CAN WOMEN SPEAK IN CHURCH?
1. Based on I Tim 2:12, many sincere Christians believe that women are not supposed to teach the Bible.
a. However, through careful study of the context of I Tim 2:12 we learned that the verse is not a universal, for all time ban against women teaching the Bible. It deals with a particular situation at
a specific time and place.
b. The apostle Paul wrote to Timothy, who was overseeing the church at Ephesus, to stop women from teaching — not because they were women — but because they were teaching false doctrine.
2. Although we covered I Tim 2:12 very thoroughly, there are several other related issues we want to consider in this lesson.
a. I Cor 14:34,35–How can women teach if they are not supposed to speak in church?
b. Are women barred from leadership positions in the church?
1. Acts 2:17,18–In the first sermon preached by the Apostle Peter on the day of Pentecost, he quoted the Prophet Joel who said, among other things, that women would prophesy in the last days.
a. The last days began when Jesus came to earth the first time and will end when He returns.
b. Simple prophecy is inspired utterance in a known tongue, a language understood by the speaker and the hearers. It edifies, exhorts, and comforts. I Cor 14:3 (men = mankind in general)
1. The simple gift of prophecy is different from the office of a prophet who foretells the future.
2. I Cor 14:31–Through prophecy (which all may do) men and women learn and are comforted.
2. I Cor 14:34,35 and I Tim 2:12 cannot mean women cannot speak in church or teach because we have examples in the NT of women both teaching and speaking.
a. Acts 18:26–In the last lesson we saw the Priscilla, a woman, taught a man, Apollos.
b. Luke 1:46-55–Elizabeth, Mary’s cousin, prophesied when Mary came to visit her.
c. Luke 2:36-38–Anna, a prophetess, spoke in church on the subject of redemption.
d. Acts 1:13,14; 2:1-11–Women were speaking in other tongues (inspired utterance in a language not known to the speaker) of the wonderful works of God.
1. Under the New Covenant the church is not a building, the church is the body of Christ.
2. If women can’t speak in church, they can’t speak anywhere. Where two or three are gathered together in His name — that’s church!
e. Acts 10:44-46; Acts 11:13,14–Women were speaking in tongues and magnifying God in a mixed gender setting. A sermon was preached at the gathering. That’s church!
f. Acts 21:8,9–Philip the Evangelist had four daughters who prophesied.
3. If women are supposed to be silent in church, how does that fit with I Cor 11:4,5? In the very same epistle where it says women can speak in church (I Cor14:34,35) it says women can pray and prophecy in public worship services.
C. Let's examine the in time historical context of I Cor 14:34,35 and see if it gives us any insight into what the verse means when it says women are to keep silent in church.
1. Acts 18:1-18–The Apostle Paul established the church at Corinth. He then stayed on in Corinth for eighteen months (A.D. 50-52) both evangelizing and teaching his converts.
a. Both Jews and Gentiles were converted to Christ, but, as often happened when Paul preached, he made many Jews angry. Paul experienced much persecution from the Jews at Corinth.
b. They brought charges against Paul before Gallio, the proconsul (Roman political deputy) of Achaia, the region where Corinth was located.
2. After a year and a half at Corinth, Paul left and began his third missionary journey. Acts 18:19-26
a. He eventually settled in Ephesus for three years (A.D. 52-55). Acts 19:1-10; 20:31
1. While at Ephesus Paul received reports of troubles at the Corinthian church.
2. Members of the household of Chloe brought him a report (I Cor 1:11). Three members of the church brought him a financial gift and probably added more details about what was going on
(I Cor 16:17). One of these groups brought Paul a letter from Corinth with questions dealing
with various moral and doctrinal issues (I Cor 7:1).
b. The first letter to the Corinthians was written to deal with these problems and issues.
