Women are not to speak in church at all. Women are definitely not allowed to teach men anything. The only males they can teach are little boys. Once a boy hits puberty, he can no longer have a woman teacher in Sunday School. He is a man now. This same boy can be taught in public (or private or Christian) school by a woman and no one loses their mind. He can have women professors in college. He can have a woman boss. But in church, man reigns supreme and women need to just shut the heck up.
This is biblical, right? I mean, right? It’s what Paul writes, isn’t it? And we all know Paul is like next to godhood. His writings in 1 Corinthians 14 and 1 Timothy 3 dictate the silence of women, at least that is what I have always been taught. I’m sure many of you have as well.
Let women keep silent in the churches; for they are not permitted to speak, but let them subject themselves, just as the Law also says, and if they desire to learn anything, let them ask their own husbands at home, for it is improper for a woman to speak in church.
Let a woman quietly receive instruction with entire submissiveness. But I do not allow a woman to teach or exercise authority over a man but to remain quiet.I Corinthians 14:34-35 and 1 Timothy 2:11-12, respectively
These passages have no doubt been beaten and belabored to death in recent months. But please, allow me to throw my hat into the ring as one late to the party. Let’s talk about church first, shall we? Let’s define it biblically, okay?
For where two or three are gathered together, I am there in their midst.Matthew 18:20
This verse in Matthew comes just after Jesus tells the disciples how to deal with offenses done against them. (You can read it all in Matthew 18:15-20.) Church is not a building but it is the whole body of Christ. It is comprised of individual believers. Anytime believers meet together it is church. So anytime believers have a meal with other believers it’s church. If believers meet out shopping or going for a walk, at a concert, etc it is church. But we don ‘t live like that. We live as if the church is simply the four walls of a building with Church in the name. “I attend this church. Which church do you attend?” So we translate this passage in light of that viewpoint. Women cannot talk inside the four walls of a church.
Except even this is not practiced truly. Women speak inside the church walls all the time. Women speak to men inside the four walls of a church all the time. And no one bats an eye. Women speak and teach in the church. Children and women only. “Because that’s what the Bible says.” I beg to differ. I am not intelligent nor eloquent enough to lay out the reasons. But I will show what Jesus has been revealing to me about Himself and His dealings with women.
Jesus revealed Himself to women first on many different occasions and in varied ways. A real quick rundown of some.
- Mary heard from the angel, Gabriel before Joseph. God chose to reveal Himself to a woman before revealing Himself to her betrothed and before revealing Himself to any in Israel.
- Jesus chose to reveal His identity as Messiah to a woman before revealing it to the disciples. He told the Samaritan woman, “I who speak to you am He” (John 4:26) This was after speaking with her and bringing the conversation around to church and worship. She confessed to hearing the rumor of a promised Messiah who “will declare all things to us” (John 4:25)
- Jesus chose a woman, a woman who had been demon possessed, to first reveal Himself post-resurrection. According to His plan and purpose, Mary Magdalene arrived at the tomb early on the first day of the week. She saw the stone had been rolled away and she hotfooted it back to town to tell the disciples. She was the one who followed Peter and John as they entered a footrace to the tomb.
- Jesus chose Mar Magdalene to be the one to look into the tomb after Peter and John left. (Left to go find the resurrected Jesus? Nope. They left to go home.) He chose for Mary to see the angels and then turn around and see Him. He veiled her understanding until He spoke her name.
- Jesus chose Mary Magdalene to be the first apostle. She saw Him first post-resurrection and she was the first one He sent. And where did He send her? To give men a message. But not just any men. His men. Men who had faithfully followed Him throughout His ministry. The message she was to give them? In short, she was to instruct them. Jesus could have shown Himself to them. He could have appeared at the tomb behind Peter and John and told them to go back and tell the other disciples He lived and where to meet Him. But He didn’t. I can’t emphasize this enough. He purposely chose a woman. He purposely sent her out. He purposely sent her to instruct men, His men. Believing men.
