(Please read this slowly and prayerfully. It is almost entirely based on God’s Word. I said ‘almost’. In our church we permit women to pray in our prayer meetings, but we do not permit women to stand on the pulpit and teach men. Women have their separate women’s ministry, Sunday School ministry, Young Girls’ Meetings, etc. ~ Ed)
It is not a question of custom, or the teaching, or the practices of the Church in general, but “What saith the Lord?” This must settle everything for the true believer.” We proceed, to enquire into what God has said in His Holy Word about the woman speaking in the Church.
The first scripture we turn to is the well-known passage in 1 Cor. 14:34-35: “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.” Here it is plainly laid down that the woman is NOT to speak in the Church, or assembly. It must be understood that “the Church” here is the assembly of God’s saints, His people. The expression, “in the Church,” or “Churches,” is used five times in this chapter (vers. 19, 28, 33, 34 and 35), and it always means the gathering of the Christians in assembly.
We inquire what the “silence” mentioned here means. Does the apostle mean silence in an absolute sense, or a “conditional silence” as some have suggested. A glance over the chapter down to the 34th verse, makes plain that the apostle is giving instruction to the men as to the exercise of their gift. He says in verse 23, “If therefore the whole Church be come together into one place,” etc. They were to speak only one at a time; and two or three speakers was to be the limit; the others were to judge. “Ye may all prophesy one by one,” he says. They had carried their speaking to an excess, evidently, for he says in verse 26, “How is it then, brethren? when ye come together, everyone of you hath a psalm, hath a doctrine, hath a tongue, hath a revelation, hath an interpretation. Let all things be done unto edifying.” Whatever the exercises mentioned here may have been, the brethren were abusing their liberty, with too much speaking. This he proceeds to correct, down to end of verse 33. Then he turns to the sisters, and commands that they “keep silence in the Churches” saying, “It is not permitted unto them to speak.”
To say that the word here means to “chatter,” gossip, or whisper during “service,” is but to betray the weakness of their position. The same Greek word for “speak” is used throughout this chapter. In verse 21 it is used of God thus: “With men of other tongues and other lips will I speak unto this people.” No, reader; the word does not mean chatter, or anything else than just to ‘speak;’ and the apostle says, “It is a shame for women to speak in the Church.”
“Oh,” some flippantly answer: “That was Paul; he was a bachelor, and was trying to keep women down.” Is this the estimate in which you hold the Word of God? Is Scripture to you but the word of Paul, or Peter, or any other man? If so, it is no use to discuss this question further with you, for our only standard of authority is the Holy Scripture; and if the Bible is not wholly and everywhere the word of God to you, we may as well dismiss the subject. These are not the arbitrary orderings of a mere man, biased in favor of his own sex, or prejudiced against women, but “the commandments of the Lord,” and therefore to be submitted to and obeyed without question.
Others tell us that this prohibition was only of local application, that it meant just the women of Corinth, who were loud and brazen, and unqualified to take part in the public exercises of the assembly. Who told them, we ask, that women in the Corinthian Church were different, less modest or decorous, than the women of other localities? Scripture does not!
But is the application of the passage limited to the women of Corinth alone? Read the ascription in the beginning of the epistle; to whom is it addressed? “Unto the Church of God which is at Corinth … with all that in every place call upon the name of Jesus Christ our Lord, both theirs and ours” (1 Cor. 1:2). This is decisive — is it not? The instructions given in the epistle are not of mere local application, but are intended for, and addressed to, all professing Christians everywhere — all that in every place call upon the name of Jesus Christ our Lord. And in the very passage under discussion the apostle does not say “your Church,” but “the Churches,” which forbids limiting the prohibition to the local Church at Corinth.
The woman’s place is one of subjection and retirement, not of leadership. This disposes entirely of the contention of those who say that this was “only Paul.” He had the law as a second witness to add force to what he says by the Spirit of God. And instead of the apostle being against woman, as some unjustly charge him to be, he everywhere honors her in her proper sphere, and commands her husband to love her, even as Christ loved the Church (Eph. 5:25; Col. 3:19). In Romans 16, where he makes honorable mention of a number of believers, not a few of the names are those of women.
