There is much controversy within certain circles in the church today regarding whether or not a women can speak in assembly. In fact, we see very little balance overall on the topic of the role of women in the church. Instead, we basically see two extreme polarized views. There is one camp that believes that a woman can be a tyrannical authoritarian pastor (which not even a man is allowed to be) and there is another camp that believes that a woman should not be allowed to even mumble a word in a church assembly. Neither view is correct.
Often these types of views come about because of the incorrect teachings of one man or a small group of men being allowed to rule and reign in a congregation without question or correction. And without Biblical literacy, boldness and discernment, the body together as a whole often doesn’t even care to address these matters let alone correct them, and so these issues remain unresolved, resulting in serious error being perpetuated.
Accordingly, there is a tremendous amount of false doctrine and ungodly legalism regarding the role of women in the church. Women-suppressing and women-silencing legalists run rampant. They don’t have a clue of what they are doing as they often destroy lives and greatly hinder the real ministries of women. This has and continues to result in the demoralization, subjugation, discrimination and other abuses of women. The reason for the problem stems from fundamentally flawed misinterpretations and misapplications of what the Bible actually teaches on this subject. Once someone then requires others to believe and follow those misinterpretations, the full fruition of legalism is at work. The intent of this article is to shed some light on this often-controversial subject by bringing the real view, the genuine balanced biblical view. As you will see, the answer to this problem is quiet simple and so this is not a difficult subject to tackle, as many believe it is.
What Does the Bible Say?
A major key to understanding this controversial subject is to understand the context of passages such as 1Tim 2:11-13 and 1Cor 14:34-35 where the Bible seems to be expressing opposition to woman speaking in assembly. The context of these verses as well as the balancing Scriptures clearly show that the Bible is saying that unruly wives should be silent not that all women should be silent in general.
Proof of the Marital Context
Let’s take a look at 1Tim 2:11-13. This is one of the most commonly misquoted passages that is often legalistically misused to control and suppress the ministries of women in the church. Knowing the true context, here is how this passage should be understood:
11Let the woman [wife] learn in silence with all subjection [to her husband]. 12But I suffer not a woman [wife] to teach [her husband], nor to usurp authority over the man [her husband], but to be in silence [regarding such a thing]. 1Tim 2:11-12 [Contextual explanations added]
The very next verse, verse 13 clarifies the marital context:
13For Adam was first formed, then Eve. 1Tim 2:13
Adam and Eve were married. Eve was expressly created as a marriage partner for Adam and so Adam and Eve were automatically married by God Himself, with no wedding being needed.
[Note: Being the first man and woman created, Adam and Eve were the only exception. This is not a license for any man and woman to live together unmarried and claim that there is no need of a wedding. Throughout the Bible the words marriage and wedding (with witnesses) are interchangeable and so there can be no marriage without a wedding and there can be no wedding without a resulting marriage. This puts to rest the idea, especially among some young people today, that they can be married by sheer will without the need for a wedding. That may be wishful thinking on their part, but it is totally untrue.]
So what we see within the context of 1Tim 2:11-13 is a command to wives not a command all women in general. Passages from 1Cor 11 and 1Cor 14 proves the overall martial context as well. Let’s take a look at 1Cor 11.
More Proof of the Marital Context
But I want you to understand that Christ is the head of every man, and the man is the head of a woman, and God is the head of Christ. 1Cor 11:3
The word “man” in this verse refers to a husband and the word “woman” refers to a wife. How do we know this? Well, we know by context and common sense that every man in the church is not the head of every women in the church so something more must be going on here and something more must be implied. And in this verse “man” strictly refers to a husband and specifically a husband who is operating under Christ as the ultimate Head of his marriage. That is the given. The rest of the chapter clearly demonstrates that these are husbands (not just any men) and their wives (not just any women) who are being referred to.
For man does not originate from woman, but woman from man; for indeed man was not created for the woman's sake, but woman for the man's sake. Therefore the woman ought to have a symbol of authority on her head, because of the angels. 1Cor 11 8-10
Are all women created for all men? Of course not. A man has no liberties with any women except his own wife.
Suddenly we see a whole different picture compared to the picture that woman-silencing legalists constantly promote. We see here and in other similar passages that these woman are wives (who are actually acting unruly, most likely in making some type of disturbing comments, sounds or other outbursts in the assembly that usurp their husband’s authority and therefore likely cause their husbands embarrassment) and the men referred to here are the husbands of these unruly wives, not men in general.
It is commonly known that any wife who usurps her husband’s marital authority by behaving in an unruly and disrespectful fashion towards him in an assembly can cause her husband great embarrassment. The Apostle Paul was simple dealing with this type of issue. I am not saying that the component of embarrassment necessarily applies in every situation. Of course neither a woman nor a man should make improper comments, sounds or other outbursts during an assembly, and a loving husband would not want to say or do anything to embarrass his wife.
None of this is to say that a wife may not express a respectful and firm opposition if she believes that her husband is teaching heresies or other dangerous doctrines. Such is acceptable and needful and so this would not constitute unruly behavior on her part. We know this based on what the Bible teaches in general regarding the duty and responsibility all Christians to stand against such error.
