May a Woman Preach or Have Authority in Church?
May women serve as preachers or lead in church worship assemblies? May they be church officers, such as elders, bishops, pastors, or deacons? Are women equally as important as men, or do the Scriptures demean women? May women be Bible teachers? Does the Bible teach that women may have leadership roles over men, or should they be subject in submission to the authority of men? May women participate equally with men in church decision-making “business” meetings?
Introduction: The purpose of these studies is to examine Bible teaching about the role of women in church leadership and decision making.
Consider some changes that have occurred in church leadership roles in recent years.
* Some believe that women should be allowed to preach or lead prayer or singing in public worship assemblies.
* Some claim that women should be allowed to serve as elders/bishops or deacons.
* Some claim that women should be allowed to attend and speak in church business or decision-making meetings. Some claim women should have equal voice with men in such meetings.
* Some claim that churches must have “congregational meetings” in which all members, including women, discuss and make decisions. Some claim that such meetings must ratify or reject decisions made by the elders or men.
The purpose of this study is to examine the teaching of the New Testament about the role of women in such activities of church leadership and decision making.
No human authority should be obeyed if it instructs us to disobey God.
As we discuss various relationships involving people exercising authority over other people, the following limitation must always be understood:
Acts 5:28,29,40-42 – God had commanded the apostles to teach about Jesus, but rulers commanded them not to teach. Obedience to the rulers would constitutes disobedience to God, so the apostles obeyed God rather than men. The same rule would apply to any man-made decision that tells us to disobey God.
Note that the passage makes an exception, not for the case where the one possessing authority commits some sin, but for the case where the one under authority would sin if they obeyed the human authority. “We (the ones under authority) must obey God…” [Cf. Acts 4:18-20; Daniel 3:13-18; 6:3-16]
In no case does the passage give people under authority the freedom to do just whatever they choose or even what they think is wisest or best. We may disobey God-ordained human authorities only when that is necessary to obey God’s authority. In no case are we permitted to refuse to obey authorities just so we can follow our human preference or strongly held opinion.
This limitation on human authority must always be remembered as we discuss various relationships in which people exercise authority over other people.
I. Controversy about Male Leadership
A. Power Struggles Are Well-Known in the Scriptures.
Conflicts between nations and within governments often result from power struggles: people want to take power that others possess. The same is often true in businesses, schools, families, and other organizations.
The Bible contains many examples of power struggles in general.
Numbers 16 – Korah, Dathan, and Abiram led a revolt against Moses and Aaron’s leadership.
2 Samuel 15-18 – David’s son Absalom led an attempt to overthrow David’s rule.
1 Kings 12 – Israel divided when the northern tribes rebelled against Rehoboam.
The Bible records many other wars, assassinations, and intrigues based power struggles.
Women have often caused tragedies by taking leadership over men.
Genesis 3 – Eve led Adam in committing the first sin.
Numbers 12 – Miriam and Aaron criticized Moses’ leadership. God struck Miriam leprous.
1 Kings 21 – Jezebel master-minded the death of Naboth so Ahab could take his vineyard.
2 Kings 11 – Athaliah killed the royal seed and ruled Israel for several years.
The Bible also records the lives of many godly women. The point is not that women are always wrong nor that men should ignore women’s advice. Nevertheless, many power struggles throughout history have resulted when women sought to lead men instead of following them.
B. The Feminist Movement Promotes Roles for Women as Church Leaders.
Many quotations prove this to be a feminist goal.
“The Bible and the Church have been the greatest stumbling blocks in the way of woman’s emancipation” – Elizabeth Cady Stanton (via “Why Women Need Freedom from Religion”).
- “Organized religion always has been and remains the greatest enemy of women’s rights … Why is there a religion-fostered war against women’s rights? Because the bible is a handbook for the subjugation of women. The bible establishes woman’s inferior status … and God-ordained master/servant relationship to man” – Annie L. Gaylor, “Why Women Need Freedom From Religion.”
“The scriptures are unredeemably sexist” – Ann Ware, Assoc. Dir. of the National Council of Churches Commission on Faith and Order (via Pulpit Helps, 11/82).
- “We urge the [National Council of Churches] to … [t]ake the lead in uniting women of all denominations and religious groups to work together to support efforts to recognize the right of women to be ordained in religious bodies where that right is still denied … [W]e demand that the seminaries … actively recruit, employ and justly promote women theologians … We demand that … religious groups no longer have legal sanction to discriminate on the basis of sex” – Revolution, pp. 17,18.
The feminist Evangelical Women’s Caucus says they “urge all churches to grant to women … ordination.” They want feminists to work within the churches and “share your concerns subtly” – via “How Are the Churches Being Indoctrinated with Secular Feminism???.”
Sadly, many examples show that, even churches that once were considered sound or even “conservative” are moving in the direction of allowing women to serve as preachers or elders, to lead in other worship activities in which men participate, to speak out in congregational worship assemblies, or to attend and speak in church decision-making meetings. Others argue that the whole church, including women, should meet to discuss and make decisions. Some claim the elders or men cannot make decisions without submitting them to the whole congregation for its agreement.
The parallels to feminism are too obvious to be coincidental. If the feminist movement had never arisen, and if denominations had not begun giving increased authority to women, surely we would not be facing such calls for increased leadership by women.
So what does God’s word teach about church leadership and decision making? Let us start by examining various leadership and submission relationships.
II. Bible Roles that Involve Submission
In order to provide leadership in various relationships, God’s word authorizes leadership roles. Note some terms used to describe these leadership/submission roles:
A. “Submit,” “Subject”
The word, as used in these contexts, refers to a relationship in which one person(s) has authority over another. The one in authority has the right to make decisions or rules that the one in subjection is expected to follow. This word is used to refer to:
Subjection of people, the church, etc., to God and Christ
James 4:7 – Submit to God, but resist the devil.
Hebrews 12:9 – We should be subject to the Father of spirits. The context shows that He chastens us to teach us righteousness, which implies that we won’t always like His decisions.
Romans 8:7 – Subjection refers to submitting to God’s law.
1 Corinthians 15:27,28 – All things are made subject to Christ in that they submit to His reign (v25). Note that the word even includes involuntary submission of Jesus’ enemies.
Ephesians 1:22 – The Father “put all things under” Jesus’ feet and gave Him to be head over all things to the church, which is His body. This concludes an extended description of Jesus’ position of authority and power (vv 19-23).
Philippians 3:21 – Jesus is able to subdue all things to Himself.
[Romans 10:3; 1 Peter 3:22; 2 Corinthians 9:13]
Submission of citizens to civil government
Romans 13:1-5 – Be subject to governing authorities (vv 1,5), rather than withstanding or resisting them (vv 2,3). Those who resist do evil (v4) and bring judgment on themselves (v2).
Titus 3:1 – Be subject to rulers and authorities, to obey.
1 Peter 2:13,14 – Submit to “every” ordinances of kings and governors. Rulers punish evildoers and praise those who do good. So failure to submit is doing evil.
Obedience of servants to masters
Titus 2:9 – The word for “submission” is used to teach servants to be obedient to their masters, well pleasing in all things.
Subjection of children to parents
Hebrews 12:9 – Fathers chastise children, so we respect them. This is compared to our subjection to the Father of spirits.
1 Timothy 3:4 – An elder must “rule” well his own house having his children in submission with all reverence.
Subjection of the earth to man
Genesis 1:26-28 – At creation God gave man “dominion” over the animals, birds, fish, and the earth. He instructed man to subdue the earth.
Hebrews 2:5-8 – This principle is repeated in Psalms 8:4-6, which is quoted here. God set man over the works of His hands and put all things in subjection under his feet. So subjection refers to submitting to “dominion.”
Submission of women to men
Ephesians 5:22,24; Colossians 3:18; Titus 2:5; 1 Peter 3:1,5 (see notes and passages below)
This word refers to submission in the sense of obedience to one in authority. Two Greek words are important here.
This word means to listen or attend in the sense of obeying or submission. It is used to refer to:
Obedience of people or nature to God, Jesus, the gospel, etc.
2 Thessalonians 1:8 – Those who obey not the gospel will be destroyed.
Hebrews 5:9 – Jesus is the author of salvation to all who obey Him.
Romans 6:17 – You obeyed from the heart the doctrine delivered and were freed from sin.
Matthew 8:27 – The winds and the sea obey Him.
Acts 6:7 – A great company of priests were obedient to the faith.
[Romans 10:16; 2 Thessalonians 3:14; Hebrews 11:8; 2 Corinthians 10:5; 1 Peter 1:22]
Obedience of children to parents
Ephesians 6:1 – Children obey your parents in the Lord for this is right.
Obedience of servants to masters
Ephesians 6:5 – Servants be obedient to your masters
Obedience of wives to their husbands
1 Peter 3:6 – Sarah obeyed Abraham calling Him Lord.
[In Titus 2:5, the word for submission (above) is translated “obedient.”]
This also means to be persuaded, to listen to, to obey. It is related to the term for faith and is often translated trust, believe, be persuaded, etc.
Obedience to God, Jesus, the truth
Romans 2:8 – Some obey not the truth but obey unrighteousness
Galatians 3:1; 5:7 – Some were misled and did not obey the truth
Obedience of animals to humans
James 3:3 – We put bits in horses mouths so they will obey us.
Obedience of Christians to elders
Hebrews 13:17 – Obey those who rule over you and be submissive.
This word is used literally for the head of a man or animal, which makes decisions and gives directions to the body. In relationships of people it is used to refer to:
Christ as head of the church
Ephesians 1:22; 5:23 – The Father gave Jesus to be head over all things to the church, which is His body. These verses use both “head” and “submit” in the same sentence to refer to the same relationship. The church is the body in the sense that it must follow the decisions and directions given by the head.
Colossians 1:18 – He is the head of the body, the church … that in all things He may have the preeminence. So headship refers to preeminence.
[Ephesians 4:15; Colossians 2:19]
Christ as head over other authority
Colossians 2:10 – He is the head of all principality and power (NKJV footnote: rule and authority). This refers to the different levels of authority that exist. Some people have power over other people (rulers over citizens, parents over children, etc.). But the one with the highest authority over all other rulers is Christ. He has all authority in heaven and on earth (Matthew 28:18). He is King of kings and Lord of lords.
This point is also made in the context of Eph 1:19-23.
Husband as head over his wife
Ephesians 5:23 – The husband is the head of the wife as Christ is the head of the church.
1 Corinthians 11:3 – The head of every man is Christ and the head of the woman is the man.
These terms define and illustrate the concept of submission to authority.
This word, in the passages that interest us for this study, means to “be over, to superintend, preside over.” It is used for:
A father over his children
1 Timothy 3:4,12 – Elders and deacons must rule their children, having them in subjection.
A man over his household
1 Timothy 3:4,5,12 – Elders and deacons must rule well their own household
Elders over the church
1 Timothy 5:17 – Elders who rule well should be counted worthy of double honor.
[1 Thess. 5:12; Rom. 12:8]
Note that everyone is subject to someone else. The fact that we must submit to others does not make us less valued or important as people. No people are free to do just whatever they want to do. We must all learn to submit to authority.
III. The Husband as Head of the Home
Just as decisions must be made in the church, so decisions must be made in the home so it can function as God authorized. While there may be differences between church and home, we will see that there are definite similarities. To help us understand decision-making in the church, note first the following passages that teach men to make decisions for the family:
God created man, male and female, in his own image and gave them dominion over the animals and the earth. Note that man and woman were both created in God’s image, both possess authority (over the animals, earth, etc.), and both are subject to authority (of God). To teach that a woman should submit to her husband does not belittle her importance, nor does it deny that she does possess some authority.
The man was created first, and woman was created from man to be his helper (vv 18,20).
Everything God made was “very good” for the purpose for which He made it (1:31). Like all of God’s creatures, man and woman were each given the nature that suits the job for which they were created. Man was created to be the leader, so he has a nature suited to that job. Woman was created to be man’s helper and follower, so she was given a nature suited to her job. By nature she is suited to be man’s follower, not his leader.
Women do have leadership abilities, since they should exercise authority over children, animals, and perhaps other women. And degrees of ability vary from person to person. But in general a woman is suited for following a man, not leading a man.
To believe that women should lead men is to misunderstand the basic creation of woman.
The serpent tempted the woman and she sinned. She added to this sin by leading her husband to sin (v6). As a result, God punished everyone involved.
V16 – Part of woman’s punishment was that her husband would “rule“ over her. So woman must submit to her husband’s rule for two reasons: (1) woman was created to be man’s helper, not his leader, and (2) part of the consequence of sin was that her husband would rule over her.
The first sin involved a woman leaving her proper role as a helper and leading her husband instead of following him!
She should never have so acted, both because God had forbidden it, and because she had not consulted her husband’s will. She made the decision and acted without his authority. Then she urged him to follow her decision.
Adam sinned in improperly following the leadership of his wife.
Note v17 – Man was punished, not just because he ate the forbidden fruit, but also because he “heeded the voice” of his wife. He “hearkened unto” her voice (KJV, ASV). Adam should have rebuked Eve, both for disobeying God and for acting without his authority. Instead, he allowed her to take the lead. As a result God punished the man, both for eating the fruit, and for following his wife in a decision he knew was wrong.
Because the woman sinned in taking the decision-making role to herself, her punishment included restrictions on her role in decision-making – v16.
Woman’s punishment was appropriate to her sin. She had failed to follow her husband’s lead, then she led him to follow her into sin. So her punishment included that she must submit to her husband’s rule.