The Corinthians, in this matter of the women speaking in the Church, may have thought themselves free to do as they pleased in this matter: the apostle checks this by saying, “What! came the word of God out from you? or came it unto you only?” (ver. 36); that is to say, Have you authority from the Lord what you shall do in this matter? The word of God has not come from you, but to you. They were therefore to submit to the commandment of the Lord by the apostle.
Closely akin to the passage we have had before us is that in 1 Tim. 2:11-15: “Let the woman learn in silence with all subjection. 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. Notwithstanding she shall be saved (preserved) in childbearing, if they continue in faith and charity and holiness with sobriety.” This also relates to woman’s place in the assembly, for the epistle is written that Timothy might know how to conduct himself “in the house of God, which is the Church of the living God, the pillar and ground of the truth” (1 Tim. 3:15).
The woman was to learn in silence — not suffered to teach. Learning, in silence, with all subjection, was her God-given place. This place she was to take with glad and willing obedience to the command of the Lord. It is the “perfect law of liberty,” and to the submissive and loyal soul, “His commandments are not grievous.”
The silence enjoined here includes even audible prayer by the women in the place of public assembly. (Many women in their prayers in church are very voluble and emotional; few, if any, pray in the Spirit. ~Ed.)
The silence enjoined upon women in the assembly does not rest on one single text, but is found in various portions of the Word. But we have here in Timothy what is not so plainly told us in Corinthians, i. e., the reason why the woman is not to teach in the assembly. Two reasons are given: one is, Adam’s priority in creation, implying headship; the other, that the woman was deceived by the tempter. It says that “Adam was not deceived” like the woman. He sinned with his eyes open. He was even more guilty than his wife, but it was she who was deceived. And having proved herself a bad leader in this respect, in God’s wise government she was debarred from the place of authority or teaching in the Church. We should not say that her place is inferior to that of the man, but different, We might say that, positionally, man is superior — not in himself; as has been aptly said: “Here (in 1 Tim. 2:14) we get the first and most powerful warning against woman taking the lead — at the very start of man’s journey across the ocean of time.” “In the present day the great majority of spiritist mediums are women. Modern Spiritism began with women. It is an hysterical woman, Mrs. E. G. White, who by her blasphemous pretensions has been the leader, and largely the inventor of that wicked system called Seventh-day Adventism. Christian Science — which is neither Christian nor scientific — owes its origin to Mrs. Eddy — a woman of bad repute. Theosophy, as known in the Western Hemisphere, was popularized by a woman — Mrs. Besant.” And we might add to the list the present-day Tongues Movement, with its attendant fanaticism and immorality (in spite of its pretentious claims to “perfect holiness”), in which women are the most prominent leaders. (Sad to say, many evangelical churches today give an unhealthy prominence to unstable women. And we have women pastors, women preachers, and the like. ~Ed.)
This is not indeed to slight woman; for, as we have stated before, it is only positionally that man is above woman. As another has said, “It is not a question here of woman’s ability. It is gladly admitted that compared with man, woman exhibits no inferiority of genius, culture, tact, speech, etc. And outweighing all her gifts and graces, is the demonstrated fact that her presence and power in the service of Christ are, under God, essential to the success, and even to the continuance of the Church. If she were removed from the sphere of action, probably every congregation of Christians in the land would soon become a stagnant pool. As a rule, woman is certainly the most effective force, not only in the family, “but also in the Church”.
“Christ came to save sinful women as well as men, and it is to the glory of His grace that we find among the former no recorded instance of a denial of His name, nor of apostasy from His cause. But it is a fact that of these brave and devoted women, He did not choose one as an apostle; nor did He choose one to go with the seventy, who were commissioned as public heralds to proclaim His approach to every city and place whither He Himself would come. The women who loved Him for His saving grace seemed to be more than content to follow His steps, to minister to Him of their substance, to speak His praise personally and privately; and when they could do nothing more, they offered Him the most grateful and acceptable service, the only service they could render, as they gazed upon Him on the cross through their streaming tears, and then came to anoint His precious body and to weep at His grave.”
But it is not only in the Church that the woman is to be in subjection; there are two other spheres in which she is to maintain the same attitude in reference to the man — in the home and in the world.
