Based on two passages of scripture, 1 Corinthians 14:34-35 and 1 Timothy 2:11-12, I once believed that women were to remain silent in the church (period). This meant that women, no matter how gifted they appeared, were never to lead or teach in the assembly nor to lead any ministry of the church. But then I began to read the Bible from cover to cover, from Genesis to Revelation, and as I said in yesterday’s post, I found out that the Bible had a lot more to say on this subject than just what the two above passages said. That’s when I realized that God had much more of a use for women in the church than many churches did.
Consequently, I knew something was amiss about the way many churches regarded the issue of women in the church. It dawned on me that whatever the passages of 1 Corinthians 14:34-35 and 1 Timothy 2:12 were saying, they weren’t saying as much or exactly what so many churches believed they were saying. In fact, what I began to realize is that some would proof-text these two passages to say that the Bible teaches a principle of male leadership as a way of defending their view of male hierarchy. Yet here is the first problem: when we extract an alleged principle from scripture and begin following that principle, we elevate the principle above scripture. That’s a problem! So I knew there was more to learn and this sent me back to the texts of 1 Corinthians 14 and 1 Timothy 2.
Two Passages of Scripture Reexamined
[In what follows, I offer a mini-synopis of what I have discovered about 1 Corinthians 14:34-35 and 1 Timothy 2:12 based on the exegetical studies I have done. So that you can read each passage in context, I will provide links to each chapter that will open on another page.]
1 Corinthians 14:34-35. In this Paul is addressing a problem where some women are asking questions in the church gathering (ekklēsia) which they could instead ask at home. These questions are actually part of a chaotic problem that’s disrupting the gathering. This problem includes Christians who are speaking in tongues without an interpreter and Christians who are trying to prophesy out of turn, causing disorder and confusion in the gathering. So in all three cases, Paul insists there must be silence and used the verb sigaō to issue this instruction. In v. 28, those who speak in tongues but do not have an interpreter must be silent (sigaō); in v. 30, when someone else receives a revelation then the one sharing his or her prophesy must be silent (sigaō); and then in v. 34, the women − wives is more precise − who are asking questions during the assembly that they could be asking their husbands at home must also be silent (sigaō).
Further more, since Paul likely was only instructing temporary silence when it came to tongues and prophesy, he likely is only instructing the same for these married women too. In other words, Paul wasn’t saying that the people with the gift of tongues and prophesy could never speak again and he wasn’t saying that these women in Corinth could never speak in the assembly again.
The most we can conclude is that 1 Corinthians 14:34-35 is only saying women should be silent in regards to these questions.
1 Timothy 2:11-12. This is the passage where Paul instructs Timothy that a women is not allowed “to teach [didaskō] or exercise authority [authenteō] over a man. she must remain quiet [hēsuchia].” What Paul says here has to do with women teaching… not sharing a word of meditation or exhortation around the Lord’s Table, not leading a prayer in the assembly, not leading a ministry, just teaching! The women, or at least some of the women, in this church have been teaching and in doing so, have been exercising authority over the men of the church.
Yet as I wanted to learn more, I also learned that the Bible is not a flat text but is a collection of different writings, including letters like 1 Timothy, written for specific reasons which may not always be as applicable to our own circumstances. The problem in Ephesus where Timothy is ministering is a very immature church suffering from false teaching that has to do with speculative myths (cf. 1 Tim 1:4) rather than the gospel of Jesus Christ. In fact, in some way this false teaching is threatening the embodiment of the gospel among this church. So in an immature church like this the best thing to do is establish some law and order and in a culture that is very much male-hierarchy, insisting that women remain in submission to the men as they remain silent (= discontinue teaching) makes good pastoral sense. It silences the women who are likely involved in promoting the false teaching going on.
Nevertheless, the only prohibition Paul is placing on women in this passage has to do with teaching which exercises authority over the men.
Where is the passage that prohibits women from leading the church in prayer? From reading scripture during worship? From sharing a thought at the Lord’s table as the church partakes of bread and wine? From leading a youth ministry, an education ministry, and any other ministry of the church for which God has gifted them for? Nota! These passages say nothing about such questions except for what churches have added to the scripture.
So at this point in my journey I became what scholars refer to as a soft-complimentarian. I concluded that the only prohibition scripture placed on women in the church was asking questions in a disruptive manner and teaching (which included preaching and serving as an elder since that is a ministry that requires teaching too). But alas… There was still more to learn, so stay tuned!