Even before the sin, the woman had been instructed to have children (1:28), the man had been instructed to work (2:15), and the woman had been assigned the role of follower. In a paradise, all these acts would have been pleasant and “very good” (1:31). The punishment consisted of the fact that, in a sin-cursed world, all these acts would now require hardship, frustration, difficulty, and even pain. In particular, conflict of wills and difficult circumstances would make it hard for woman to submit to her husband’s rule. This was the consequence of the sin.
Yes, it is hard for woman to submit to man, just as it is hard for man to provide family income. Yet we must not set aside God’s decreed punishments because they cause hardship. Men ought to make decisions fairly, yet there will still be times when submission is hard for women. We must not allow the hardship of women’s role to lead us to deny or undermine their responsibility to submit to men.
1 Timothy 3:4,12
1 Tim. 3:4,5 says an elder must rule his own house well, having his children in submission with all reverence. Likewise v12 says deacons must rule their children and their own houses well. Other translations read: “one who manages his own household well” (NASB, RSV), “manage his own family well” (NIV).
Note that, while children are specifically mentioned, yet the husband must “rule” his whole “house,” including his wife. If a man’s wife persists in disobeying him, she is not in subjection.
But the passage discusses the ability of the husband (elder or deacon) to demonstrate the kind of leadership needed in the church (v5). So having ones wife in subjection requires that the husband lead his wife and children wisely and well.
Ephesians 5:22-33; Colossians 3:18,19
Wives should submit to their own husbands as to the Lord, for the husband is head of the wife as Christ is head of the church. The wife should be subject to her own husband in everything as the church is subject to Christ, and she should respect her husband (Ephesians 5:22-24,33). The same is taught in Colossians 3:18.
However, husbands should love their wives as Christ loved the church and gave Himself for it. They should love their wives as their own bodies, which they nourish and cherish (Ephesians 5:25-29,33). They should love their wives and not be bitter against them (Colossians 3:19).
The terms “submit,” “subjection” and “head” require obedience to authority, as in other authority relations we have studied.
These same contexts discuss various authority relations, often using similar terms.
5:22-24,33 – Wives must submit to husbands and the church must submit to Christ.
6:1-4 – Children must obey and honor parents.
6:5-9 – Servants must obey masters, doing service with good will “as to the Lord.”
3:18 – Wives submit to your husbands
3:20 – Children obey your parents
3:22 – Servants obey in all things your masters according to the flesh.
So, the wife should obey the decisions of her husband like a body should obey its head, like the church should obey Christ, like servants should obey masters, etc. She has no more right to reject his decisions or to insist that he accept her will than do people in these other relations.
Other important expressions used
To make sure there is no doubt about what submission requires of women, other expressions in the contexts establish the meaning.
As the church is subject to Christ
Ephesians 5:22 – Submit “as to the Lord.”
Ephesians 5:23 – Husband is head of the wife “as also Christ is the head of head church.”
Ephesians 5:24 – “Just as the church is subject to Christ, so let the wives be to their own husbands.”
This shows that women should submit to their husbands in the same sense that we must all submit to God and Christ. This is how God Himself explains women’s subjection.
“In everything” (Ephesians 5:24).
The body has no right to reject instructions of the head, so the church has no right to ignore instructions of Christ. Likewise, the wife should submit to her husband “in everything.” She may not pick and choose. She may not set aside certain areas of her life and say the man cannot make decisions in those areas. She may not tell him that he must get her approval or that she must be allowed to have equal say. She must be subject “in everything” as the church is to Christ. The only exception is Acts 5:29.
Young women must be taught to be “obedient to their own husbands” (NKJV, KJV). Other translations say: “being in subjection to their own husbands” or “subject to” (NASB, NIV) or “submissive to” (RSV). This is the same word used in v9 that servants should be “obedient” to their masters, and in 3:1 that citizens should be subject to rulers.
Note: “That the word of God may not be blasphemed.” When women in the church do not act as they should in the home, people are caused to speak against God and His word.
1 Peter 3:1-7
Wives should be submissive to their own husbands that, even if some do not obey the word, they, without a word, may be won by the conduct of their wives. The context similarly commands citizens to submit rulers (2:13,14) and servants to submit to masters (2:18).
Submission is required even when leaders misuse their authority.
Women and servants (2:18) are expressly instructed not to justify disobeying their leaders on the grounds that the leaders are disobeying God. In particular, wives must not justify rebelling by claiming their husbands have misused their authority. Instead, the passage says that the leader’s disobedience to God is just more reason to obey him, so you can set a good example for him and may even convert him.
A meek and quiet woman is “very precious” in the sight of God.
Modern society says women should be self-assertive, yet that is the opposite of meekness. The loud, boisterous, domineering spirit is clearly forbidden.
Yet meekness is not a sign of weakness of character, for it takes a strong person to submit respectfully to others. Nor does quietness mean she never has anything to say. All Christians are commanded to lead a quiet life, but this does not mean we never speak (1 Thess. 4:11; 2 Thess. 3:12). Likewise, a godly wife should be meek and quiet; yet the husband should honestly evaluate her views, provided she expresses them respectfully.
Old Testament examples of proper submission
Peter says to imitate godly women in the past who were modest and submissive to their husbands, specifically Sarah. Sarah was beautiful and influential, yet she was modest and submissive. She demonstrates that women need not be plain or shallow to be modest, meek, and quiet.
Note that she “obeyed” her husband even to the point of calling him “lord” (Gen. 18:12).
Husbands must honor and seek to understand their wives.
God not only tells the woman to submit, He also warns the husband to love his wife to the point of understanding her needs. Too many husbands think they get to do what they want without regard for the wife’s needs or interests. When a husband thinks he does not have to respect his wife’s needs, he will not only have an unhappy wife, but God will not even hear his prayers!
Further, the husband must honor his wife as the weaker vessel. He “honors” her by respecting, praising, appreciating, and valuing her. God views her as “precious” (v4). The husband must cherish her as his own body and as the Lord does the church (Eph. 5:28-30). He should praise a worthy wife for her goodness (Prov. 31:28-31). One who finds a wife finds a good thing and obtains favor of the Lord (Prov. 18:22; 19:14).
Finally, the husband should realize the wife is a joint-heir of the grace of God (cf. Gal. 3:28). She will be saved by the same Savior, according to the same gospel, with the same eternal reward. Men and women have different roles in the home and in the church, but this does not in any way mean the man is more important or will receive a greater reward. He should not treat his wife as spiritually inferior or less important than him. Instead, man and wife should help one another serve God so both can receive eternal life.
[1 Corinthians 11:3; 14:34; 1 Timothy 2:12-14]
Observations and Conclusions Based on the Scriptures
1. The leader (man) is responsible to make final decisions. All followers (family members) should submit to his decisions.
Other family members may not disregard the husband’s will, nor may they seek to bind their decisions on him. When he believes necessary, he has the right to change or annul their decisions or to instruct them to make different decisions, but not vice versa. All this has been emphasized repeatedly in our study by the terms “submit” (or “be subject”), “obey,” and “head.”
2. Followers (family members) may refuse to obey the leader’s decisions only when obedience to the leader requires disobedience to God.
Acts 5:29 – We must obey God rather than man. Remember that the passage does not make an exception for the case where the one possessing authority committed some sin, but for the case where the one under authority would sin if they obeyed the human authority. “
3. Leaders (men) should consider the well being of the followers (family) and make decisions in love for the good of all.
Consider Bible instructions about love
Matthew 22:36-40 – The greatest two commands, including loving our neighbor as ourselves, must motivate our conduct in all other commands, including our use of authority.
1 Corinthians 13:4-7 – Love teaches us to be, not proud nor selfish, but patient. God gives us authority, not to promote our own selfish ambitions, but to serve others and please God.
1 Peter 3:7 – The command to understand the wife requires the husband to make decisions based on putting himself in the wife’s place and considering her needs, not just to please himself.
Matthew 7:12 – As in all other relationships, leaders should treat other people the way they would want to be treated.
This does not mean leaders should do whatever the followers tell them to do. That would turn the followers into the leaders! The leaders should make the decisions, but they should do so based on what is best for the people they lead.
Consider the example of Jesus
The Bible upholds Jesus as the ideal leader we should imitate, so consider His example.
Philippians 2:2-8 – Love (v2) teaches us not to act from selfish ambition or conceit but to consider others to be more important than we are (v3). Pursue their interests as well as our own (v4). Jesus possessed ultimate power; but like Him, leaders should sacrifice our own will for the good of others (vv 5-8).
Ephesians 5:22-29 – Men should love their wives as Christ loved the church and as a man loves his own body. Christ has authority over the church, but He used His authority in love to the point of giving His life for the church [John 15:12,13]. Likewise, a man would not neglect his body, so he should not neglect his wife but nourish and cherish her.
No man has the right to make decisions without regard to the well being of his wife. And no man has the right to emphasize his own needs and desires above those of his wife. To do so would be a selfish, unloving abuse of authority. In short, it would be sinful.
In this sense, the man’s authority is not a privilege but a responsibility. Men must put the well being of their followers ahead of their personal desires. Followers must still abide by the decisions of those in authority, even when they don’t like the decisions. But to please God, those with authority must act in love.
[Revelation 3:19; 1 Sam. 25:14,17; 30:22-24; 1 Kings 12:6-16; Isa. 52:5; Jer. 23:1-15; Micah 3:1-12; Matt. 18:26-34; 24:45-50; Luke 12:42-47; Eph. 6:9; Acts 20:35; 1 John 3:16-18]
4. In considering decisions, leaders (men) should consult the followers (family).
Love should teach men to consider the views of others.
Ephesians 5:28,29 – Husbands should love their wives like they nourish and cherish their own bodies. But doesn’t your body tell the head when it’s hungry or tired or hurt or cold? How can the head know what the body needs, if it ignores the body’s communication? So how can a husband provide for his wife if doesn’t listen to her?
1 Timothy 5:8 – If a man will not provide for his household, he is worse than an unbeliever. But how can a man care for his wife if he won’t listen to find out what she needs? One of the biggest mistakes leaders make is assuming we know what other people need without asking them.
1 Peter 3:7 – The husband should treat his wife with understanding. But no man is a mind reader. How can a man understand a woman, if he won’t listen to her (1 Cor. 2:11)?
Matthew 7:12 – Love leads us to put ourselves in other people’s place and treat them the way we believe we ought to be treated in their place. Often a man will make decisions that his family dislikes without consulting them. But let that man’s supervisors do the same to him, and listen to him scream! We should learn to treat others the way we want to be treated.
[Matt. 23:4; Rom. 2:1,2,21-24; Phil. 2:3-8; Rom. 12:3,16]
Jesus’ example should teach us to consider the views of others.
Ephesians 5:25 – Husbands should love their wives as Christ loved the church. Does Jesus consider the needs of the church? Does he allow the church to communicate its needs?
Matthew 7:7-11 – He said to ask, and we shall receive. Our Father considers our requests and gives what we need. This is what prayer is all about.
God does not always give exactly what we asked for, but He does give what we need. This is the example human leaders should follow. The point is that God does listen, and our requests often change the course of subsequent events. How can we as human leaders do less?
[Zech. 13:9; James 5:16-18; Phil. 4:6]
Good decisions often require advice and consultation with others.
James 1:19 – Every man should be swift to hear, slow to speak. People in authority often make poor decisions simply because they aren’t willing to listen to other views.
Genesis 2:18 – Specifically, God created woman to be man’s helper. She helps in many ways, one of which may be by giving good advice.
Just because a man should consider advice from others, does not mean he is always obligated to follow it. Not all advice is good advice. A leader must evaluate the input, especially considering the reasons people offer for their views. Then he must apply the standards of love, God’s word, and the example of Jesus to objectively decide what he sincerely believes to be the best decision. Then the family must follow the decisions made – that is the nature of authority.
[Prov. 31:26; 11:14; 1 Sam. 25:23-25; Esth. 7; Matt. 14:1-4; 2 Sam. 12:1-15; 2 Kings 5:13]
5. The right to make decisions authorizes the leader (man) to decide how he will consult others and when and where he will make decisions.
We have seen that the man often should consult his family, but nothing inherently requires him to consult them in any particular way, time, or place. He may choose to discuss with them one by one, in small groups, or all together in a group. The right to lead is the right to decide how best to make a decision, subject to God’s law.
In particular, the man is not required to make each decision in the presence of the family. Often a leader can make the best decisions when he is alone without the pressure of other people’s presence. Then he reveals the decision to the group.
The right to make decisions inherently includes the right to decide when and where you will make them! The followers do not have the right to dictate when, where, or how you decide.
6. The leader’s (man’s) decisions do not need the followers’ ratification.
They family has no right to veto, annul, override, or refuse to follow the husband’s decisions (except as in Acts 5:29). This conclusion is inherent in the nature of authority and necessarily follows from all the Scriptures we have studied.
Every home has times of conflict when not everyone agrees regarding decisions. Sometimes, regardless of what is decided, someone will be dissatisfied. We naturally think our views are the best, so we think others should agree with us if they would just be reasonable. So, whenever someone makes a decision we don’t like, we naturally tend to think they were unreasonable!
But in order for the family to function despite such conflicts, someone must have the power to make decisions and insist those decisions be followed. The main point of authority is that it enables the making of necessary decisions, even when people disagree.
It necessarily follows that authority means the leader may make decisions even when some members disagree. If members of the group may override or refuse to follow decisions, the whole purpose of authority is defeated.
