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Should Women Keep Silent in the Church?

The Question:

Question: I keep reading in scripture that women should be silent in church? I'm not understanding this... 1) because that goes totally against who i am 2) am thinking maybe it was written for a particular time guess my question is how do those passages in scripture apply to us today??

The Answer:

If women should NEVER speak up in church, why did Paul go so such lengths to explain HOW they should prophesy?

I Corinthians 11:3-5 Now I want you to realize that the head of every man is Christ, and the head of the woman is man, and the head of Christ is God. Every man who prays or prophesies with his head covered dishonors his head. And every woman who prays or prophesies with her head uncovered dishonors her head--it is just as though her head were shaved. (and on to the 15th verse...)

How did Priscilla and her husband Aquila teach Apollos in the church in their home if she didn't speak?

Acts 18:26 He [Apollos] began to speak boldly in the synagogue. When Priscilla and Aquila heard him, they invited him to their home and explained to him the way of God more adequately.

Romans 16:3-5a Greet Priscilla and Aquila, my fellow workers in Christ Jesus. They risked their lives for me. Not only I but all the churches of the Gentiles are grateful to them. Greet also the church that meets at their house...

And how did a woman get to be an apostle (Junias) if she couldn't speak out in church?

Romans 16:7 Greet Andronicus and Junias, my relatives who have been in prison with me. They are outstanding among the apostles, and they were in Christ before I was.

And how could Phoebe be a deacon and take a message to the Church if she didn't speak up in church?

Romans 16:1-2 I commend to you our sister Phoebe, a servant [deacon, Greek diakonia]  of the church in Cenchrea. I ask you to receive her in the Lord in a way worthy of the saints and to give her any help she may need from you, for she has been a great help to many people, including me.

Well what did Paul mean in other passages that seem to say that women should remain silent in the church always?

1 Timothy 2:11-15 A woman should learn in quietness and full submission. 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.

First of all, it is a good thing to remember how radical Paul's ideas were - because he firmly believed in educating women,  which was contrary to the Jewish, Roman and Greek ideas of his time. The KJV emphasizes the command "LET [or allow] the woman learn..." We also need to understand how difficult this was to achieve in the society of his day. I should also point out that our English translations don't fully convey the positive side of what Paul was trying to say.

Another key to this passage, that I won't go into here for the sake of brevity (see John Temple Bristow's book below), is that Paul was combating a heresy called Gnosticism, and a full understanding of this passage rests upon that.

Another key to understanding the passages in I Corinthians 11:3-15, 14:33-35 and I Timothy 2:11-15 is that the Greek word gune is used for BOTH wives and women in general, and aner is used for BOTH husbands and men in general. To determine what a passage is talking about, you need to figure out which meaning fits the context.

In I Timothy 2:11-15, Paul is talking about Adam and Eve who were husband and wife. So the context is husbands and wives also, and SHOULD be translated "I do not permit a wife to teach or have authority over a husband". This is in line with the teaching of Paul in Ephesians 5:22:-24:

Ephesians 5:22:-24 Wives, submit to your husbands as to the Lord. For the husband is the head of the wife as Christ is the head of the church, his body, of which he is the Savior. Now as the church submits to Christ, so also wives should submit to their husbands in everything.

I Corinthians 11:3 Now I want you to realize that the head of every man is Christ, and the head of the woman is man, and the head of Christ is God.

Paul wasn't teaching that every man was the head of every woman - but that the proper relationship should be Christ - Husband - Wife. This SHOULD be translated "the head of the wife is her husband". The Greek word for head here is kephale {kef-al-ay'}, meaning 1) the head, both of men and often of animals. 2) metaphorphically, anything supreme, chief, prominent 2a) of persons, master lord: of a husband in relation to his wife 2b) of Christ: the Lord of the husband and of the Church 2c) of things: the corner stone. 

