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Christian Life

Can Women Preach?

One of the most controversial questions of the modern church relates to the role of women in the body of Christ: Can women teach the congregation? And if not, why would the Apostle Paul issue specific commands for women to be “quiet” and refrain from teaching (1 Timothy 2:11-12)?

Before diving into some of the details of this complicated topic, we have to take a few things into consideration. First, the letter to Timothy, penned by Paul, was written to address a specific church, with instructions for how to deal with that church’s personal challenges. Second, we must consider historical context and cultural environment, which have an effect on the instructions Paul gives. And finally, we must read these passages with a mind that recognizes neither Jesus nor the Apostle Paul was “sexist” (a topic addressed in this post).

The question of teaching women is rooted in 1 Timothy 2:11-12, which says: “Let a woman learn quietly with all submissiveness. I do not permit a woman to teach or to exercise authority over a man; rather, she is to remain quiet.” At first glance, this verse is alarmingly exclusive. Could Paul really be saying women aren’t allowed to speak in church? Actually, that’s not what he was saying at all.

According to author James Hurley, the Greek word for “quiet” in this passage “does not mean silence but carries with it connotations of peacefulness and restfulness…. Paul is not…calling for ‘buttoned lips’ but for a quiet receptivity and a submission to authority.” (Man and Woman in Biblical Perspective, p. 201) This is further proven by the activity of New Testament women, from the disciples of Jesus to deaconesses of the early church. In Romans 16, Paul commends himself to Phoebe, Prisca, Mary and Junia, the last of whom is referred to as an “apostle” who was imprisoned like himself (v. 7, HCSB). In 1 Corinthians 11, Paul gives instructions about orderly worship, and in doing so reveals that women “prayed and prophesied” publicly within the church (v. 5). And in Acts 21:9 we see the four daughters of Philip prophesying at the early church gatherings. This being the case, Paul would be contradicting himself to bar women from having a voice within the church, as they were already actively speaking—and with his endorsement.

Given the scriptural proofs, women were permitted to prophesy in the early church, an action Paul describes as “[speaking] to the people for edification, encouragement and consolation” (Romans 14:3). So if prophecy is for edification, what is teaching? In the early church (as indicated throughout the Pauline epistles), “teaching” always pointed to specific doctrinal instruction. To teach on this level required authority over all members of the church, including men. Because of the nature with which Paul defined Christian marriage (outlined in Ephesians 5), women filling pastoral roles would contradict the order of marriage (wives acting as the authoritative head of their families), and thus, the order of the church. But this does not mean women were or are lesser beings. This is not an issue of equal value, as our culture would have us believe, but of different, but equally valuable roles. Paul never stated that women could not hold leadership positions in the church; rather, he gives limits on one role and one only: the position of  authority over the congregation, also known as pastoral leadership.

Timothy was a young pastor (1 Timothy 4:12) in a church that had an issue with false teachers, specifically false teachers who targeted women (2 Timothy 3:5-7). With the danger of false teaching and the potential susceptibility of Timothy’s congregation, Paul’s letter may have issued these directives out of protection, not limitation. And certainly, there have been churches who abuse Paul’s words to subjugate and silence women in ways Paul never intended. Some of this subjugation may have begun with good intentions, as there is indication that the roles of women in the church were restricted beginning in the second century, when Gnosticism (a cultic ideology that gave women authority but denied the truth of the gospel) threatened to divide the church. Whatever the case, we must consider these factors as we look at this passage and Paul’s instructions concerning a woman’s role in the church. The delicacy of this passage is revealed in the many interpretations Christian denominations have given to Paul’s words, and this article is not long enough to address all aspects of the subject.

We can, however, come away with this reassurance: Christian women—from the disciples of Jesus to deaconesses and servants of the early church—were permitted to speak the gospel, discuss God’s Word and serve God through the local body of believers. Some of these women were pivotal to the spread of the gospel, and some—such as Junia—were even imprisoned for their faith. We should continue to boldly speak the gospel and bring God’s truth to our spheres of influence, certainly inside the church, but even more importantly outside of its walls.

To read a more detailed analysis of this topic, check out this article

Image: Lightstock | Pearl

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6 Comments

  1. Project Inspired

    Posted by AnnaMae on January 25, 2016 at 23:58

    http://www.impactasia.ca/huldanew.htm
    http://m.youtube.com/?#/watch?v=5KjU-smZX_k
    http://m.youtube.com/?#/watch?v=_OVvHpaK6AE

    I believe that anyone male or female can make a difference. Think of all the amazing women God worked through to change thousands of people’s lives. Same with men. God can use ANYONE.