We turn back to 1 Corinthians 11, for this. We read there, “But I would have you to know that the head of every man is Christ, and the head of the woman is the man, and the head of Christ is God.” Here is given us the woman’s place in the natural sphere. Man is the head. Neither does this imply inferiority (else Christ would be essentially inferior to God, His Father — a thought impossible to those who believe in His eternal Deity); but, positionally, and as Man, the blessed Son took the place of subjection and obedience to the Father. In verses 4-7 the apostle directs that in prayer or prophesying, the woman, as a sign of her subjection to the man, is to cover her head; while the man, on the contrary, is to uncover his head. This custom of covering has been a witness for ages of the truth set before us here, of the headship of the man over the woman. “For the man is not of the woman, but the woman of the man. Neither was the man created for the woman, but the woman for the man,” the apostle says in vers. 8, 9. Then in vers. 10-16 he concludes the subject, giving the reasons why the woman should be covered while in the act of prayer: “For this cause ought the woman to have [the sign of] authority on her head, because of the angels,” as the R.V. renders ver. 10. The holy angels are interested in God’s family on earth. They have witnessed the fearful revolt of some of their fellows in heaven, in ages past, “who kept not their first estate.” They look now to see subjection to God’s authority and order in the circle of the redeemed. As has been beautifully expressed, “The Church, therefore, is the lesson-book which the angels especially delight to study, the brightest mirror that reflects the manifold and supernal glory of the triune God; and if the angels see the woman leaving her place of subjection and silence in the Church (woman as a type of the Church, sitting at the feet of Jesus and learning of Him), the lesson-book will be blotted, the mirror blurred, as the angels bend down to contemplate with adoring wonder.”
It is beyond our purpose to attempt to explain all that these verses teach; the one point we would press is that man is head, not only in the Church, but everywhere; and in like manner is the woman’s place in subjection. Long hair is her glory; because by it she shows her ready submission to the place given her of God in nature; and on special occasions she is to have, in addition to her hair, a covering of some kind to give emphasis to the fact. If she refuses this, the apostle, in evident irony, says, “Let her also be shorn,” i.e., be altogether like the man. Some ‘modern’ women, to their shame be it said, have of their own accord gone to this length, showing thus their utter contempt for what is written in God’s Word, and the rebellion of their own hearts against their God-assigned place since the Fall. (Do I have to mention the names of Joyce Meyer, Paula White, Bobbie Houston, Victoria Osteen, and the rest? ~Ed.) The man, on the other hand, and for a like reason, must not have long hair like the woman; for, says the apostle, “Doth not even nature itself teach you that, if a man have long hair, it is a shame unto him?”
Leadership, therefore, whether on platform or in assemblies, the street, or any public place, is forbidden to women by God’s Word.
What then can the woman do? some will ask. Much, indeed, and in many ways. What a large scope for her energies and gifts God has provided her in service, not only in her family, of which she is the loved and honored centre, but in meetings for women, in Sunday-school work, house-to-house visitation, tract distribution, and in much where the man is so inefficient — a nothing compared with the woman — as ministry among the sick. (Very true! ~Ed.)
To quote the well-chosen words of another: “The comfort and encouragement that an active, godly, Christian woman — moved by love to Christ and to souls, and yet governed by Scripture — can render, is incalculable. We profoundly respect such. Mary anointed the Lord for His burial. Martha served the Lord right well. Dorcas made herself deeply beloved by her good deeds. Phoebe was a servant of the Church and a succorer of many. Lydia entertained the apostle Paul in her house. Priscilla, subject to the headship and leadership of her husband, helped Apollos to understand the way of God more perfectly. Women labored with Paul in the gospel. Would that the descendants of these godly women were found in every city and village of the world! Happy, blessed service!”
