Women in the church submitted by theologian Tom Brown:

 Today’s Question:  1 Corinthians 14:34-35. This is from the New American Standard: "Let the women keep silent in the churches, for they are not permitted to speak. But let them subject themselves just as the Law also says. And 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." Is it okay for a woman to be a pastor or to even speak out in church? This happened to come up after a guest speaker came to our church and taught something that contradicts how we have always believed. This made us question this scripture. Thanks for your help.

Brian and Lynne

Bible Answer: Remember this letter was written in response to the many questions the church was asking in another letter. 1 Corinthians 7:1 says, "Now for the matters you wrote about…" The Corinthian church wrote a letter asking Paul questions. I believe the passage you quoted was actually Paul quoting one of the false teachings going on in the Corinthian church.

Notice the entire language of the statement about women being silent.

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. What? came the word of God out from you? or came it unto you only. (1 Cor 14:34-36, KJV)

After this chauvinistic statement Paul exclaims "What?" Paul is almost beside himself when he reads back this statement from the letter written to him. Paul is not the one making the statement. Paul is quoting from the letter. The fact Paul exclaims, "What? came the word of God out from you?" shows that the statement came from the Corinthian church, and they were claiming to exclude the women from speaking based on the Law, which they claimed was the word of God.

Of course when you recognize that Paul did not teach the Law but Grace, you realize Paul would never use the Law to prove anything. The author of this statement about women remaining silent used the Law as the basis of this practice"But they are commanded to be under obedience, as also saith the law." Paul would never use the Law to enforce any behavior. Paul taught that the Law was nailed to the cross (see Ephesians 2:15 and Colossians 2:14), so why would he appeal to the Law to ban women? Paul did not agree with the statement but questioned it.

In response to this ban on women, Paul says, "Let him acknowledge that what I am writing to you is the Lord's command" (14:37). Paul taught and wrote that the women in Corinth could prophesy with their heads covered (ch 11). He also wrote, "For you can all prophesy in turn so that everyone may be instructed and encouraged " (14:31). All can prophesy. That includes women!

Paul taught the equality of women and men. He recognized cultural behaviors such as the ones in Corinth, (example: head covered), but he also says, "In the Lord, however, woman is not independent of man, nor is man independent of woman" (11:11). He differentiates between cultural norms and equality in the Lord. His famous statement in Galatians should remove all doubt as to whether or not Paul was a "woman hater" as some have claimed.

There is neither Jew nor Greek, slave nor free, male nor female, for you are all one in Christ Jesus. (Gal 3:28)

Concerning the roles of women in the Lord, there is no ban from the ministry. A woman can do everything a man can do as far as the ministry is concerned. There should be equality in the ministry. I believe a woman can pastor.

Some will argue that Jesus never ordained women to be His apostles, thus, setting aside women from being in the ministry. If you argue against women being pastors by appealing to the fact that the apostles were men, then you must ban slaves and Greeks from the ministry, because Jesus only chose free men who were Jews to be His apostles. I haven’t heard any Gentiles willing to step down from the ministry, because the Apostles were Jews.

Here is the way I interpret passages, which appear to discriminate. I will not use the Bible to discriminate against anyone. I always look to use the scriptures to liberate people, not place them in bondage. I think it is time to quit holding to interpretations that put people in bondage. We must be willing to admit that we don’t know everything, and be willing to side in with grace. Let our conscience guide us when we are confused about certain passages.

A follow-up Question:  What about 1 Timothy chapter 2? 

Follow up Bible Answer: About the passage in 1 Timothy 2:12-15. 

I do not permit a woman to teach or to have authority over a man; she must be silent. For Adam was formed first, then Eve. And Adam was not the one deceived; it was the woman who was deceived and became a sinner. But women will be saved through childbearing—if they continue in faith, love and holiness with propriety.

This is not dealing with "church" authority but authority in the "home." The context proves it. Paul uses Adam and Eve as the example of authority. What relationship did Adam and Eve have? They were husband and wife, not pastor and sheep. Since there is no Greek word for husband and wife, the word "man" and "woman" is also translated "husband" and "wife", and based on the context these words should have been translated as such.

Another Follow-up Question: 1 Tim 3:2 which says, "A Bishop must be the husband of one wife." How can a woman be a "husband"?

 Follow-up Bible Answer: When you look clearly at the statement in 1 Tim 3:2 it is a prohibition against polygamy.

Someone might say, “But there is no mention of women being a bishop.” You must understand the culture in Paul's day. The ancient world was male-dominated; so rather than crusade against it, the apostles accommodated themselves to it, but they had hoped that the gospel would change society. In the meantime, however, Paul knew society would not accept women as pastors so he presumes that the pastor would be a male.

Now the reverse is true. Most societies accept the equal rights of women, yet many churches are fighting the reverse culture war by keeping women from equality in the church. I think those churches that refuse to accept the full role of women in the church actually hinder the gospel by showing prejudiced against women. Doing this is contrary to the message and life of Christ who was progressive in His view of women.

Every historian agrees at this point: that Jesus was way ahead of society when it came to the equality of women. Yet, ministers are often way behind society when it comes to the role of women. I think it is a shame that governments, corporations, schools, and other institutions, are leading the way for equality, while many churches lag behind. The traditional church has been a bad example in this area.


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