  2. Project Inspired

    Posted by 4everhis on December 31, 2015 at 11:57

    So I’ve been blessed to grow up in a church that loves and encourages it’s young people. Over the past several years this is a question that really hit home for our church. We are an extremely conservative denomination. Our entire pastoral staff is male, as are all of our board members. However, in the past few years, we have had several girls and young women feel called into ministry as both pastors and missionaries. I don’t believe that God would call them to areas that contradict His word.
    In reference to 1 Timothy 2:11-12, we have to look at historical context, as the author stated. Paul wasn’t commanding the women to be silent because they were less valid than the men in the congregation. At that point in history, most women were uneducated and would have interrupted the service to ask their husbands questions. Paul told them to remain silent so that the service would have order and so that the congregation could glean as much as possible from the sermons, which husbands could explain later on.
    God doesn’t change. His thoughts and His purpose doesn’t change. But the way He moves does. I do not feel called to be a pastor, but I have preached before. I was invited to preach in front of my denominational District Council, actually. God is moving to reach a new generation of the Lost, and I believe that He is moving through His Daughters, just as much as His Sons. And that includes from the stage.

  3. Justilean

    Posted by Justilean on December 17, 2015 at 09:18

    So I’ve seen a lot about the difference in men’s/women’s roles regarding how men or women are better “equipped” to do something. (for example, since women are more nurturing, women should spend more time with her children, and since men are aggressive they should be the ones going to war). So if a person is biologically female but much more aggressive than nurturing, do the roles change?

    • phyliciadelta

      Posted by phyliciadelta on December 18, 2015 at 14:43

      That’s a great question, Justilean! As someone who happens to be less sentimental and maternal, I have studied this question. The role God has outlined remain the same. Our personalities and preferences do not affect that. However, how those roles look in individual marriages and families will differ. The Bible has clearly stated that husbands are the leaders of their homes with their wives as physically, emotionally, and spiritually equal partners who support and encourage that leadership. However, the Bible does not say that women are the only people to care for children, that they should never work outside the home (the Proverbs 31 woman was involved in the marketplace), or that the duties of cleaning and cooking are only assigned to them. God is most concerned with heart attitudes. If a wife does all the “feminine” work in her home but harbors resentment toward her husband, she is not fulfilling her God-given role, for example.

      In my own marriage, my husband helps with cooking, doing the dishes, and caring for the baby. I help with some of the more “masculine” duties. But our roles – his humble leadership of the family and my support of that leadership – remain the same. I hope that answers your question!

  4. em234

    Posted by em234 on December 14, 2015 at 14:02

    I’m sorry, but I disagree with this, if men and women are truly equal, then why do they have separate roles? If they aren’t allowed to have certain roles in the church (with proper training) then they aren’t equal. I believe that women should be able to choose the roles they have in their lives, if a woman decides to be a stay at home mom that is just as wonderful as a woman staying at work. You say that woman should have ” different, but equally valuable roles”, but if they are only allowed to choose from a set number of roles then, that isn’t equal. I’m not trying to say women and men are the same, they aren’t, just like every person is different from each other in many ways, and I beieve many women that want to become clergy could add a lot to the profession, coming from different experiences than what men might have experienced. I don’t every person is equal because that would mean everyone is the same, but everyone should be allowed the same oppurtunities and same number of choices in what they choose to do in life. I believe saying men and women have seperate but equal roles is kind of a dangerous statement. I respect you opinion, I just wanted to share mine as well.

    • phyliciadelta

      Posted by phyliciadelta on December 16, 2015 at 08:40

      Hey Em234! Great questions, and ones many people are asking.

      We must remember that our culture’s definitions are not what we should use when studying the Bible. We should always look at the Bible seeking to understand God’s intentions, even when our culture disagrees. Culture changes with time; God’s word does not.

      That said, our culture believes that leadership positions have more value than other positions, when that is simply not true. A company cannot run without employees – even if it has a CEO. Without employees, there would be no CEO! Every position has value, no matter what our culture says. The same goes within the church.

      Secondly, Jesus Himself set an example of this by submitting to the Father, taking a position of humility on earth and relinquishing His place at God’s right hand. Did that make Him less equal to God? Definitely not! He was still equal: He simply filled a different role. What God is calling women to here is the exact same thing Jesus emulated. If it is good enough for Jesus, we can rest assured it is not too high a calling for us.

      This is the same outline that God gives for marriage. God is consistent in Scripture between roles in marriage and in the church. And again – the only limit in the church was set on the pastorate.

      I would encourage you to take a look at the passages and Scriptures themselves! Study them with a commentary and develop opinions based on the Word of God, just as I shared in this post.

      Thanks for reading!