But it is in the home circle, as the wife and “happy mother of children,” that the woman finds her special sphere in which to glorify God; it is here she shines the brightest, and exerts the mightiest influence. It is a remarkable fact that in the books of Kings and Chronicles, where the reigning monarchs exerted such important influences with the people and in God’s testimony at the time, we are told some thirty times of “his mother’s name;” the Spirit of God thus pointing out to us what was probably the most important factor in the moulding of the character of the men who ruled His people Israel. Eternity alone will fully reveal all that Timothy (of whom Paul had no man so “like-minded”) owed to the early training received from his mother Eunice, and the influence, whether direct or indirect, of his grandmother Lois (See 2 Tim. 1:5). (All men of God have been shaped by godly mothers. I wish you would read bit.ly/einemutter to know who a godly mother is. ~ Ed)
It remains but to notice and meet a few of the objections by those who refuse to believe that God means just what He says in the command, “Let your women keep silence in the Churches.” Some argue that women can often preach and pray better than the men. This may be so, but that does not justify them in disobeying the plain Word of God, commanding them to “learn in silence.” Deceivers might often preach more fluently than the true servants of God (they often have done so), but this is no reason for putting them in the pulpit or on the platform. A fluent tongue and a clever mind does not argue a call from God to preach. And if it be urged that “female evangelists” and Salvation Army “lassies” (or Charismatic ‘women preachers’) have been much used of God in the conversion of souls, we answer, It may be all true, but it still proves nothing. It is a well-known fact that during the Great Revival in Ireland in 1859, sinners were convicted of sin and converted while listening to Roman Catholic priests saying mass. Does this prove the mass to be according to God? We have known souls to be saved under the preaching of men of whom it was afterwards learned that they were living at the time in secret sin of grave nature; and God has even used unconverted men to bring sinners to Himself. The present writer was led to a decision for Christ by one whose life since that time evidences that he himself was not a really converted man. (Amazing! ~Ed.)
So much for the argument that, because God in His sovereign grace makes use of women preachers, it must be right for them to preach. It was Finney who said that we must not even save a soul from death if we cannot do it in God’s appointed way. And when the great Spurgeon was once asked if he had heard a certain woman preach, he replied that a woman might preach very cleverly, but that it was contrary to nature. Vastly more important than either of these is the word of the Lord by Samuel to the rebellious Saul: “Behold, to obey is better than sacrifice, and to hearken than the fat of rams!”
The case of Philip’s daughters who prophesied is often alleged as proof that it is right for a woman to preach. But this scripture does not say that these women exercised their gift in public.* They evidently uttered their prophecies in the privacy of their father’s house (See Acts 21:8-9).** So, too, of the “praying and prophesying” of the woman in 1 Cor. 11:15; it could not be in public, for this was forbidden them. [*Prophesying is not exactly what we call a “gift,” but rather what one, in true communion with God, speaks for “edification, and exhortation, and comfort” to the hearers. See 1 Cor. 13:9; 14:3-4. — **We have an indirect confirmation of this in that the subject of Philip’s daughters’ prophesying is not mentioned, whilst Agabus’ prophecy concerning Paul’s bonds and imprisonment was publicly declared.] (Absolutely right! ~Ed.)
Mary Magdalene and the woman of Samaria have been frequently referred to as having preached before men; but Scripture does not say so. The former was sent by the risen Lord with a message to His disciples (John 20:17). She was not sent to preach or to teach them, but just to carry the Lord’s glad message — a privilege of which any Christian woman might be the happy instrument. Likewise with the woman of Samaria; she too was the glad messenger of good news, that she had found Messiah at the well! “The woman then left her waterpot,” the record reads, “and went her way into the city, and saith to the men, Come, see a Man that told me all things that ever I did: is not this the Christ?” She told to all whom she met of the new-found joy of her heart, which it is the precious privilege of all to do. This, too, is all that can be said of the passage in Acts 2:17-18. The daughters of Israel, Jehovah’s “handmaidens,” should prophesy, but where? Not in public preaching, certainly, for even “the law” forbade them that.
But is there no other place than a public congregation to utter the praises, the mercies, and the wondrous works of God? The aged Anna was a “prophetess” we are told in Luke 2:36; her prophesying was in serving God, with prayer and fasting, giving thanks and speaking to all that looked for redemption, of the infant Saviour whom her own eyes had beheld in the temple. Elizabeth, “filled with the Holy Ghost,” prophesied with loud voice as to Mary, who had come to visit her in her retirement. Mary herself then breaks out in excellent praise to God her Saviour. Hannah, in the Old Testament, gives out, under the Spirit’s power upon her, a prophetic song of praise to Jehovah, whose glorious power and grace she celebrates in true prophetic style.