But how the decision was reached is a matter of judgment. We may disagree with a decision, but that does not mean the one in authority sinned, unless we can prove that they violated specific Scripture – not just that they violated our wishes or even our opinions about Scripture.
7. This authority of men over wives includes church decisions and activities.
Note: “in everything” (Ephesians 5:24). Wouldn’t this include in the church?
If men may not make binding decisions in the church without the agreement and approval of their wives, then wouldn’t that mean that the church is one area in which women do not need to submit to their husbands? The view that men cannot enforce their decisions on the church without the approval/ratification of the group (including the women) necessarily constitutes a denial of husbands’ authority over their own wives.
If the women in the church may nullify or refuse to follow the men’s decisions, then that would mean the wives may refuse to submit to their husbands’ authority. How can such a view be harmonized with the Bible teaching about the authority of husbands? So even without consulting passages that specifically discuss the church, we can conclude that wives must submit to the authority of their husbands in church decisions.
And further, all the above points are important principles of good leadership in essentially any leadership role. The same principles should apply for husbands leading wives, parents leading children, civil rulers leading citizens, and employers leading employees. So why should anyone think these principles do not apply in church leadership? In fact, it would take major, specific evidence for us to conclude that these principles do not apply in the church.
IV. The Value of Women in Their Scriptural Roles
God’s word honors and values women for their work as highly as it does men for their work.
Spiritual Roles of Women in General
Women are joint heirs of eternal life equally with men.
1 Peter 3:7 – Husbands should honor their wives as heirs together of the grace of life.
Galatians 3:26-29 – In Christ Jew and Greek are one, slaves and freemen are one, and male and female are one. This does not say these people all have the same authority. Do slaves have the same authority as freemen? The context is discussing, not who possesses authority, but who can be children of God (vv 26,27) and heirs according to the promise to Abraham (v29).
Women in the Bible were valued for their important spiritual work.
* Luke 1:26-56 – Mary was honored to be Jesus’ mother. But Jesus had no earthly father.
* Luke 10:38-42 – Mary and Martha were two of Jesus’ closest disciples.
* Matthew 27:55,56; Luke 8:2,3 – Several other women followed and provided for Jesus.
* Acts 9:36-42; 16:11-15; Romans 16:1,2 – Dorcas, Lydia, Phoebe and other godly women are expressly commended for their good works.
* Acts 2:14; 5:14; 8:12; 12:12-17; 17:4,12,34; 2 Tim. 1:5 – Other passages mention women who were disciples, sometimes naming them, other times not.
* 1 Peter 3:5,6; Heb. 11:11,31 – Several godly women from the Old Testament are expressly upheld as good examples for New Testament women: Sarah, Rahab, Deborah, Ruth, Esther, etc.
* 1 Timothy 5, Titus 2 and other passages expressly list good works that women can do.
God has valuable work for women to do and offers them eternal life alongside men.
In particular, women are greatly valued for their role as homemakers.
Titus 2:3-5 – Young women should be taught to love their husbands and children, be discreet, chaste, homemakers, etc.
Proverbs 31:10-31 – The work of a worthy woman is described in great detail, stating that she should be praised for her good work. I know of no passage that similarly describes the work of men and urges people to praise them.
Proverbs 19:14 – Houses and riches are an inheritance from fathers, but a prudent wife is from the Lord. [12:4]
Proverbs 18:22 – He who finds a wife finds a good thing, and obtains favor from the Lord.
God honors women in their role as wives, mothers and homemakers. Men ought likewise to appreciate and praise them.
[1 Timothy 5:14; Psalm 113:9]
God values people for their service, not their authority – Matthew 20:25-28.
Society greatly honors people with authority, but it is not so among God’s people. Those whom God considers great are those who serve others.
One writer cited this passage to prove:
- When men, serving as overseers, override, overturn, or in any way attempt to countermand the concensus [sic] of the brethren IN MATTERS OF JUDGMENT [his emphasis], they are exercising the kind of lordship that Jesus expressly stated would not be part of the spiritual kingdom. – Dusty Owens, The Examiner, Vol 1, No. 3, p. 8
But the passage says no such thing. It nowhere forbids exercise of authority. Jesus used Himself as the example to imitate, but He possessed authority and He ordained other authority relationships, such as parents over children, civil rulers over citizens, etc.
The point is that possession of authority does not inherently make one great. People without authority can be as great or greater than those who do have it. Are rulers greater before God than citizens or employers greater than employees, simply because they differ in authority?
Likewise, the fact men have authority over women does not mean God honors women less than He does men. Women who serve in harmony with God’s will are equally as valuable as men, regardless of differences in authority.
Responsibility of Women in Teaching and Imparting Spiritual Truth
Women may teach children and other women.
Exodus 15:20,21 – Moses’ sister Miriam led the women of Israel in praising God.
Proverbs 31:1 – King Lemuel was taught by his mother.
Proverbs 1:8 – A son should hear his father’s instruction and not forsake his mother’s law.
Luke 1:39-56 – Elisabeth and Mary admonished and encouraged one another praising God.
2 Timothy 1:5 – From childhood Timothy had been taught the sacred Scriptures (3:15). The faith he possessed clearly came through his grandmother Lois and mother Eunice.
Titus 2:3-5 – Older women are commanded to teach younger women.
Note that Christian women are not only permitted to teach, they are commanded to do so! God’s word does limit women’s role, but to deny that women have a role in teaching God’s word, or to restrict them so they cannot fulfill their role, would be to completely contradict Scripture!
[Ruth 1:8-17; 2:20]
Women may also discuss and impart truth in small group discussions with men, so long as they do not exercise authority over men.
Note the following examples:
Luke 2:36-39 – Anna the prophetess spoke about Jesus to people who came into the temple. This apparently occurred in small groups but in a public place of worship. She spoke to “all who looked for redemption,” which would include men.
Luke 10:40-42 – Jesus had a spiritual discussion about proper priorities with Martha in her home. She made a comment and He responded.
John 4:19-26 – Jesus participated in a religious discussion with a Samaritan woman at Jacob’s well (a public place). The discussion began on non-religious matters, but Jesus turned it to spiritual things. The woman asked Him spiritual questions and commented on His answers.
John 4:28-30,39,42 – The woman then told the men of the city the things she had learned about Jesus, imparting spiritual truth and asking them rhetorical questions. Nothing implies that she publicly preached a sermon or addressed a church (or synagogue) assembly. Yet she discussed God’s word in such a way that many people sought further information. As a result many became disciples.
John 11:20-27 – Jesus and Martha conducted a spiritual discussion, each responding to one another by affirming spiritual truths. So, Jesus allowed women to state spiritual truth to men in small groups. [Luke 10:38-42]
Matthew 28:1-8; Luke 24:9,10; John 20:16-18 – An angel told women to report to men that Jesus had been raised. Jesus specifically told Mary to deliver to the brethren a message about His ascension. So several women met in small group meeting(s) with a number of men and delivered a spiritual message to them. This occurred by the specific authority of Jesus and an angel. __3811_230662889″>The church had not yet begun, but would Jesus and the angel have instructed these women to do something that would violate the New Testament teaching for the church when it did begin?
Acts 18:26 – Apollos taught in the synagogue in Ephesus but lacked knowledge. So Aquila and his wife Priscilla explained God’s way to him more accurately. The passage names both Aquila and Priscilla and says they explained God’s way to this man. The language necessarily means that a woman was involved in helping teach (impart spiritual truth to) a man. They left the assembly to do this (“took him aside”), hence a small group meeting.
Acts 2:17; 21:8,9 – The Old Testament predicted that women would be prophetesses. As an example, the four daughters of Philip the evangelist prophesied, apparently in the presence of Paul and other men. The implication is that this was done in a small meeting (not the whole church), and men heard the prophecies.
These passages show women in spiritual discussions with men. They asked and answered spiritual questions and in some cases even imparted spiritual truth to men. But no passage says women imparted God’s word in the congregational assemblies of the church, in the parallel synagogue assemblies, or in any capacity in which they would be exercising authority over men.
The Bible does not degrade women. On the contrary, the gospel views women with the highest respect offered by any major religion. The reason people criticize Bible teaching about women is, not because the Bible disrespects women, but simply because the Bible does not say what some folks want it to say.
V. Male Leadership Roles in the Church
We have already learned that men should be the leaders in the home. We will here see that the same is true in the church.
The Head of the Church Is Masculine.
Ephesians 1:22,23; 5:22-33 – Jesus is head over all things to the church (Col. 1:18; Matt. 16:18). In fact, Jesus’ headship over the church is used to illustrate man’s headship over woman.
Jesus is also our only mediator with God (1 Timothy 2:5), and our High Priest (Hebrews 7:25-27). So the highest authority role in the church is occupied by a male authority figure who lived on earth as a man. This is a fact beyond reasonable dispute.
All Apostles Were Men.
Apostles exercised a leadership role in the early church.
Apostles accomplished several tasks in the early church, including teaching God’s word publicly, bearing witness for Jesus’ resurrection, and also leading in decision-making.
Acts 1:20 – Matthias was chosen as an apostle to take the place of Judas. This fulfilled a prophecy that one would take his “office” (“bishopric” – KJV; “overseership” – ASV footnote; “place of leadership” – NIV; “position of overseer” – NASB footnote; Greek is a form of the word for overseer/bishop).
Acts 4:35,37 – When the church took collections for the needy, the gifts were laid them at the apostles’ feet, and they distributed to each as anyone had need.
Acts 6:2,3,6 – When the supervision of this distribution became burdensome, the twelve summoned the multitude of the disciples and said to find seven men that the apostles might appoint over this business. Note that the apostles led in determining how to deal with the problem.
Acts 9:27 – Barnabas brought Saul to the apostles to explain that Saul had been converted and should be received by the church.
Acts 15:6 – The apostles and elders met to consider the problem of men from Jerusalem who were teaching that circumcision and keeping the law was necessary to salvation. (Cf. 16:4).
All these passages describe the apostles as having leadership and a decision-making role in the early church.
[1 Thessalonians 2:6]
Yet apostles were always men.
Matthew 10:1-34 – The original twelve were men (note: “men of Galilee” – Acts 1:11). [Luke 10:13-16; Acts 1:13,26]
Acts 1:21,26 – Matthias was chosen to replace Judas. He was a man.
1 Corinthians 1:1; 9:1; 2 Corinthians 11:5; 12:11,12 – Paul was chosen as an apostle as one born out of due time. He was a man.
This was the highest role of human leadership in the early church. Each apostle was specifically and expressly chosen by Jesus Himself, and every one who served in that office was a man. With the completion of the New Testament, this office is no longer needed. Yet it fits the pattern that church leadership roles were exercised by men.
All Elders Must Be Men.
The elders had leadership authority in the local churches.
Note from the following passages that “elder,” “bishop,” and “pastor” are different terms referring to the same work or office in the local church.
Acts 20:17,28; 1 Peter 5:1,2 – “Overseers” (“bishops”) “take oversight” of the local congregation. This word means “…a man charged with the duty of seeing that things to be done by others are done rightly, … guardian, or superintendent…” – GWT.
Ephesians 4:11; Acts 20:17,28; 1 Peter 5:1,2 – “Pastors” (shepherds) tend the local church like shepherds guiding or caring for their flock.
1 Timothy 5:17; Hebrews 13:7,17; 1 Timothy 3:4,5 – They “rule” in the congregation, and others should “submit” to them and “obey” them.
Elders are also responsible to teach the church, including teaching men authoritatively (1 Tim. 3:2; Titus 1:9-14; Heb. 13:17).
Note that the terms used for the leadership of elders in the church are similar to those used for the leadership of husbands in the home. They guide, oversee, and rule. The members should submit and obey. These terms show that elders have the right to make decisions that others are obligated to follow.
Decisions must be made in a local church. The men responsible to see that these decisions are rightly made are the elders. They must not lead the church into activities unauthorized in the gospel; but in carrying out authorized acts, there are many decisions that need to be made. These men are also responsible to teach men authoritatively and to address the assembled church.
Yet elders were always men.
* 1 Timothy 3:1,2; Titus 1:5,6 – Each elder (or bishop) must be the husband of one wife. “Husband” literally means “man” or “male” (the context is what indicates that he is married, hence a “husband”). Further, he must be a husband to one wife (literally “woman”). But a woman cannot Scripturally be a husband to a woman/wife (Genesis 2:18-24; 1 Corinthians 7:2-4).
* Further, an elder must rule well his own house (1 Tim. 3:4,5). But we have learned from other Scriptures that the husband, not the wife, is to rule the family.
Note that the passages say that the elders “must” meet the above requirements. This is not option or suggestion. These are God-given requirements.
Since the death of the apostles, the elders occupy the highest leadership role in the church, leading both men and women. They too are always and necessarily men, not women.
All Deacons Must Be Men.
Deacons were men.
“Deacon” means “servant,” so one might be a deacon without exercising leadership. Nevertheless, the responsibilities might at times involve making decisions that other men in the church ought to follow.
1 Timothy 3:12 – Those who are qualified to serve in the office of deacon were always men, since like the elders, they must also be husbands of one wife, ruling their households well.
Acts 6:3-6 – The seven who were appointed to be “over” the business of distributing to the needy in the Jerusalem church definitely had some decision-making role. And all seven were “men.”