1. Chapters 1-4 deal with Chloe’s report of divisions in the church.
2. Chapters 5,6 deal with reports of fornication in the church.
3. Chapters 7-16 deal with the questions asked of Paul in the letter brought to him.
c. The verse which tells us women are not to speak in church is found in the third section of the letter where Paul is dealing with issues brought to him in a letter (I Cor 7:1). We don’t have a copy of
the questions themselves, so we have to presume what the questions were based on his answers.
d. In answer to the questions Paul deals with issues concerning marriage (7:1-24), virgins (7:25-40), things sacrificed to idols (8:1- 11:1), problems in public worship (11:2-34), spiritual gifts
(12:1-14:40), the resurrection of the dead (15:1-58); the collection for the saints (16:1-4).
1. The Gnostics exalted the spirit and debased the flesh. They considered the material world evil.
a. They believed that when they were baptized into Christ they were set free from their fleshly bodies and they could either indulge their bodies or deprive them.
b. Some Corinthian Gnostics were living together and practicing sexual immorality. I Cor 5:1
2. Judaizers believed that Jesus was the Messiah, but said that males had to be circumcised and keep the law to be saved. They wanted believers in Christ to follow Jewish Law and customs.
a. In Judaism at that time women were kept separate from men and silent in the synagogue and temple, and even in the home.
b. There may have been 60,000 believers at Corinth, mostly Gentiles, but many Jews as well. And, there were many women converts who were experiencing new freedoms in Christ in the church.
c. That was very troubling to the Judaizers because it contradicted their laws and customs.
3. I Cor 14:34,35 says women must be silent in church according to the law. What law?
a. When the NT refers to the law it generally refers specifically to the first five books of the Bible, the Torah or Pentateuch. Nowhere in the OT does it say that it is a shame for women to speak in public or that they can’t ask questions.
b. The law referred to in I Cor 14:34 is the oral law of the Jews.
4. These laws consist of discussions, decisions, sayings, and interpretations of early rabbis and scribes about the Torah.
a. These regulations were handed down orally from one generation to another and were eventually written down in two forms: the Mishnah, written in Hebrew, which is a commentary on the Torah
and the Gemara, written in Aramaic, which is a collection of additional comments on the Mishnah.
b. By the time Jesus began His public ministry, these traditions were given the same weight as the written word, the Bible (the Torah).
1. These are the traditions Jesus referred to in discussions with the Pharisees which He said contradicted God’s commandments. Matt 15:3; Mark 7:3
2. These are the Jewish fables Paul battled. Titus 1:14
c. The oral law had much to say about women and their place in society. By the time Jesus came to earth, according to oral law, women were blamed for the fall of man, viewed as property, heard
and seen as little as possible, and not permitted to learn.
5. All Jewish males prayed daily: Praise be to God he has not created me a Gentile; praise be to God he has not created me to be a woman; praise be to God he has not created me an ignorant man.
a. The Jewish historian Josephus, who was a Pharisee, wrote, “The woman, says the law (the oral law), is in all things inferior to a man. Let her accordingly be submissive”.
b. The oral law said, “Women were sexually seductive, mentally inferior, socially embarrassing, and spiritually separated from the law of Moses; therefore, let them be silent.”
6. The Judaizers were upset with uncircumcised males in the church and with women speaking and taking a public place in the church. Remember Priscilla. I Cor 16:19
E. That is the historical context in which the statement that women were to keep silent in the church was made. We know it cannot mean women cannot speak in church. So, what does it mean?
1. Paul was clearly dealing with a specific situation in the church at Corinth, not making at all time rule for all women everywhere. Because we do not have the specific questions the Corinthian church asked Paul, we cannot say with 100% certainty exactly what he was addressing with his statement.
2. These verses could well be a restatement of the question he was asked.
a. “It is not permitted, they are commanded, as also saith the law, it is a shame”. Those are not Paul’s words or the words of the OT. They are references to the unscriptural oral law of the Jews.
b. Perhaps one of the questions Paul was asked was from a Judaizer: Paul, these women here at Corinth are praying and prophesying in public. They are praying in tongues out loud. Paul, put a stop to it. The law (Talmud, Mishnah) says this is disgraceful.
