The Woman’s Role in the church

In some cultures and religions the woman is considered second rate and inferior.

Been in a country (Saudi Arabia) where, in the 1990’s, I was told that a woman couldn’t work at a secular job (except in medical profession).

And where I observed that, at the call to prayer, the women were required to worship separately from the men.

But that is not the Lord’s intent – He intended that in Christ the woman is to be elevated and made an object of honor – to be respected and cherished.

Gal 3:28

28 There is neither Jew nor Greek, there is neither bond nor free, there is neither male nor female: for ye are all one in Christ Jesus.

1 Peter 3:7

7 Likewise, ye husbands, dwell with them according to knowledge, giving honour unto the wife, as unto the weaker vessel, and as being heirs together of the grace of life; that your prayers be not hindered.

So the Lord recognizes the value of women -- spiritually on equality with men – but have different roles.

In the business world equality among people doesn’t mean that all have the same roles. In business, this is not based on gender, but on ability.

But in the church, as we shall see, the Lord intended that there is to be a difference in the roles of men and women (1 Tim 2:8-15).

The women’s liberation movement has been advocating greater roles of authority for women in the home and in the church

Today some denominations advocate women taking leadership roles -- example of lady elder in Christian church and women preachers in the United Methodist church.

Today even some churches of Christ advocate women taking the lead in worship and in the leadership.

But want to look at the scriptures on the woman’s role.

God created man, and said that it was not good for man to dwell alone, that he needed a helper suitable for him – so of the man created he woman as a helper suitable for him, a wife.

Gen 2:18-24

18 And the Lord God said, It is not good that the man should be alone; I will make him an help meet for him. 19 And out of the ground the Lord God formed every beast of the field, and every fowl of the air; and brought them unto Adam to see what he would call them: and whatsoever Adam called every living creature, that was the name thereof. 20 And Adam gave names to all cattle, and to the fowl of the air, and to every beast of the field; but for Adam there was not found an help meet for him. 21 And the Lord God caused a deep sleep to fall upon Adam and he slept: and he took one of his ribs, and closed up the flesh instead thereof; 22 And the rib, which the Lord God had taken from man, made he a woman, and brought her unto the man. 23 And Adam said, This is now bone of my bones, and flesh of my flesh: she shall be called Woman, because she was taken out of Man. 24 Therefore shall a man leave his father and his mother, and shall cleave unto his wife: and they shall be one flesh.

And He ordained that the man, as a result of Eve’s being deceived by Satan in the Garden of Eden, be in the lead in this relationship. He placed the man with the rule over the woman.

Gen 3:16

16 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.

Also, applicable in a general sense

1 Cor 11:3

3 But I would have you know, that the head of every man is Christ; and the head of the woman is the man; and the head of Christ is God.

God saw fit to extend this arrangement – to have the man taking the lead in spiritual matters.

1 Tim 2:8-15

8 I will therefore that men pray every where, lifting up holy hands, without wrath and doubting. 9 In like manner also, that women adorn themselves in modest apparel, with shamefacedness and sobriety; not with broided hair, or gold, or pearls, or costly array; 10 But (which becometh women professing godliness) with good works. 11 Let the woman learn in silence with all subjection. 12 But I suffer not a woman to teach, nor to usurp authority over the man, but to be in silence. 13 For Adam was first formed, then Eve. 14 And Adam was not deceived, but the woman being deceived was in the transgression. 15 Notwithstanding she shall be saved in childbearing, if they continue in faith and charity and holiness with sobriety.

The context definitely shows that he is talking about the woman’s role with respect to men in spiritual matters (men leading the prayers in every place, and women wearing modest apparel, having good works, learning the word in silence, not teaching and having authority over the man, raising godly children).

Paul first states the woman’s role positively – “Let the woman learn in silence with all subjection.”

The word “silence” used there is sometimes translated “quietness” -- and indicates "tranquility arising from within," causing no disturbance to others. Vine's Expository Dictionary.

2 Thess 3:12 (KJV)

12 Now them that are such we command and exhort by our Lord Jesus Christ, that with quietness they work, and eat their own bread.