Some claim female “deaconesses” served in the early church (Rom. 16:1,2). “Servant” is the feminine form of the word that is elsewhere translated “deacon,” however the word is more commonly translated simply “servant” or “minister,” even for men who are not appointed to an office (1 Thess. 3:2; 1 Tim. 4:6; John 12:26). (This is similar to the word “elder,” which is sometimes used to refer simply to one who is older, but not appointed to an office – Titus 2:2-4.)
So, the word for “servant” refers to an appointed office only when the context necessarily implies it. But no context anywhere designates a woman as appointed to any office in the church. We know that men were appointed to an office of elder, because we have passages that describe them being ordained (Acts 14:23) and passages that state the specific qualifications one must meet before being appointed (1 Timothy 3:1-7; Titus 1:5-9). Likewise, we have a list of qualifications for men who serve in the office of deacon (1 Timothy 3:8-13).
But what passage anywhere states that women were ever appointed or ordained to any office in the church? And what passage states the qualifications they must meet in order to be appointed? In the absence of a description of their qualifications or a passage describing their ordination, the only fair conclusion is that there was no such office. If there was, we could never know who would qualify or who should be appointed.
Even more important, no passage anywhere describes any such women having leadership over men or a decision-making role equivalent to that of any man. In short, there is no evidence that any women ever served in an office of “deaconess” that involved them in leading men or making decisions as men did.
All Who Wrote Books of the Bible Were Men.
The Bible, of course, was written to teach authoritatively both men and women.
While we do not know the authors of some books, yet to the extent we know the authors, they were always men: Moses, Joshua, Peter, Paul, John, Matthew, Luke, etc. There is no evidence whatever that any woman authored any part of any book of the Bible.
Surely this evidence begins to mount up. Surely there is some reason why, in the New Testament, it was men – always men and only men – who occupied positions in the church that involved leadership or authority over men. The kind of thing that is advocated by feminists, denominationalists, and even some in the Lord’s church simply never happened. Surely this is related to the Bible concept of women’s subjection to men.
All Who Taught With Authority Over Men or Who Addressed Congregational
Assemblies Were Men.
Before Jesus’ death, He established the pattern of male leadership in teaching.
Many examples during Jesus’ lifetime illustrate teaching in a leadership role over men (and women). The church had not yet begun, but Jesus’ teaching was intended to prepare for the kingdom. He taught people to obey the Old Testament as long as it remained in effect. But He also followed principles of teaching and leadership. Would He have established patterns in such matters that would violate the New Testament teaching for the church when it did begin?
Matthew 4:23; 9:35; 13:54 – Jesus taught in synagogue meetings. These were generally meetings of the whole assembly of Jews: men and women assembled together. These appear to me to be the closest equivalent during Jesus’ lifetime to the assemblies of local churches. In every case, those who spoke are listed as men. I cannot find any case where a woman ever spoke in such a meeting. They not only did not lead the discussions, but there is no record that they even spoke to the group. Not one time. [Mark 1:21,39; 6:2; Luke 4:15,16,44; 6:6; 13:10; John 6:59; 18:20]
Matthew 5:1; 11:7; 12:46; 13:2,34; 15:10; 23:1 – Jesus also taught in “multitudes” or crowds. These do not appear to be as similar to our congregational assemblies as were synagogue meetings. The synagogue consisted of people committed to be part of it (like the local church). The multitudes were less formally organized. Some may have been smaller groups. These consisted of mixed groups of men and women. In rare cases, especially in smaller groups, women may have asked a question or made a comment. But in every case, those wholed such studies were men, never women. [Mark 2:2,13; 3:7,20,32; 4:1; 5:31; 6:30; 7:14; 8:1; 9:14; 10:1; Luke 5:1,15; 6:17ff; 7:24; 8:4; 9:11; 11:29; 12:1,54; 14:25; John 6:2]
Luke 3:7 – John the Baptist also taught such multitudes.
So, those who led discussions of spiritual matters in mixed groups (men and women) were always men. And when the synagogue met as an assembled, organized body, there is no record of women ever speaking at all; only men spoke.
After Jesus’ death, again men taught in leadership roles over men and in the assemblies of local churches.
Acts 9:20; 13:5,14-16,42,43; 14:1; 17:1-3,10,17; 18:4,19,26; 19:8 – Paul and his companions often taught in Jewish synagogues. These were no longer God’s people, but teaching there involved teaching both men and women. And they still illustrate the nature of congregational assemblies similar to church assemblies. And when Christians taught in such mixed meetings, those who led were always men.
Acts 18:26 – Apollos taught in the synagogue, then Aquila and Priscilla explained God’s way to him more accurately. Here a woman was involved in helping impart spiritual truth to a man; but note that they left the assembly to do this (“took him aside”), hence a small group meeting. So, numerous examples show men teaching in synagogue assemblies; but when a woman was involved in the speaking, it was not done when the entire body was assembled.
Acts 7 – Stephen addressed the Sanhedrin council (consisting of men). He authoritatively taught them and rebuked them for their sins.
Acts 6:2-5 – The apostles instructed the multitude of the disciples to choose seven men to be in charge of distributing to needy members. It appears that the whole group was involved in choosing the men (based on qualifications that were described), but how people indicated their choice is not stated. The only ones who are mentioned as speaking were men. The decision of how to resolve the problem was made by men (the apostles). And all the people chosen to be in charge of the work were men. (See further notes on this passage later.)
Acts 11:25,26 – The church in Antioch assembled and many people were taught. Those mentioned as doing the teaching were men. No women are mentioned as saying anything.
Acts 11:22-24; 13:1-3; 15:27,30-32,39-41 – Those who were chosen by local churches and sent out to proclaim the word were always men.
Acts 14:27 – Paul and Barnabas assembled the church together and reported about their preaching trip. Again, a congregation assembled, but only men are said to have spoken.
Acts 15:3,4 – Again, Paul and Barnabas assembled with several churches to tell about their preaching work. Only men are said to have spoken in these church meetings.
Acts 15:6-29 – The apostles and elders met to consider the issue of whether or not people must still keep the Old Testament law. The decision regarding the law was made in private by men, then it was revealed to the congregation who accepted it as a good decision. All the people who spoke were men, no women are said to have spoken. And the decision was made by the leaders. (Cf. 16:4.) (See further notes on this passage later.)
Acts 15:30-32 – The church in Antioch assembled to receive the letter from Jerusalem. The ones who spoke in this congregational meeting were men (v32).
Acts 20:7 – The disciples in Troas met to have the Lord’s Supper. The one who spoke was a man (Paul). No indication that women spoke at all.
The pattern to this point is consistent, both during and after Jesus’ lifetime.
The following pattern has been established by example after example, role after role, based on literally dozens of passages.
1) Only men, never women, were ever appointed to roles/offices in the church that involved leading men or making decisions for the group.
2) When men participated, spiritual teaching or discussions were led by men, never by women.
3) When churches assembled as a body or entire group for church functions, the only people who ever spoke or addressed the group were men – no examples of women speaking.
VI. A Closer Study of 1 Timothy 2:11-14
A few passages specifically address the subject of women teaching or exercising authority over men in spiritual teaching or church activities. We will see that these passages confirm the pattern we have seen from the examples, stating these conclusions as applications of the principle of women’s subjection to men.
Let us begin with 1 Timothy 2:11-14.
The Circumstances to Which the Passage Applies
This passage applies, not just to congregational meetings, but to any spiritual teaching or leadership situation involving both men and women.
What is there in the context that would limit the application of this passage to church meetings or functions? The whole chapter describes general life situations. This would include church meetings, but not exclusively or primarily so. Consider:
Vv 1,2,8 – Prayer is done, not just in church meetings, but “everywhere” (v8). [“Men” may refer to male leadership, but still prayer is done “everywhere,” not just in church meetings.]
Vv 3-7 – Salvation in Christ is not limited to church meetings.
V5 – Jesus is our mediator. Is that just in church functions? What about private prayers?
Vv 9,10 – Modesty in women does not apply just in church meetings.
Vv 13-15 – Likewise, the principle of women being subject to men is here stated in general, not referring just to church meetings.
Nothing in the context refers specifically to church meetings or activities. Everything applies outside those meetings as well as inside them. We conclude that, while the principles of vv 11,12 would apply in church meetings, they are not limited to there.
(We will see that this differs from the context of 1 Cor. 14:34,35, which does refer to assemblies of the whole church and teaches that women should be silent and not even speak.)
The Meaning of “Silence” in This Context
The passage teaches women to learn in silence, with all submission, not teaching over men. But “silence” here refers to a quiet manner, not that women do not speak at all.
We have learned that the passage has general application, not just to church meetings. If “silence” meant she could not speak at all, then a woman could never speak a word in any Bible study situation anytime, anywhere if men are present. She could not even discuss with her own husband. But we have learned that women may speak in many Bible study situations. If absolute silence is here required, that would contradict many other passages.
Other translations say she should learn in “quietness” (ASV, NIV) or “quietly” (NASB, ESV). “Quietness” does not necessarily mean she must not speak anything at all.
Various forms of this same word elsewhere refer to restrained, reserved conduct, calm, peaceful, not causing disturbance or trouble – i.e., quietness. It does not require saying nothing.
2 Thessalonians 3:12 – Christians are commanded to work in “quietness” (noun just like 1 Timothy 2:11,2) and eat their own bread. Absolute silence?
1 Timothy 2:2, in our context, says to pray to “lead a quiet (adj.) and peaceable life in all godliness.” Must we pray that we might never speak?
1 Thessalonians 4:11 – We should aspire to “lead a quiet (adj.) life, to mind your own business…” Must we aspire to never speak?
Acts 11:18 – People were “silent” (verb) and yet they spoke! Silence does not mean absolutely not speaking.
Acts 21:14 – People “ceased” (“fell silent” – NASB, verb), yet at the same time they said something. So they were “silent” even as they spoke!
In Luke 23:56 women rested (verb) on the Sabbath – i.e., they were quiet. Did the Sabbath rest require people to never speak?
Acts 22:2; Luke 14:4 – These are the only places where forms of this word refer to not speaking, yet even here they are a matter of degree. They were “more silent” (“more quiet” – ASV; all standard versions use “more” – KJV, NKJV, ASV, NASB). The people were already “silent” but became more silent. So “silence” is relative and does not inherently mean no speaking.
1 Peter 3:4 – To be in subjection, women must be characterized by “a meek and quiet (adj.) spirit.” Note the parallel of 1 Pet. 3:1-6 to 1 Tim. 2:9-15. Both use the term to describe submission of women, and both show that “quietness” means a submissive attitude, not an authoritative, pushy, or stubborn, rebellious manner. When you understand what “quiet” means in 1 Peter 3:4, then you understand what it means in 1 Timothy 2:11,12!
Conclusions regarding “silence” in 1 Timothy 2
The general meaning of this word (and its related forms) is a quiet, respectful manner of conduct. It rarely refers to absolute silence with no speech at all, and then only when context requires it. There are different kinds and different degrees of “silence.”
If “quietness” in 1 Timothy 2 means women may not speak at all, that would even apply regarding subjection to her husband at home. Yet we have seen passages showing that women may discuss the Bible with their husbands and with other men. Specifically, even 1 Cor. 14:34,35 says she should ask her husband questions at home.
So 1 Timothy 2 does not forbid all speech by women. Rather, it forbids a woman to take any leading role over men in teaching or other spiritual matters, even outside the church assemblies.
In a group of men and women apart from a church function, may a woman preach a sermon, lead a Bible study, lead singing, or lead prayer? Some would claim she may. Movies and books often describe women doing such things. How do we know if this is right?
The answer is that 1 Timothy 2 applies to such situations and forbids such conduct. And this agrees with all the Bible examples we have studied. But if 1 Timothy 2 does not apply to such situations, then we have no passage that directly states the principles involved.
[The phrase “over the man” must modify both “teach” and “have authority” in a manner similar to Acts 4:18. Woman may not teach or otherwise exercise authority over a man. We have already learned that women may teach, when it does not involve authority over men.]
[A different form of the same word is also used in 1 Tim. 2:2; 1 Thess. 4:11; Acts 11:18; 21:14; Luke 23:56.]
The Teaching of the Passage about Submission vs. Exercise of Authority
The passage teaches that women must not exercise authority over men.
She must not “have authority” (NKJV, NIV, RSV), “have dominion” (ASV), “exercise authority” (NASB, ESV), etc. In any situation where she is forbidden to teach over a man, she is likewise forbidden to exercise authority over him.
Note that God does not just forbid a woman to take authority against a man’s objections. He forbids her to even “have” or “exercise“ authority over a man, regardless of how she receives that authority. Men may not grant her the right to exercise authority over them, for God has forbidden it. If men tell her to lead them in Bible study or singing, etc., she still must refuse. She may make suggestions in a submissive manner, but the men must lead.
And note that this passage teaches submission, not just to the elders or apostles, but to men in general. Even if there are no elders, then the women must still submit to the men.
Why may women not exercise authority? Because they must be submissive (v11).
But why must they be in subjection? Note the “for.” Two reasons are given:
Reason #1: V13 – For Adam was formed first, then Eve. This refers to the creation (Gen. 2:18ff) as discussed earlier regarding wives’ subjection to husbands. [See also 1 Cor. 11:3,8,9.]
Reason #2: V14 – Adam was not deceived, but the woman being deceived, fell into transgression. This refers to the punishment of woman for sin (Gen. 3), as also discussed earlier.
But these are the same reasons why women must be subject to their husbands! Subjection of women to men in spiritual teaching and decisions is just an extension of their subjection to husbands. The same reasons apply in both situations.
