Commentary: 1 Timothy, p. 576).

Responses:

We disagree that Paul is addressing a cultural issue unique to the early church, with no long-term application intended.

a) The King James Version translates verse 34, "Let your women keep silence in the churches" (emphasis added), which some see as referring to the Corinthian women only. But newer translations rightly render it, "Let the women keep silent in the churches" (emphasis added).

b) That Paul meant all omen in all churches is clear from the plural "churches" in verse 33 ("As in all the churches of the saints").

c) Additionally, verses 33-34, which in the NASB read:,

"For God is not a God of confusion but of peace, as in all the churches of the saint. Let the women keep silent in the churches; for they are not permitted to speak."

Are better rendered:

"For God is not a God of confusion but of peace. As in all the congregations of the saints, let the women remain silent in the churches" (NIV).

d) Also, Paul bases the role of women on God's Law (1 Cor. 14:34) and the order of creation (1 Cor. 11:1-16; 1 Tim. 2:12-14), not cultural considerations.

"'Law' in verse 34 points to the first five Old Testament books instead of the whole Old Testament as in v. 21). The apparent reference of Paul's statement is to Genesis 3:16. 'He shall rule over you' was God's pronouncement of Adam's authority over Eve, and consequently the same order has prevailed between the sexes since that time. Such decorum is the only one that accords with the will of God. Subordination with equality is what He has prescribed (cf. 1 Cor. 11:3)" (Robert L. Thomas, Understanding Spiritual Gifts, p. 159).

e) Obviously the role of women in the church was an issue in the Corinthian culture, but Paul's solution went far beyond that culture, giving God's standard for all churches in every culture.

3) Paul's prohibition in this passage is against wives passing judgment on their husbands' prophecies.

"Obviously, Paul is not restricting women from speaking when they worship God. Rather he is saying that they should respect their husbands in accordance with the Law…. The Corinthian women at worship are not told to be silent in respect to praying, prophesying, and singing psalms and hymns. They are, however, forbidden to speak when the prophecies of their husbands are discussed (v. 29). They are asked to observe the creation order recorded in the Law and to honor their husbands. Telling the women three times to be silent, Paul instructs them to respect their husbands at public worship and to reserve their questions for the privacy of the home….

"In the privacy of one's home, the wife may learn from her husband. But in the worship service, a wife who questions her husband about spiritual truths runs the risk of dishonoring him in the presence of the rest of the congregation. To the point, no pastor wishes to be publicly criticized by his wife in a worship service; if she does, she undermines his ministry and is a disgrace to him. Paul wants the women to honor and respect their husbands in harmony with the Scriptures" (Simon J. Kistemaker, New Testament Commentary: 1 Corinthians, pp. 512-13).

Response:

a) We disagree that Paul is instructing wives not to pass judgment on heir husbands' prophecies.

b) "This [argument] has against it (1) the extreme difficulty of being so far removed from v. 29 that one wonders how the Corinthians themselves could have so understood it; (2) the fact that nothing in the passage itself even remotely hints of such a thing; and (3) the form of v. 35, 'if they wish to learn anything,' which implies not 'judging' their husbands' prophecies but failing to understand what is going on at all" (Gordon D. Fee, New International Commentary on the New Testament: The First Epistle to the Corinthians, p. 704).

4) Paul may be restricting only women who chatter or ask inappropriate questions during the worship service, which says nothing about women exercising their spiritual gifts. Paul's solution was for those who were out of line to ask their husbands (or other men in their extended family) at home rather than disrupting the service.

a) The heart of this passage is the Greek verb λαλειν, which is translated "to speak" but may mean something different from mere speaking. That being the case, using this word in a prohibition does not imply that absolute silence is enjoined, but rather an improper kind of speaking.

b) "The Greek verb (λαλειν) is used nearly three hundred times in the [New Testament]. It's meaning often is modified by the context–as in this passage. Schleusner's Lexicon lists many meanings, among which are: 'I answer, I return a reason, I give rule or precept, I order, decree.' Greenfield gives, with others, these meanings: 'to pratle–be loquacious as a child; to speak in answer–to answer, as in John 19:10; harangue, plead, Acts 9:29. To direct, command, Acts 3:22.' Liddel and Scott's Lexicon says, 'to chatter, babble; of birds, to twitter, chirp; strictly, to make an inarticulate sound, opposed to articulate speech: but also generally to talk, say.'

"Parkhurst … tells us that … 'λαλειν' … is not the word used in Greek to signify to speak with premeditation and prudence, but … to speak imprudently and without consideration, and is that applied to one who lets his tongue run but does not speak to the purpose, but says nothing. Now unless Parkhurst is utterly wrong in his Greek … Paul's fulmination is not launched against speech with premeditation and prudence,but against speech devoid of those qualities. It would be well if all speakers of the male as well as the female sex were obedient to this rule.

"[The context] shows that it was not silence which was imposed upon women in the Church, but only … such questionings, dogmatic assertions, and disputations which would bring them into collision with the men, ruffle their tempers, and occasion an unamiable volubility of speech" (Booth, Female Ministry, pp. 9-10).

Responses:

We disagree that the Greek word λαλειν, translated "to speak" in verses 34 and 35, refers to imprudent and thoughtless speech.

a) We agree that λαλειν has various shades of meaning depending on its context, and that its precise meaning in 1 Corinthians 14 must be consistent with Paul's development of thought.

b) The definitions cited by Mrs. Booth favor the meaning she wishes to assign to λαλειν, but don't favor the context.

(1) For example, Mrs. Booth cites Parkhurst's claim that λαλειν means to speak "imprudently and without consideration, and [applies] to one who lets his tongue run but does not speak to the purpose, but says nothing" (p. 10). Deferring to Parkhurst's credibility as a lexicographer, she applies his definition to the text, apparently unaware that within the immediate context of chapter 14 Paul uses λαλειν with reference to:

  • Speaking in tongues (vv. 4, 5, 6, 13, 18, 23, 27, 39)
  • Speaking to God (v. 2)
  • Speaking mysteries (v. 2)
  • Speaking to men for edification, exhortation, and consolation (v. 2)
  • Speaking by way of revelation, knowledge, prophecy, and teaching (v. 6)
  • Speaking into the air (v. 9)
  • Speaking as a barbarian (v. 11)
  • Speaking with the mind (v. 19)
  • Speaking with the lips of strangers (v. 21)
  • Speaking to oneself and to God (v. 28)
  • Speaking as a prophet(v. 29)

(2) If all those uses of λαλειν fall into the category of speaking "imprudently and without consideration, and apply to one who lets his tongue run but does not speak to the purpose, but says nothing," Parkhurst is correct. However, if that is the case, Paul's logic disintegrates and the entire chapter becomes meaningless. If, however, Parkhurst is incorrect (as he clearly is in this instance), Mrs. Booth's conclusion that his definition of λαλειν must apply in verses 34 and 35 is equally unfounded.

(3) W.E. Vine summarizes: "The command prohibiting women from speaking in a church gathering, vv. 34, 35, is regarded by some as an injunction against chattering, a meaning which is absent from the use of the verb everywhere else in the New Testament;it is to be understood in the same sense as in verses 2-6, 9, 11, 19-19, 21, 23, 27-29, 39" (Vine's Complete Expository Dictionary of Old and New Testament Words, p. 590).

(4) A better choice is that verse 34 prohibits women from speaking in tongues and prophesying in the corporate worship service. Verse 35 prohibits them from asking inappropriate or disruptive questions (as some apparently were doing).

Rather than simply rebuking them, Paul gives the appropriate alternative: "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." That corrects the problem and places on husbands the responsibility of knowing God's Word and instructing their wives as God intended.

c) Commentator Gordon Fee adds:

"The most commonly held view [of vv. 34-35] is that which sees the problem as some form of disruptive speech. Support is found in v. 35, that if the women wish to learn anything, they should ask their own husbands at home. Various scenario are proposed: that the setting was something like the Jewish synagogue, with women on one side and men on the other and the women shouting out disruptive questions about what was being said in a prophecy or tongue; or that they were asking questions of men other than their own husbands; or that they were simply 'chattering' so loudly that it had a disruptive effect.

"The biggest difficulty with this view is that it assumes a 'church service' of a more 'orderly' sort than the rest of this argument presupposes. If the basic problem is with their 'all speaking in tongues' in some way . . . in such disarray how can mere 'chatter' have a disruptive effect? The suggestion that the early house churches assumed a synagogue pattern is pure speculation; it seems emote at best" (The First Epistle to the Corinthians, p. 703).

5) Here Paul does not refer to the same speaking as in 1 Corinthians 11:4-5.

