Purpose of this Session
The two main texts that appear to discredit women’s ministry are 1 Timothy 2:11,12 and 1 Corinthians 14:34,35. We will take these one by one and, in the light of the whole of Scripture, aim to supply the reader with an acceptable and sound interpretation of their actual meaning.
1 Corinthians 14:34,35
“Let your women keep silence in the churches: for it is not permitted unto them to speak; but they are commanded to be under obedience, as also saith the law. And if they will learn any thing, let them ask their husbands at home: for it is a shame for women to speak in the church.”
I have heard many times the argument that these verses are contextual and cultural and therefore do not apply to our present day situation. I certainly questioned the idea that any Scripture could be discounted on a cultural basis because it would mean that we could simply discount the authority of almost any scripture, assigning it to a dead cultural trash can.
In the light of the overall affirmation of women’s ministry however, and reasonable interpretation, one does not have to ‘wrest’ the Scriptures to agree with modernistic trends.
2 Peter 3:16
“As also in all his epistles, speaking in them of these things; in which are some things hard to be understood, which they that are unlearned and unstable wrest, as they do also the other scriptures, unto their own destruction.”
This particular Scripture, and much of the letter it comes from, deals with order in church and particularly in corporate gatherings.
· Chapter 7 deals with marriage,
· Chapter 8 with meat offered to idols and the conduct of Christians regarding this,
· Chapter 9 with support for the ministry,
· Chapter 11 with acceptable modes of attire in public meetings*(see note)
· Chapters 12,13,14 with proper use of the spiritual gifts, and proper order in church meetings
· At the end of chapter 14 with talkative wives who disrupt meetings shouting out questions to their husbands in church meetings.
* Note regarding covering of heads: Halleys Bible Handbook (pp596,597);
“It was customary in Greek and Eastern cities for women to cover their heads in public, except of immoral character. Corinth was full of temple prostitutes. Some of the Christian women, taking advantage of their new-found liberty in Christ, were making bold to lay aside their veils in Church meetings, which thus horrified those of modest type. They are here told not to defy public opinion as to what was considered proper in feminine decorum.”
As quoted in ‘The Church in the New Testament’ Kevin Conner, p251
Context of 1 Cor 14:34-35
First. In Chapter 11 Paul speaks about both men and women praying and prophesying in meetings, so he cannot now be completely contradicting himself and commanding that all women be silent.
Second. Verse 35 clarifies for us who the ‘your women’ are referred to in the previous verse. They are ‘wives’. So we are not here referring to all women, but specific women, namely the wives of certain men in the congregation. This is a not a general statement silencing all women (who in Chapter 11 are shown to both pray and prophesy (speak under the inspiration of the Holy Spirit) in public meetings.
Third. The Greek word translated ‘silence’ is sigao (#4601/2) meaning “to be silent, hush”. It is used in 1 Cor 14:28, that if a person speaks in tongues in a public meeting and there is no interpreter, they should instead remain silent. It is used again in 14:30 saying that if someone is speaking and revelation comes to another, the first should “hold his peace” (sigao). Finally it is used in verses 34-35 saying that if a wife wants to ask her husband questions during a public meeting she should rather keep silent and ask her husband later at home. The command in verses 34-35 is not a general silencing of women, any more that the preceding verses are a general silencing of prayers and prophets.
Fourth. The word used in verses 34 and 35 for ‘speak’ is not the word generally used to describe the delivery of an ordered discourse, or even ordinary conversation. It is the word ‘Laleo’ which Liddel and Scott’s Lexicon describes as “chatter, babble, to twitter or chirp, inarticulate sound as opposed to articulate speech; but also generally, to talk or to say.” Paul is commanding talkative women not to chatter in the services, disrupting and disturbing the meeting, and not to call out to their (believing) husbands (in synagogue the women would sit on one side the men on the other) asking questions about the discourse.
Fifth. Paul refers to or possibly quotes someone else when he says “But they are commanded to be under obedience, as also saith the law.” First, the women are commanded to be under obedience, not silent, and there is not one verse in all of the law or prophets that commands women to be silent in public meetings. Some expositors believe Paul is here quoting back to the Corinthians the words of Judaizers who were trying to impose Jewish oral law upon the Christian congregation. Although the Scriptures no where demand silence among women, the oral law (not from God but men) says that “it is a shame for a woman to let her voice be heard among men”, almost the very words Paul uses here in the Corinthian letter. Paul is not affirming this error, but highlighting that it is not part of God’s law. In verse 36 Paul exclaims, “What?” questioning this previous statement, and then asks, “did the Word of God come out from you (Judaziers)?” The answer is no, it did not! Paul is encouraging the Corinthian church not be shackled with religious law, but acknowledge that what he is saying concerning order and ministry within the church is the command of the Lord, and as part of this that women should be able to speak just as men, the very opposite of chauvinistic interpretations of these verses when they are taken in isolation.
