Wednesday, January 19, 2011

Should Women Teach In Church?

Biblegems #21
1 Timothy chapter 2, which we looked at last week in relation to women being ”saved through childbearing,” has another vexing question, this time in verse 12. The verse reads, I do not permit a woman to teach or to have authority over a man; she must be silent.”

The question is—does the Bible teach that a woman should not teach or have authority over a man as a blanket, universal rule?

To answer this question several factors need to be considered: immediate context, Paul’s teaching on the subject elsewhere, historical / cultural considerations and a definition of terms.

The immediate context, beginning with verse 8, is dealing with the public worship of the church. In that context, men are to “lift up holy hands in prayer, without anger and disputing. It’s worth noting that the emphasis here is on the attitudes and behavior while praying, not a command to raise hands in public prayer. Yet some could argue, if they chose to ignore common sense, that Paul is making a universal instruction that all men have to raise their hands when praying. Common sense is part of the interpretive process.

In this public worship context, then, Paul advises Timothy to instruct women to dress modestly to avoid creating temptation for the men present (9-10). He also stresses that women “should learn in quietness and full submission” (11). This instruction is actually closely related to the next, that a woman is not to ”teach or have authority over a man; she must be silent” (12). What is critical contextually is that all this instruction is specific to public worship.

So what does Paul teach elsewhere that might shed further light on this subject?

In 1 Cor. 14:34, where Paul is also dealing with propriety in public worship, he gives an almost identical instruction: “women should remain silent in the churches. They are not allowed to speak, but must be in submission, as the Law says.” However, here—unlike 1 Timothy 2—Paul explains the reason for this prohibition in verses 33 and 35. Verse 33 says, “For God is not a God of disorder but of peace.” This relates to a situation in the early church that was becoming increasingly problematic as Gentiles were coming to faith in Christ. 

Women from the Greco-Roman world, unlike Jewish women who had come to Christ, had no training in appropriate behavior in public worship. Additionally, they were thrilled with their new-found freedom in Christ that encouraged them to prophesy (Acts 2:17-18, speak in tongues (1 Cor. 14:5) and freely contribute in other ways in public worship (Eph. 5:19; Col. 3:16). This freedom spilled over inappropriately into the time set aside for the preaching of the Word. They would interrupt the preacher to ask questions: “If they want to inquire about something, they should ask their own husbands at home; for it is disgraceful for a woman to speak in the church” (1 Cor. 14:35). 

The context makes it clear that the kind of “speaking” that is disgraceful for a woman to engage in is that which is disruptive and disrespectful. It should be kept in mind here also that the word “church” does not refer to the building, but has its literal meaning of “assembly,” referring to their gathering for public worship.

This all fits in perfectly with Paul’s instruction in 1 Timothy 2:11 that “women should learn in quietness and full submission.” The setting Paul refers to is during the “learning” phase of the public worship service. And the term “full submission,” according to Vine, means “a warning against the usurpation of authority, as, e.g., in the next verse.”1 It was a caution to be respectful during the public preaching of God’s Word. Women are to recognize and respect the authority of the elders, who are male by definition, as they present the Word of God to the assembled believers.

1 Vines, as quoted in the Expositors Bible Commentary, Frank E. Gaebelein, General Editor, J.D. Douglas, Associate Editor, Accordance Bible Software, in loc.

1 comment:

  1. Good Evening, Pr. Coleman, Thank you for directing me to this article. As you can imagine I have done a little reading on the topic over the years, but have not seen this line of reasoning. It prompts me to re-study some of the books I have from the '70s and '80s...with a spirit of moderation, of course, as those days were a bit flamboyant...
    Blessings on your ministry,