"Taking the simple and common-sense view of the two passages, viz., that one [1 Cor. 11:4-5] refers to the devotional and religious exercises in the Church, and the other [1 Cor. 14:34-35] to inconvenient asking of questions, and imprudent or ignorant talking, there is no contradiction or discrepancy, no straining or twisting of either. If, on the other hand, we assume that the Apostle refers in both instances to the same thing, we make him in one page give the most explicit directions of how a thing shall be performed, which in a page or two further on, and writing to the same Church, he expressly forbids being performed at all" (Booth, Female Ministry, p. 8).

Response:

We disagree that Paul has two kinds of speaking in mind (in the sense that Mrs. Booth outlines above). He is, however, referring to two different settings (this passage refers to the local assembly, whereas 1 Cor. 11:4-5 does not).

6) Those who would disallow women preaching in the assembly should be as diligent to adhere to the rest of chapter 14, but that isn't always the case.

"If any one still insists on a literal application of this text, e beg to ask how he disposes of the preceding part of the chapter where it occurs. Surely, if one verse be so authoritative and binding, the whole chapter is equally so; and therefore, those who insist on a literal application of the words of Paul, under all circumstances and through all time, will be careful to observe the Apostle's order of worship in their own congregations.

"But, we ask, where is the minister who lets his whole Church prophesy one by one, and he himself sits still and listens while they are speaking, so that all things may be done decently and in order? But Paul as expressly lays down this order as he does the rule for woman, and he adds, 'The things that I write unto you are the commandments of the Lord' (v. 37)" (Booth, Female Ministry, p. 12).

Responses:

We agree that those who insist on a literal application of the prohibitions against women should also apply the rest of the chapter. However, even if some church leaders aren't consistent in their application of the text, that has no bearing on its meaning.

a) The entire chapter is just as authoritative and binding as verses 34-35, and we believe that a literal application of every passage is necessary unless Scripture itself indicates otherwise. In the case of tongues and prophecy however (the issues addressed by Paul in chapter 14), we believe that both gifts were temporary and ceased with the passing of the apostolic era. Therefore, modern application isn't an issue.

(As we have already explained, we believe that "prophecy as used by Paul throughout 1 Corinthians had a revelatory element to it [cf. 1 Cor. 14:30] and therefore shouldn't be limited to preaching only. But even if we do limit it in that way, Paul's prohibition against women prophesying in the public assembly till stands.)

b) However, the broader principles of exercising spiritual gifts appropriately and maintaining order in worship services still apply because they transcend tongues, prophesy, and the specific Corinthian situation.

c) Also, the role of women in the church still applies because Paul bases it on God's Law (1 Cor. 14:34) and the order of creation (1 Cor. 11:1-16; 1 Tim. 2:12-14), not cultural considerations.

d) Admittedly there are many today who believe that tongues and prophecy still existing the church. We would expect those people to adhere closely to all of Paul's instructions in chapter 14. But, ironically, most denominations promoting modern tongues and prophecy also promote women in the pulpit, in blatant contradiction of Paul's instructions for them to remain silent.

Key Principles:

  • First Corinthians 11:4-5 is not the interpretive key to this passage.
  • Paul does not prohibit women from ever speaking in a church service, but only from tongues, prophesy, and asking inappropriate questions.
  • The principles Paul teaches here apply to every congregation in every age.
  • Paul bases his teaching in this passage on God's Law and the order of creation, not on a situation unique to the Corinthian church.

9. Arguments From 1 Timothy 2:11-15

Timothy 2:11-15 – "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, and then Eve. And it was not Adam ho was deceived, but the woman being quite deceived, fell into transgression. But women shall be preserved through the bearing of children if they continue in faith and love and sanctity with self-restraint."

a. Note:

The points listed below represent various views of this passage as it relates to a woman's role in the church. They are not listed in any particular order and may not directly relate to each other.

b. Main points, representative quotes, and our responses

1) The context of this passage i the home, not the church. Therefore it has nothing whatsoever to do with women speaking in public services.

a) "[This passage] is primarily an injunction respecting her personal behaviour at home. It stands in connection with precepts respecting her apparel and her domestic position; especially her relation to her husband" (Rev. J.H. Robinson, cited in Female Ministry, p. 12).

b) "This prohibition refers exclusively to the private life and domestic character of women, and simply means that an ignorant or unruly woman is not to force her opinions on the man whether he will or no. It has no reference whatever to good women living in obedience to God and their husbands, or to women sent out to preach the Gospel by the call of the Holy Spirit" (Booth, Female Ministry, p. 13).

Responses:

We disagree with those who teach that the context of 1 Timothy 2:11-15 is the home, not the church, and that Paul's instructions simply govern a woman's domestic position, especially in relation to her husband, but have nothing to do with her role in the church.

a) The language of the text indicates that Paul has men and women in mind, not just husbands and wives.

Admittedly, the Greek words translated "men" and "women" in this passage are the same words used elsewhere Paul and others for "husband" and "wife." But no English translation we've seen translates them as such in this passage because the context gives no indication that Paul is limiting his comments to husbands and wives.

On the contrary, in verse eight Paul instructs men to pray, and he uses the Greek word that refers to men in contrast to women, not men in the generic sense, or husbands only (ανερ for males, not ανθροπος for mankind).

In verse nine he begins a series of instructions for women, which contrasts to men by use of "likewise" (i.e., "Just as I've instructed men to pray, likewise I instruct women to adorn themselves properly, etc."). Paul changes subjects as he moves from verse 8 to verse 9 (i.e., men to women; prayer to proper adornment), but he doesn't change contexts (church to home or vice versa).

Therefore, if Paul's instructions to women in verses 9 – 12 refer exclusively to the home, his instructions to men in verse eight must also apply exclusively to the home. But Paul doesn't restrict prayer to the home or to husbands only–neither does he restrict proper clothing and quiet submission to the home or to wives only.

b) The language of the chapter indicates that Paul has the local assembly in mind.

(1) "The Greek phrase translated 'in every place' [1 Tim. 2:8] refers to an official assembly of the church (1 Cor. 1:2; 2 Cor. 2:14; 1 Thess. 1:8)" (MacArthur, Different by Design, p. 112).

(2) "The discussions in this chapter refer to the general worship service, as indicated b the references to teaching as well as praying" (Homer A. Kent, Jr., The Pastoral Epistles, p. 102).

(3) "It must be remembered that the first-century church had no special buildings for meeting, and consequently met in various homes of Christians. But regardless of the meeting place, [these directives were] to be followed" (Kent, The Pastoral Epistles, p. 103).

c) Even if the context of this passage were the home, the principle of woman's submission is based on creation, and confirmed by the Fall (vv. 1-14), not on domestic, cultural, or even ecclesiastical considerations. Therefore, the principle transcends the home and most certainly applies in the church as well. We know that's the case from Paul's parallel teaching in 1 Corinthians 14:34-35, where clearly the church service is in view.

"The Fall resulted not only from direct disobedience of God's command, but also from a violation of the divinely appointed role of the sexes. Eve acted independently and assumed the role of leadership; Adam abdicated his leadership and followed Eve's lead. That does not mean Adam was less culpable than Eve, or that she was more defective–both were wrong. We're all vulnerable in different ways…

"Christians affirm the leadership of men in the church because it is established by Creation and confirmed by the Fall. The headship of man, then, was part of God's design from the beginning. The tragic experience of the Fall confirmed the wisdom of that design. No daughter of Eve should follow her path and enter the forbidden territory of rulership intended for men" (MacArthur, Different by Design, p. 142).

2) The context is the church, but Paul is addressing a cultural issue unique to his day. He does not intend for the prohibition to extend to every church in every age.

a) Paul's prohibition against women teaching was appropriate because most women of that day were inferior to men in education and understanding. If such women "publicly raised questions regarding doctrines and cases of conscience and disputed thee points with the men who led the worship services, it would not only be indecorous but also hinder the spirit of worship. Their discussions on such matters with their husbands would be in order in their own homes (cf. 1 Cor. 14:35)" (Roy S. Nicholson, The Wesleyan Bible Commentary: 1 Timothy, p. 585).

b) Paul's refusal to let women teach in public services may have been due to the frequency with which contemporary women were falling under the influence of false teachers (Donald Guthrie, cited in Wesleyan Bible Commentary: 1 Timothy, p. 585).

Response:

We disagree that Paul is addressing a cultural issue only (see our response to main point "2)" under our discussion of 1 Cor. 14:34-35 above).

3) The context is the church, but if taken literally and applied to the entire church age, women would never be permitted to speak in a church service. What then of those churches that forbid women to preach but permit them to pray, testify, and/or sing in public services? How can they condemn the first while condoning the second?

