Paul and Women in the Church

by Peter Salemi

The Churches of God believe that women should not preach in the churches. The women in the church due to misunderstanding of the scriptures have not been treated fair. What does the Bible say about a woman's role in the Church?

There are certain proof texts that have been taken out of context that have been interpreted to diminish the role of women in the church. Here is one example: "Let your women keep silence in the churches: for it is not permitted unto them to speak; but they are commanded to be under obedience, as also saith the law.

"And if they will learn any thing, let them ask their husbands at home: for it is a shame for women to speak in the church." (1 Corinth 14:34-35). Apparently many believe that women should not preach or teach in church because of what the Apostle Paul says here.

Two principles seem to be involved in this counsel of Paul to the Corinthian church. First, there was definitely a violation of the principle of propriety and decency. In verse 33. Paul said, "God is not the author of confusion, but of peace." Again he admonished. "Let all things be done decently and in order." Verse 40.

It is not hard to visualize the situation which brought the rather stern rebuke from Paul in verses 34 and 35. In that early church, the men and women sat in segregated groups on opposite sides of the room. Why? The early church gathered in synagogues. The whole structure of the church was based on the synagogue. James wrote, "For if there come unto your assembly a man with a gold ring, in goodly apparel, and there come in also a poor man in vile raiment;” (James 2:2). The word “assembly,” is (Gr. “sunagoge” Strong’s #4864). Robertson’s Word Pictures writes, “The common word for the gathering of Jews for worship (Luk_12:11) and particularly for the building where they met (Luk_4:15, Luk_4:20, Luk_4:28, etc.)... It may seem a bit odd for a Christian church (ekklesia) to be termed sunagoge... Epiphanius (Haer. XXX. 18) states that the Ebionites call their church sunagoge, not ekklesia. In the fourth century an inscription has sunagoge for the meeting-house of certain Christians.” (emphasis added). Ekklesia is the people; God’s “called out ones.” The Synagogue was the meeting place or building where they met to assemble.

In the New Testament called “Sosthenes,” who is called “our Brother” (I Corinthians 1:1). He was a brother in Christ, and he was “the chief ruler of the synagogue,” (Acts 18:17). The Christian Synagogue.

Now, apparently some of the women were creating considerable disorder by calling across to their husbands, asking for clarification of certain points in the sermon. It was "not permitted unto them to speak" during that time of the sermon-the time to "learn." Paul commanded them to stop bringing in this confusion and to wait and ask their husbands at home about anything that wasn't clear. "And if they will learn any thing, let them ask their husbands at home:" The shame was speaking out loud in the church causing confusion and disorder. The minister of the church was telling them to be silent and they would not listen hence not subjecting themselves to the authority leadership of the church hence, breaking the law of God.

This had nothing to due with them not preaching in the church or not, it is not even the subject of the text. Women have been called by God into prophetic office (Luke 2:36, 37; Judges 4:4. Acts 21:9) and were given recognition by Paul in public and private witnessing roles (I Corinthians 11:5). These principles stand firmly today as in Paul's day for men and women.

Prophetess or prophets in the New Testament also meant inspired speaking and teaching as opposed to foretelling future events although it meant that as well (see Strong's #4396, 4398). Jesus condemns a false prophetess saying, "Notwithstanding I have a few things against thee, because thou sufferest that woman Jezebel, which calleth herself a prophetess, to teach and to seduce my servants to commit fornication, and to eat things sacrificed unto idols." Prophets were inspired speakers and teachers. This Jezebel claimed this role however taught the church to sin and commit idolatry and not the law of God. "This woman was not a real prophetess, but a false one with loud claims and loose living" (Robertson's Word Pictures).

Not suffer a woman to teach?

Now this next scripture: "Let the woman learn in silence with all subjection.

"But I suffer not a woman to teach, nor to usurp authority over the man, but to be in silence.

"For Adam was first formed, then Eve.

"And Adam was not deceived, but the woman being deceived was in the transgression.

"Notwithstanding she shall be saved in childbearing, if they continue in faith and charity and holiness with sobriety." (1Tim 2:11-15).