However, the headship of the husband does NOT mean tyrannical dictatorship.  "Kephale" was typically used in a military context, according to John Temple Bristow, in "What Paul REALLY said about Women", stating that "the subtle additional analogy of Paul's words in their military usage, implying that the husband is head when he sticks his neck out and goes first into battle, and that the wife is subject to her husband only by standing in formation with him, sharing the risks with him and obeying the same orders as he" (see page 44) .

"Kephale" does not denote a position of absolute authority or command - if Paul had intended to imply this he would have used the word "arche", meaning "head" in the sense of "first" in origin and "first" in terms of importance, power and leadership, that was typically translated "magistrate", "chief", "prince", "ruler" and "head". Paul deliberately chose "kephale" to denote the relationship between husband and wife, and it was never used to mean "leader" or "boss" or "chief" or "ruler". Kephale was used as "one who leads" into, but does not direct, war (not the general or captain), the first into battle. Our nearest English expression would be "point leader" or "spearhead" (see page 36). [Jesus is our "head" also in this sense, because He was first into battle against the enemy and spearheaded the offensive against the kingdom of darkness. He is also LORD, kyrios, which means master, ruler over all.]

It would be nonsense to claim that every man had headship over every woman. This phrase rightly refers to either the husband/wife relationship or the relationship with Christ and His church. Another clue that this passage is talking about a husband/wife relationship is the concept of head coverings. In Biblical times, women bound up their hair and covered their heads with a veil when they married, but single women did not.

1 Corinthians 14:33-35 For God is not a God of disorder but of peace. As in all the congregations of the saints, women should remain silent in the churches. They are not allowed to speak, but must be in submission, as the Law says. If they want to inquire about something, they should ask their own husbands at home; for it is disgraceful for a woman to speak in the church.

And in I Corinthians 11 and 14, the context is husbands and wives also. Men and women were separated in the public worship services of the day. Women, by and large, were uneducated, and wives were disrupting the service by asking their husbands questions out loud across the aisles. Paul didn't say, "let them remain in ignorance and shut up", but "let them learn with respectful quietness in church and save their questions for home and not interrupt the church service".

But many people have used the 1 Timothy 2 passage to keep women from speaking in church AT ALL, which I do not believe was Paul's intention. He recognized Priscilla and Aquila as pastors of the church in their home, he recognized Phoebe as a deacon, he had many co-workers (sunergos, co-laborers on the same level) who were
women, and recognized a woman as an apostle. He was the one who wrote the passage in I Corinthians 11 about how a woman should prophesy, that is speak aloud under the guidance of the Holy Spirit, in public meetings.

We have had a similar situation in the online Bible Studies, when private conversations occur and people asking "what's going on? what's the topic?" when they enter the studies late and make a big deal of saying goodbye when they leave early. Thus they are interrupting the studies, causing confusion and disruption. In this context, if they would refrain from private conversations, and listen with respectful silence, they would soon find out what the topic was and be able to contribute to the lesson. As Paul also said,
"Let everything be done decently and in order" (I Corinthians 14:40).

The "bottom line" is Galatians 3:26-28: You are all sons of God through faith in Christ Jesus, for all of you who were baptized into Christ have clothed yourselves with Christ. There is neither Jew nor Greek, slave nor free, male nor female, for you are all one in Christ Jesus.

Should women be silent in the church? Yes, if they are out of order and disrupting the service. No, if they have been called by God into a position that requires speaking in the church, but they are to voluntarily be subject to their husbands and those in leadership above them in the church.

cover A very good book on this subject is "What Paul REALLY said about Women: An Apostle's Liberating Views on Equality in Marriage, Leadership, and Love, with study questions" by John Temple Bristow, Harper San Francisco, 1988. 

Other questions on this topic are found at these links:

Must a woman bear children to be saved?

Is it wrong for a woman to wear pants?

Should women wear head coverings in church?

The Bible says that we are God’s Sons. What about God’s daughters?

Warrior Women in the Bible, online version

Warrior Women in the Bible, text version

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