Conclusions Regarding Church Leadership
The principles of 1 Timothy 2 apply both inside and outside church activities, including decision making.
Any arrangement is forbidden if it gives women greater say than men or equal say with men in church decisions.
If she has greater say, then she is exercising authority. If she has equal say or shared authority, she is still not in subjection! It follows specifically that God here forbids any concept of “congregational meetings” or “business meetings” that gives the women equal voice with the men or that gives women power to defeat decisions made by the men.
Some claim that decisions made by the men – and maybe even by the elders – must be submitted to meetings of the whole congregation, including the women, to be accepted or rejected by group consensus; otherwise their decisions are not binding. Such an arrangement violates the principle of women’s subjection to men.
Consider some consequences of the fact that 1 Timothy 2 compares man’s leadership in the home to his leadership in the church.
Surely men should consider the needs of women in making decisions in the church, just as they should in the home. This requires communication; however, the Bible nowhere specifies any particular format for that communication.
If a man properly considers his wife’s needs, is he wrong to go aside where he can consider the issue by himself alone to make a decision? Where does the Bible say the woman must be present at the time every decision is made, let alone that she has the ability to cancel her husband’s decisions? Rather than making decisions under the pressure of the family, pleading and arguing, men often make better decisions when they take time alone.
The husband is head of his wife as Christ is head of the church. Christ makes decisions in love for the good of the church, but must we be present whenever He makes decisions? Must we give consensus to every decision before He can put it in effect? Is that “headship”?
The whole concept of women’s subjection to men requires that men have the right to make the final decisions, and they do so in the way they believe best for their families, guided by God’s word. This includes the right to make decisions without the woman being present and without needing her consensus. To deny this is to deny the whole concept of headship.
In what other God-ordained relationship must the leaders make their decisions in the presence of those subject to them or submit their decisions for ratification of the group before the decisions can take effect?
Must rulers, masters, or parents follow such rules in making decisions? Must men do so in their families? Are decisions in these relations invalid if leaders make decisions by themselves with no one else present? If not, then why must elders and men do so in the church? This means:
1) It is never necessary for those under authority to be present when final decisions are made by the elders or men.
2) If the men/elders submit their decisions to the whole church (including women) for ratification, that gives the power of final decisions to the whole church (including women) – not the elders and not the men. The result is that the shepherds are being led by flock! And the men are being led by the group, including the women! Such a practice amounts to an abdication of authority. It directly violates the role of elders/men as leaders! It flatly contradicts the concepts of subjection, submission, oversight, shepherding, ruling, and obeying!
VII. A Closer Study of 1 Corinthians 14
1 Corinthians 14:34,35 places specific restrictions on women speaking in congregational assemblies. Consider the application of this passage to women’s role in church leadership.
The Context: Lasting General Principle or Temporary Restriction?
Some argue that the theme of 1 Corinthians 12-14 is spiritual gifts. But spiritual gifts do not exist today, so they say the restrictions on women in 1 Corinthians 14:34,35 no longer apply; therefore, women may speak in the assemblies, etc. Let us note the context and consider whether or not the principles taught here apply today.
The theme of this section is order, unity, edification, and love in contrast to confusion, division, and strife in congregational assemblies. This theme covers at least chapters 11-14. The section repeatedly discusses general principles about confusion and division as compared to orderly conduct. Chap. 11 applies those principles to the Lord’s Supper, then chap. 12-14 applies them to the case of spiritual gifts.
11:17-19 – Paul introduces the problem that, when they “come together” (v17) – i.e., when they “come together as a church” (v18) – divisions existed among them.
11:20-22 – Beginning in v20, he describes how, “when you come together,” they should have taken the Lord’s Supper. But they were divided and confused, not focusing on the same activity at the same time. Some would go ahead and eat their meal before others were ready (v21). Some did not even care if others had little or nothing to eat (v22).
He then teaches the proper manner of partaking of the Supper (vv 23-32).
11:33,34 – He concludes this section by warning them, “when you come together to eat” the Lord’s Supper, to wait for one another (v33), so that everyone could focus on the same activity at the same time. This would eliminate their disregard for one another and the confusion caused by different people doing different things at the same time.
Furthermore, eating to satisfy hunger should not even be done when “you come together,” but should be “at home” (v34). Note: The rules for what we do in the assemblies are not necessarily the same as what we do outside the assemblies. Remember this.
So Paul here discusses general principles showing the need for order and concern for one another, rather than confusion and division, in our assemblies. Then he makes specific application to the Lord’s Supper. Do these principles still apply today? Do they apply only to the Lord’s Supper, or do they have broader application than simply to the Lord’s Supper?
Note chap. 12
Here Paul introduces the idea of spiritual gifts.
12:1-11 – He lists the gifts, observing that they are diverse from one another. Yet there is unity in that all the gifts, ministries, and activities come from the same Spirit, same Lord, same God (vv 4-6). And they all exist for the same purpose – to profit everyone (v7).
12:12-31 – He uses the illustration of the body. Though we have different gifts, we are all part of the same body. We should not disregard one another, thinking we are important but others are not. We should care for one another and not be divided.
Again, the overall theme is still the need for order and concern for one another in the body, rather than confusion, division, and strife. Paul continues teaching general principles, but he applies those principles specifically to conflict over the gifts. Do the principles he teaches still apply today? Do they apply only to spiritual gifts?
Note chap. 13
13:1-7 – Paul teaches the “more excellent way” (12:31), which is love. Love is better than spiritual gifts, because love shows us how to properly treat a brother in using the gifts.
13:8-13 – Love is better than spiritual gifts because the gifts served a temporary purpose, but would fulfill their purpose and cease. Love, however, will always be needed.
Paul continues teaching the general principle that we should avoid strife and division but should love and care for one another. Paul applies these principles to spiritual gifts, but is that the only application? Do we not apply these principles in other areas?
Note chap. 14
Paul here applies the principles he is teaching to specific problems regarding spiritual gifts in congregational assemblies. He rebukes their confusion, division, and spirit of competition over who has the greater gifts. He urges the need for order in the assembly and gives instructions how to achieve it. Do these principles apply only to spiritual gifts? Have they ceased to apply because we no longer have gifts? Consider:
What is done “in the church” (v19) must be understandable so people can be edified – note vv 12,19. This is a general principle. Paul applies it to tongues and prophecy, showing why prophecy is more useful than tongues (vv 2,5,9,12,14,15,19). But the principle also applies to prayer and singing – note vv 14,15. Has this principle ceased, or does it still apply today?
We need mature understanding (v20) so we will do what is understandable when “the whole church comes together in one place” (v23). Then even unbelievers who come in will be convicted. This applies to spiritual gifts, but has it ceased or is it a general principle?
“Whenever you come together … let all things be done to edifying” (v26). He gives specific instructions for achieving edification. Those who speak foreign languages should keep silent unless there is an interpreter. The number of speakers should be limited, and they speak “in turn” (v27), so whenever one person is speaking, the rest of the group should keep silent and listen to him (v30).
The goal is that all can learn and be encouraged (v31), resulting in peace, because God is not the author of confusion. This applies in all churches (v33). Paul applies these principles to spiritual gifts, but have the principles ceased application, or do they still apply in churches today?
Women should keep silent “in the churches,” for they are not permitted to speak but to be in submission. If they have a question they should ask it at home (outside the assembly), because it is a shame for women to speak “in the church.”
The subject is still the need for order and edification in the assemblies, not confusion and division. Maintaining order requires proper authority: someone must be in charge. The men should lead in the church. But in congregational assemblies, this means it is shameful for women to speak. Is this still true today, or did it apply only to spiritual gifts?
Paul concludes by saying these are commands from the Lord, and everything should be done “decently and in order.” Do these commands still apply today?
Paul began by stating his concern for their conduct (division, confusion, lack of love) in church assemblies (11:17-19) and ends by stating all should be done in a decent, orderly manner (v40). He made many specific applications to spiritual gifts, but why should we ignore the principles as though they have no other applications today?
A summary of the principles taught in 11:17-14:40.
Do these still apply today, or have they all ceased because spiritual gifts ceased?
* Everyone focus together on the same act of worship – 11:21,33.
* Whatever does not fit the purpose of authorized acts should be done elsewhere – 11:34.
* The different members of the body should be united and care for one another – chap. 12.
* Service to God and others must be motivated by love – 13:1-7.
* Everything in congregational assemblies should be understandable – 14:1-25.
* Everything in the assembly should be edifying – 14:26.
* Foreign languages must be interpreted – 14:27,28. (May we apply this to mass in Latin?)
* Speakers should speak by two or three, in turn; everyone listen to each speaker – 14:27-32.
* God is the author of peace, not confusion – 14:33.
* Women should be in subjection and remain silent – 14:34,35.
* All should be done decently and in order – 14:40
These are the commands of the Lord (14:37)! May we apply them to uninspired, non-miraculous activities? If so, why should we not apply 14:34,35 to our assemblies today?
The only thing that has ceased is the application of these principles to spiritual gifts, because spiritual gifts have ceased. But the principles themselves have not ceased. They continue to be binding!
Conclusions regarding application of the passage today:
1) The context contains many general principles we all know still apply. The principle that women may not speak at all is one of these general principles that still apply.
2) In the many other Bible examples we have studied, no Scripture anywhere describes women speaking in congregational assemblies. The speakers were always men. No godly woman ever asked a question, made a comment, or read a Scripture, let alone did she speak up in a congregational meeting to make decisions for the church.
3) If the principle of 1 Corinthians 14:34,35 no longer applies, then any woman today may ask questions, make comments, or read Scripture in any church meeting, including Sunday worship assemblies.
4) The silence of women in congregational assemblies is based on the principle of subjection of women to men. This is not a temporary rule but a universal principle, as shown by many passages listed above. It is confirmed by the abundant evidence of male leadership in the church. 1 Timothy 2:11-14 applies the principle of male leadership more broadly than church assemblies, yet it shows that the principle of women’s subjection is a lasting, universal principle. To apply it just to spiritual gifts would be a misapplication.
5) If the teaching of 1 Cor. 12-14 applies only to churches that have spiritual gifts, then churches without such gifts, then or now, should disregard these chapters. But v33 says the principles apply in all the churches of the saints, including those without spiritual gifts.
If 1 Corinthians 14:34,35 applies only to the age of spiritual gifts, then we must completely eliminate the passage from our arsenal in dealing with women’s role in the church. The conclusion must be that the passage is irrelevant today, so women are free to speak up in any and all congregational assemblies. Some have gone that route so completely that they claim a woman may lead prayer, lead singing, and even preach!
Eliminating 1 Corinthians 14 is a giant leap in advancing feminism. Where will we stop?
The Women Addressed: Application to All Women or Just to Specific Women?
Some try to limit the application of 1 Corinthians 14:34,35 to just certain women, who (they say) were causing confusion. Some say Paul addressed only prophets’ wives. The conclusion is that the passage does not forbid women today from asking questions, etc., in church assemblies provide they do so respectfully, without interrupting.
Old-time preachers often made such arguments to justify women speaking in Bible classes, yet they never encouraged women to actively speak out in church assemblies. But some today use this approach to aggressively argue that women must be permitted to speak even in congregational assemblies. While I believe women may speak respectfully in Bible classes, I disagree with this approach to 1 Corinthians 14:34,35.
Where does the passage say only certain women were causing disruption?
Unless the passage itself says this, then the argument is unfounded speculation. What the passage does say is that women should not speak in church assemblies but may speak outside the assembly. Shall we allow them to do the opposite, by making comments and reading Scriptures in the assembly, on the basis of unproved speculation?
Some say “your women” (NKJV) means prophets’ wives, and they could ask their husbands at home because they had inspired husbands. And since we have no prophets now, the passage has no application today. But where does the passage say it applies only to prophets’ wives?
1) No standard translation ever translates the word in this context as “wives.”
Although the word can mean “wives” in some contexts, yet in this context standard translations all say “women” (many even translate it “the women,” not “your women”). If the word means “wives,” why do no standard translations so translate it? [“Your women” – NKJV, KJV; “the women” – ASV, NASB, ESV; “women” – RSV; NIV]
2) “You” throughout the context refers to “brethren,” not just to prophets.
Note vv 6,9,12,20,26,36,37,39. So, even if “women” in v34 did refer to married women, why restrict it to prophets’ wives instead of all wives?
Prophets are talked about in vv 29-32, just like tongue speakers are talked about in vv 27,28. But “you” in the context does not specifically address prophets any more than it does tongue speakers. (Why not conclude “your women” means wives of tongue-speakers?)
3) Why restrict all the prophets’ wives and only the prophets’ wives?
Were all the prophet’s wives causing confusion? Did no other women cause confusion? Why did so many prophets have obnoxious, uncontrollable wives, but all the other men could control their wives? Such a view is beyond belief. Surely Paul spoke regarding all women.
When things could be done properly, Paul stated the proper way. But when things did not belong in the assembly, he excluded them altogether.
If there is a proper way for women to speak in the assembly, why didn’t Paul just identify what was being done wrong and tell them how to speak properly?
Consider how Paul handled various problems in the context:
* Some caused confusion by taking the Lord’s Supper improperly. But Paul did not put the Lord’s Supper out of the assembly altogether; he told how they should partake properly. But in contrast, he put common meals outside the assembly altogether (chap. 11).
* Some caused confusion by using tongues improperly, but Paul did not put tongue speaking out of the assembly. He told how they could speak properly (v27).