First it is good to understand that the word for "silence" in the original Greek is "hēsuchia" (Strong's #2271), and does not signify total silence but rather "quietness" and "peacefulness." Thayer's says, "1) quietness 1a) description of the life of one who stays at home doing his own work, and does not officiously meddle with the affairs of others 2) silence." (emphasis added). Paul warned the women not to be "busybodies" getting into people's business and causing trouble (see 2 Thess 3:11; 1 Tim 5:13). This was a problem in the  church among the women, and today I know of men who do the same thing. It is quite clear from Paul's statement in I Corinthians 11:5 that women were encouraged to pray and prophesy along with others in the congregation so this cannot mean women should not preach and teach the Bible.

Paul says that he "suffers" a woman "not to teach." But what does he mean? Look at the context, not to teach men! He speaks of usurping authority over men, and they were not to teach NOR usurp authority over men. Paul said, "The aged women likewise, that they be in behaviour as becometh holiness, not false accusers, not given to much wine, teachers of good things;

"That they may teach the young women to be sober, to love their husbands, to love their children,

"To be discreet, chaste, keepers at home, good, obedient to their own husbands, that the word of God be not blasphemed." (Titus 2:3-5). Today in our modern world many say that women should teach women about women's issues and vice versa, Paul here is saying the same. On specific issues for woman, its best that women teach women because women know the problems of women better than a man, and vice versa. But in sermons that involve all of us, a general sermon, Paul did not teach that women cant give them.

Now when Paul said a women should not "usurp authority over the man," the context is marriage because he afterwards mentioned Adam and Eve in the Garden. This is a relationship between man and his wife.

This word "usurp" is "authenteo" (Strong's #831). "The word authenteō is now cleared up by Kretschmer (Glotta, 1912, pp. 289ff.) and by Moulton and Milligan’s Vocabulary. See also Nageli, Der Wortschatz des Apostels Paulus and Deissmann, Light, etc., pp. 88f. Autodikeō was the literary word for playing the master while authenteō was the vernacular term. It comes from auṫhentes, a self-doer, a master, autocrat. It occurs in the papyri (substantive authentēs, master, verb authenteō, to domineer, adjective authentikos, authoritative, 'authentic'). Modern Greek has aphentes = Effendi = 'Mark.''' (Robertson's Word Pictures).

The JFB Commentary says, "literally, 'to be an autocrat.'''

Now autocrat means " absolute ruler, especially a monarch who holds and exercises the powers of government as by inherent right, not subject to restrictions.
2.a person invested with or claiming to exercise absolute authority.
3.a person who behaves in an authoritarian manner; a domineering person." (, emphasis added). Does anyone want to be in that kind of relationship, man or woman? of course not!

A marriage relationship between and man and his wife should be the way God designed it. First leadership is service not dictatorship. Jesus said, "Ye know that the princes of the Gentiles exercise dominion over them, and they that are great exercise authority upon them.

"But it shall not be so among you: but whosoever will be great among you, let him be your minister;

"And whosoever will be chief among you, let him be your servant:

"Even as the Son of man came not to be ministered unto, but to minister, and to give his life a ransom for many" (Matthew 20:25-28). Leadership is service and sacrifice, not dictatorship, and its the same with marriage. Paul says, "For the husband is the head of the wife, even as Christ is the head of the church: and he is the saviour of the body.

"Therefore as the church is subject unto Christ, so let the wives be to their own husbands in every thing.

"Husbands, love your wives, even as Christ also loved the church, and gave himself for it;" (Eph 5:23-25). Jesus sacrificed his life for the church, even so the man should sacrifice his life for his wife, and minister to her. Men that show this kind of leadership of being her lover, protector, and risking his life for her is a true man and husband. The Apostle Paul was saying to the women not to have that kind of attitude towards their husbands, and neither should husbands do the same thing to the wives.

Now what of Genesis that says, "Unto the woman he said, I will greatly multiply thy sorrow and thy conception; in sorrow thou shalt bring forth children; and thy desire shall be to thy husband, and he shall rule over thee." (Gen 3:16)? Is God commanding the man to be a ruler or dictator over his family? No! Look at the context. Notice that this passage is descriptive, not prescriptive. It is in the simple future tense (he shall), not the imperative (he must). God is not describing the way things should be, but the way they will be as the result of sin. And in truth down through all generations woman has been dominated. In nearly every society the woman has experienced the rule of man. She has been treated like a slave and even bought and sold. Often robbed of her human rights, she was treated as chattel or property by her husband.

But From the beginning it was not so.

