WHAT ABOUT THE WOMEN? SHOULD THEY SPEAK?
Several people have questioned why we allow women to speak in our assemblies. I can appreciate such inquiries, and understand where they are coming from. For many years I held to a view of the fourteenth chapter of First Corinthians and the second chapter of First Timothy that forbade women to speak in the assembly. This was not my personal conclusion, for, candidly, I had never earnestly sought to have a godly perspective of those texts. My understanding was shaped by what my peers taught, word studies, and a purely academic approach to the matter. I did not make an effort to embrace a view of the matter that reflected the nature of God, Divine manners, the salvation of God, or the glories of the New Covenant. Although we feel no obligation to explain our practices to our critics, we do so because we know from experience the effects of forced views, and seeking to restrain those who have proved capable of profiting the saints in the assembly.
The solitary texts in question are as follows. "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" (1 Cor 14:34). "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" (1 Tim 2:12).
It ought to be noted that those who dogmatically forbid women to speak in the assembly have more to do than merely quote the above texts. Neither of the texts have to do with single women, women who are prophetesses, or women who are edifying the people of God. Advocates of the total silence of all women in the assembly of the righteous must clarify the following to our thorough satisfaction.
1. That the above texts are the official Apostolic doctrine concerning all women in all assemblies.,
2. That under no circumstances will God enable a woman to edify a godly assembly.
3. That God will not give a spiritual gift, all of which are designed for "the profit of all" (1 Cor 12:7), to a woman.
4. The godly assemblies are clearly declared to be places where only men speak.
5. That there is no place in Scripture where a woman or some women declared the truth of God to a group of men.
6. That there is no place in Scripture where a woman led men.
There are other requirements that could be stated, but these will suffice to gain our attention. If these six things can be clearly and unquestionably established with Scripture, we will listen to the arguments of "the-women-cannot-talk-in-the-assembly" advocates, although we make no pledge to accept them. In such a case, we will agree only to test what they say. If they cannot be clearly established, we will not submit our ears to hearing a single word they have to say on the subject.
The following is by no means an exhaustive treatise of the subject. I do not wish to make a great issue of this matter. Rather, this is only to affirm that we have not conducted ourselves foolishly in this matter, nor have we chosen to ignore what he Lord has said.
1. First, neither of the texts are about women in general. Both are about wives. In First Corinthians, women seeking for understanding were not to interrupt the assembly, but ask their husbands at home (14:35). In First Timothy, the argument is based on the relationship of Eve to Adam, not women to men in general. The reference to childbearing further confirms he is speaking about wives (2:13-15). Both texts are speaking of wives, and have to do with upstaging their husbands in the assembly. The First Corinthians text specially is speaking about the interruption of prophets, who are speaking one at a time (14:29-32). If, during one of them speaking, something was made known to another prophet, the first could hold his peace while the other spoke. However, as verse 34 affirms, women were not to interrupt them -- particularly with questions. The text in First Timothy is also in the context of learning, not general speaking: "Let the woman LEARN in silence with all subjection." These are not texts that spell out general assembly procedures for all women. In the assembly, the woman was to give due honor to her husband by not seeking to obtain an understanding independently of him, or seeking to upstage him. The primary context of this was interruptions and confusion, not merely speaking, particularly if it was "unto edifying."
2. Second, I know of no text of Scripture that affirms all women are subject to all men, particularly in the church. Women are only said to be subject to their "own husbands." These are not an assembly procedure bound upon all women. If it was, in fact, the will of God for all women to be forbidden to speak in the assembly, it would have been a consistent teaching in the Epistles of Paul, who wrote to Gentile churches. Nowhere are all women in the church told to subject themselves to all of the men in the church. The text in First Corinthians fourteen affirms that women are to "keep silence . . . as also saith the Law" (1 Cor 14:37). Where did the Law say all women were to conduct themselves in this manner in an assembly? From Adam through Moses, laws concerning women related to their husbands, not the general male populous. From the beginning, God said her "husband" would rule over her, not all men.