Then Paul then states the woman’s role negatively – “But I suffer not a woman to teach, nor to usurp authority over the man.”

The term “usurp authority over” is translated “usurp authority over” (KJV), “have dominion over” (ASV), “have authority over” (NKJV), “exercise authority over” (NASV)

According to Thayer’s Lexicon, it means: ‎to govern one, exercise dominion over one: ‎tin$‎, 1 Tim 2:12.

In 1 Tim 2:12, both “teach” and “usurp authority over” are related contextually with respect to “the man” (I Tim 2:12).

The woman is not to be placed in a position where she will “have authority over” the man.

Paul was not talking about the relationship of women to children or of women to other women – bur rather the woman with respect to the man.

Paul is not talking exclusively about her relationship in the worship assembly – I Tim 2 is not exclusively an “assembly rule” for church worship – but applies outside the assembly as well.

The men are to pray “every where -- in every place (other translations)” (I Tim 2:8).

Contextually -- “In like manner also” the women must adorn themselves with modesty, perform good works, be in subjection, and instruct/discipline children, “every where” (in every place) and not just in the assembly.

The word “every where” in verse 8 is used in the Bible of physical locations – like cities, villages, houses, the temple, desert places.

It does include places where assemblies occur -- picnics, school gatherings, civil functions, worship services.

But “place’ and “assembly” are two different things – we assemble in a place.

Acts 4:31

31 And when they had prayed, the place was shaken where they were assembled together; and they were all filled with the Holy Ghost, and they spake the word of God with boldness.

Paul in I Tim 2 is talking about the subjection of the woman to the man – and prohibits the dominion of the woman over the man.

She should not teach the word of God in an arrangement whereby she would be out of her place of “subjection” to man (1 Timothy 2:11-12) – whereby she would “usurp authority over” (KJV), “exercise dominion over” (ASV), “have authority over” (NKJV), “exercise authority over” (NASV), the man.

For example -- she can’t be an evangelist – in the Bible evangelists were always men – like Philip, Timothy, Titus.

Evangelists are to teach, rebuke, and exhort “with all authority.”

Titus 2:15

15 These things speak, and exhort, and rebuke with all authority. Let no man despise thee.

Whereas women are to be quiet learners “with all subjection.”

1 Tim 2:11

11 Let the woman learn in silence with all subjection.

And she cannot exercise dominion, authority over the man in any other way.

can’t be an elder (I Tim 3:2), or a deacon (I Tim 3:12).

and when men are present -- can’t be a Bible class leader, a song leader. or a prayer leader, etc.

If I Tim 2 refers exclusively to the worship assembly -- an “assembly rule” (so to speak):

Then to be consistent -- the woman would be able to “teach the man” as long as it was outside of the worship assembly – like on the radio or as a tele-evangelist.

And also then likewise the passage would allow her to “usurp authority over” or “have authority over” or “exercise dominion over” the man in other ways outside of the worship service – could be the prayer leader at civic gatherings and family reunions – but just not in the worship assembly.

But 1 Tim 2 doesn’t allow that – because it applies “every where” “in every place.”

What about teaching the Bible -- the Bible definitely teaches that a woman can teach. She:

Could teach as a prophet. Could exercise the gift of prophecy in the first century until “that which is perfect is come” (1 Cor 13:8-10), the perfect law of liberty (James 1:25), the completed, written New Testament.

Acts 2:17-18

17 And it shall come to pass in the last days, saith God, I will pour out of my Spirit upon all flesh: and your sons and your daughters shall prophesy, and your young men shall see visions, and your old men shall dream dreams: 18 And on my servants and on my handmaidens I will pour out in those days of my Spirit; and they shall prophesy:

Luke 2:36-38

36 And there was one Anna, a prophetess, the daughter of Phanuel, of the tribe of Aser: she was of a great age, and had lived with an husband seven years from her virginity; 37 And she was a widow of about fourscore and four years, which departed not from the temple, but served God with fastings and prayers night and day. 38 And she coming in that instant gave thanks likewise unto the Lord, and spake of him to all them that looked for redemption in Jerusalem.