Response:

We agree that Paul does not require absolute silence from women in church services, but we disagree that permitting women to pray, testify, or sing violates this passage.

a) Paul didn't forbid all talking in the church. Verse 12 explains what Paul meant by women remaining silent in the church: "I do not allow a woman to teach or exercise authority over a man." In 1 Corinthians 14:35 he also prohibits inappropriate or disruptive questions.

b) "The Greek word translated 'allow' (epitrepo) is always used in the New Testament to speak of permitting someone to do what they want. Paul's choice of words implies that some women in Ephesus desired to teach and have authority….

"Paul's use of the present infinitive didaskein translated 'to teach' could better be translated 'to be a teacher.' By using the present infinitive instead of the aorist, Paul does not forbid women to teach under any circumstances, but to fill the office of a teacher" (MacArthur, Different by Design, p 138).

4) The context is the church, but Paul doesn't forbid all teaching by women, but only teaching that usurps the authority of a man.

a) The Greek word translated "authority" refers only to abusive or destructive authority. Therefore women can teach and exercise authority over men as long as it isn't abusive or destructive (Aida Besancon Spencer, Beyond the Curse, pp. 87-88).

b) "This passage should be rendered 'I suffer not a woman to teach by usurping authority over the man.' This rendering removes all the difficulties and contradictions involved in the ordinary reading, and evidently gives the meaning of the Apostle'" (Rev. Dr. Taft, cited in Female Ministry, p. 13).

c) "No one will suppose that the Apostle forbids a woman to 'teach' absolutely and universally. Even objectors would allow her to teach her own sex in private; they would let her teach her … children, and, perhaps, her husband too. If he were ignorant of the Saviour, might she not teach him the way to Christ? She might indeed…

"The 'teaching,' therefore which is forbidden by the Apostle, is not every kind of teaching… but it is such teaching as is domineering, and as involves the usurpation of authority over the man. This is the only teaching forbidden by St. Paul in the passage under consideration" (Rev. J.H. Robinson, cited in Female Ministry, p. 12).

Responses:

We disagree that Paul forbids only teaching that usurps the authority of a man, or authority that is abusive or destructive.

a) According to Thayer's Greek Lexicon, Dr. Taft's conclusion (i.e., that the phrase "I do not allow a woman to teach or exercise authority over a man" should be rendered "I suffer not a woman to teach by usurping authority over the man") is incorrect. The Greek word translated or" means "not even" or "nor", but not "by."

b) The phrase "exercise authority over" translates the Greek word authentein, which appears only here in the New Testament, so there are no other passages from which to formulate a precise definition.

However, in extra-biblical usage (usage outside the Bible) it's common meaning is "to have authority over" (cf. Dr. George Knight, The Pastoral Epistles: A Commentary on the Greek Text [Grand Rapids: Eerdmans, 1992], pp. 141-42). It doesn't designate a particular kind of authority (i.e., abusive or destructive), but is more general in nature. Paul uses it to forbid women to exercise any type of authority over men in the church, including teaching.

c) As we've already seen, Paul gave similar instructions to he Corinthians: "As in all the churches 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 … it is disgraceful for a woman to speak in church" (1 Cor. 11:33-35, NIV).

5) The context is the church, but the Greek word translated "authority" simply means "author" or "originator." Therefore Paul is simply saying he doesn't allow a woman to proclaim herself author of man (R.C. Kroeger and C.C. Kroeger, I Suffer Not a Woman p. 192).

Responses:

a) We disagree that Paul is simply forbidding a woman to proclaim herself author of man. (This view is answered with our definition of authority above.)

b) This view is foreign to the context.

6) The context is the church, but Pal isn't requiring any more of women than any teacher would require of any pupil (male or female). And, the present tense of verse 12 indicates that Paul did not have a permanent prohibition in mind.

"In verse 11 most people wrongly assume that Paul's emphasis is on silence and submission. Actually, Paul is emphatically commanding that women be taught (manthaneto is imperative). The quietness and 'full submission' (again, to the church body or teacher) is what any teacher would ask of his pupils. Verse12 is not stated imperatively; rather Paul returns to the indicative mood in the present tense.

"A legitimate rendering of 1 Timothy 2:11-12 thus would be: 'I command that women learn [be taught] in quietness and full submission [to the teaching authority]’ (v. 11). ‘I am [presently] not permitting a woman to teach and she is not to exert evil influence over a man' (v. 12)" (Austin H. Stouffer, "The Ordination of Women: YES", Christianity Today, February 20, 1981, p. 14).

Response:

We disagree that Paul is simply requiring the same of women as any teacher would require of any pupil (male or female).

a) In verse 11 Paul commands that women be taught, which elevated their status over Judaism, but he also emphasizes the manner in which they are to receive instruction. "Quietly … with entire submissiveness" modifies "receive instruction." The entire statement is an imperative.

b) Stouffer and others stress that the present tense of verse 12 isn't necessarily a general principle for all time, and can be translated "I am not presently permitting a woman to teach or to have authority over men."

However, others disagree:

(1) "[‘I do not permit’] is a present, active, indicative [form of the verb] to allow, to permit. The present tense emphasizes the continual action and points to an abiding attitude" (Fritz Rienecker and Cleon Rogers, Linguistic Key to the Greek New Testament, p. 621).

(2) "When Paul says, 'I do not permit,' he issues as much of an imperative as one can have in the first person singular 'I' form. Also, the present tense does not mean he limits the prohibition to that time only. Rather, it indicates the kind of action, so he means 'I am continually not permitting.'

"Further, the word translated 'permit' in the King James Version is quite strong as used in the Greek world, and in the New Testament Paul employs it in 1 Corinthians 14:34 and 16:7. It is especially strong with the negative" (George Knight, "The Ordination of Women: NO", p. 16).

7) Women who prophesy (i.e., preach) in assemblies assume no personal authority over others and therefore do not violate this passage.

"Women who speak in assemblies for worship under the influence of the Holy Spirit, assume thereby no personal authority over others; they simply deliver the messages of the Gospel, which imply obedience, subjection, and responsibility, rather than authority and power" (Booth, p 6).

Responses:

We disagree that women who preach in public worship services assume no personal authority over others.

a) No church leader or minister of the gospel assumes personal authority over others. However, Scripture is clear that all who minister the Word do so with great authority–delegated by Christ Himself. Additionally, Scripture itself is inherently authoritative, and those who teach and preach it must apply its authority in calling their hearers to obedience. Therefore, it is inconsistent to argue for a woman's right to preach while maintaining that she would do so without exercising authority in the church.

Ministers of he Word are to "preach the word; be ready in season and out of season; reprove, rebuke, exhort, with great patience and instruction" (2 Tim. 4:2); "[hold] fast the faithful word which is in accordance with the teaching, that [they] may be able both to exhort in sound doctrine and to refute those who contradict" (Titus 1:9); and "speak and exhort and reprove with all authority", letting no one disregard them (Titus 2:15).

b) "The public teacher of God's people does not only tell others what they need to now, but in the capacity of such a teacher he stands before his audience to rule and govern it with the Word" (R.C.H. Lenski, The Interpretation of St. Paul's Epistles to the Colossians, to the Thessalonians, to Timothy, to Titus and to Philemon, p. 564).

c) Despite any disclaimers by Mrs. Booth or others, woman preachers historically have exercised significant authority in their respective churches. For example, in Mrs. Booth's own organization, The Salvation Army, women officers who oversee a Salvation Army church or installation are called "commanding officers" because they do just that: they command! And they do so with authority.

Case in point: Currently the General and international leader of The Salvation Army is a woman, and every Salvation Army officer in the world (both male and female) is under her authority.

8) The context is the church, but women who preach or teach with their elders' permission do not violate this passage because they are under the authority of men, not exercising authority over men.

Responses:

a) That scenario is foreign to the context, which speaks of receiving instruction with submission, not giving it with submission.

b) If Scripture forbids women to preach, elders do not have the authority to disregard its teaching.

1 Corinthians 14:37 – "If anyone thinks he is a prophet or spiritual, let him recognize that the things which I write to you are the Lord's commandment."

c) The responses to "7)" above apply here as well. All who minister the Word do so with authority.

9) The context is the church, but Paul is simply prohibiting women who were not properly instructed from teaching.

"It has been pointed out that the sentence, 'I do not permit a woman to teach or to have authority over a man,' appears timeless in English, as if he were saying, 'I would never allow a woman to teach …' (1 Timothy 2:12). However, in the Greek there is a present active verb here which can be translated, 'I am not presently permitting a woman to teach or to have authority over men.' Paul was apparently prohibiting those who were not properly instructed from teaching. The teacher must first be taught. But the verb tense cannot necessarily be made into a general principle for all time" (J. Oswald Sanders, Paul the Leader, p. 165).