3. Third, and additionally, the "husband" has no dominion at all over the wife in matters pertaining to spiritual life. A wife's relationship to Christ exists independently of her domestic circumstances. In Christ husbands and wives are equals – "heirs together of the grace of life" (1 Pet 3:7a). Should a husband disregard this circumstance, treating his wife without regard to truth, his prayers will be "hindered" (1 Pet 3:7b). In Christ, a man's Christian wife becomes his "sister." More will be said on this matter under point twelve.
4. Fourth, among Gentile churches there were often those who were "leading women" in the community (Acts 17:4,12,50). Yet, there is not so much as a syllable in any of the Epistles that suggests such women could no longer be leaders or speakers. In fact, Paul refers to a number of leading Christian women in the sixteenth chapter of Romans. Priscilla and Aquila are described as Paul's "helpers," with Priscilla being mentioned first (16:3). Junia, together with her husband, were "of note among the Apostles" (16:7). Tryphena and Tryphosa are said to "labor much in the Lord" (16:12). Julia, wife of Philologus, and the sister of Nereus, together with Olympas, are mentioned as a group with whom others saints were associated. To say such language referred to the ministration of food, care, and the likes, cannot be justified. There were some who were noted for such ministries -- "Mary . . . bestowed much labor on us . . . Phebe . . . a succorer of many, and of myself also" (16:1,6). But that is not the manner in which he speaks of the women who labored with him, were of note among the Apostles, and labored much in the Lord.
5. Fifth, the very first thing Peter declared on the day of Pentecost included the public articulation of women. He further affirmed that this was foretold by the prophets, so that there should be no question or doubt about it. ". . . your sons and your daughters shall prophesy . . . and on my servants and on my handmaidens I will pour out in those days of my Spirit; and they shall prophesy" (Acts 2:17-18). Peter announced this text was being fulfilled before the very eyes and ears of those before him. If this was so, "daughters" and "handmaids" were in some way articulating the Word of God. It is inconceivable that the day of salvation would be launched by activities that would be strictly forbidden from that time forward. I do not know how a person could support such a postulate.
6. Sixth, the very first person who declared the Gospel of a risen Christ was Mary Magdalene, to whom Jesus first appeared, and whom He sent to the Apostles to declare the good news (Mark 16:9-11; Lk 24:24). Further, when Jesus later appeared to His own disciples, he rebuked them for not believing the women He had sent to announce His resurrection (Mark 16:14). Additionally, when the child Jesus was dedicated in the Temple, the first person to publish the good news was the aged widow Anna. She went out and "spake of Him to all them that looked for redemption in Jerusalem" (Luke 2:38). I do not believe those who hold to the total silence of all women in the assemblies would have allowed such texts to be put in Scripture. The Holy Spirit, however, put them there.
7. Seventh, there were women in Corinth who prayed and prophesied in the assembly. Paul instructs them to do so in due honor of their husbands. He does not forbid them to pray or prophesy (1 Cor 11:5). He allows for them praying or prophesying if they are duly covered. He further declares that her "hair is given her for a covering," not their husbands (11:15). They spoke with the Divine order in mind -- God, Christ, man, woman (1 Cor 11:3). Christ is subject to God, yet speaks. Man is subject to Christ, yet speaks. Women is subject to man, but cannot speak? Such reasoning is not sound.
8. Eighth, Philip had four daughters who prophesied (Acts 21:9). It seems to me to be a stretch of one's imagination to say they were forbidden to prophesy in an assembly. I know of no Divinely given gift, or valid insight into the truth of God, that is forbidden to be ministered in the assembly. No such suggestion is made in the Word of God.
9. Ninth, even under the Law, priests and key men appointed by the king went to Huldah the prophetess to obtain understanding (2 Kings 22:14-20). The response of Josiah the king was that he gathered together "all the elders of Judah and Jerusalem," and earnestly sought the face of the Lord" (2 Kings 23). God directed them through a woman, even though many men would never have chosen to do so.