Referring, no doubt, to Miriam at the Red Sea, Psalm 68:11 says, “The Lord giveth the word,” the women that publish the tidings are a great host” (R.V.), which may also apply to any similar time when, moved by great deliverances, the women unite in praises to God their Defender. But all this is not preaching, or taking leadership over men at all, as the verse following clearly shows: “Kings of armies flee, they flee; and she that tarrieth at home divideth the spoil.” All this is not in the Church, nor of the Christian dispensation, but applies prophetically to Israel in the last days, and the destruction of their enemies. It is celebrations of earthly victories by the women with song, timbrel and dance, as was customary in Old Testament times.
The case of Deborah is often adduced to justify women taking the lead in prayer and gospel meetings; but there is no comparison between the perfectly proper conduct of an Old Testament woman encouraging a more timid man to go forth to fight an earthly foe, and the practice of Christian women praying and preaching publicly when expressly forbidden to do so by God’s Word. And it is not, as many suppose, that Deborah led the armies of Israel, and Barak simply acted as her lieutenant, but the reverse — even if Deborah acted in any commanding capacity at all: “And Deborah arose and went with Barak to Kedesh,” the narrative reads (Judges 4:9). She did not lead, but accompanied him. (Very correct! ~ Ed)
It is a fitting place to quote here the words of another concerning the place of woman in Scripture: “Her place is emphatically not one of public testimony. There are sixty-six books in the Bible; and all their authors, who were distinctly chosen of God, were men. Not one was a woman. There were twelve apostles; they were all men. There were seventy sent out by the Lord, in addition to the twelve. We are not told that there was one women among them. In Acts 6 there were ‘seven men of honest report, full of the Holy Ghost and wisdom,’ chosen to serve tables; not one was a woman. There were many witnesses cited in 1 Cor. 15 to prove the resurrection of the Lord. Individual men are mentioned as witnesses, but there is no mention of a single woman. This is strikingly significant, as Mary is the first individual to see Christ risen, and was entrusted by Him with a wonderful message to the disciples. Her exclusion from the list of witnesses is the strongest possible proof that Scripture does not give to woman a place of public testimony. There were bishops appointed in the early Church; they were all men. Deacons and elders are described in 1 Timothy and in Titus; but they were all men. There are two witnesses in Rev. 11; they are prophets — not prophetesses, nor a prophet and a prophetess, but men.”
We will refer to but one more scripture, advanced by supporters of woman’s public ministry: it is Galatians 3:28. “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.” Let us note that it is not what we are in the flesh (in the body) that the passage speaks of, but of what we are “in Christ Jesus” — the risen One. It is of our standing in grace before God that the apostle speaks in this scripture. “In Christ” there is no sex, or its attending relationships, husband and wife, father, mother, and children. But those “in Christ” now are still in the body, with the relationships to which the commands, of which we have been speaking, attach. While we are here in the body these earthly relations exist, and God’s appointments and order are to be displayed in them. It would be a terrible thing indeed if being “in Christ” through divine grace, our responsibilities in nature were abrogated. To use Gal. 3:28 to support public ministry for women comes of strange and gross misunderstanding indeed! (I quite agree! ~Ed.)
Christian women, your place in relation to the man is so plainly laid down in God’s Word that you need have no doubt whatever as to the line of action that is yours to follow, if there is in you the spirit of obedience to the Lord. You have no excuse for disobeying. The responsibility rests upon you to subject yourselves, not to the word of men, but to “the command of the Lord.” It is both your happiness and your honor to obey what is written.
Service has no value in God’s eyes unless it be rendered with a willing and subject heart, and in conformity to the regulations laid down in His unchanging Word. May we all, both men and women, in the Church and in the home, and in our necessary intercourse with the world without, do only those things which please Him who “hath loved us, and given Himself for us, an offering and a sacrifice to God for a sweet-smelling savor” (Eph. 5:2). We are sanctified, not only by the blood, but by the Spirit, “unto the obedience of Jesus Christ,” (1 Peter 1:2) — to obey as He obeyed. “It is written,” was ever uppermost in all His blessed pathway here of subjection and obedience to His Father. May this mind be in us which was also in Christ Jesus!