* Some caused confusion by prophesying improperly, but Paul did not put prophecy out of the assembly. He told how they could speak properly (vv 28-31).
If it is permissible for women to speak in congregational assemblies provided they do so properly, why didn’t Paul just tell them the proper way? Why did he say it is shameful for women to speak in the church and place their speaking altogether outside the assembly, like he did the common meal? If the only problem was their manner of speaking, why did he eliminate the speaking altogether?
Contrast Paul’s approach to the way some today deal with the issue.
Some today try to teach women the proper manner of speaking, then they say “it is permitted for them to speak” and “it is not shameful to speak.” Paul, however, did not tell women the proper way to speak; he said they are “not permitted to speak” and “it is shameful for women to speak in church.” Why the difference, if in fact women may speak if they do so properly?
Paul’s teaching is based on general principles. To whom did the principles apply?
Paul gives reasons for his instruction. Note his use of the word “for” in vv 34,35.
1) Note “for” in v34: Paul’s conclusion is based first on the principle of subjection of women to men. Does that principle apply to all women or only to certain women (prophets’ wives)? The women who must be submissive in church assemblies, those are the women who are forbidden to speak. But all women must be in subjection, so all must remain silent.
2) Note “for” in v35: Paul concluded that women are not permitted to speak because “it is shameful for women to speak in church.” That is stated as a general principle applying universally to women. Nothing indicates that this reason applies only to specific women. Why allow some women to speak but not others, in light of this general prohibition?
3) Vv 33 says this teaching applies in “all the churches of the saints.” If this meant only prophets’ wives, how could it apply to a church that had no prophets? Paul said it applied to all churches, which would include those without prophets. So it cannot refer just to prophets’ wives.
“Ask your husband at home” does not prove women were married to prophets.
Many Bible examples involve women – married and unmarried – asking questions and having discussions with men other than their husbands and in places other than at home. See John 4:1-26; 11:20-27; Luke 10:38-42; Acts 16:15 and other examples studied earlier.
And just because a man was a prophet did not prove he could answer every question. No one prophet received all truth. And prophets had to study their own revelations to understand them (see Acts 10). So all men, then or now, could know the truth by studying all the prophet’s revelations. If not, then we today are at a serious disadvantage by having no prophets!
“At home” simply means outside the assembly (more on this later). Could she not ask her husband on the way home or some other place besides home? Could she not ask some man besides her husband? “Ask her husband at home” simply means to get her information outside the assembly, just like “let him eat at home” in chap. 11 means to eat common meals outside the assembly. It follows that prophets’ wives had no advantage in having their questions answered.
We have problems with these issues because some folks have turned specific instructions into generics and general instructions into specifics. Context shows that the command to women to be silent is general in that it applies to all women. So, it is a mistake to apply it only to certain women. But the command is specific in that it applies only when those women are “in the church” (i.e., when the whole church is assembled together). So, it is a mistake to apply it when the whole church is not assembled together – as in our classes. The command is limited, not with regard to which women it addresses, but with regard to the circumstances where it applies.
The Kind of Speech Forbidden
Some say Paul’s teaching here is similar to 1 Timothy 2 in that it allows women to speak so long as they do so respectfully. [Others say this is a “not…but” passage, that emphasizes the second point (to be submissive) but does not forbid the first point (not permitted to speak).
But note the further evidence of the context.
In 1 Corinthians Paul adds an additional specific limitation: he said women “are not permitted to speak” and “it is shameful for women to speak in church.”
Note this carefully! In 1 Timothy 2 Paul said simply that women must be “quiet” – i.e., submissive – and he applied it to all spiritual teaching or authority situations. In that broader situation, Paul nowhere said women are not permitted to “speak.”
But in 1 Corinthians 14 Paul discusses a more specific circumstance (congregational assemblies) and gives a more restrictive command. In this specific circumstance, he said that women are not permitted to speak and it is shameful for them to speak.
This is a critical difference that brethren must not overlook!
He further clarified that “speaking” here means not even to ask a question.
To make sure we don’t miss the meaning, Paul added that women were even to ask their questions outside the assembly (v35). So, the speaking that is forbidden “in church” includes even the asking of questions. Yet some folks want to allow, not just asking questions in the assemblies, but even making comments and reading Scripture to the group!
Again, if Paul meant to allow women to speak if they did so properly, why didn’t he tell how to do it properly? Why place it completely outside the assembly?
If Paul simply meant to correct an abuse, why did he not describe the proper conduct in the assembly as he did with tongues and prophecy and as he did with the Lord’s Supper in chap. 11? The only sensible answer is that women are simply not permitted even to ask or answer questions. Instead, Paul told them to do it elsewhere, as he did with eating common meals.
This is what it means for women to be “submissive” in the context of the congregational assemblies. So, why should we permit what he expressly forbade?
Compare the instructions to women to those to tongue-speakers and prophets.
* Note the instructions in the three cases:
If there is an interpreter, a tongue speaker was allowed to “speak“ (v27). But if there were no interpreter, he was to “keep silent” and not speak in church (v28).
Likewise, prophets were to “speak” by two or three (v29); but when one prophet spoke, the others were to remain “silent” (v30).
By contrast, women were to keep “silent” in the churches, for it is not permitted for them to “speak,” for it is shameful for them to “speak” in church.
The words for “speak” and “silent” are the same in all three cases: the same words in the same context. Surely the meaning is the same.
* Now note the circumstances under which they may speak or be silent:
Tongue speakers could speak if there was an interpreter. But “if there is no interpreter,” they were to “keep silent.” Under the circumstances described (no interpreter), silence meant tongue speakers were not to speak in tongues at all. They were not to utter words to the group.
Prophets must “keep silent” – i.e., not speak – if someone else was speaking. Under the circumstances described (another man was speaking), silence meant prophets were not to speak at all. They were not to utter words to the group.
Now regarding women the passage says that, “in church,” they are to “keep silent,” for they are not permitted to speak, for it is shameful for them to speak. What does “speak” mean here? It means uttering words to the group. What does “silence” mean? It means not uttering words to the group. The meaning is the same in all three cases!
The difference in the three cases is the circumstance in which the restriction applied.
1) Tongue speakers must not speak with no interpreter but could speak with an interpreter.
2) Prophets must not speak if someone else spoke, but could speak when no one else spoke.
3) Women must not speak at all “in church,” but could speak outside the church assemblies.
The words “silent” and “speak” mean the same in all three cases, but the circumstances were different. Women were restricted from speaking at all “in church,” but they could speak in different circumstances (outside the congregational assembly).
This also shows that the forbidden “speaking” involved uttering words that are addressed or intended to convey a message to the group. Nothing, for example, forbids a woman whispering something privately to her child or husband. This is not the “speaking” being forbidden. What is forbidden is addressing speech to the group or asking a question directed to the group.
What about singing or confessing Christ before baptism?
Ephesians 5:19, etc., commands all Christians to “speak” (lalew) to one another in song. As on other subjects, we must take all the Bible says on any subject. Likewise with confession, this speech is permitted for women in the assembly because other passages require it.
Some people reach false conclusions about “faith only” because they ignore what is taught in other passages about baptism. The conclusions are modified by instructions in other passages. So we must consider the commands of other passages when we study 1 Cor. 14.
The Place or Circumstance Where the Restrictions Apply
Note: “Let your women keep silent in the churches, for they are not permitted to speak … for it is shameful for women to speak in church.” The limitation on women speaking applies only “in church.” To emphasize this Paul states it twice.
We have already learned that women may ask and answer questions in other circumstances. In fact Paul here specifically states that women may do elsewhere what they may not do “in church.” So we have general authority that allows women to discuss God’s word under general circumstances. But the limitation that forbids their speaking is specific and applies only “in church.” It follows that the phrase “in Church” must have a special, specific meaning in context, since the general rule is that women may speak.
Consider the significance of “in the church” according to the context:
* 1 Corinthians 14
V4 – One man (“he”) may speak in a way that edifies “the church.”
V5 – A man (“he”) may speak so that “the church” receives edification.
V12 – Seek to excel for the edification of “the church.”
V19 – “In the church” I should speak so I may teach others.
V23 – “The whole church comes together in one place.” (Visitors may “come in.”)
V26 – “Brethren” “come together” and “all things (should be) done for edification.”
V28 – Tongue speakers speak by two or three, if there is an interpreter (v27). Otherwise, they “keep silent in church.” This is contrasted to speaking to himself and to God. Note that what is forbidden “in church” is not necessarily forbidden elsewhere!
V33 – God is the author, not of confusion, but of peace “in all the churches of the saints.”
Vv 34,35 – Women are to “keep silent in the churches” for they are not permitted to speak. It is shameful for women to speak “in church.” However, they may do elsewhere the very thing forbidden for them to do “in church” – i.e., ask questions. The very verses under consideration distinguish “in church” from other circumstances!
* Compare 1 Corinthians 11:17-34.
V17 – They had “come together.”
V18 – They had “come together as a church.”
V20 – They had “come together in one place.”
V22 – What they should have done was something different from eating and drinking in their houses. They were acting as though they despised the church.
V33 – They ought to “come together” to eat the Lord’s Supper. They ought to “wait for one another,” so they could focus together on the same act of worship. This clearly implies they were all assembled in one group where they could all focus on the same act at the same time.
V34 – Eating to satisfy hunger should be done “at home” (outside the assembly), lest you “come together” in a way that results in judgment.
All these expressions show that “coming together as a church” to eat the Lord’s Supper meant the whole congregation was together in one group so all could focus on an act together.
All this explains the significance of “in the church” in chap. 14:
1) The “whole church” is “assembled together” (14:23; cf. 14:26; 11:17,18,20,33).
Note carefully: in the context of 1 Cor. 14 “in church” means “the whole church” (cf. v31), and it is assembled together. That is, the entire congregation is expected to attend and to meet together to accomplish a church function.
Note various translations:
ASV – “If therefore the whole church be assembled together” – 14:23
ASV – “when ye come together in the church” – 11:18
NASB – “If therefore the whole church should assemble together” – 14:23
NASB – “when you come together as a church” – 11:18
RSV – “If therefore the whole church assembles” – 14:23
RSV – “when you assemble as a church” – 11:18
NIV – “if the whole church comes together” – 14:23
NIV – “when you come together as a church” – 11:18
ESV – “If, therefore, the whole church comes together” – 14:23
ESV – “when you come together as a church” – 11:18
So “in the church” in this context means “the whole church,” and the whole church has come together or assembled together.
2) Further, the whole church is together such that, as each speaker speaks, he is addressing the whole group.
Note especially v31 (cf. vv 4,5,12,31). As each teacher speaks, “all may learn and all may be exhorted.” All who? All the whole church. So, we are “in church” when the whole church is together in such a way that each person who speaks is addressing “the whole church.”
3) Speakers must speak one by one (one at a time), so the whole group can focus on the same activity or subject (vv 27,30,31; cf. 11:21,33). Note:
V27 – “in turn”; V31 – “one by one”
The only reason this could matter is if they are all in the same group.
4) The whole church is together such that confusion would result if more than one teacher spoke at the same time (see vv 27-33).
5) The whole church is together, such that the Lord’s Supper could be eaten (if it was the first day of the week) (cf. 11:17,18,20,33).
So, whereas women are allowed to discuss God’s word with men in other circumstances, a specific exception applies under the specific, limited circumstances of 1 Cor. 14. Context shows this means the whole congregation is together as the same assembly, the samegroup, the same meeting, the same gathering. The whole group is together in a way that they are expected to focus together on each activity. When anyone speaks, they address the whole group. If more than one spoke at once, confusion would result.
Under this specific circumstance, women must keep silent: They are not permitted to speak, because it is shameful for women to speak “in church.” However, they may do elsewhere the very thing forbidden for them to do “in church.”
Different rules apply “when the church is come together” compared to outside those assemblies.
It is true that some of the principles taught here may have application outside the assembly. In fact, 1 Tim. 2:11,12 shows that women must not teach authoritatively over men even outside the assembly (see notes there). But there are also definite differences.
Note some rules when the church comes together in one place. Do these same rules apply outside the church assemblies?
* We may eat the Lord’s Supper (11:18-22,33).
* We should not eat a meal to satisfy hunger (11:34).
* We should all focus on the same act of worship (11:21,33). (Must we all focus on the same act after the assembly dismisses? Could you be singing, another family praying, etc.?)
* The number of teachers is limited (14:27,29). (Must this be so outside the assemblies? May different families or small groups be studying at the same time, each having its own teacher?)
* Speak only languages that the group knows or have an interpreter (14:27,28). (Must we speak outside the assembly only languages that are known by the whole group?)
* Only one speaker at a time (14:27-31). Speakers speak “in turn” (v27) and “one by one” (v31). If anyone else begins to speak, the others must be silent and listen (v30). (May there be several members speaking at once after the assembly is dismissed?)
* Women must keep silent, not even to ask questions (14:34,35). (Must they keep silent and not even ask questions outside the assembly?)
* This very context of vv 34,35 contrasts “in the church” to “at home,” expressly saying women may do at home what should not be done in the church.
So, there are rules of conduct in the assemblies that do not apply outside the assemblies. This is specifically stated to be true regarding women speaking. Don’t we all do things after the assembly dismisses – even immediately afterward – that would be forbidden in the assembly?
What is the application to Bible classes?
May women ask and answer questions in our classes? The answer is that they may do so whenever it is not “the whole church together.” We have already studied passages that show women may speak and ask questions outside the assemblies. The rule forbidding women to speak applies only “in church” – when the whole church is together, functioning as a church.