Acts 21:8-9

8 And the next day we that were of Paul's company departed, and came unto Caesarea: and we entered into the house of Philip the evangelist, which was one of the seven; and abode with him. 9 And the same man had four daughters, virgins, which did prophesy.

It should be noted that in the assembly, when spiritual gifts were being exercised (including the gift of prophesy), the women were required to be in silence, in subjection:

1 Cor 14:29-35

29 Let the prophets speak two or three, and let the other judge. 30 If any thing be revealed to another that sitteth by, let the first hold his peace. 31 For ye may all prophesy one by one, that all may learn, and all may be comforted. 32 And the spirits of the prophets are subject to the prophets. 33 For God is not the author of confusion, but of peace, as in all churches of the saints. 34 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. 35 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.

Can teach in song. In congregational singing each singer has the same relationship to one another. We are “teaching and admonishing one another in psalms and hymns and spiritual songs.”

Eph 5:18-19

18 And be not drunk with wine, wherein is excess; but be filled with the Spirit; 19 Speaking to yourselves in psalms and hymns and spiritual songs, singing and making melody in your heart to the Lord;

Col 3:16

16 Let the word of Christ dwell in you richly in all wisdom; teaching and admonishing one another in psalms and hymns and spiritual songs, singing with grace in your hearts to the Lord.

It is the song leader, a man (1 Tim 2:11-12), that directs the singing. He chooses the song, selects the pitch and tempo of the song, and starts and stops the song, all within God’s desire for orderly, congregational singing.

Once in California, I encountered a brother who advocated that women take the lead in the singing and in the Lord’s Supper. I told him that this was contrary to Paul’s teaching that the women should be in subjection, not having authority over the man (1 Tim 2:11-12).

Can teach a child – Timothy’s mother Eunice was a Jewess who believed but his father was a Greek. His mother Eunice and his grandmother Lois set the example for Timothy of faithful living in service to the Lord, and instructed him in the ways of the Lord.

2 Tim 1:5

5 When I call to remembrance the unfeigned faith that is in thee, which dwelt first in thy grandmother Lois, and thy mother Eunice; and I am persuaded that in thee also.

2 Tim 3:15

15 And that from a child thou hast known the holy scriptures, which are able to make thee wise unto salvation through faith which is in Christ Jesus.

Can teach another woman

Titus 2:3-4

3 The aged women likewise, that they be in behaviour as becometh holiness, not false accusers, not given to much wine, teachers of good things; 4 That they may teach the young women to be sober, to love their husbands, to love their children,

Can teach a man -- in a non-leadership capacity

Acts 18:26

26 And he began to speak boldly in the synagogue: whom when Aquila and Priscilla had heard, they took him unto them, and expounded unto him the way of God more perfectly.

It should be noted that Aquila and Priscilla took Apollos “unto them” (aside) and taught him the truth. Aquila and Priscilla did not interrupt Apollos in the assembly of the Synagogue, and correct him. That would have caused Priscilla to violate her role of being in subjection to the man.

The Bible definitely teaches that, when a man is present, a woman can teach. She:

Can teach the man outside of the assembly, in a humble, submissive way

Acts 18:26

26 And he began to speak boldly in the synagogue: whom when Aquila and Priscilla had heard, they took him unto them, and expounded unto him the way of God more perfectly.

Teach the man in the assembly, in an arrangement where her subjection to man is not violated

Eph 5:18-19

18 And be not drunk with wine, wherein is excess; but be filled with the Spirit; 19 Speaking to yourselves in psalms and hymns and spiritual songs, singing and making melody in your heart to the Lord;

Col 3:16

16 Let the word of Christ dwell in you richly in all wisdom; teaching and admonishing one another in psalms and hymns and spiritual songs, singing with grace in your hearts to the Lord.

Speak to men about Jesus outside of the assembly – Example of Anna the prophetess

Luke 2:38

38 And she coming in that instant gave thanks likewise unto the Lord, and spake of him to all them that looked for redemption in Jerusalem.

