James: What is your opinion regarding women speaking in the church?
Ben: My opinion is not the issue. Let us turn to the scriptures on the subject. There are two passages that bear directly on this: 1 Corinthians 14:34 and 1 Timothy 2:8-11.
Let’s look at 1 Cor.14:34 first. “Let [your] women be silent in the churches, for it is not permitted them to speak; but to be in subjection, as the law also says. But if they wish to learn anything, let them ask their husbands at home; for it is a shame for a woman to speak in church.” (Note that “your” above is not in the best manuscripts.)
James: That seems very straightforward. Not only is teaching forbidden in a public setting, but even asking questions. What if she does not have a husband?
Ben: That is simple to an honest heart. She can ask a brother that she respects, away from the public arena. Nor is she free from direction if she is single, because the word states that “it is a shame for a woman to speak in church” - single or married, old or young.
James: What if he doesn’t know the answer?
Ben: A good question can be a great prompt to help him find out! They can ask another for help. Paul is establishing the principle. Scripture is not a legal document that goes into every minute exception. The direction or principle is often given in a simple single statement.
James: Some people say that this is cultural, and only meant for the church at Corinth because of local irregular conduct.
Ben: Church conduct at Corinth did need adjusting. The Holy Spirit has chosen to use the occasion of setting them right as a means of instructing all the churches. Turn to the opening verses, 1 Corinthians 1:1-2. “Paul, a called apostle of Jesus Christ … to the church of God which is in Corinth, to those sanctified in Christ Jesus, called saints, with all that in every place call on the name of our Lord Jesus Christ”. This inspired letter was addressed to all Christians. It was not limited by locality or by time.
James: From a modern point of view, it seems a little harsh. Why the limitation?
Ben: That is answered in the scripture in 1 Timothy 2:11. God does not have to give us a reason, but in this case it has been graciously provided. “Let a woman learn in quietness in all subjection; but I do not suffer [allow] a woman to teach nor to exercise authority over man, but to be in quietness; for Adam was formed first then Eve: and Adam was not deceived; but the woman, having been deceived was in transgression.”
It is obviously a part of God’s discipline, imposed as a result of Eve’s sin.
James: But this is a period of grace. Does it still apply?
Ben: It does. God’s grace never sets aside his ways in government. Since the above scripture points us back to early Genesis as a reason, let’s turn to it. Genesis 3:16, “To the woman he said: I will greatly increase thy travail and thy pregnancy; with pain thou shalt bear children; and to thy husband shall be thy desire, and he shall rule over thee.” This stands today, unchanged by promises, law or grace. Every mother since that time has, to some degree, had to experience the pain imposed then. How cultural was that?
James: That helps me to understand that the issue of women’s silence in public is not cultural, i.e. just for Corinth at that time.
Ben: Yes, the opening verses of 1 Corinthians are really enough, but the Holy Spirit has graciously given us the verses in Timothy to further leave us without excuse and give us the reason why.
James: But aren’t many women nearer to the Lord, or more spiritual or more learned than their husbands?
Ben: Certainly. This governmental restriction has nothing to do with a sister’s spiritual measure. In the scriptures, some of the richest expressions of the work of God are found in women. Mary of Bethany put the apostles to shame as she expressed her sympathy for him concerning his impending death, see John 12:1-11, and elsewhere. Another has said that she seemed to be the only one during the Lord’s ministry on earth who at any time was “in step” with his mind. The apostles had accompanied him for three and a half years while she had only a little personal acquaintance, but she was spiritually closer. They were in fact highly critical of her sacrifice of the ointment.
James: What about praying in public?
Ben: Again scripture provides the answer. In 1 Timothy 2:8-9 we get instructions for men and women. Verse 8: “I will therefore that the men pray in every place, lifting up holy hands, without wrath or reasoning”. Verse 9: ”In like manner also that the women in decent deportment and dress adorn themselves with modesty and discretion …but what becomes women making profession of the fear of God, by good works”. Men are to have holy hands and pray; women are to be marked by suitable deportment and good works. These are public things. Men and women believers are “fellow heirs of the grace of life”, as Peter tells us (1 Peter 2:7), but we have different roles.
James: I was in a bible study once and a person said that her bible used the word “persons” instead of “men” in verse 8.
Ben: Just look at the context – instructions for men on one hand, and women on the other; secondly, Strong’s concordance confirms that it refers to a male; thirdly, all the recognized translations have “men”. Fourthly, the rather literal translation that I use has a footnote that says, “men in contrast with women”. I conclude that the translators of her version have a false agenda, they have deliberately twisted it. If they can’t get that right, how could you trust any of it. Beware of versions that are interpretations rather than translations.
James: Scripture speaks of prophetesses. How does that fit with the above verses?
Ben: It will not contradict. The Lord said, “And the scriptures cannot be broken”.
Let’s look at the two main prophetesses in the Old Testament, Deborah and Huldah.
In both cases the Holy Spirit tells us where they lived and that people went to them. It says of Deborah in Judges 4:4-5, “And she dwelt under the palm tree of Deborah between Ramah and Bethel in mount Ephraim; and the children of Israel came up to her for judgment”. Then we have Huldah mentioned in 2 Kings 22:14 and 2 Chronicles 34:22, and we are told that king Josiah’s godly leaders went to her, and that she “lived in Jerusalem, in the second quarter of the town; and they spoke with her”. In both cases the people came to the homes of these significant women prophets.
James: I often wondered why their house “addresses” were given, because I know that the Holy Spirit does not waste words, nor is there anything there for padding, nor anything in scripture that is immaterial. You mean that the home is the place for a woman to exercise such a gift.
Ben: Exactly. Again, in the New Testament we find that in Acts 21:8-9, Paul, Luke and company went in and stayed at the house of Philip the evangelist, and it immediately states, “Now this man had four virgin daughters who prophesied”. The link between the prophetesses and the home is there – not as directly as for Deborah and Huldah, but still it is still there.
James: Are there others?
Ben: There are only two that I know of – Miriam, Aaron’s sister, who is only recorded as being involved in singing, and Anna in Luke 2:26-28. In the case of the latter, she was in the temple area (not the shrine itself) praying and fasting, and “spoke of him to all those who waited for redemption in Jerusalem”. She was a godly woman, a prophetess who lived in the period of the “law and the prophets”, and she would have kept a comely profile because we are told in 1Corinthians 14:34 “…as the law also says”. The principle of subjection does not imply inferiority. The Lord Jesus himself took a subordinate position when he came into manhood, but he never ceased to be God. That glorifies subjection. It should be the subject of our contemplation, and another reason to worship him.
James: But what happens when the men are weak?
Ben: The case of Deborah comes to mind in Judges 4. Barak the leader of Israel felt weak, so she went with him, in support. She did not take charge. There is no doubt that in many cases godly women have “saved the day” by their support, prayer and encouragement. We must always recognize God’s ordering. It is always for our blessing.
James: People might say we are being legal.
Ben: Obeying the Lord’s word is the proof of our love. That is not legality.
John 14:21, “He that has my commandments and keeps them, he it is that loves me…” John 14:23, “If any one love me, he will keep my word, and my father will love him, and we will come and make our abode with him”. Finally, Paul writes 1 Corinthians 14, “If any one thinks himself to be a prophet or spiritual, let him recognize the things that I write to you, that it is the Lord’s commandment”.
MM 30 Sept. 2006