Women Speaking In Church

William Stewart

Varying views exist among religious people on the nature of and measure to which a woman may speak amidst the assembly of God’s people. Some affirm that she may participate in leadership roles among God’s elect to the same extent that any man is able. Others will go to the opposite extreme, holding that a woman is not permitted to speak at all during the assembly. With a desire to do the Lord’s will, and not to loose where He has not, nor bind where He has not, let us consider what the Scriptures reveal about the woman’s role in the assembly.

1 TIMOTHY 2:11-12
“Let a woman learn in silence with all submission. And I do not permit a woman to teach or have authority over a man, but to be in silence.”

The theme of Paul’s first letter to Timothy is summed up in the apostle’s words,“…I write so that you may know how you ought to conduct yourself in the house of God, which is the church of the living God, the pillar and ground of the truth.”(3:15)

Among the topics addressed are the qualifications for elders and deacons (3:1-13), warning of apostasies which would come (4:1-7), relationships, conduct and responsibilities of various members (4:12-5:20). In the process of giving instruction to Timothy, Paul calls upon men to fulfill the leadership role in spiritual matters, and in contrast, calls upon the women to be quiet and submissive (2:1-12).

The word “silence” in the text is translated from the Greek ‘hesuchia’ which denotes quietness. It does not necessitate complete silence, but rather is indicative of a spirit of meekness and tranquility (see use in Acts 22:2 & 2 Thesssalonians 3:12). The woman is called upon to be submissive in the public facets of spiritual service.

These principles were not simply established by the pen of Paul, but were set in order from the very beginning. In verses 13-14, the apostle draws upon Adam and Eve as the foundation for his words. Now understand, this text does not place every woman in subjection to every man in the same manner she is subject to her husband. To attempt such an application far surpasses the scope of Paul’s topic. The point is simply this, the God appointed leadership in the home is with the man, and likewise, God has ordained that the leadership of the church be exercised by the men.

The woman is not “…to teach or have authority over a man…” She is not to occupy the office of an instructor over any man, nor is she to exercise authority over him in regard to spiritual things. This is not a blanket exclusion of woman from teaching men, as some suppose, since we are told that Priscilla participated with her husband in some measure in the teaching of Apollos (Acts 18:24-26). Also, every time the saints sing psalms, hymns and spiritual songs, each woman singing is teaching all others present (Colossians 3:16).

The intent of 1 Timothy 2:11-12 is not that women should keep their mouths shut from the time they enter the meeting place until they exit the door, but rather should be understood as instruction of how women are to speak while assembled with others to study the Bible and worship God. Her place is one of submission, not one of leadership. Her speech is to be with quietness and meekness, not with boldness so as to call attention to herself. Her participation must be in such a way that she remains subject to the men who are leading the study or the service.

On that last point, the nature of conduct expected of a woman is no different than what we should expect of all. When a brother is leading a Bible study, it is understood that all who are present are subject to that one. The women are specifically commanded in this instance and all instances of assembly for spiritual purposes to be submissive and not take charge, but to quietly participate. Though men are never specifically given such a command, should we not expect in the process of common courtesy and in the interest of keeping the assembly decent and orderly, that they too embrace such a manner? Is the man who unwittingly (or perhaps wittingly) takes charge of another’s class not in the wrong as much as any woman who does likewise? Not on account of gender, but simply on the basis of his conduct?

A measure of responsibility resided with every saint present to ensure that the assembly is conducted in obedience to the commands and principles of God’s word. A great deal of attention is given in many places to avoid a woman stepping out of line in a Bible class. Such needs to be done, but recognize that both men and women are able to overstep the bounds of acceptable conduct in a class setting. The students in a Bible class must be mindful of their demeanor, and the teacher of a class has the responsibility to maintain proper control of the class.

Some have taken the instruction of 1 Timothy 2:11-12 to teach that women may not teach a man or exercise authority over a man in secular dealings. Thus, a woman would be excluded from being a high school teacher, college professor, management positions in companies, supervisor roles, and any other situation where she would be given authority over a man.

The context of these verses involve instruction for the assembly of God’s people as noted already. Responsibilities of men are given (2:1-8) and then responsibilities for women (2:9-12). These things are not new with Paul, as he calls the reader’s attention as far back as Adam and Eve. If the text is thus saying that a woman is not permitted to teach or exercise authority over a man in the secular arena, we should expect that such was the case from the very beginning. However, it was not. Notice:

  • God commanded Abraham to heed his wife Sarah regarding Hagar and Ishmael (Genesis 21:12);
  • Deboral served Israel and a judge and gave order to Barak (Judges 4:5-6, 14);
  • Abigail’s household was saved by her initiative (1 Samuel 25:14ff);
  • Esther was queen and gave commands to Mordecai (Esther 4:10-17)

Surely it should be apparent that Paul’s instruction does not deal with the secular world, but is given for the Lord’s church, to set in order the conduct of men and women that it might be to the glory of God.

Lord willing, we will look further at the topic of women speaking the church in next week’s article. We will focus on 1 Corinthians 14:34-35. This text has been employed by some to teach that women must be completely silent in the assembly, and yet such people have failed in consistent application of their position. We will deal with this misuse, and more importantly, consider the verses in context, that we might understand what the apostle Paul’s instruction is.

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