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The Role of Women in the Church: Let Them Keep Silence?


The Role of Women in the Church Defined by the Apostle Paul?

The apostle Paul wrote, "But I suffer not a woman to teach, nor to usurp authority over the man, but to be in silence. For Adam was first formed, then Eve. And Adam was not deceived, but the woman being deceived was in the transgression" (KJV, 1 Timothy 2:12-14). We also read, "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 anything, let them ask their husbands at home: for it is a shame for women to speak in the church" (1 Corinthians 14:34-35).

In these scriptures, there are three things that Paul is saying:

1. He does not allow the woman to teach.
2. The woman should not usurp (forcefully take authority) over the man.
3. The woman should not even speak in the congregation of the church.

The reasons given for this silent and submissive role of women in the church are:

1. Adam was formed first.
2. Eve is the one whom the serpent deceived, not Adam.
3. The Law commands women to be under obedience.

Critical Questions to Ask

If the early church had asked the following questions after reading the aforementioned scriptures on the role of women in the church, much confusion could have been avoided.

Genesis 3:16 reveals that the Lord indeed did tell Eve that her husband would rule over her. This would explain the godly reason why the woman is not to usurp authority over the man. But, what does that have to do with the woman being silent specifically in the congregation? Remember, the words of the aforementioned scriptures are, "let your women keep silence," and "it is a shame for women to speak IN THE CHURCH." The role of the Christian woman as wife in the home is NOT our focus now. We deal with that question in a different article to which we have provided a link at the end of this content. Here, we focus exclusively on the role of women in the church congregation.

If it truly is a shame for women to even speak in the church, this would explain why Paul said, "I suffer not a woman to teach." And, if women are to keep silence in the congregation, we should see in both Old and New Testament scripture that the woman always keeps silence. So, the critical questions about the role of women in the church are:

1. In biblical passages other than the two we've pointed out that are frequently mentioned, do we see women in the congregation keeping silent?

2. In biblical passages other than the two we've pointed out, do we ever see women teaching?

If we don't see women teaching or even speaking in the church in other scriptures, we then have no biblical support allowing the role of women in the church to be one of teaching or even speaking. If, however, other scriptures do show women speaking and teaching in the congregation of the church, we then know that something specific to unique situations prompted Paul to write what he wrote.

Scriptural Answers to those Questions About the Role of Women in the Church

So, in biblical passages other than the two that we have mentioned, do we see women in the congregation keeping silent? No, we do not. In fact, we see them speaking out in the congregation in Old and New Testament scripture.

The scripture of Exodus 15:20-21 reads, "And Miriam the prophetess, the sister of Aaron, took a timbrel in her hand. And all the women went out after her with timbrels and with dances. And Miriam ANSWERED them, Sing ye to the Lord, for he hath triumphed gloriously; the horse and his rider hath he thrown into the sea."

The fourteenth and fifteenth chapters of Exodus recount the salvation of the congregation of the children of Israel when they were pursued by Pharaoh’s army. Miriam and the women are in the midst of that congregation. Neither Miriam nor the women are silent in this scripture. And, this is the Old Testament, a time during which the role of women in the church (congregation) truly was "lacking" in some freedoms that have been granted to them under the New Testament.

The scripture of Joel 2:27-29 reads, "And ye shall know that I am in the midst of Israel, and that I am the Lord your God, and none else. And, my people shall never be ashamed. And it shall come to pass afterward, that I will pour out my Spirit upon all flesh. And, your sons and your daughters shall prophesy...."

In this scripture, the Lord says, "I am in the midst of Israel." Let's remember that the Lord Jesus said, "...Where two or three are gathered together in my name, there am I in the midst of them" (Matthew 18:20). So, even the smallest church is a congregation in the eyes of the Lord. And, the passage in Joel says that, "your daughters shall prophesy." Does not prophecy go forth in the congregation? Yes, it does. Does not prophecy require someone to speak? Yes, it does. This means that women whom God uses to prophesy must speak. They cannot keep silent.