Response:

We disagree that Paul is simply prohibiting women who weren't properly instructed from teaching. That view isn't consistent with the context.

a) Why would Paul single out women when presumably there were plenty of improperly instructed men as well?

b) The context is much broader than a certain class of women. It addresses all women, as verses 13-15 clearly indicate.

c) Regarding the verb tense of "permit", see "6) b)" above.

10) The context is the church, but we don't know why Paul imposed these restrictions on the church at Ephesus.

"But I suffer not a woman to teach, nor to usurp authority over the man, but to be in silence, must be regarded as a demand imposed upon the church at Ephesus for reasons unknown to us. No universal teaching which would bind the Church for all time can be properly based upon it" (J. Glenn Gould, Beacon Bible Commentary: 1 Timothy, p. 576-77).

Response:

a) We disagree that we don't know why Paul imposed these restrictions on the church at Ephesus. (This study presents what we believe are his reasons.)

b) If Mr. Gould is correct and we don't know Paul's reasons for imposing these restrictions, how can he know that they are not universal?

11) The context is the church, and perhaps Paul is eliminating women from consideration for the office of elder.

Commenting on 1 Timothy 2:12, Susan Foh says, "Teaching does not include praying and prophesying (1 Cor. 11:2-16). The teaching forbidden to women is habitual teaching, as suggested by the infinitive in the present tense [lit., “I do not permit a woman to be a teacher”].,

"Teaching and exercising authority over men may describe one function, that of an elder. Several commentators propose such an interpretation. Lenski defines teaching as the public teaching of Scripture with the capacity to rule and govern one's listeners with that word. Paul's use of [teach] gives some support to this claim (Col. 1:28; I Tim. 4:11; 6:2b; II Tim. 2:2).

"The qualifications for elders, one of which is aptness to teach, follow immediately in chapter 3. Paul may intend to eliminate women from consideration for the office of elder before listing the requirements for that office" (Women & the Word of God: A Response to Biblical Feminism, pp. 124-25).

Response:

We agree that in this context Paul may be distinguishing the role of women from the role of elders and thereby eliminating women from consideration as elders. However, Paul's prohibitions apply to all women, not simply to those who would aspire to eldership.

Key Principles:

  • The context of 1 Timothy 2:11-15 is the local assembly.
  • Paul does not require absolute silence from women during a church service, but He does forbid them to be teachers and to exercise authority over a man.
  • Paul's prohibitions are based on the order of creation and the Fall.
  • Everyone who preaches or teaches God's Word exercises authority over his or her hearers.

A Woman’s Right to Preach: Is It Biblical? – Part 2

4. Argument From Historical Precedence

a. Summary of the argument

"Who would dare to charge the sainted Madame Guyon, Lady Maxwell, the talented mother of the Wesley's Mrs. Fletcher, Mrs. Elizabeth Fry, Mrs. Smith, Mrs. Whiteman, or Miss Marsh with being unwomanly or ambitious. . . . Yet these were all more or less public women, every one of them expounding and exhorting from the Scriptures to mixed companies of men an women.

"If the Word of God forbids female ministry, we would ask how it happens that so many of the most devoted handmaidens of the Lord have felt themselves constrained by the Holy Ghost to exercise it? Surely there must be some mistake somewhere, for the Word and the Spirit cannot contradict each other. Either the Word does not condemn women preaching, or these confessedly holy women have been deceived. Will anyone venture to assert that such women . . . have been deceived with respect to their cal to deliver the Gospel messages to their fellow-creatures?" (Booth, Female Ministry, pp. 6, 17-18).

"When the true light shines and God's words take the place of man's traditions, the doctor of divinity who shall teach that Paul commands women to be silent when God's Spirit urges her to speak, will be regarded as we should regard an astronomer who should teach that the sun is the earth's satellite" (Booth, Female Ministry, p. 4).

b. Main points and responses

1) Surely all the godly women who have preached over the years can't be mistaken about their calling.

Response:

We disagree. They most certainly can be mistaken. And if our conclusions are correct, they are mistaken. For example, a man may feel "urged" or "called" by the Holy Spirit to be an elder in a church. Further, he may desire to serve in that capacity. Although it is a good thing he desires to do (1 Tim. 3:1), he must also meet the objective qualifications listed in 1 Timothy 3:2-7 and Titus 1:6-9. If he doesn't meet those qualification, God has not called him to be an elder, no matter how strongly he may desire to serve. Similarly, if Scripture doesn't permit women to preach, the Holy Spirit will never urge them to do so, regardless of how strongly a woman may feel called to that ministry.

2) If God's Word forbids women to preach, how is it that the Holy Spirit prompts them to do so? Are the Spirit and the Word somehow at odds on this issue?

Responses:

a) The answer to both questions is no. The Holy Spirit never prompts a Christian to behave contrary to God's Word, and the Spirit is never at odds with the Word. However, being "urged by the Holy Spirit" is very subjective, so if there is a conflict between His apparent urging and what Scripture teaches, those involved must search the Scriptures more diligently to understand God's will more clearly. And Scripture, which is God's objective and authoritative counsel, must have the final say in the matter.

b) One of the challenges in resolving this issue is that some of the Bible passages addressing it are not easy to interpret. But it is every Christian's responsibility to be a diligent student of the Word and to yield to its authority as he or she gains more understanding. That is especially true of anyone desiring to be a preacher or teacher (James 3:1).

c) However, we should not assume that every woman who preaches does so from convictions shaped by a careful study of the applicable Bible passages. Often their reasons are far more subjective (e.g., "God has called me to preach.". Sometimes, as in The Salvation Army, the organization's policy that its women officers must preach may be the primary factor.

3) Many godly woman have preached the Word with apparent success, which is clear evidence of God's blessing and approval. Go does not bless disobedience.

Responses:

a) This appears to be a strong argument because some women apparently have been used mightily of God in public preaching ministries. However, the apparent success of a preaching ministry is not the key issue her. Ministering within biblical parameters is the issue, and therein is true success.

Even when the Lord is pleased to honor His Word through preaching, that doesn't mean He is pleased with the preacher, or that He is honoring disobedience. That's clear from Philippians 1:15-18, which speaks of men who preached simply to cause the Apostle Paul grief, yet Paul rejoiced because the gospel was being proclaimed. If God can honor His Word through sinful men with impure motives, surely He can honor it through godly women with pure motives. But it is always best to minister within biblical parameters, and never to presume upon God's grace.

b) A woman's right to preach isn't determined on the basis of how many women do it, or who those women are.

Equally godly and gifted women as those listed by Mrs. Booth disagree with her position and would never minister from the pulpit. However, God's will in this matter isn't determined by majority vote, personal experience, or subjective call (i.e., feeling "compelled b the Holy Spirit" to preach). It's determined by divine revelation alone.

c) Questioning the behavior of sincere women who feel called to preach can seem judgmental or divisive. However, Christians doing something doesn't automatically make it a scriptural thing to do. Even godly Peter was rebuked by Paul for inappropriate behavior (Gal. 2:11-14).

Additionally, questioning a woman's right to preach doesn't automatically impugn the motives of women preachers. Certainly motives are important, but our discussion concerns methods, not motives. Sometimes Christians with the best of motives will do something unwise or unstudied. Questioning their behavior doesn't necessarily question their motives.

We hasten to add, however, that motives and overall doctrinal integrity are key factors in evaluating whether or not a preacher's ministry is of the Lord. For example, some of today's most well-known television preachers (both male and female) proclaim Christ but represent theological systems that are novel or clearly unbiblical. Therefore, even though their audiences may number in the millions, they should not be preaching.

Key Principles:

  • God's will in this matter isn't determined by majority vote, personal experience, or a subjective "call." It's determined by divine revelation alone.
  • Because Christians do something doesn't necessarily make it a Christian thing to do.
  • The Lord will honor His Word despite the messenger.
  • To question the right of women to preach doesn't necessarily impugn the motives of women preachers.

5. Argument From Galatians 3:28

Galatians 3:28 – "There is neither Jew nor Greek, there is neither slave nor free man, there is neither male nor female; for you are all one in Christ Jesus."

a. Summary of the argument

Since there is no distinction between male and female in Christ, neither should there be any distinction in the pulpit (or any other ministry for that matter). To prohibit women from preaching is to elevate men over women, thereby violating their equality in Christ.

b. Representative quote

"In Galatians 3:26-28 Paul reminds us that we have all been baptized into Christ and there is no longer 'Jew nor Greek, slave nor free, male nor female'; for we are 'all one in Christ Jesus.' Paul is speaking of three different dominant-submissive categories, all of which have been nullified by our being baptized into and clothed with Christ.

