The elders of Shepherd's Fellowship have attempted to do some fairly extensive reading and research on the issue of gender roles in the home and the church. This is more technically known as the debate between evangelical egalitarians versus evangelical complimentarians. Evangelical egalitarians hold that the Bible is the inspired and inerrant word of God, but they also believe that the restrictions on women’s ministries found in certain passages in the New Testament are culturally conditioned by that first-century society and thus are no longer binding upon Christian women today. If this is true, then Christian women can be pastors/elders/overseers and can do anything else that a man can do because, “there is neither . . . male nor female, for you are all one in Christ Jesus.” (Galatians 3:28). Some even believe that the command for a wife to submit to her husband is no longer binding, though few hold this position. Complimentarians also hold that the Bible is inspired and inerrant but believe that there are some ministries that are not open to women because men and women have complimentary, God-ordained roles that are gender-related and because of this, they are prevented from serving in certain spheres of Christian ministry. In order to correctly handle the Scriptures, We have attempted to do extensive work on this issue and we have learned that the arguments can often grow very complex and confusing on both sides. After much study, we believe that the clear teaching of the New Testament is that of complimentarianism. We have tried to thoroughly study the two passages that are always the primary focus of this debate: 1 Corinthians 14:33b-35 and 1 Timothy 2:11-15. In this teaching, we will look at these passages and discuss them to determine what a godly woman’s conduct should be in the Lord’s Day meetings. Let’s first look at the issue of a woman being “silent” in 1 Corinthians 14:34-35 during the gathered church meeting on the Lord’s Day.
I. 1st Corinthians 14:33b-35
The two primary evangelical interpretations of this passage are as follows:
1. A corporate abstention - Calling for silence of women in regards to publicly addressing the entire mixed adult congregation during the Lord’s Day church meeting. This silence is in reference to public prophesying (i.e., preaching), teaching, tongues, and other ministries involving public verbal instruction, exposition, and direction from the word of God. Obviously, this would not include congregational singing, laughing, whispering, testimonies, brief, non-instructive edifying comments, corporate prayer, calling down unruly children, etc. An historic representative of this view is the Calvinist Baptist scholar John Gill, who in his commentary on 1 Corinthians 14:34 provides this clarification,
All speaking is not prohibited; they might speak their experiences to the church, or give an account of the work of God upon their souls; they might speak to one another in psalms, hymns, and spiritual songs; or speak as an evidence in any case at a church meeting; but not in such sort, as carried in it direction, instruction, government, and authority. [See John Gill's Exposition of the Entire Bible]This is the traditional view held throughout church history. All conservative Protestant scholars held this view until 1965. John MacArthur Jr., Dr. James White, and many modern Reformed and Protestant scholars hold this view as well.
2. A partial, limited abstention - Calling for women’s silence in reference only to authoritative teaching and the judgment of prophecies in the context of the Lord’s Day meeting. So, this view teaches that women can give prophecies during the Lord’s Day meeting per 1 Corinthians 11:5, but they cannot judge them because to do so would be to assume an authority that only belongs to the men of the church. D. A. Carson, Wayne Grudem, John Piper, and other modern Reformed thinkers hold this position.
After much reading, thinking, and deliberating back and forth between interpretation 1 and 2, we think that interpretation number 1 makes the most sense given the immediate and far context of 1 Corinthians 14:33b-35. Some commentators conclude that Paul never told all women everywhere in every church to be silent but that he was only specifically referring to the women at Corinth because they were out of order. This would mean that any church located anywhere other than Corinth would be exempt from Paul’s command. Now, if that were all Paul had to say on the subject, we would be willing to join the preachers who say that Paul was simply telling the women in Corinth to be silent, as opposed to all women in all churches of the saints (cf. v. 33b). But, that’s not the end of his teaching on this issue. This brings us to 1 Timothy 2:11-15.
II. 1st Timothy 2:11-15
At the end of his ministry when he was writing from a Roman jail, Paul gave Timothy his last bit of instructions for the care and health of the churches. He wrote, “A woman must quietly receive instruction with entire submissiveness. 12 But I do not allow a woman to teach or exercise authority over a man, but to remain quiet. 13 For it was Adam who was first created, and then Eve. 14 And it was not Adam who was deceived, but the woman being deceived, fell into transgression. 15 But [she] will be preserved through the bearing of children if they continue in faith and love and sanctity with self-restraint.” (1 Tim 2:11-15) This time Paul was clearly writing a rule for all Christian churches (1 Timothy 3:15). The basis of his argument was not heathen temples, priestesses, or deviant rituals. He reached back to the beginning of the book of Genesis before sin entered the world and said that women (Peter’s “weaker vessel”) owed their quiet and silent status in the church to Adam being created before Eve, thus showing Adam’s headship and rule in the family. Even though she is blessed in childbearing (a blessing men cannot participate in), Paul would never allow a woman to openly teach the congregation on the Lord’s Day or exercise ruling authority that was given only to men because it violated the creation order of Genesis 2. Women are to be quiet, receptive learners like all good students and they are to remain silent under certain circumstances. Therefore, this leads us to believe that Paul’s command to the Corinthians was based on his convictions about the church at large, all churches everywhere, and not just a one time instance. Thus, regardless of which interpretation one takes above on 1 Corinthians 14:34-35, the following combined teaching from both passages is agreed upon by all complimentarian scholars:
1. Women are to learn quietly and receptively like everyone else in the church meeting.
2. They are to recognize the headship and authority of the men in the spheres of the church and home and put themselves in subjection to that authority.