Now lets take a look at another Bible passage that legalists misinterpret and run even wilder with:
Even More Proof of the Marital Context
The women are to keep silent in the churches; for they are not permitted to speak, but are to subject themselves, just as the Law also says. 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. 1Cor 14:34-35
But again these women are wives! And these men referred to here are their husbands! How do we know this? Because among other things, an unmarried women cannot ask anything of her husband at home! Why? She has no husband! So this passage is simply not speaking to unmarried women. This is CRYSTAL CLEAR. But astonishingly this is not in any way crystal clear to women silencing legalists who are bent on keeping women in total subjugation.
And, this is precisely another place where false pastoral authority commonly comes rushing in. Many so-called “pastors” misinterpret this passage and claim to “fill the gap” by acting as a spiritual “husband” for unmarried women. Not only is this a ridiculous notion, this can quickly lead to disaster and to a “pastor” having what basically amounts to his own harem of women and huge opportunities for falling into sexual sin.
The key in all Bible study is we must read in context within the point that the Scriptures are making. For example, women must be silent in the context of not creating a ruckus. This is the kind of situation that Paul is clearly referring to. We cannot go beyond this (or beyond a closely similar situation) and end up rendering women mute and without a voice in the church across the board.
In a number of places such as 1Cor 11: 5 the Bible gives us clear precedents that in general women can pray and prophesy (speak forth the written Word of God).
But every woman that prays or prophesies with her head uncovered dishonors her head: for that is even all one as if she were shaven. 1Cor 11: 5
[Note: A woman’s hair is her head covering and I plan to expound on this subject in a future article that focuses on Exposing The Head Covering Error, another favorite abuse of legalists.]
This verse clearly shows that a woman can pray and prophesy and sing. The whole idea of New Testament prophesying is the speaking forth of God’s written Word, so we know that women can teach. We also know from other Bible verses that woman can sing in assembly and none of this would be possible if all women were rendered mute and were supposed to be silent in the churches. The silencing of women is part of the world of legalists not the world of biblical Christianity.
Can A Woman Teach a Man?
Can a woman teach a man? Of course. If she can prophesy, which the Bible makes very clear that she can, then we know a woman can also teach because prophesy (which is the proclaiming or speaking forth the Scriptures) is the essence of accurate teachings. But again a woman must not teach in a disrespectful way as to usurp her husband’s marital authority.
In fact, we even see great women in the Bible, women who were judges and church facilitators. We even see a home church in the Bible where a woman was a co-host facilitator with her husband. All of this shows us that not only is it unbiblical to render women silent in the churches, it defies logic and common sense. Such is going way too far and falling into women-silencing legalism.
Nevertheless, and again, if a women is married she should not speak or teach in such a way as to usurp her husband's marital authority or comprise the respect he may have in the congregation. Those such as myself who have firsthand experience observing this problem among various couples can tell you that a wife who breaks this rule can causes a tremendous amount of strife and confusion in the assembly. These women contradict, contravene and even embarrass their own husbands usually regarding very petty theological issues or worse speaking about very personal matters that are even less appropriate for the assembly.
This type of thing can throw a damper on the whole meeting and can pretty much disappoint just about everyone present who feels bad for a husband having to endure such embarrassment. Couples need to straighten out their own minor doctrinal issues at home and come into the congregation with a unified and hopefully correct theological view. The Bible tells us that in assembly, all things must be done unto edifying. This means done for the strengthening and building up of each other. If someone starts an argument with their spouse, this is not edifying for anyone.
According to Greek Scholar Spiros Zodhiates in his excellent and highly recommended work, “The Complete Word Study New Testament”, the word “speak” found in 1Cor 14: 34-35 should be defined as: “uttering sounds that are incoherent and not understood by others.”
(Some call this “muttering”.) While I believe this is an accurate rendering, it is clear that the overall context of this verse also shows that women should not even speak understandable things if those things usurp their husband’s marital authority.
Additionally if a women was not allowed to teach a man (male), she would not be able to teach her own male children as they get older. Or, in this case, it could then even be argued that a mother’s own male children would either be born with authority over her or eventually rise up in authority over her, which is not only unbiblical, but also makes no sense.
So “Can a woman teach a man?” The answer is yes, just like a man can teach a woman. Of course all must be done appropriately according as the Bible teaches.
It is not women in general who must be silent in churches, but rather it is unruly wives who must be silent when it comes to making outbursts, muttering, mumbling things under the breath or saying inappropriate things that can be clearly heard, or in any way usurping their husbands authority and causing trouble for them. If you are an unmarried woman, the verses cited herein do not even apply to you in this context. And if you are married, the command to keep silent would only apply to you if you and your views or behavior were being a problem or embarrassment to your husband in the assembly.
Lastly, some churches that practice the silencing of women claim that the church experiences a much more peaceful assembly and they use that fact as some kind of proof that this legalism is acceptable. Well that is no proof at all and legalism is never acceptable. Of course it is going to seem more peaceful to some people if none of the women speak. That is because there would be a lot less input to have to hear, consider and deal with. It would similarly seem more peaceful if none of the men spoke either and everyone did nothing but meditate in silence. But that is not the way of the church of Jesus Christ.
- Paul Howey