Summary: In this concluding article of this title series, I want to focus on the ministries that are prohibited and the ministries that women can and should pursue.
In my previous article on this topic, I focused on how Christianity elevated the status and opportunities of women. I wrote about how Christian women, in the New Testament, have had (and, thus, still have) opportunities to labor for the Lord’s Church. However, I did mention in passing that the Scriptures do place some restrictions on the ministries of women.
In this concluding article, I want to focus on the ministries that are prohibited and the ministries that women can and should pursue.
I. Teaching (Preaching) In The Assembly.
While it is true that, during the Church’s infancy, Christian women prophesied through the miraculous influence of the Spirit (the significance of this for our present time will be considered later in this article), it is equally true that we have no example of this ministry being performed in the worship assembly. On the contrary, women prophesying or teaching in the worship assembly was strictly forbidden.
The First Corinthian letter, Chapter 14 provides the most explicit instruction on how the Christian assembly is to worship the Lord and ensure edification for all. Unfortunately, the explicit instruction was necessary because the Corinthian congregation was experiencing irregularities in their worship service. We will not examine all of the irregularities but, rather, focus on the irregularity that is relevant to our discussion.
We read in verses 33-35, 40, “God is not a God of confusion but of peace, as in all the churches of the saints. The women are to keep silent in the churches; for they are not permitted to speak, but are to subject themselves, just as the Law also says. If they desire to learn anything, let them ask their own husbands at home; for it is improper for a woman to speak in church...But all things must be done properly and in an orderly manner.”
The Apostle Paul stresses in this passage that the proceedings of the worship service must be done orderly and properly (that is, according to the will of God). Confusion within the assembly was to be avoided; no only at Corinth, but in all the congregations of the saints. Previously, Paul had written about those who addressed the congregation either by way of prophesying or by tongues. Paul says that such speaking by women in the congregation is off limits. The women are to keep silent in the assemblies; for, they are not permitted to speak. Not only are women to not address the congregation ‘from the pulpit’, but they are prohibited from addressing the speaker from the pew. The woman is not to interrupt the speaker for clarification of points made. If anything has been taught which the woman does not understand or if on the subject they desire more information, they are to subject themselves (hold their peace) during the service and ask their husbands at home for further learning.
The concept of the woman ‘subjecting herself’ speaks of her acknowledging (in her spirit and behavior) the God-established authority of the man. Paul appeals to the Law or the Old Testament for grounds of this point. In Genesis 3:16, God stated to the woman, “your desire will be for your husband, And he will rule over you.” Not only is the woman to subject herself to the spiritual authority of her husband but, by extension, to the God- ordained male leadership governing the assembly.
Paul repeats and amplifies these points in his First Letter to Timothy, who was stationed at the Ephesian congregation to combat false doctrines (1:3) and set things in order. Apparently, Ephesus was experiencing the same irregularity, concerning male-female roles in the assembly, as did the Corinthian congregation. We read in 1 Timothy 2:11-14, “A woman must quietly receive instruction with entire submissiveness. But I do not allow a woman to teach or exercise authority over a man, but to remain quiet. For it was Adam who was first created, and then Eve. And it was not Adam who was deceived, but the woman being deceived, fell into transgression.”
As in our Corinthian passage, the Apostle doesn’t question that women should receive instruction and learn. All Christians, regardless of gender, are expected to learn the Scriptures - 1 Peter 2:2; 2 Peter 1:5; et al. The issue is not whether she should learn, but how she is to learn. Paul says the Christian woman is to learn “quietly” and with “entire submissiveness”.
The term “quietly” is the translation of the Greek ‘hesuchia’. Hesuchia can be interpreted two ways. First, it can mean ‘peaceably’. Clearly, Paul is concerned that the women accept the teaching of the properly appointed Church leaders without criticism and without dispute. Secondly, hesuchia can be interpreted as meaning ‘silence’. This latter definition is likely the proper translation of hesuchia as it is repeated at the end of verse 12, where it states that women are not to teach but “remain quiet”. (It is important to note that one can accept either definition of hesuchia and it is clear that the context of the entire passage applies to the worship service of the assembly. For, the Corinthian passage only enjoins the silence of women in the worship assembly. She can freely discuss the Scriptures outside the assembly with her husband or a qualified teacher.)