"The baptized Greek, clothed with the all-sufficiency of Christ, is as much a son of God as is the previously preferred Jew. Similarly, the emancipated slave of early America, once clothed with Christ, met all qualifications for any church office–contrary to the convictions of many church teachers of that era. Any dissection of this passage that offers less to women than other categories would suggest a prejudiced exegesis. The passage goes on to affirm the purpose of Christ's coming: 'to redeem those under the law [Greek, slave, female] that we [all] might receive the full rights of sons' (v. 5)" (Austin H. Stouffer, "The Ordination of Women:YES", Christianity Today, February 20, 1981, p. 13).

c. Responses

1) In Galatians 3:28 Paul illustrates unity in Christ by contrasting it with three prominent points of diversity of his day (i.e., Jew & Greek = nationality/religion; slave & free = social status; male & female = gender).

2) Paul's point is the spiritual equality of believers, not their functional equality.

(The right to preach and teach is a matter of function, not spiritual equality or inequality.)

a) The context of this verse is salvation, not spiritual gifts or spiritual ministries.

"You are all sons of God through faith in Christ Jesus. For all of you who were baptized into Christ have clothed yourselves with Christ. There is neither Jew nor Greek, there is neither slave nor fee man, there is neither male nor female; for you are all one in Christ Jesus. and if you belong to Christ, then you are Abraham's offspring, heirs according to promise" (vv. 26-29).

b) All who are in Christ came to Him through faith and are spiritual equals. However, not everyone functions the same within the Body of Christ because the Holy Spirit distributes gifts and responsibilities according to His sovereign will (cf. 1 Cor. 12:11). Everyone's role is important, but everyone's role isn't the same. That's the principle Paul argues in 1 Corinthians 12.

c) That point is commonly misunderstood. For example, in the representative quote above, Mr. Stouffer rightly says that Christ came to redeem those who are under the law that all who believe might receive the full rights of sonship (Gal. 4:5). But then he confuses freedom from the Law and equal rights as sons (which is the point of the passage) with equal roles in society and the church (which is not the point of the passage).

Mr. Stouffer's comments (that "the baptized Greek, clothed with the all-sufficiency of Christ, is as much a son of God as is the previously preferred Jew. Similarly, the emancipated slave of early America, once clothed with Christ, met all qualifications for any church office–contrary to the convictions of many church teachers of that era. Any dissection of this passage that offers less to women than other categories would suggest a prejudiced exegesis") would be correct and more consistent with Paul's point if they read "The baptized Greek, clothed with the all-sufficiency of Christ, is as much a son of God as is the previously preferred Jew. Similarly, the emancipated slave of early America, once clothed with Christ, is as much a son of God as is his Christian master. An dissection of this passage that offers less to women than other categories would suggest a prejudiced exegesis."

3) A brief discussion of biblical authority and submission is appropriate at this point because God applies it even to spiritual equals.

a) Authority and submission doesn't imply personal superiority or inferiority. It's a functional distinction intended to maintain harmony and order within human institutions such as society and the family. The church is no exception:

Hebrews 13:17 – "Obey your leaders, and submit to them; for they keep watch over your souls, as those who will give an account. Let them do this with joy and not with grief, for this would be unprofitable for you."

1 Peter 5:1-2 – "Therefore, I exhort the elders among you, s your fellow elder and witness of the sufferings of Christ, and a partaker also of the glory that is to be revealed, shepherd the flock of God among you, exercising oversight not under compulsion, but voluntarily, according to the will of God."

b) Jesus Himself submitted to the Father without diminishing His nature, character, or personal value in any way (cf. 1 Cor. 11:3; Phil. 2:5-11). Therefore, God does not violate spiritual equality or diminish His high calling for woman when He places her under ma's authority in the church. On the contrary, He shelters her by providing an environment in which she can achieve her highest spiritual potential without undue vulnerability.

Key Principles:

  • Galatians 3:28 speaks of spiritual equality, not functional quality.
  • The right to preach and teach is a functional distinction within the Body of Christ.
  • Authority and submission doesn't imply personal superiority or inferiority.
  • Christ Himself demonstrated the importance of authority and submission.

6. Arguments From Joel 2:28-29 & Acts 2:17-18

Joel 2:28-29 – “It will come about after this that I will pour out My Spirit on all mankind; and your sons and daughters will prophesy, your old men will dream dreams, your young men will see visions. And even on the male and female servants I will pour out My Spirit in those days.”

Acts 2:17-18 – “‘And it shall be in the last days,’ God says, ‘That I will pour forth of My Spirit upon all mankind; and your sons and your daughters shall prophesy, and your young men shall see visions, and your old men shall dream dreams; even upon My bondslaves, both man and women, I will in those days pour forth of My Spirit and they shall prophesy.'”

a. Summary of the arguments

According to the Apostle Peter, Acts 2:17-18 is the fulfillment of Joel 2:28-29, which says that women as well as men will prophesy (i.e., preach). Women did, in fact, prophesy at Pentecost, and Scripture indicates that they will continue to do so throughout the church age.

b. Representative quotes

1) “God ad promised in the last days to pour out His Spirit upon all flesh, and that the daughters, as well as the sons of mankind, should prophesy. And Peter says most emphatically, respecting the outpouring of the Spirit on the day of Pentecost, ‘This is that which is spoken of by the prophet Joel,’ etc. (Acts 2:16-18). Words more explicit, and an application of prophecy more direct than this, does not occur within the range of the New Testament” (Booth, Female Ministry, p. 10).

2) “It seems truly astonishing hat Bible students, with the second chapter of the Acts before them, should not see that an imperative decree has gone forth from God, the execution of which women cannot escape; whether they like or not, they ‘shall’ prophesy throughout the whole course f this dispensation; and they have been doing so, though they and their blessed labours are not much noticed” (Booth, Female Ministry, p. 8).

c. Main points and responses

1) In Acts 2:17-18 Peter quotes from Joel to explain the phenomena that occurred o the Day of Pentecost, and declares that the Day of Pentecost was the fulfillment of Joel’s prophecy (cf. Joel 2:28-29).

Response:

a) Some aspects of Joel’s extended prophecy were not fulfilled on the Day of Pentecost (e.g., verse 30, which speaks of blood, fire, pillars of smoke, the sun turning dark, and the moon turning to blood). Therefore, we believe that Pentecost was only a partial fulfillment of Joel’s prophecy, which will be completed after Israel’s future repentance and restoration in connection with the Second Coming of Christ (Zech. 12:10; 13:1).

b) Pentecost was a prefillment of Joel’s prophecy rather than its fulfillment. The Holy Spirit was poured out upon some of the “sons and daughters” of Israel at that time, but a time is coming when He will be poured out upon all of Israel.

2) Joel says that women as well as men would prophesy, and women as well as men did prophesy.

Response:

We agree that according to Joel’s prophecy women as well as men were to prophesy, and that some women did, in fact, prophesy in the early church (that’s clear from 1 Corinthians 11:4-5, which we’ll examine later).

3) The phrase “last days” (Acts 2:17) doesn’t refer to Pentecost only but to the entire present age. Therefore women as well as men will prophesy throughout the church age.

Responses:

a) We disagree that women will prophesy throughout the church age (see our response to “4)” below.

b) We agree that “last days” isn’t limited to Pentecost, and that it could refer to the entire church age. However, we do not think that is the case in this context. We agree with those who teach that Joel’s prophecy refers to a time “immediately preceding the return of Christ, when all the particulars (e.g., v. 20 and Rev. 6:12) of the prophecy will come to pass. Peter reminded his hearers that, knowing Joel’s prophecy, they should have recognized what they were seeing as a work of the Spirit, not a result of drunkenness” (Dr. Charles Ryrie, Ryrie Study Bible, pp. 1646-47).

c) Pentecost was a foretaste of what is to come–a partial fulfillment of Joel’s prophecy, which will be completed “after Israel’s future repentance and restoration (Zech. 12:10; 13:1) in connection with the second advent of Christ… The Holy Spirit will then be poured out on all classes in Israel who belong to the believing remnant (Joel 2:32)” (Ryrie Study Bible, p. 1355).

4) To prophesy is to preach.

A “prophet” need not be a foreteller of future events, but is “a person gifted for the exposition of divine truth” (Harper’s Greek Lexicon).

“The scriptural idea of the terms preach and prophesy, stands so inseparably connected as one and the same thing, that we should find it difficult to get aside from the fact that women did preach, or, in other words, prophesy, in the early ages of Christianity, and have continued to do so down to the present time to just the degree that the spirit of the Christian dispensation had been recognized” (Booth, pp. 11-12, citing Phoebe Palmer).