Consider the other rules we have listed that apply in the assemblies but not outside assemblies (only one person speaking at a time, eating the Lord’s Supper is permitted, etc). Do these apply to classes (consider our classes as a whole, all of them going on at once)? Some rules apply for other reasons (not necessarily because it is an assembly), but in most cases we recognize that the rules do not apply because we are not assembled together. (This same distinction is made in schools, where “assemblies” of the whole school are distinguished from individual classroom studies.)
Yet even in such classes a woman must not take control of teaching men, authoritatively leading or directing the study. If the class has a leader, 1 Timothy 2:11,12 shows he must be a man. But there is no reason why a woman cannot ask and answer questions and make comments with men present as long as the circumstances are such that we do not have an assembly of the whole church in one body, and as long as she speaks respectfully.
“At home” simply means outside the assembly.
Chap. 14, compared to 11:22,34, shows that “at home” simply refers to circumstances other than the whole church gathered together (see the verses listed above). 14:34,35 is not intended to require a woman to be in her own private abode to ask questions, any more than 11:34 means you must be in your own private abode in order to eat to satisfy hunger. [Cf. also 14:27,28.]
Remember that we other Scriptures showing that women may discuss the Bible with men in places other than just in their own private abode and with men other than their own husbands. Studying other such passages proves Paul does not mean she may only ask her own husband in her own private abode.
Paul’s point is that, just because women are not permitted to speak when the whole congregation is together, that does not mean they may never obtain answers to their questions. They may do so under other circumstances – just not by asking them “in the church.” This is the same point he made in chap. 11 regarding eating to satisfy hunger. He was not saying people must not eat to satisfy hunger, but that they should do so aside from church activity.
Note the comparison between 1 Timothy 2:11,12 and 1 Corinthians 14:34,35.
1 Timothy applies to spiritual teaching and leadership roles between men and women in general, and says that women must act (and speak) quietly in submission. 1 Corinthians 14 applies specifically when the whole church is assembled together and adds that women are not permitted to speak or even ask questions. 1 Corinthians 14 is more specific both regarding the circumstances where it applies and regarding the restrictions it places on women’s conduct.
Application of 1 Corinthians 14 to Congregational Decision-Making Meetings
We earlier showed that men/elders may make decisions for the church without women being present (if they consider the women’s needs). We will see more evidence soon. But some claim the whole church – men and women together – must meet to make decisions. That would be “the whole church come together,” so consider the application of 1 Corinthians 14.
Rules for subjection in decision making should be consistent with rules for subjection in teaching.
1 Timothy 2 says women should submit to men both in spiritual teaching and in authority. 1 Corinthians 14 applies this to mean that, when the whole church meets together, women should not speak at all. IF we had church meetings for making decisions, why wouldn’t consistency mean that women should not speak in those meetings, since the whole church is together?
If there is danger that women might leave their place of subjection if they are allowed to speak out in congregational teaching assemblies, wouldn’t it be even more likely that they might leave their place of subjection if they are allowed to speak out in decision-making meetings? Doesn’t decision making more inherently involve exercise of authority than does worship? Whatever reasons and concerns motivated God to forbid women speaking in congregational meetings for worship and teaching, the same reasons and concerns should lead us to oppose women speaking in congregational meetings for decision making.
When people argue that women may speak in church decision meetings, they usually agree that the same principles apply to worship assemblies.
So they agree that the practice of women speaking in decision-making meetings stands or falls together with the practice of women speaking in worship assemblies. We agree on this point! They say women may speak in both kinds of meetings. I believe they may not speak in either kind. But we agree the rules should be the same for both.
Most leaders in this movement know this is true (though some followers do not recognize this consequence). Some of them press for women to speak in worship assemblies. Others don’t push that, for whatever reason, but they know that their arguments allow it.
In any case, the views these people hold simply cannot be harmonized with 1 Corinthians 14:
Paul said women are not permitted to speak in church. Men say women are permitted to speak in church.
Paul said it is shameful for women to speak in church. Men say it is not shameful for women to speak in church.
Paul said women should ask questions at home (outside church assemblies). Men say women may ask questions, make comments, read Scripture, and have full voice with men in making decisions in church assemblies.
Bottom line: If we allow women to speak in congregational decision meetings, what will prevent them from speaking in congregational worship meetings?
When people argue that women may speak in church decision meetings, they deny the limitations on women in 1 Corinthians 14 apply today at all. If we accept their reasoning, we will be compelled to accept women speaking in all church functions, (Sunday AM, etc.).
The effort to place women in “business meetings” and church decision meetings, whether intentionally or not, will have the effect of moving them into positions of leadership and out of positions of subjection. It will become part of an overall feminist movement to place women in leadership roles in teaching and worship as well as in decision making.
VIII. Examples of Church Decision Making
Some believe that women must be allowed to speak in meetings whenever decisions are made for the church. Others say decisions may only be made in meetings of the whole congregation, or that all decisions must be ratified by congregational meetings, including women.
We have shown that such views contradict the authority and leadership of elders and of men. The general passages about the authority of elders and men allow them to make decisions on behalf of the group, whether or not the group is present and without their ratification.
But some folks claim specific examples prove their view, so let us consider examples of church decision making. We will see that, rather than changing our conclusions, examples actually strengthen and confirm them.
Acts 4:34,35; 11:27-30
Acts 4:34,35 – Disciples cared for their needy by bringing funds and laying them at the apostle’s feet. They (the apostles) then distributed to each as anyone had need (cf. Acts 6 below).
Acts 11:27-30 – In order to relieve brethren in Judea during a famine, the disciples in Antioch sent funds to the elders (each local church having its own elders – 14:23). The obvious reason for sending it to the elders is that those men were responsible to supervise the distribution of the funds to the needy members (like the apostles were in Acts 4).
Leaders’ decisions need no ratification by the church.
Both examples involved leaders (apostles/elders) in evaluating circumstances of each needy person and then deciding how much to distribute to each, when, how often, in what form, etc. This would require making numerous specific decisions, often involving discussing confidential information about each member’s needs and circumstances. So, the passages authorized leaders to make such decisions as they thought best, which would include making them in private.
Nothing implies, let alone requires, that the leaders submit each such decision to the whole congregation for ratification. To do so would tie their hands to the point of absurdity. (And note that these decisions were all in the area of judgment, not doctrine.)
All decisions were made by men.
No woman was involved.
When Saul sought to join the disciples in Jerusalem, a question arose as to whether he was truly a disciple and should be received. Barnabas took Saul to “the apostles” and told them about Saul’s conversion. As a result, Saul was “with them at Jerusalem,” participating in their meetings and teaching work, etc.
The leaders met in private to make a decision for the congregation
According to the record, the only ones involved in making that decision were “the apostles.” Nowhere is there evidence of a congregational meeting, including women, to ratify the decision.
All who participated in making the decision were men.
No woman is said to have been involved. This passage authorizes exactly that kind of decision making that we have been defending but some people oppose.
Paul and Barnabas went to Jerusalem to discuss with brethren there about circumcision.
Context makes clear that this is the same occasion discussed in Acts 15 below.
This is clear because:
* Both passages refer to meetings in Jerusalem.
* Both involved Paul and Barnabas going to Jerusalem.
* Both involved meetings with church leaders in Jerusalem, specifically Peter and James.
* In both passages the issue was whether or not circumcision should be bound on Gentiles.
* In both passages the meeting was necessitated by people who had agitated the view that circumcision was necessary.
* In both passages the decision was that such would not be necessary.
The chances are minuscule that two such conferences occurred in close approximation. In both accounts the meeting concluded with complete agreement among the inspired men. To have a second such meeting soon afterward would be senseless.
We will see the significance of this when we study Acts 15.
Decisions were made in a meeting conducted “privately” (v2).
Those of reputation met and made the following decisions:
* Titus would not be required to be circumcised – v3.
* Paul and Barnabas would be fellowshipped in their work of preaching to the Gentiles – v9.
* Paul and Barnabas should remember the poor (i.e., the needy saints in Jerusalem) – v10.
The truth would have been revealed by inspiration. But even inspired men had to study the revelations received in order to make proper application of them, just like we have to study the written word (see Acts 10). Then specific decisions were made, including those listed above. (Note that these decisions involved some aspects of judgment, such as the work of remembering the poor in Jerusalem.)
Galatians 2 shows clearly that the real decisions in this matter were reached in a private meeting! Even if this is not the same occasion as Acts 15, the fact remains that here is a private meeting of church leaders to reach a major decision that was then revealed for the whole congregation to follow.
This passage describes decisions being made in exactly the way we are defending but some are opposing. The God-ordained leaders of the congregation met and made a decision that the whole group was expected to accept.
All involved in the meeting were men.
Several men were in the meeting (Paul, Barnabas, Titus – v1, Peter, James, and John – v9), but no woman is identified as being involved!
Consider: So far the specific examples concur with what we already proved by general authority. Male leaders have the right to make decisions for the church, without the whole church being present, without women speaking out, and without a congregational meeting to give consensus. This agrees with the evidence we have presented to show that all church leaders were men, women must be subject to men and must never have equal leadership with men, and in particular women must not even speak when the whole church meets as a body.
Some cite this passage to claim the whole church must meet to make congregational decisions, women must be allowed to speak, etc. But this is the same event as Gal. 2 (see above), and we have already proved that the actual decisions were made in a private meeting in which only men were said to be present! Acts 15 cannot possibly prove church decisions can only be made in a congregational meeting, since Galatians 2 has already proved the opposite!
Consider the evidence further:
Vv 1-3 – The issue in Antioch
Some men from Judea taught that the brethren in Antioch must be circumcised to be saved. It was determined that Paul and Barnabas should go to Jerusalem about the question. Since the church sent them on their way, some claim this means the whole church met, including the women, made a group decision, and sent the men.
But the text does not say that. V2 tells us that the decision was made to send them to Jerusalem, but does not say who or how it was done. Then v3 says the church acted on the decision that had been made and sent them. Nothing states or even implies that the whole church actively participated in making the decision. It simply says that the church followed the decision that had been made.
Suppose I say my wife and I determined to send our son to college, so our family sent him on his way. Does that prove we had a family meeting, and the whole family (including all the children) had to grant general consensus or else the decision was not valid? Surely not. The language simply means that the family leaders made the decision and the family accepted the decision and acted accordingly. Can parents not make decisions alone by themselves, apart from the children? To say otherwise is to flatly deny the authority of leaders.
When people claim decisions must be made by the whole church together, they assume what they must prove. They are like folks who read an account of a household conversion, they assume there were babies in the household, so they conclude this justifies infant baptism. Yet none of this is mentioned in the passage, the language does not require it, and the conclusion flatly contradicts other passages. Likewise, brethren read passages about churches making decisions, they assume women were involved in making the decisions, so they conclude women must share with men in church decision meetings. Yet none of this is stated in Scripture, the language does not require it, and the conclusion flatly contradicts other passages. Those who make such arguments show that they do not understand submission to leadership.
Vv 4,5 – The meeting to receive Paul and Barnabas’ report
Paul and Barnabas arrived in Jerusalem and met with the church and the apostles and elders (note the church was present) and reported on their work. Some believing Pharisees rose up saying circumcision was necessary.
This was a group meeting, but it involved no decision making. They simply heard two men report on their preaching work. We have often seen that done in congregational meetings. Note that only men are said to have spoken in the meeting.
Vv 6-21 – The meeting of the apostles and elders regarding circumcision
Note v6 – The apostles and elders came together to consider the matter. This was clearly a different meeting from vv 4,5.
I personally conclude this is the same meeting as described in Galatians 2:1-10 – a private meeting between Paul and Barnabas and the leading men at Jerusalem.
Essentially everything fits. V6 says the “apostles and elders came together.” If the whole church was present, why doesn’t it say so as in v4? In v13 James addressed those present as “men and brethren.” 16:4 says the decision was made by “the apostles and elders.” (Later they met with the church and presented their conclusion to them – v22.)
The only issue with this view is that v12 says “the multitude” was present. This may sound like a large crowd, but the word here is not the word for a crowd. This word (plhqoV) basically carries the idea of “fulness” (Vine). Used with the article, as here, it means “the whole number, the whole multitude, the assemblage” (Thayer) – i.e., the whole group under consideration, whoever that may be according to context.
John 21:6 uses the word to refer to 153 fish (v11). Acts 28:3 – Paul carried a “bundle” of sticks (perhaps a dozen or two?). James 5:20 – Converting a “brother” from error covers a “multitude” of sins (the full number he is guilty of, perhaps just a few).
Note that Acts 23:7 uses this word for the “assembly” (NKJV) of the Sanhedrin council – a deliberating body of 70 men. So a relatively small group of men, who met – often privately – to make decisions on behalf of the Jewish nation, are described by the word for “multitude”!
Similarly, it would be valid to call the “private” meeting of Gal. 2:1-10 and Acts 15:6-21 a “multitude.” It included Paul, Barnabas, the apostles, some of the Judaizers (Acts 15:7; Gal. 2:5,6?), and the elders of a congregation (the church probably consisted of thousands of people). This could easily constitute a “multitude,” the fullness of which listened to Paul and Barnabas.
Nevertheless, suppose the whole church was present in vv 6-21.