3. Paul answered in v36–Do I see you questioning my instructions? Are you beginning to imagine that the word of God originated in your church, or that you have a monopoly of God’s truth? (Phillips)
a. Paul tells them: Your oral law is not equal with the word of God and does not have to be obeyed.
b. He concludes by saying — desire to prophesy (which he has already said women can do publicly) and don’t forbid anyone from speaking in tongues.
4. We know from other things written in the letter that Paul was addressing disorder in their public worship services.
a. He deals with inappropriate head coverings in public (I Cor 11:3-16), divisions or conflicting groups in the church and services (I Cor11:17-19), drunkenness and gluttony at the Lord’s Supper
(I Cor 11:20-34).
b. There was also disorder and confusion in their meetings due to misuse of spiritual gifts.
I Cor 12, 13, 14
5. In chapter 14 Paul explains the importance of order in their services.
I Cor 14:33,40
a. He doesn’t want to discourage them from exercising spiritual gifts (I Cor 14:1,39), but the goal or point is that the gifts edify the most people possible. I Cor 14:12
b. The word edify is used seven times in this chapter (v3, 4 (twice), 5,12,17,26) and the word profit is used once (v6).
6. We do not know the specific problems Paul was addressing because they are not written out.
a. From Paul’s responses, we can presume they were speaking to each other in tongues when there was no interpretation and that they were exercising spiritual gifts at the same time, trying to outdo each other.
b. It is possible that there were women talking loudly and asking questions of their husbands, adding to the confusions and disorder of the services, and that Paul was addressing that issue with his statement in I Cor 14:34,35.
F. Can women hold leadership positions in the body of Christ, in the church? They did so in NT times.
1. We’ve already mentioned Priscilla, with whom Paul worked. At the end of Romans Paul greeted 28 people, ten of whom were women (including Priscilla, Rom 16:3).
a. Rom 16:7–He salutes Andronicus and Junia as fellow prisoners and outstanding apostles.
b. Junia was a female. There is some confusion over the gender because both names are in the accusative case. But, early Church Fathers refer to her as a woman.
2. Rom 16:1,2–Phoebe was a deacon. The word servant in the Greek is DIAKONOS which can be translated servant, but is the same word translated deacon in Phil 1:1; I Tim 3:8,12.
a. v2 in the KJV calls her a succourer of many. The Greek word is not translated that way anywhere in Greek scriptures. It was a common classical word and it meant a patroness, protectress, a woman set over others.
b. It is a derivative of a word (PROISTEMI) which means to stand before in rank and to preside. It can be translated to be over or rule.
c. That word means defender or guardian when it refers to men. It is the word Paul used when listing the qualifications for bishops and deacons in I Tim 3:4,5,12; 5:17. Whatever the word means for a man it means for a woman.
3. In I Tim 3:1-13 Paul lists the qualifications for bishops and deacons, written to both men and women.
a. v1–“If a man”. Man, in the Greek is TIS which is a neuter word meaning male or female. ANER is the word for man. If Paul meant man this is the word he would have used.
b. Church history tells us that women were ordained as deacons into the 4th century. For the first 250 years, ministers, men or women, were called deacons.
4. I Tim 3:11–Even so is likewise (HOSAUTOS) in the Greek and links the verse with the previous requirements for men.
a. Some say this verse speaks to the wives of bishops and deacons, but is does not say that in the Greek. There is no definite article and the possessive case is not used.
b. This verse refers to the requirements for women. There is no separate word for wife and woman in the Greek (GUNE). GUNAIKAS HOSAUTOS, or, women likewise.
G. Conclusion: We have several purposes in studying these issues concerning women and their role in the body of Christ.
1. These verses, I Tim 2:12 and I Cor 14:34,35 can be stumbling blocks for Christians. We need to clear that up.
2. It is important to our understanding of the entire Bible to know that everything has a context and that context sets limits on what the verse can and can’t mean.
3. II Tim 3:16–All scripture is profitable to us as we grow in the Lord.
a. Some food builds up our bones. Some food gives us quick burst of energy. Some food is just fun to eat.
b. The word of God is like that. We need all of it if we are going to be mature, strong Christians.