Response:

We disagree that “prophesy” in Joel 2:28 and Acts :17 is synonymous with preaching.

a) Joel mentions prophesy in connection with dreams and visions, which implies that it had a revelatory element to it (i.e., God was revealing something directly to the prophet). That’s the character Paul gives prophecy in 1 Corinthians 14:29-33:

“Let two or three prophets speak, and let the others pass judgment. But if a revelation is made to another who is seated, let the first keep silent. For you can all prophesy one by one, so that all may learn and all may be exhorted; and the spirits of prophets are subject to prophets; for God is not a God of confusion but of peace” (emphasis added).

b) The Greek word translated “prophecy” is prophemi, which literally means “forth” (pro) to speak (phemi), or “to speak forth. It comprised a predictive element (to speak forth in relation to time–prior to an event) and a preaching element (to speak forth to a group of people, to preach, to proclaim, etc.). It was God speaking through individuals for the purpose of edification, exhortation, and consolation (1 Cor. 14:3).

c) New Testament prophets didn’t always speak predictively; they often reiterated and applied prior revelation. But New Testament prophets always had a predictive element to their ministries even though ever prophecy they delivered wasn’t necessarily predictive.

For example:

  • Agabus “indicated by the Spirit” (i.e., predicted) a great famine (Acts 11:28), and Paul’s arrest in Jerusalem (Acts 21:11).
  • Ananias disclosed the future ministry of Paul (Acts 22:1215).
  • Under the inspiration of the Holy Spirit, the New Testament writers recorded past, present, and future elements of God’s redemptive plan.
  • Paul referred to Scripture as “the Scriptures of the prophets” (i.e., prophetic writings – Rom. 16:25).

d) The revelatory and predictive elements of New Testament prophecies are what distinguish them from teaching and preaching. Prophets received direct revelation from God; teachers reiterate what has already been revealed.

“In such passages as 1 Cor. 12:28; Eph. 2:20, the ‘prophets’ are placed after the ‘Apostles,’ since not the prophets of Israel are intended, but the ‘gifts’ of the ascended Lord, Eph. 4:8, 11; cf. Acts 13:1; …the purpose of their ministry was to edify, to comfort, and to encourage the believers, 1 Cor. 14:3, while its effect upon unbelievers was to show that the secrets of a man’s heart are known to God, to convict of sin, and to constrain to worship, vv. 24, 25.

“With the completion of the canon of Scripture prophecy apparently passe away, 1 Cor. 13:8, 9. In his measure the teacher has taken the place of the prophet, cf. the significant change in 2 Pet. 2:1. The difference is that, whereas the message of the prophet was a direct revelation of the mind of God for the occasion, the massage of the teacher is gathered from the completed revelation contained in the Scriptures” (W.E. Vine, Vine’s Complete Expository Dictionary of Old and New Testament Words, p. 492).

e) However we define prophesy in Joel and Acts, we must remember that Acts is a book of transitions. In chapter two Peter explains the initial prophetic utterances prompted by the coming of the Holy Spirit in partial fulfillment of Joel’s prophecy, but he does not give guidelines for prophetic utterances in the church. Those are given in the epistles, which are not transitional, but normative and instructional for the church.

For example:

  1. In 1 Peter 4:10-11, Peter says, “As each one has received a special gift, employ it in serving one another, as good stewards of the manifold grace of God. Whoever speaks, let him speak, as it were, the utterances of God.” “Utterances of God” refers to Scripture (cf. Acts 7:38; Rom. 3:2). Nowhere are Christians instructed to expect, seek, or teach new revelations.
  2. In the Pastoral Epistles (1 & 2 Timothy & Titus) great emphasis is placed on elders knowing, teaching, and guarding the “faithful Word which is in accordance with the teaching” (Titus 1:9). However, nothing is said of prophecy or additional revelations.
  3. We believe there are no prophets and no gift of prophecy today.

Key Principles:

  • Joel prophesied that women as well as men would prophesy, and women as well as men did prophesy.
  • Joel doesn’t indicate that prophecy will continue throughout the church age.
  • Pentecost was only a partial fulfillment of Joel’s prophecy–a foretaste of what is to come in fullness in connection with Christ’s Second Coming.
  • Joel and Peter don’t comment on the role of prophecy in the church. Paul does that in the passages we will examine later.
  • In the New Testament, prophecy and preaching are not synonymous.
  • New Testament prophecy has a revelatory element to it; preaching doesn’t.
  • All New Testament prophets had a predictive element to their ministries.
  • Teachers and preachers have replaced prophets in the church.
  • Teaching and preaching have replaced prophecy in the church.

A Woman’s Right to Preach: Is It Biblical? – Part 1

Introduction

The role of women with respect to teaching and preaching in the local church has long been a topic of discussion and debate, with views ranging from her full involvement to total prohibition. The contemporary trend is toward equal ministry roles for men and women, as evidenced by the ever-increasing number of women attending seminaries and being ordained to the pastorate.

We believe that women's ministries in general, when conducted within biblical parameters, are vital to the overall spiritual health of the church. Further, we believe that church leaders should encourage women to minister their spiritual gifts, and should provide opportunities for them to do so.

More specifically, we believe that Scripture permits women to pray or prophesy within biblical guidelines and with a proper attitude of submission (1 Cor. 11:3-4; Acts 21:9), to witness to women or men in public, to pray with believers or non-believers in a non-leadership role, and to teach children and other women (Titus 2:3-4; 1 Tim. 5:16).

However, we also believe that Scripture does not permit women to preach or teach in the corporate gathering of the local assembly, to hold authoritative leadership roles in the church (e.g., Pastor or elder), or in any other way to exercise authority over men. This paper is a response to the most common arguments from those who believe otherwise.

As a matter of procedure, for each argument we give a brief summary, its main points, our responses, and the key principles. In most cases we also include documented representative quotes. We provide a complete bibliography at the end of the study,

Primary Texts

These are the primary texts used to support a woman's right to preach. We will consider each text as it appears in the various arguments below.

Joel 2:28-29 – "It will come about after this that I will pour out My Spirit on all mankind; and your sons and daughters will prophesy, your old men will dream dreams, your young men will see visions. And even on the male and female servants I will pour out My Spirit in those days."

Acts 2:17-18 – "'And it shall be in the last days,' God says, 'That I will pour forth of My Spirit upon all mankind; and your sons and your daughters shall prophesy, and your young men shall see visions, and your old men shall dream dreams; even upon My bondslaves, both man and women, I will in those days pour forth of My Spirit and they shall prophesy.'"

Galatians 328 – "There is neither Jew nor Greek, there is neither slave nor free man, there is neither male nor female; for you are all one in Christ Jesus."

1 Corinthians 11:4-5 – "Every man who has something on his head while praying or prophesying, disgraces his head. But every woman who has her head uncovered while praying or prophesying, disgraces her head; for she is one and the same with her whose head is shaved."

1 Corinthians 14:34-35 – "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."

Timothy 2:11-15 – "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, and then Eve. And it was not Adam who was deceived, but the woman being quite deceived,fell into transgression. But women shall be preserved through the bearing of children if they continue in faith and love and sanctity with self-restraint."


Primary Arguments

1. Argument From Natural Qualifications

a. Summary of the argument

By Gods design, women are naturally well-suited for public speaking in general, and pulpit preaching in particular. Therefore, they should not be prevented from or criticized for ministering in those capacities.

b. Representative quote

The first and most common objection urged against the public exercises of women is that they are unnatural and unfeminine… [However] we cannot discover anything either unnatural or immodest in a Christian woman, becomingly attired, appearing on a platform or in a pulpit. By nature she seems fitted to grace either. God has given to woman a graceful form and attitude, winning manners, persuasive speech, and, above all, a finely-toned emotional nature, all of which appear to us eminent natural qualifications for public speaking" (Catherine Booth, Female Ministry: Woman's Right to Preach the Gospel, p. 5).

(Note: Catherine Booth was the wife of General William Booth, founder of The Salvation Army. She was theologically astute, articulate, and one of the primary voices for omen's ministries in her day. We quote extensively from her book because for more than 100 years it has stood as the definitive word on female ministry for millions of Salvationists and others committed to equal ministry roles for men and women.)

c. Our responses

1) In the quote cited above, Mrs. Booth is addressing not only the role of women in the pulpit, but also women in public speaking roles in general, which was a significant issue in her day. Her rationale for both roles is the same.

2) If a woman's right to preach were simply a matter of natural abilities such as form, attitude, manners, persuasive speech, or a finely-toned emotional nature, this argument would carry weight. But the issue is one of biblical role distinctions and spiritual qualifications, not natural abilities or physical appearance. Despite the many wonderful graces and abilities God has given to women, our only concern here is whether or not He has given her the right to preach.

3) Mrs. Booth's comment that "we cannot discover anything either unnatural or immodest in a Christian woman, becomingly attired, appearing on a platform or in a pulpit" misses the point. The question is whether or not the practice is biblical, not whether it's natural or modest.