Speak to men in the assembly

In song

Eph 5:19

19 Speaking to yourselves in psalms and hymns and spiritual songs, singing and making melody in your heart to the Lord;

In her confessing of sin and asking for prayer

James 5:16

16 Confess your faults one to another, and pray one for another, that ye may be healed. The effectual fervent prayer of a righteous man availeth much.

In her confessing Christ

Matt 10:32

32 Whosoever therefore shall confess me before men, him will I confess also before my Father which is in heaven.

But in no case can she disregard her place of subjection to man and be in a position of authority or rule over the man – she is to learn in quietness “with all subjection” (1 Tim 2:11-12).

What about a Bible class -- In a mixed Bible class, an arrangement designed for class discussion, when a woman asks a question or makes a comment, she does not violate the principle of subjection.

She is not in charge. The Bible class teacher, is the leader is in charge. Questions and comments are encouraged by all. She is learning in quietness (causing no disturbance to others). She can contribute to the study (Acts 18:26).

Can the woman be a leader in civil matters – can she be a judge, for instance?

Again, Paul’s teaching, in the New Testament, was set in a spiritual context – he was talking about what men and women can and cannot do from a spiritual standpoint. Men can pray in every place (1 Tim 2:8). And in every place women are to be in subjection and show modesty and be filled with good works and train children in the way of the Lord.

Same as in the Old Testament. The arrangement established in the Garden of Eden in the beginning showed that the women are to be in subjection.

In the Old Testament -- Women could not take charge in spiritual matters -- in the teaching program or in the temple service – that was delegated to the sons of Aaron and the sons of the Levites (Ex 28:1, Numbers 3:6-39, Nehemiah 8:1-8).

But, women could and did take charge over men in civil matters – Deborah was a righteous lady, a prophet and a judge over Israel and judged Israel in the days of the Judges.

Judg 4:4-5

4 And Deborah, a prophetess, the wife of Lapidoth, she judged Israel at that time. 5 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.

And, Esther served as the humble, submissive Queen of Persia, and was providentially placed in that position by God to save her people:

Est 2:17

17 And the king loved Esther above all the women, and she obtained grace and favour in his sight more than all the virgins; so that he set the royal crown upon her head, and made her queen instead of Vashti.

Est 4:13-14

13 Then Mordecai commanded to answer Esther, Think not with thyself that thou shalt escape in the king's house, more than all the Jews. 14 For if thou altogether holdest thy peace at this time, then shall there enlargement and deliverance arise to the Jews from another place; but thou and thy father's house shall be destroyed: and who knoweth whether thou art come to the kingdom for such a time as this?

Paul’s teaching in I Tim 2 is consistent with Paul’s teaching in I Cor 14:34.

1 Cor 14:34

34 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.

I Cor 14 talking about a coming together of the whole church into one place – men and women -- for the purpose of the exercise of spiritual gifts.

1 Cor 14:23

23 If therefore the whole church be come together into one place, and all speak with tongues, and there come in those that are unlearned, or unbelievers, will they not say that ye are mad?

And when the spiritual gifts were being exercised – the women (in context probably the wives of the prophets, but in principle all women in these assemblies) were required to maintain silence. Thayer says that “silence” (Greek sigao) here means “To keep silent” (a “great silence” as in Acts 21:40). When spiritual gifts were being exercised in this assembly, women could not utter a word.

God was making revelation to the congregation – only the man was allowed to speak – he had the lead – and women were to keep silence (be in subjection).

Need to respect the principle being taught in I Cor 14:34 – still applicable today -- women need to be in subjection and not take the lead over men in religious matters.

So what is the conclusion?

Women have a place of honor – are valuable and profitable in the home and church – just have a different role regarding leadership.

Women can worship and teach -- but not in a role where she takes the lead and exercises the dominion or rule over the man. Let’s follow God’s pattern and have peace and contentment.

1 Cor 14:33

33 For God is not the author of confusion, but of peace, as in all churches of the saints.