This passage is not a description of the way God wants things to be, but the way they will be when men go contrary to His words. It is not God's will for man to "lord it over" his wife. For a Christian to use this verse to justify the oppression of his wife is an utter travesty! The Christian man and wife should be one flesh as it was from the beginning "help meet for him." (Gen 2:18, 20).  God calls men's wife's the "wife of thy youth"  "yet is she thy companion, and the wife of thy covenant." (Malachi 2:14).

So there is nothing that shows the Apostle against women taking leadership roles in the church.

Biblical Examples of Women

There are plenty examples of women teaching preaching and leading nations.

Has God ever used a woman in a position of leadership over men?

The answer is a clear and resounding yes!

Perhaps the most notable example in Scripture is a woman named Deborah-a prophetess and a judge in Israel in the years following Joshua. She is introduced to us in the fourth chapter of Judges: "And Deborah, a prophetess, the wife of Lapidoth, she judged Israel at that time. And she dwelt under the palm tree of Deborah between Ramah and Bethel in Mount Ephraim: and the children of Israel came up to her for judgment [Judges 4:4, 5]

There can be little doubt that Deborah was the dominant leader in Israel at this time. It is evident from the fact that when she sent for Barak, the military commander, he came at her bidding (verse 6).

Deborah was a prophetess. The Hebrew word for prophet is nabi, and its feminine form is nebiah. There are many different sorts of prophets to be found in the Bible but essentially a prophet or a prophetess is one through whom God speaks. Consequently, when she called Barak he realized that God had a message for him.

Her message was simple. God had commanded Barak to go and take 10,000 men to fight against Sisera the captain of Jabin's army. Barak's response is of considerable interest: "And Barak said unto her, If thou wilt go with me, then I will go: but if thou wilt not go with me, then I will not go" (verse 8). He was dependent upon this woman not only as a messenger of God, but as a source of moral support and as an obvious leader-although not herself a military leader.

Deborah went with him, but she warned that the honor of the battle would not be Barak's, but the Lord would give Sisera into the hand of a woman. The battle was fought, Sisera and his men fled in disarray, and Sisera himself was killed by a woman named Jael who drove a tent peg through his head.

Some interpreters are fond of citing this period in Israel as a time when all the men were so weak that there was no one left but a woman to lead Israel-as though it were a low point in Israel's history Yet, it was a time when a great battle was fought and won followed by 40 years of peace. A strange circumstance for a time when God was so displeased with the character of the men of Israel.

The truth is that God simply chose a woman to hold the position of leadership during this particular point in history.

There are two other prophetesses of note in the Bible. The first is Miriam, Moses' sister. In Exodus the 15th chapter we find "Miriam the prophetess, the sister of Aaron," taking a timbrel in her hand and leading all the women in a song of triumph. Her words have found their way into Scripture as the song of Miriam.

Much later in Israel's history King Josiah began to reign. In his 18th year, a book was discovered in the temple-it was the book of the law. When King Josiah heard the words of the law read to him, he rent his clothes and immediately sent to inquire of God for he realized that the wrath of God was upon these people because they had not listened to the words of this book. So he sent Hilkiah the priest and others to inquire of God. They went to a woman named Huldah, a prophetess. (2 Kings 22:14)

And she said unto them, thus saith the Lord God of Israel, tell the man that sent you to me, thus saith the Lord ...

Thus begins a rather lengthy prophecy about the evil that was to befall Israel, and a promise that it would not fall in the days of Josiah because of his humility before God. It is a simple account, but it underlines once more that occasionally, for reasons of His own, God decides to speak to man through a woman.

To be sure instances of feminine leadership were rare indeed in Old Testament times. But, then, instances of righteous male leadership are rare enough as well.

It isn't as though God wanted to establish feminine dominance, or even to erode the principle of male leadership. But it may have been necessary for Him to make a statement that women were not to be treated as man's inferiors.

In the end times God through Joel said, "And it shall come to pass afterward, that I will pour out my spirit upon all flesh; and your sons and your daughters shall prophesy, your old men shall dream dreams, your young men shall see visions:

"And also upon the servants and upon the handmaids in those days will I pour out my spirit." (2:28-29; Acts 2:17). God said that men and women would prophesy in the last days. Women did preach and teach the word of God, (see Acts 21:9; 1 Corinth 11:5)Paul even said it himself!

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