4) Even among men, natural abilities do not determine the right to preach.

Key Principle:

The right to preach is not based on natural abilities, but on biblical authority and God's sovereign design for His church.

2. Argument from Superior Ability

a. Summary of the argument

Some female preachers are more effective communicators than some of their male counterparts. Therefore, it makes no sense to silence the more effective for the sake of the less.

b. Our response

While it may be true that the communication skills f some women preachers are superior to some male preachers, the right to preach isn't determined by superior performance. God can use weak and faltering messengers like Moses (Ex. 4:10-16), as well as eloquent messengers like Apollos (Acts 18:24). The Holy Spirit's power and blessing are the keys to truly effective preaching, not superior communication skills.

Key Principles:

  • Biblical guidelines, not superior communication skills, must decide the question of a woman's right to preach.
  • The Holy Spirits power and blessing are the keys to truly effective preaching.

3. Arguments from Intellectual and Moral Pursuits

a. Summary of the argument

"Why should woman be confined exclusively to the kitchen and [to other domestic duties], any more than man to he field and workshop? Did not God, and has not nature, assigned to man his sphere of labour, ‘to til the ground and to dress it?’ And, if exemption is claimed from this kind of toil for a portion of the male sex, on the ground of their possessing ability for intellectual and moral pursuits, [women] must be allowed to claim the same privilege for some; nor can we see the exception more unnatural in the one case than in the other, or why God in this solitary instance has endowed a being with powers which e never intended her to employ" (Booth, Female Ministry, p. 5).

b. Main points and responses

1) Women should not be restricted to domestic duties any more than men should be restricted to the field or workshop.

Response:

Writing more than 100 years ago, Mrs. Booth addressed a social climate in which women's roles were considerably more narrow than today. Therefore, her comments about women being confined exclusively to domestic tasks, or being restricted in their intellectual and moral pursuits, do no necessarily apply to our modern culture.

However, even in Scripture women aren't confined exclusively to domestic duties. The Bible portrays domestic duties as woman's primary role, but not her only role. It gives examples of godly women whose pursuit went beyond the home–in some cases augmenting her domestic duties (e.g., the Proverbs 31 woman); in others no direct correlation between her work outside the home and her domestic duties is evident (e.g., Deborah: a judge, Lydia: a business woman). Similarly, Scripture gives examples of a variety of roles for men beyond farming or shop work (e.g., educators, pastors, fishermen, businessmen).

2) Whether a woman works inside or outside the home, God expects her to develop their natural capabilities fully

Response:

We wholeheartedly agree. We're simply clarifying the parameters within which those capabilities are to function within the local church.

3) Intellectual and moral pursuits are as appropriate for women as for men.

Response:

Mrs. Booth's contention that women, like some of their male counterparts, have the right to break out of their original sphere of labor and pursue intellectual and moral interests, relates more to a woman's role in society than to the pulpit. Many intelligent and morally refined men aren't gifted, qualified, or called to preach. The freedom for intellectual and moral pursuits is a separate issue from the right to preach.

4) Why would God give women the intelligence and ability to preach if He never intended her to do so?

Responses:

a) Mrs. Booth's question of "why God in this solitary instance has endowed a being with powers which He never intended her to employ" implies that preaching is the only expression available to a woman for the intelligence and communication kills God has given to her. Clearly that is not the case. Many opportunities are available for godly women to minister their spiritual gifts and natural abilities.

b) It is not a woman's communication skills that God limits, but only the context in which she can exercise them.

c) Having the ability to do something doesn't guarantee the right to do it.

Scripture is replete with examples of people who had the ability to do things God didn't permit them to do. For example:

  • Saul had the ability, but not the right, to offer a sacrifice (1 Sam. 13).
  • Women had the ability, but not the right, to pray and prophesy with their heads uncovered (1 Cor. 11).
  • The Corinthians had the ability, but not the right, to exercise their spiritual gifts freely in the corporate assembly (1 Cor. 14).
  • Many men have the ability, but not the right, to serve as leaders in the church (1 Tim. 3).
  • Similarly, a woman may have the ability and opportunity to pursue a public preaching ministry, but that doesn't guarantee her God's permission or authority to do so. God gives every good and perfect gift and has the right to govern them as He pleases. That's why His Word, not natural abilities or opportunities, must be the final authority in this matter.

Key Principles:

  • We do not deny a woman's intelligence or her ability to preach.
  • However, having the ability to do something and having God's permission to do it are two different things.
  • Only when women minister within their God-given parameters can they truly develop their capabilities fully (both for the glory of God and the benefit of their fellow Christians).

Decision-Making and The Will of God

The Bible gives Christians several principles to apply in the decision-making process to ensure their choices are consistent with God’s will. I present them here as a series of questions and answers:

1. Will my decision and subsequent action bring glory to God?

The Apostle Paul wrote, "Whatever you do, do all to the glory of God" (1 Cor. 10:31). Everything we do should bring glory to God–even mundane things such as eating and drinking. That’s the over-arching principle for every decision we make.

2. Does Scripture permit or prohibit a specific course of action?

Jesus said, "If you abide in My word, then you are truly disciples of Mine" (John 8:31). To abide in His Word is to think biblically and to respond accordingly. That is the hallmark of a true Christian.

Scripture gives specific counsel regarding many of the decisions we make, and what God says about a particular decision should determine the course of action we take. However, some decisions fall into the "gray area", wherein God has not given specific "yes" or "no" guidelines. For those we must apply more general biblical principles, as outlined in the remaining questions.

3. Will my choice be spiritually profitable?

Christians should pursue only those things that are spiritually profitable, even if God does not expressly forbid other choices. For example, speaking of his freedom in Christ, the Apostle Paul said, "All things [that are not forbidden by Scripture] are lawful for me, but not all things are profitable. All things are lawful for me, but I will not be mastered by anything" (1 Cor. 6:12).

4. Will my choice bring me into bondage?

Even good things permitted by God can be a hindrance to spiritual maturity if overindulged or otherwise misused. "All things are lawful for me, but not all things are profitable. All things are lawful for me, but I will not be mastered by anything" (1 Cor. 6:12).

5. Will my choice build me up?

Paul also wrote, "All things are lawful, but not all things edify" (1 Cor. 10:23). To edify is to strengthen or build up oneself or another spiritually. That is another aspect of spiritually profitable choices. Rather than stopping with the question "will this decision harm me spiritually?", we must further ask, "will this decision build me up spiritually?"

6. Will my choice slow me down in the spiritual race?

"Since we have so great a cloud of witnesses surrounding us, let us also lay aside every encumbrance, and the sin which so easily entangles us, and let us run with endurance the race that is set before us" (Heb. 12:1). "Do you not know that those who run in a race all run, but only one receives the prize? Run in such a way that you may win" (1 Cor. 9:24).

A dedicated and disciplined runner keeps his or her eye on the prize, and would never consider running a race in hiking boots and backpack. Likewise, Christians must keep their eyes on the prize, and never attempt to run the spiritual race encumbered by sin.

7. Will my choice violate my conscience?

Some choices are proper for some Christians, yet improper for others. If a choice violates my conscience, I must avoid that choice. "Happy is he who does not condemn himself in what he approves" (Rom. 14:23).

8. Will my choice cause another Christian to stumble (i.e., commit sin)?

"Let us not judge one another anymore, but rather determine this–not to put an obstacle or a stumbling block in a brother’s way" (Rom. 14:13). "Take care lest this liberty of yours somehow become a stumbling block to the weak" (1 Cor. 8:9).

I must have more concern for the spiritual wellbeing of brothers and sisters in Christ, than I do for exercising my own freedom in Christ. Therefore, I must avoid any action that will encourage another Christian to violate his own conscience and thereby to sin.

9. Will my choice show preference to others?

Paul instructs us to "do nothing from selfishness or empty conceit, but with humility of mind let each of you regard one another as more important than himself; do not merely look out for your own personal interest, but also for the interests of others" (Phil. 2:3-4). Almost every decision we make somehow affects others, and God honors decisions that give preference to others.

10. Will my choice harm my body in any way?

"Do you not know that your body is a temple of the Holy Spirit who is in you, whom you have from God, and that you are not your own? For you have been bought with a price: therefore glorify God in your body" (1 Cor. 6:19-20).

11. Will my choice help lead others to Christ?

Jesus said, "You are the light of the world…. Let your light shine before men in such a way that they may see your good works, and glorify your Father who is in heaven" (Matt. 5:14-16). Just at light dispels darkness, consistent Christian living beams the light of the gospel of Christ to a sin-darkened world. The choices we make should help keep our light shining brightly.

How to Do a Word Study

Our Goal:

To determine the meaning of a word within its biblical context.