If so, then this must be a different meeting that occurred after the one in Galatians 2. It must have come afterwards, because Paul said in Gal. 2 that he met privately with the leaders lest he had run in vain (2:2). He wanted to make sure the issue would be resolved properly before it became a public issue (a perfectly valid reason for having private decision meetings!).
So, if the church was present in Acts 15:6-21, then this was not the meeting where the decisions were made. The decisions had already been made in private by the authorized church leaders, all of whom were men. In that case the vv 6-21 meeting must have been to explain to the congregation the reasons for the decision and try to convince those who had disagreed (v7).
And note, even so, that everyone who spoke was a man! If the women were a part of the “men and brethren” (v13), there is no proof here that any women spoke to the group.
This might compare to the setting of a modern public “debate” in which men of opposing views express their ideas in the presence of the whole congregation. But it was not a decision-making meeting, since the decisions had already been made. In any case, if women were present, they would not have been permitted to speak because it would be shameful for them to speak – 1 Corinthians 14:34,35.
Vv 22-29 – The letter sent to Antioch
After the decisions in the matter had been reached (as already discussed), the group – apostles, elders, and the whole church – was “pleased” to send chosen men to Antioch, along with a letter, to explain the decision (v22). This was needed since the Antioch church had asked the Jerusalem church about the teachers who had gone to Antioch from Jerusalem (15:1,24).
V25 says it “seemed good” to them, “being assembled with one accord,” to send the chosen men. V28 says “it seemed good” to them and to the Holy Spirit.
Some claim this proves the whole church participated in the decision of vv 6-21, or at least that they participated in the decision to send men and the letter, or that the church had to ratify by group consensus the decisions previously made. But consider:
1. We already proved that the decisions were made in a private meeting before the church as a whole was ever involved.
So this event authorizes church leaders to meet “privately” apart from the whole church to make decisions. Nothing in subsequent verses may be taken to contradict this fact.
2. The decisions were made by apostles as well as elders – see 15:6; 16:4. Must the church ratify the decisions of apostles?
If the church disagreed, could they nullify the decisions of apostles? If not, then how can this passage be used to prove the church must ratify the decisions of elders or of men (if there are no elders)? You cannot use this passage to prove consensus of the whole church is needed to approve the decisions of elders and/or men until such time as you are prepared to use the passage to prove that consensus of the whole church is needed to approve the decisions of apostles! The very idea is absurd!
3. V23 also says “they” wrote a letter. Does this mean that the letter was composed in a meeting by active participation of the whole church?
Did the whole church meet to compose the letter, with everyone expressing his/her views about the contents? Who can believe it? If “they wrote” a letter in v23 does not mean the whole group met together to compose the letter, then why does they were “pleased” in v22 require that the decisions had to be made or ratified in a meeting with everyone present, etc.?
4. V28 says the decision “seemed good” to the Holy Spirit and to them. Did this prove the church had the right to ratify or veto the decisions of the Holy Spirit?
If the Spirit’s viewpoint had not “seemed good” to the congregation, does this mean the group could have changed it? Did the Spirit need the consensus of the church in order for the decision to stand?! If the expression “seemed good” in v28 does not mean that the church had the right to ratify or veto the decisions of the Holy Spirit, then the expressions used in vv 25,22 cannot mean that the church had the right to ratify or veto the decisions of the apostles and elders! V28 proves conclusively what the expression “seemed good” means in this context, and it cannot possibly mean that the church had the right to ratify or veto decisions!
5. Vv 22,25,28 mean only that the whole group was willing to submit to the decisions of the leaders as being wise decisions.
As applied to the church, expressions such as “pleased” and “seemed good” simply indicate that the church accepted and submitted to the decision of their leaders. This is what the expression means regarding the church’s view of the Holy Spirit’s decision in v28, so this is what the expression likewise means in vv 22,25. It does not at all prove the church made the decision, or that the decision would not have been binding if they were not “pleased” by it.
In my illustration used above, if my family is “pleased” by the decision to send my son to college, does that prove the whole family actually made the decision? Or does it require only that the leaders (parents) made the decision and the rest of the family accepted it as a good decision?
6. Suppose the congregation had not been “pleased” with the decisions of their God-ordained leaders. Would they have the right to nullify the decisions?
Where does the New Testament ever say such a thing? I know of no such passage. Those who hold such a view demonstrate beyond doubt that they misunderstand the concept of authority.
Think about it. Here is a Bible example showing that the church was “pleased” with the decisions of its leaders. If that teaches anything, it teaches that the church ought to be satisfied with the decisions of their leaders and submit to them. Yet folks take a passage that teaches that church accepted and followed their leaders’ decision, then conclude that this authorizes them to not be pleased with the leaders’ decisions and so reject them as not binding! Since when are we handling the word aright when we use a Bible example to teach the very opposite of what it says? The whole argument smells like a thinly disguised effort to justify rebellion!
However, I can find several Old Testament passages where the congregation of God’s people was not pleased with the decisions of their God-ordained leaders and tried to nullify those decisions. You can read about God’s reaction in passages like Numbers 12,13,14, and 16.
7. Above all, nothing here says that women spoke in a decision-making meeting.
Where is there anything anywhere in the passage that says any woman spoke out in any decision-making meeting? It simply is not there! Such an idea is made up by human speculation in clear contradiction to other passages we have studied.
Expressions such as “pleased” or “seemed good” do not in any way prove that the people spoke out in a group meeting. It simply means they recognized the decisions as good decisions and were willing to abide by them. Activities in church worship assemblies today often “please” and “seem good” to the members, but not everyone speaks out at the time to say so – especially not the women. The very idea that such expressions require speaking out to the group is a figment of imagination.
The truth is that the Spirit determined the doctrinal aspects of the decisions, the inspired men revealed them, the authorized leaders discussed them and made the other necessary decisions to apply and carry out the truth. They then presented these decisions to the congregation, who accepted and submitted to the decisions of the Spirit and of the church leaders. The end result was an arrangement that “pleased” and “seemed good” to all involved. To argue for anything more than this would go beyond the teaching of this passage, violate the clear teaching of other passages, and show complete misunderstanding of leadership.
Vv 30-32 – The letter received in Antioch
When they arrived at Antioch and the multitude had gathered together, the men delivered the message from Jerusalem to the church at Antioch. The church rejoiced as a result.
Contrary to claims some make, nothing says any decisions were made. Jerusalem sent a letter, it was read to the Antioch church, and they rejoiced in it.
Note Judas and Silas, the men sent from Jerusalem, then exhorted and strengthened the brethren. No decisions here. This was a meeting to instruct, exhort, and strengthen brethren.
Again as in 1 Corinthians 14, those who spoke to the whole congregation were men. What verse or word shows that any women spoke out to the group?
Acts 16:4 – The decrees of the apostles and elders delivered elsewhere
As Paul and Barnabas traveled to other churches, they delivered the decrees that had been determined by the apostles and elders. This is exactly as we have stated. The decisions were determined by those who had God-given authority to do so: not by the church as a whole, but by the apostles and elders (in a private meeting, aside from the congregation, according to Galatians 2). This passage confirms that, and nothing anywhere disproves it.
Here again decisions were made on behalf of the church. Who made them? The men who led the church, or the whole church, including women, in a congregational meeting?
Vv 1-4 – The apostles’ decisions
A problem arose about the care of needy widows in the Jerusalem church. Decisions needed to be made to correct the matter. The twelve apostles called together the multitude of the disciples and told them that they themselves should emphasize prayer and teaching, not serving tables (vv 2,4). So, the brethren should seek out from among them seven men, with stated qualifications, whom the apostles would appoint over the “business.”
Before the congregation was called together, the apostles had already made the basic decisions about what would be done!
They met with the congregation to inform the church of the decisions that had been made and to instruct them to carry out those decisions. But the decision about what should be done was made by the apostles, the God-ordained leaders, before the congregation ever met! The congregation did not meet to “brainstorm” for a solution. The apostles did not ask for suggestions from the group about what to do. The leaders had already determined the solution. They did not ask permission from the group to carry out their decision, They met to present their decision to the group and then instructed the group to carry out the decision that had already been made!
Specifically, the apostles had determined exactly how many men were needed. This involved decisions even about matters of judgment, made by the leaders of the congregation among themselves before the congregation met. This is exactly what we saw in Galatians 2 and Acts 15.
And once again, this was a decision of apostles. Did the congregation have the right to ratify or veto a decision that had been made by apostles?
And once again every person involved in making the decisions was a man. Not one woman participated in the making of these decisions.
The seven men appointed “over this business” would make private decisions.
They were responsible to make the decisions about what widows would be supported, in what form, how much, how often, etc. In short, they made decisions in matters of judgment. Did every decision about every dollar or every meal given to every widow have to be submitted for ratification by the whole congregation of over 5000 men plus the women?
The whole point of being “over this business” meant that these 7 men made the necessary decisions. These decisions were too much for the apostles to handle and still do their other work, so how could the whole church as a body make them? Any honest soul can see that the men were appointed “over this business” so they could make the necessary decisions on behalf of the church, not in meetings of the whole church.
And note that the apostles specifically stated that those appointed to supervise this work must be “men” – no women involved in making these decisions!
Vv 4-6 – The church followed the apostles’ instructions.
The whole multitude was “pleased” by the instructions the apostles had given.
As in the discussion on Acts 15, this does not prove they had to ratify the decision in order for it to be put in effect.
It simply shows they accepted the apostles’ decision and submitted to it. If the decision could not take effect till the whole group gave its consensus, then this would give the congregation the power to approve or veto a decision of apostles! Do we believe in submitting to properly ordained leaders or not?
To be “pleased” refers to an attitude or state of mind, which may not be expressed in words at all. I was “pleased” when the White Sox chose Robin Ventura as a new manager. Does the mean I was consulted or had any role whatever in making the decision? No, it simply means that I liked the decision after it was made by those who had the power to make it.
Here is a list of passages where the same Greek word is used to refer to the fact that someone was pleased by a decision or choice that someone else made, but the person who was “pleased” had no part in the making of the choice itself: Acts 12:3; 1 Corinthians 10:33; Galatians 1:10; 1 Thessalonians 2:4.
Furthermore, where does the passage say anything about women speaking out to the group or sharing equally with men in the decisions made?
Surely women were present when the apostles gave instructions to the church, but where does it say they spoke out? The apostles spoke to the group. Did the women speak to the group? Where is the proof?
Specifically, most members are “pleased” by most of the things that occur when the church meets. But this does not prove that they all speak up and say so then and there! Are the women “pleased” by what happens in our congregational worship? If so, 1 Corinthians 14 forbids them from speaking up to saying so in the assembly. Why then should we assume the women spoke in the assembly in Acts 6?
We still have no passage showing women, with God’s approval, speaking out to a local church assembled either for worship or church decision making.
Consider this act of choosing the seven men.
The apostles told the church to seek out seven qualified men to supervise distribution to the needy (v3), so they (the group) chose seven men who are named in v5. Note even so that it was the leaders, not the people, who appointed these men to the work (vv 3,6).
This act of choosing was not a modern election in which women and men voted on candidates for office. As with elders and deacons, the decision was based on qualifications. Nor does the passage say the decision was made right there in the public meeting. The instructions were given in the meeting, but we are not told when, where, and how the final choice was made. Whatever was done must harmonize with the teaching of other passages, including those we have already studied.
Apparently, everyone was consulted regarding whether or not men were qualified for the office before those men were appointed. Likewise, in appointing elders and deacons today, everyone, including women, should have an opportunity to indicate what they know about whether or not men meet God’s qualifications before those men are appointed. (If this is not done, then if a man’s wife or daughters know things that disqualify him, how can they express this?)
There are many ways this can be done. Sometimes members are asked to submit written statements. Or certain men may be appointed to whom the members may go to express their views. To my knowledge, this has always been the practice of local congregations in appointing elders or deacons. But none of this requires a congregational meeting in which women speak out to the group. And nothing says the women had equal say with men in congregational decisions.
So, here we have a passage that some people claim proves decisions must be made by the whole church and women must be involved in every decision. Yet instead we have two clear examples of decisions being made by God-ordained leaders apart from any gathering of the whole church. The apostles decided the arrangement to meet the need of the widows, and the seven men made the specific decisions regarding caring for the needy.
And once again the leadership roles in this event all belonged to men. The apostles who chose the solution to the problem and the seven men appointed to be in charge of the business, all were men. Leadership roles in the church always belonged to men, never to women. And nowhere does the passage say that women spoke in any church decision meeting.
And as in Acts 15, the church was “pleased” with the decisions of their authorized leaders. They submitted to the leaders’ decisions. Where is the verse that says the church had the right to be not be pleased with the decisions of the leaders even to the point of annulling or vetoing those decisions? How can verses saying the church was pleased with the decisions of their leaders become verses that teach they have the right to be displeased and reject the decisions!
Our study has proved the following conclusions:
* Women have an important role, but with Divine limitations.
* Women should be subject to men in Bible teaching and church decisions.
* People appointed to roles or offices for leading the whole church must always be men.
* Women must not preach or take a leading role in church worship assemblies.
* Women must not lead any Bible study or act of worship in which men participate.
* In church decisions, women’s input may sometimes be solicited, but final decisions must be made by men. No arrangement should involve the whole congregation together, including women, in discussing or making decisions or ratifying/vetoing leaders’ decisions. Nor is there Scriptural authority for women to participate jointly with the men in meetings to discuss and/or make decisions for the church.
* Women must not speak out in any meeting when the whole church assembles as a church.
Those who love and honor God will follow His pattern here as we do in all other subjects.