So let’s go back to Paul. He writes, what I believe is at least tongue-in-cheek, that women are not allowed to teach or even talk in church. He even says “just as the Law also says.” The Law meaning, of course, the Mosaic Law. Only the Mosaic Law does not say this. Anywhere. It’s not there. I believe it was considered a law at the time in the church. This was not a law handed down by God, but rather was a law handed down by men. It was, in short, tradition that had morphed into another law that governed behavior.
It is also thought that women were viewed as disruptive. Maybe some were. The verse in 1 Corinthians 14 that immediately precedes Paul saying to let the women be silent, addresses an issue in the body. Chaos reigned. Confusion ruled the assembly. Paul writes that “God is not a God of confusion but of peace.” I am not going pretend to have studied the culture of the Corinthian church and cannot speak to that. All I know is context is key.
There is a church I have attended on a few occasions and in this church is a man who is of sound mind..at least it appears that way. Before the message gets under way, he is observed quietly speaking with others in the sanctuary, with coffee cup in hand. But once the pastor begins the message this man begins shouting out words and phrases. To be sure, they are “Christian” phrases, but are nonetheless disruptive.
I attended a Christian concert a few years ago. This concert did not take place inside the four walls of a building with Church on the side but it was, nonetheless, a church. The man directly behind me was extremely disruptive. He kept reaching forward to grasp my arms in an effort to make me raise them. He shouted out words and phrases at such an alarming rate and decibel level the musician called him out on it. It did not stop the man. I was preparing vacate my seat in search of someone in charge who could escort the man out when there was an intermission. The man did not return to his seat. It’s possible he left voluntarily and it is also possible he was told to leave. I don’t know. I share these experiences simply to show women are not the always the ones who bring disruption to worship.
Let’s move back to discuss the church. My family often shares a meal with friends from church. This, by definition, is a church. So if women are not allowed to speak in church, any time I have a meal with another family of believers, I cannot speak. I must sit in silence. There could be no “please pass the mashed potatoes” or “please pass the salt.” There could be nothing but silence as the men are allowed to speak. How crazy would that be? But if we are going to be dogmatic about what Paul wrote, we have to take it to this place too.
I have begun praying for Jesus to open my eyes, to let me see Him and read His words with fresh eyes. He has been faithful to do just that. I want to get rid of any preconceived ideas and notions about what the passage is saying and listen to His voice reveal His truth.
One of the most amazing things He has brought to light is simply the powerful role of women, His women in His narrative. He first revealed His identity and deity to a woman. A woman was His first apostle. He sent her to instruct believing men. We have allowed traditions to dictate church life long enough. I want to say this next part with grace but I fear it will come out and sound harsh. Weak m men, men fearful of losing their felt power and authority, have devised this and blinded the eyes of weaker men in an attempt to silence women. Women who love Jesus and are empowered by Him to proclaim His word to men and women. For His glory.
2 thoughts on “The Woman Speaks”
Hi Virginia. This is a topic I have crashed headlong into and have the scars to prove it. It makes me hesitant to broach the topic in conversation any more… so rarely are they conversations, and so rarely are they civil. Thank you for your voice.
The idea of women’s silence in the church has been a tradition for so long most simply accept it as fact. This is not simply the fault of men, women have allowed it to propagate as well.
What is interesting to me is how one sided the whole thing is. If Paul is really saying women are not allowed to speak in church, they are not allowed to speak. Not to women and not to children. Paul does not give that caveat.
Also, many of the men who propound this ideology are not adverse to picking up a Christian non-fiction book written by a woman. Is that not her teaching him? How is it different? A man I know, who is over his ever living head in patriarchy has likened me to Beth Moore. He has read her books. He has worked through her studies. And yet maligns women as leaders in the church to the point of women are not allowed to tell him when he has offended them. Why? It’s not their place. That type of double standard is staggering.
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