We cannot conclude our subject without quoting once more from the valuable pamphlet of the late Dr. James H. Brookes: “Women in the Church.” “The names of women are mentioned all through the sacred pages very much as the names of men; some of them standing forth as bright examples of faith and lofty devotedness, and illustrious usefulness in the service of God, and some of them exhibiting all the weaknesses and meannesses of our depraved nature. Deborah the prophetess was raised up, when the courage of man had utterly failed, to break the yoke of foreign oppression from the neck of prostrate Israel (Judges 4). In contrast, it was the prophetess Noadiah who sought by wicked machinations to defeat Nehemiah in his labor to rebuild the walls of Jerusalem (Neh. 6). Huldah, the prophetess, bore true testimony for Jehovah (2 Kings 22); but Miriam, the prophetess, although her song of triumph had rung out on the shores of the Red Sea, was smitten with the curse of leprosy for her insubordination, and for her complaint against her brother, Moses (Num. 12). Eve tempted Adam, who was base enough to lay the blame of his own sin upon his wife, and indirectly, upon God who took her from his side. Sarah led Abraham to do a grievous wrong, and then cruelly cast forth the hapless Hagar from her house. Rebekah connived with Jacob to cheat her firstborn out of his birthright blessing; but Jacob was made to know the value of a lovely woman in the loss of Rachel, whose sudden death ended his earthly hopes and aspirations, for he says ‘As for me, Rachel died by me in the land of Canaan.’ (True, but let us not forget that God showed special love to the poor unlovely and unloved Leah! ~Ed.) The Sareptan widow was taught that the word of the Lord is truth only by the bitter lesson of deep personal affliction; and the Shunammite mother could say in unfaltering faith and unclouded peace, even over the dead body of her child, ‘It is well!’ The beautiful Abigail was a woman of good understanding, and she turned aside the wrath of David from his purposed folly; but the beautiful Bathsheba was the victim of his lust; and the brilliant reign of his son Solomon was marred, and Solomon himself ruined, by those whom the Holy Spirit describes as ‘outlandish (foreign) women’ (Neh. 13:26).” (Do I have to tell you how many wives and concubines Solomon had? ~ Ed.)
It is a notable fact that in the religious bodies or associations where women’s public speaking and leadership are sanctioned, as with “the Friends” and Salvation Army — (and today the evangelical and Pentecostal/Charismatic churches, and even the established Protestant denominations ~ Ed) — expediency or the human will largely supplants the Word of God. In both of these, Christian baptism and the Lord’s Supper are wilfully disregarded; and wilful disobedience in one thing leads to many others. (Very important.)
Little more need be said on woman’s place according to Scripture. We have attempted to make our examination as exhaustive as possible. In her place, woman is most beautiful and admirable — in devotedness especially. Out of her place, she may become the most effective tool of Satan for the ruin of men. It was “that woman Jezebel” that was suffered in the Church at Thyatira, to teach and to seduce Christ’s servants, introducing into the circle of God’s saints doctrines and corrupting influences of the worst type, seen in their full fruition in the Church of Rome to-day. And in a later day women have had prominent part in systems of error, far removed from Rome externally, but in some respects quite as violative of Scripture and as wicked as the one designated as “the mother of harlots and abominations of the earth.”
In contrast, and as a beautiful example to the godly, is the aged Anna, of whom Scripture gives this worthy account: “She was the daughter of Phanuel (i.e. Penuel, the face of God), of the tribe of Aser (happy) … and departed not from the temple, but served God with fasting and prayers night and day.” She joined the venerable Simeon in his thanksgiving to God for His gift of the infant Christ, “and spake of Him to all that looked for redemption in Jerusalem.” As has been remarked, she gave her testimony, not in the congregation of the Lord, but in the temple. She had indeed seen “the face of God,” and was in consequence “happy,” not in public ministry, but personal testimony to the Lord, her Saviour.
Go and do likewise, Christian woman, and you too shall be “happy” — happy in the smile of God’s approval now, and by and by, at the “judgment seat of Christ,” with the word of His approval, “Well done, thou good and faithful servant; enter thou into the joy of thy Lord.” Amen!
C KNAPP (edited, with some comments in brackets by the author of this blog)