An alternative interpretation of this portion regarding obedience is simply that it is telling wives to be in submission to their husbands, and keep quiet in church, behaving in a manner honouring to their husbands in public meetings, and wait to ask questions until they got home.
Although a little verbose, these explanations certainly do not seek to impose an unnatural point of view upon these controversial verses, and overall it seems to be a very reasonable explanation of them in the light of the whole of Scripture, and applying the principle of allowing Scripture itself to interpret Scripture.
The Message Version of the Bible explains 1 Corinthians 14:34-36 this way.
"Wives must not disrupt worship, talking when they should be listening, asking questions that could more appropriately be asked of their husbands at home. God's Book of the law guides our manners and customs here. Wives have no license to use the time of worship for unwarranted speaking. Do you—both women and men—imagine that you're a sacred oracle determining what's right and wrong? Do you think everything revolves around you?"
1 Timothy 2:11,12
“Let the woman learn in silence with all subjection. But I suffer not a woman to teach, nor to usurp authority over the man, but to be in silence.”
Having dealt with the verse in Corinthians and discounted it as a possible second witness affirming the silence of women in churches, we are left with only one verse in the New Testament that can be quoted to curtail the orderly exercise of women’s ministry in the New Testament church. As we know, one isolated verse is not enough to build an authoritative doctrine upon. We will nevertheless seek to understand what Paul might be saying in this verse to his friend and comrade in the gospel, Timothy.
Does this verse mean that all women are to be completely silent in church gatherings, never be permitted to preach, and that all women are without exception under the authority of any man?
We will prise this verse apart in a moment, but first let us place it in a context so we know what lens we are looking through as we seek to understand what Paul is saying.
Firstly, Paul in other places speaks of women praying and prophesying in public gatherings (1 Cor 11:4). He speaks of his fellow female workers in the gospel in many other places in his letters. Both Timothy and Paul were well acquainted with female ministers in the gospel such as Philip’s daughters who prophesied, and Phebe.
Paul here does not contradict himself, and it is certain that Timothy’s understanding of Paul’s directions would not have been that all women should keep absolute silence in church gatherings.
First. The word translated ‘silence’ here is the Greek word ‘Hesushia’, which is better translated, “stillness, desistance from bustle or language”. The word for complete silence is used elsewhere in verses like Rev 8:1 and 1 Cor 14:28. This is not the word used here. The word used here is best understood to mean that women (and indeed men) should learn in quietness, without strife or discord.
Second. The word ‘subjection’ ‘hupatasso’ means to “arrange under”, generally applied in the context of marriage. Here it applies to women learning in quietness and submissiveness, not asserting herself or her opinions, but yielding to others, especially her husband.
Third. The ‘woman’ is told not to usurp authority over ‘the man’. The word translated ‘man’ is ‘aner’. In the letters of Paul it is used 59 times. The KJV translates it 34 times as “husband”, and of the remaining 25 occurrences, 18 of them clearly refer to a husband. It is justifiable then to translate this verse as “the wife must nor usurp authority over her husband”, which is much more specific. The Williams translation renders this portion, “I do not permit a married woman to practice teaching or domineering over a husband.”
Fourth. The context of the verses in a broader sense is in a letter to a minister in Ephesus. At this time the main deity worshipped in the area was Diana, and in many of the temples the whole religious ceremony was conducted by women. In some cases these ceremonies involved sexual orgies. Godly women, Paul says, should not be lascivious and domineering, but modest and submissive, honouring Christ and their husbands.
It is clear from Scripture that any interpretation of ‘difficult’ verses regarding the place of women in ministry must of necessity be considered against the backdrop of the whole testimony of Scripture. Throughout the Bible we find many women powerfully used of God in positions of influence and authority among God’s people.
It is our considered opinion that this great history of female leadership today continues alongside that of male authority in the Body of Christ. Although functionally a woman is best positioned under the care and oversight of a man of God, there is no prohibition or limit to the ‘position’ or function she may fulfil if anointed to do so by the Lord.
May this ‘great host’ (Psalm 68:11, AMP) go from strength to strength in our generations.