10. Tenth, the solemn injunction to all assemblies is, "Let all thing be done unto edifying" (1 Cor 14:26). There is not the slightest hint in Scripture that a woman is inherently incapable of edifying the brethren -- that God has withheld from them the right to edify, or that He has declared it unlawful for them to edify. Neither First Corinthians nor First Timothy are speaking about edification. Both are speaking of learning, not delivering things that edify. If, in fact, any person actually edifies the people of God, it is because they have been given power to do so, for that ability can come from God alone (2 Cor 13:8,10). The Thessalonians were commended for being able to comfort and edify one another. IS there any suggestion that this was a reference to men alone? If, therefore, there is any among us who are capable of edifying or building up the saints of God, men do well not to forbid them to do so. That, in my judgment, would be a sin of the greatest magnitude. If men choose to say edification cannot come from a woman, then they are faced with a gargantuan task. That postulate must be supported from Scripture, which will involve getting rid of Acts 2:17-18.
11. Eleventh, the most compelling thing that changed my own mind on this was that God Himself did not honor the law I once embraced. He made provision for women to speak in the assembly through Joel's prophecy, and Paul's tutelage. Not only that, we do have an incident in Scripture of Jesus dealing with woman teacher. She was in the church at Thyatira, and was soundly rebuked for teaching Christ's servants to commit fornication, and to eat things sacrificed to idols. Jesus did not rebuke the church for allowing her to teach, but suffering her to teach His servants to do the things He had forbidden. He does not command her to stop teaching, but even gives her "space to repent" -- not repent of teaching, but to "repent of her fornication." It was her doctrine, not the act of teaching, that was her transgression (Rev 2:20-24). That would have been an excellent time for our Lord to declare the sin of women speaking in the church -- but He did not.
12. Twelfth, there is a dimension of spiritual life in which the male-female distinctions do not even exist, to say nothing of the husband-wife relationship. Therefore, it is written, "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" (Gal 3:28). This statement cannot be treated as though it did not exist. There is a merging of personalities in Christ, with no allowance for distinction. Distinctions exist only in the flesh, NOT in Christ! Further, our assemblies are NOT the place where "the flesh" is granted a place of prominence. It is NOT a place where slaves are to be chained to their masters, or Gentiles are to sit in the back, being subordinate to the Jews, to whom the Gospel is the power of salvation "first" (Rom 1:16). You cannot drag those distinctions into the assembly! If Philemon can be told that one of his slaves, Onesimus, is now "profitable" to him, and Paul as well, who is the person willing to say a wife cannot do the same for her husband in Christ Jesus? The assembly is intended to be a place of edification in which cultural and domestic roles are not to be restrictions. It is a place where those who we are in Christ Jesus takes the precedence. The texts in 1 Corinthians and First Timothy are not intended to contravene this reality. Both of them deal with the imposition of flesh, NOT the administration of edification.
13. It is never right to introduce confusion into the assembly of the righteous – even when it comes from a man. It is equally never wrong to edify the saints in the assemble – even when edification comes from a woman.
That is some of the reasoning that has led me to cease placing unlawful restraints upon sisters who can edify the brethren. Incidentally, the same requirement to speak unto edification applies to men. I cannot begin to tell you how many miserable words I have heard emit from men in the public assembly. Deplorable meditations at the table of the Lord, flawed and foolish sermons, class teaching that bore not one hint of edification, prayers that were foolish and childish, and on and on. In our assembly, to the best of our ability, we do not allow things to be said that do not edify. We also refuse to forbid words to be spoken that make for edification. We consider such a procedure to be a sin against God, for every spiritual ability is given "for the profit of all," or for the "common good" (1 Cor 12:7). If anyone chooses to affirm that God does not give things "for the profit of all" to women, they simply have chosen wrongly. There is no truth to such a supposition, and even a cursory knowledge of the Word of God will confirm this to be true. I do not believe any person can successfully afirm that women cannot edify olr profit the assembly.
We will not be contentious about this matter, or engage in lengthy discussions and debates about it. Neither the quantity or nature of Divine utterance on this subject merits such an engagement. The Lord can bless you as you think upon these things. The rule here is simply this: "Let every man be fully persuaded in his own mind" (Rom 14:5). You must honor your own conscience, all the while avoiding any temptation to bind that conscience upon others (which is the whole point of Romans 14). God will help you in this matter, and I have every confidence you will come to a conclusion that is satisfying to you and honoring to the Lord.
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