Two Important Guidelines:

  • Word studies must always be based on the original language, not merely on the English text.
  • Ultimately, the context must determine the precise meaning of the word under consideration.

Some Helpful Study Tools:

  • An Exhaustive concordance
  • Vine's Expository Dictionary (Vine)
  • New International Dictionary of New Testament Theology (Colin Brown)
  • Word Studies in the New Testament (Vincent)
  • New Testament for English Readers (Alford)
  • A Linguistic Key to the Greek New Testament (Rienecker, Rogers)
  • Theological Wordbook of the Old Testament (Harris, Archer, Waltke)
  • Nelson's Expository Dictionary of the Old Testament (Unger, White)
  • Various topical indexes
  • Various commentaries

The Procedure:

1. Select a word to be studied

Example: The English word "perish" in John 3:16:

"For God so loved the world, that He gave His only begotten Son, that whoever believes in Him should not perish, but have eternal life" (NASB).

2. Compare various English versions to see how the translators dealt with the word

Careful scholars will translate the original text with the English words that most clearly convey its meaning. Therefore, comparing the different English words used to translate a Greek or Hebrew word can broaden our understanding of the word's meaning.

In the case of "perish" in John 3:16, most translators stay with that word rather than seek a synonym. The Jerusalem Bible, however, reads, "Everyone who believes in him may not be lost, but may have eternal life."

Assuming the integrity of the translators, we can initially conclude that to perish is to be lost in some sense. That doesn't tell us much, but it's a start.

3. Define the English word using an English dictionary

Webster's New World Dictionary (1988) defines perish as: 1. "to be destroyed, ruined, or wiped out" 2. "to die; esp., to die a violent or untimely death."

It defines lost (from the Jerusalem Bible) as: "destroyed or ruined physically or morally"; "damned"; or "reprobate."

Note: We're not actually defining the Greek word at this point, but merely gaining insight into it's English equivalent(s).

4. Using an Exhaustive Concordance, locate any other passages in which the English word (perish) is used by the same Bible writer (John).

The New American Standard Exhaustive Concordance (p. 940) shows that perish appears again (in the NASB text) in:

John 10:28–Jesus said, "I give eternal life to [my sheep], and they shall never perish; and no one shall snatch them out of My hand."

John 11:50–Caiaphas, the high priest, said, "It is expedient for you that one man should die for the people, and that the whole nation should not perish."

Those additional texts may shed more light on our word's meaning. In some cases we'll have many additional verses; sometimes we'll have none. But at this stage of our research, it's best to study perish only in John's writings, even though perish is used by other writers. Other writers may use it in a way that has no direct bearing on John 3:16, but normally a writer will use the same word in the same way in the same book.

Also, if we're researching a common word, the task of tracing it throughout the entire Bible could be overwhelming and yield little fruit for our efforts. In our next step, when we're researching the actual Greek word, then it may be productive to trace it more extensively.

5. Define the word in it's original language

Use a lexicon or other reference source to find the root meaning of our word. A lexicon is a dictionary of the original language (Hebrew, Aramaic, or Greek). Most exhaustive concordances contain lexicons.

For example: The NASB Exhaustive Concordance (page 940) tells us that "perish" in John 3:16 translates the Greek word apollumi. The Greek Dictionary section of the same concordance (page 1634) adds that apollumi is a combination of the Greek preposition apo, and the Greek verb ollumi, that means "to destroy." The preposition intensifies the verb action, therefore together they convey the idea of utter destruction.

In the NASB New Testament, appollumi is translated "to bring to an end" 1 time, "destroy" 17 times, "destroyed" 9 times, "dying" 1 time, "lose" 9 times, "loses" 7 times, "lost" 14 times, "passed away" 1 time, "perish" 16 times, "perishable" 1 time, "perished" 5 times, "perishes" 1 times, "perishing" 6 times, "put to death" 1 time, and "ruined" 3 times.

Other tools, such as Vine's Expository Dictionary of New Testament Words, will give us additional information to help understand the definition of our word.

When we've completed this step, we'll have a lexical (generic) definition. A Bible writer may use a word in its strict lexical sense, but the context in which the word is used must be the final determiner of its precise meaning. It's a mistake to impose a lexical definition on to a word each time it appears in Scripture.

6. Trace the origin of the word

We can use other study tools like Colin Brown to trace the historical development (etymology) of our word, paying particular attention to any information that directly relates to our passage.

7. Consult commentaries for any additional light they may shed on the passage

Commentaries can be wonderful aids to study, and can help confirm our findings. But the joy of discovery is enhanced when we derive a word's definition ourselves rather than relying solely on commentaries. Sometimes we may discover that a commentary writer has been unduly influenced by his or her theology, or simply hasn't research the word thoroughly.

Sharpening Your Observation Skills

1. Be realistic

Select a portion of Scripture that is manageable yet challenging in length and content. There's no virtue in burning out before you've begun.

2. Don't assume you understand the text

Sometimes your Bible study will reveal that a text of Scripture doesn't mean what you previously thought it meant. So be careful not to bring wrong conclusions to the text.

3. Read the text carefully and repeatedly

Pay close attention to what is happening and/or being taught in the text.

Read from different translations, noting how the English words used to translate the original text may differ from translation to translation. Sometimes those differences will enhance your understanding of the text.

4. Take notes as you observe the text

Make a brief note of every observation you have. Write them in the form of a statement or question.

5. Ask questions of the text

Who What
Who are the personalities? Prompted this passage?
Who is speaking? Is going on?
To whom is he speaking? Is being talked about?
When Why
Did it happen? Coming from?
Is it happening? Is going on?
Will it happen? Going to?
Why Why
For what reason? Did it happen?
  Can it happen?
  Should I respond?

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

6. Things to look for in the text

a. Literary form – Is the text a discourse (John 5:19-47), narrative (Acts), poetry (The Psalms), parable (Matt. 13)? Try to determine if the writer is using literal or figurative language.

b. Tone – Note the overall tone of the passage. Is it tender (1 Thess. 2:5-12), intense (Gal. 1:6-10), urgent (Jude 3), joyful (Phil. 1:1-8)?

c. General structure – Note the arrangement of ideas in the text. Does the writer make a general statement then explain it with examples (Titus 1:5-9)? Does he give a list or series of ideas then summarize with a general statement (1 Pet. 3:8)?

d. Key words – Note the words most important to the passage. Often they will be repeated (i.e., "Word" in John chapter one).

In addition, carefully note the overall grammatical construction of the text: nouns, pronouns, adverbs, adjectives, and so on.

f. Connection/connectives and prepositions

  • but–introduces a contrast
  • if–introduces a conditional clause
  • for, because, therefore–introduce reason and results
  • in, into, with–important connectives
  • in order that–sets forth a purpose

g. Similarities, differences – Comparisons and contrasts – ("not, but, however").

h. Illustrations – Does the writer illustrate his point (James 1:5-12)?

i. Repetitions – Heb. 11 – "by faith."

j. Cause and effect – Col. 1:9-10; Phil. 1:9-10

k. Movement – From general to specific, and vice versa (Acts 4-5; John 4).

l. Progression of ideas – May come in the form of a climax or persecution (Gen. 22; 2 Pet. 1:3-11).

m. Questions and answers – 2 Cor.; Rom. 6:1, 15

n. Emphasis by space or time – Genesis

o. Warnings – Jude 3

p. Commands – John 4:16

q. Promises – John 4:14

r. Attitudes – Toward God, Christ, oneself, others.

7. An Example: Observations from 2 Timothy 2:15

a. Paul is speaking to Timothy.

b. Does passage apply to others (me, for example)? How do I know?

c. What prompted Paul to make this statement?

d. Why was it necessary for Timothy to respond appropriately?

e. Does verse imply that Timothy wasn't doing what Paul tells him to do?

f. Define "diligent."

g. Define "present."

  • Is this the same word Paul used in Romans 6:13 & 12:1?
  • Do those passages shed any light on this verse?

h. Define "approved."

i. What does it mean to "present yourself approved to God"?

j. Does this verse speak to how one gains God's approval?

k. Define "workman."

l. Define "ashamed."

m. What is the "word of truth"?

  • Is it the Bible?
  • If so, why didn't Paul simply say, "handling God's Word (or Scripture) accurately"?
  • Was the whole Bible complete by that time?
  • Was Paul referring to the Old Testament only?

n. What does it mean to handle the word of truth accurately?

o. What are the implications if the word of truth is handled inaccurately?

p. Is "be ashamed" a reference to shame in general, or the ministry in general, or regarding our handling of Scripture, or none of those?

q. Other possible observation questions:

  • Where was Paul when he wrote to Timothy?
  • Where was Timothy?
  • In what capacity was Timothy serving?