3. If a woman has a question or concern about a particular teaching, edifying remark, or insight that has been offered by an elder or someone else that she heard during the church meeting or even if she (or he) desires to learn more beyond the normal time required to answer a question during a teaching or Q&A time, then she should avoiding debating publicly with the teacher and instead ask her husband at home since he has the obligation to teach his wife the word.
4. While women can publicly lead in prayer or prophesy (i.e., preach) outside the gathered assemblies on the Lord’s Day, it is shameful for a woman to publicly speak up during the church meeting for the purpose of teaching, preaching, judging, questioning, rebuking, and criticizing anyone’s prophecy, teaching, or edifying comment because to do so is to usurp the God-ordained authority of her husband and her elders per 1 Timothy 2:11-15 and 1 Corinthians 14:34-35. The elders and the adult males of the congregation have the responsibility and authority to openly weigh, test, sift, and judge anyone’s comments by the word of God (1 Corinthians 14:29). A woman’s silence in this regard will encourage the adult males to speak up and exercise their God-ordained responsibility for engaging the truth of God’s word as well as maintain and promote doctrinal soundness and purity within the congregation, thus encouraging them to do so in their homes as well.
5. For a woman to teach, criticize a prophecy or teaching from an adult male in the gathered congregation is a reversal of the God ordained order of things according to Paul [1 Timothy 2:12-13].
6. These ordinances are in accordance with “the Law”, i.e., the Old Testament teaching in Genesis 2:18 and the rest of the Old Testament with its emphasis on male leadership. Finally, it is important to reiterate that all conservative complimentarian scholars agree on these six things regardless of their interpretation of 1 Corinthians 14:34-35.
Naturally, these are not particularly popular doctrines in most churches. Sadly, in most cases, if enough people in a church disagree with God’s word, they simply ignore it and do it their way. But, that does not change God’s word or Paul’s clear instruction. Of course, male elders lead our church, and that’s as it should be. However, the women in our church have been free to publicly speak and participate in discussion and prayer in the past. So, why do we allow our women to speak during teaching, Q&A, and prayer? Well, because we are confident that most of them understand their place in the home and in the church. Our women are silent in regards to teaching, preaching, tongues, prophecy, and weighing prophecies in the weekly Lord’s Day meeting and that is the context in which Paul commands them to be silent. John MacArthur sums up our thoughts on this quite well,
But the underlying thing that I want you to understand here is this, this does not mean that a woman can never under any circumstances speak in a group of Christians. What this speaks to is the women who usurp that, who push themselves in the place of prominence. Remember, God used Miriam to speak a word for Him. God used Deborah and Huldah to speak a word for Him to very important men. God used Anna for scores of years in the temple, speaking of the coming Messiah to anybody who came there. So there's no reason to believe that on the right time and the right place woman can't speak. When Paul traveled on his trips through the book of Acts it says that he went into an area to a church and he dialogio, he dialogued with them out of the scriptures, I believe there were men and women, I believe honest questions could be asked by women in right format and could be answered by the Apostle Paul. I think there was a time and place for women to speak a testimony of phrase to the Lord. I don't think that he's saying that they can never do that. What he is saying is they cannot rise to leadership in the church so that they become the ones who dominate the church with their authority and their teaching and their gifts. There is a place, of course, when it is the right environment and we ask for those to ask questions where a woman has every right to ask a question in a right spirit just as a man does. There is a time when we ask for praise to be offered to God when a woman has every right to praise God just like anyone else does. That's when the preacher or teacher deflects the communication responsibility to his congregation and says I want to hear from you. But that wasn't the issue here. The issue here was interruption. The issue here was usurpation, that's a different issue. [John MacArthur, God's High Calling for Women: Part III]Usually, the problem isn't with rebellious women as much as it is with the men who are failing to lead spiritually in the home and the church. The Bible also has more to say on the subject than Paul’s particular admonitions to the church. Women have played a very significant role in the spread of the gospel. In fact, the first people to ever preach, “He is risen,” at the command of the Lord were women! (Matthew 28:1-8; John 20:16-18) The ministry efforts of women in the local church is absolutely essential and crucial to the effectiveness of that local church's ministry. Thus, the elders of any church should fully support the idea of organized women study groups (Titus 2 meetings). Women “prophetesses” certainly exist today in the sense that they boldly speak the word of God to other women. It’s great whenever a group of people gather around the Word and glean from its riches; especially when such groups are under the auspices and headship of a male pastor/elder. This can be a healthy part of body life since it does not usurp any authority and it's usually done in homes, not the weekly Lord’s Day meeting. Of course, this isn't the popular view, but any faithful church should be used to that. Most of the theology Biblical churches preach today is guaranteed to be unpopular with the majority of evangelical and mainline churches. Biblical churches must be willing to let them continue down that liberal path, doing those things that please men, while faithful churches will obstinately cling to the clear and obvious teaching of Scriptures.
In conclusion, we will thoroughly study the various interpretations and nuances to determine the mind of God as it pertains to the specific, detailed outworking of those passages in the church and home when we get to 1st Corinthians 11. At that time we will make any changes that are necessary to ensure that we are being Biblical. In the meantime, we will proceed as usual with our teaching and Q&A format, we just want to avoid public debating with the teacher for anyone involved (male or female) and we want to do as much as possible to avoid a situation where the wife or women in our congregation could be perceived as usurping the authority of her husband in the church meeting, thereby shaming him and herself. Most importantly, we want to encourage him to lovingly exercise spiritual servant-leadership in the church and home so that both husband and wife can fulfill their God-ordained roles.