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.

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