The first chapter of the New Testament book of Acts tells us that the disciples of Jesus gathered together to wait for the promise of the gift of the Holy Spirit. We read, "These all continued with one accord in prayer and supplication, with the WOMEN, and Mary, the mother of Jesus, and with his brethren" (Acts 1:14). So, we know that women are present in the congregation.

We now read, "And there appeared unto them cloven tongues like as of fire, and it sat upon each of them. And they began to speak with other tongues, as the Spirit gave them utterance" (Act 2:3-4). The women as well as the men were filled with the Spirit of God. And, scripture says that they SPOKE. They did not keep silent. They spoke in the midst of the congregation as the Spirit gave them utterance, not as men gave them permission. These women did not keep silence in the church. They did not keep with the role of women in the church established by man who often teaches before he gets understanding.

Now the Question of Women Teaching

Some might say, "Ok, women can prophesy, but they are not allowed to teach." Again, Paul said, "I suffer not a woman to teach." So, again we ask if there are biblical passages in which we see women teaching?" Remember, the Bible does not contradict itself. From the beginning of the book of Colossians, it is clear that Paul's letter is instruction for ALL of the congregation, male and female members.

Colossians 3:16 reads, "Let the word of Christ dwell in you richly in all wisdom; TEACHING and admonishing one another...." There is no reason to think that the instruction to teach and admonish one another pertains only to males teaching and admonishing one another. This is especially true in light of the scripture of Galatians 3:28, also written by Paul, which says, "There is neither Jew nor Greek, there is neither bond nor free, there is NEITHER MALE NOR FEMALE: for ye are all one in Christ Jesus." This scripture should not be forgotten when speaking of what the scriptures say about the role of women in the church.

Finally, we take a look at the passage of Luke 2:36-38. It reads, "And there was one Anna, a prophetess, ...which departed not from the temple, but served God with fastings and prayers night and day. And she coming in that instant gave thanks likewise unto the Lord, and spake of him to all them that looked for redemption in Jerusalem." Anna would not be within the role of women in the church according to how some have misunderstood the scriptures.

First, we see that she is serving in the temple. And, we read that she spoke to ALL who hoped in the redemption of Jerusalem. Therefore, this prophetess did not keep silence in the congregation. The "him" of which Anna spoke refers to the child, Jesus. Are we to think that in all of her speaking to others about the Christ, who was still a child at that time, she never imparted any understanding about him? To impart understanding is nothing less than to teach.

A Bible Based Conclusion

Paul, as a planter of churches, had to deal with specific problems in the congregations with which he checked back regularly. This article does not go into those details. However, we'd like to point out that the signs of dealing with a specific situation that might or might not need to be applied universally are in the scriptures. Remember, when Paul, in his letter to the Corinthians, spoke of the women keeping silence, he also wrote, "let them ask their husbands at home."

It is not even logical to attempt to apply such a statement universally. Not all women in the church have husbands. This is especially true nowadays when singleness in the church is a huge problem. And, not all married women in the church have husbands who are believers to whom they can go home and ask questions. The use of common sense does play a role in understanding the scriptures.

The Christian believer is not to always and automatically accept or reject something such as what has been taught about the role of women in the church, based on one or two scriptures. This is especially true when other scriptures that appear to contradict the ones in question have not been studied. It can be very damaging to teach things without first getting understanding of them. It is shameful that many teach, sometimes with charismatic authority, things they have not understood. The word of God tells the follower of Christ to, "Study to show thyself approved unto God, a workman that needeth not to be ashamed, rightly dividing the word of truth" (2 Timothy 2:15).

Recommended Reading:

Obedient Christian Wife: In Bondage Or Freedom?

Warning Signs of Abusive Relationships from a Christian Perspective

Why Women Stay in Abusive Relationships

Christian Help for Women in Abusive Relationships

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