Women in the Church
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Four of the ten chapters can be accessed by clicking their titles below:

The Ministry of Women in the New Testament

Women and Church Office

The Role of the Pastor

Retrospect and Prospect

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Chapter 6


Samuele Bacchiocchi, Ph. D., Andrews University

How does the headship-subordination principle, examined in our previous chapter, relate to the role of women in the church? Does this principle allow women to function as pastors or elders of the congregation? These questions receive only a limited treatment in the New Testament, presumably because only in a few instances did the question arise about the role women should fill in Christian congregations. The two main passages which relate to these questions are 1 Timothy 2:9-15 and 1 Corinthians 14:33b-36. In view of their fundamental importance, much investigation has been conducted recently into their meaning and relevance for today.

Objectives. This chapter represents a fresh attempt to re-examine the meaning and contemporary relevance of 1 Timothy 2:9-15 and 1 Corinthians 14:33b-36 in the light of contemporary research. No attempt will be made to interact directly with all the current literature, although those familiar with it will recognize my responses to major positions.

The specific aim is to ascertain the teaching of these two crucial texts within the context of Paul’s thought and of the customs of his day. This study will form the basis for considering the relevance of these passages for our contemporary situation. Obviously the conclusions will not please everyone. The most that can be hoped is that most readers will recognize the effort not to violate the integrity and authority of these two passages of Scripture.




1. Importance and Applicability of the Passage

Importance of Passage. In the contemporary debate over the role of women in the church, one passage has polarized interpreters more than any others. This passage is 1 Timothy 2:11-15, which says:

Let a woman learn in silence with all submissiveness. I permit no woman to teach or to have authority over men; she is to keep silent. For Adam was formed first, then Eve; and Adam was not deceived, but the woman was deceived and became a transgressor. Yet woman will be saved through bearing children, if she continues in faith and love and holiness, with modesty.

The significance of this passage lies in the fact that it addresses specifically the question of the role of women within the church. Thus, it is not surprising that this passage has been examined at great length by evangelicals who oppose or limit1 or support the full participation of women in the ministry of the church.2 Usually, the view taken by an author on this passage reflects his or her views on the role of women in the church and vice versa.

The Purpose of 1 Timothy. Before examining the specific instructions given by Paul in this passage, it is appropriate to consider whether such instructions were intended exclusively for the local situation existing at Ephesus or inclusively for the church at large. To answer this question, let us look first of all at the overall purpose of the epistle.

It is generally agreed that 1 Timothy was written to counter the sinister influence of certain false teachers upon the church of Ephesus. The exact nature of the erroneous teaching is not defined by Paul, but apparently it included speculations about "genealogies" (1:4), prohibition of marriage and abstention from certain foods (4:3). The result of such a teaching was that some members had "wandered away into vain discussion" (1:6).

Concerned over the disruptive influence of these false teachings in the life of the church, Paul wrote to Timothy, his delegated representative, giving him instructions on how to order and direct the life of a Christian congregation:

I hope to come to you soon, but I am writing these instructions to you so that, if I am delayed, you may know how one ought to behave in the household of God, which is the church of the living God, the pillar and bulwark of the truth (3:14-15).

The precise wording used here by Paul indicates that he considered his instructions to be normative beyond the local situation of the Ephesus church. The impersonal verb dei ("one ought") generally emphasizes a strong necessity, usually deriving from a divinely established moral obligation.3 Similarly the present infinitive form anastrephesthai ("to behave"), which takes no person or number, suggests a general rather than a restricted application.

James Hurley rightly points out that "Paul did not say, ‘Timothy, here is how you personally ought to behave.’ He deliberately said that he wished Timothy to know ‘how one ought to conduct himself in God's household.’"4 Paul’s use of this generic language indicates a general application of the instructions contained in 1 Timothy. This conclusion is also supported by the fact that Paul’s explicit purpose is to give advice on how to order and direct not merely the church at Ephesus, but "the church of the living God, the pillar and bulwark of the truth" (3:15). The implication is clear. Whatever is said about church order in the epistle applies to the universal church.

Only Local Applicability? In spite of the obviously general stated purpose, numerous recent writers have argued that the instructions given in 1 Timothy, especially those regarding women, ought to be understood as relevant only to that particular time and occasion. David Scholer, for example, concludes:

Therefore, 1 Timothy should be understood as an occasional ad hoc letter directed specifically toward enabling Timothy and the church to avoid and combat the false teachers and teaching in Ephesus. This false teaching appealed strongly to women and led them so astray that traditional values of marriage and the home were seriously violated. . . . 1 Timothy 2:9-15 should be understood as a unified paragraph on the place of women in the church in Ephesus. It provided instructions for and was limited to a particular situation of false teaching.5

The efforts expended to detect local circumstances behind Paul’s instructions, especially regarding the proper demeanor of Christian women in the worship service, are motivated by the assumption that if the presence of local circumstances can be demonstrated, then the instructions in question are not universally applicable. This assumption is obviously faulty. The fact that a particular teaching was occasioned by local circumstances does not per se negate the normative nature of such a teaching. Paul’s teaching that "a man is not justified by the works of the law but through faith in Jesus Christ" (Gal 2:16) is not regarded as lacking universal validity because it was occasioned by a specific Judaizing heresy which attracted the Galatians. The general applicability of virtually any Biblical command could be negated simply by arguing that there are possible local circumstances behind it.

Four Helpful Criteria. To determine the extent of applicability of a Biblical teaching or command, four main criteria are helpful:6

(1) Are the circumstances which occasioned the instruction apt to recur? In the case of the passage in question, we may ask, Is there a temptation for some "emancipated" women today, as in Paul’s time, to forsake "domestic roles such as raising children in order to assume such prominent roles in congregational life as teaching"?7

(2) Is the basis for a command or teaching a local, temporary situation or a general principle? In the case of 1 Timothy 2:11-15, did Paul base his command on the local problems caused by emancipated women or on the order of creation?

(3) Is the same teaching or command given in other situations? If so, one can safely infer that such a teaching is meant to have a broader application. In the case of 1 Timothy 2:11-15, similar instruction can be found in 1 Corinthians 11:3-16 and 14:34-35.

(4) Does the author indicate a general or limited applicability of his teaching? In the passage in question Paul does not restrict the prohibition of exercising improper roles in the church only to certain libertarian women, but to women in general. As Susan T. Foh observes: "There is no mention of false teaching, no word of correction in 1 Timothy 2:9-15. Paul says that women should not teach or exercise authority over men, period. There are no conditions attached which would allow exceptions to Paul's command."8

General Applicability. Even a cursory reading of 1 Timothy suffices to see that the instructions given by Paul were meant not merely for the local church at Ephesus, but for the Christian church at large. While the epistle was occasioned by the disruptive influence of certain false teachers (1:3-6; 6:3-5), Paul’s concern is not to launch a detailed rebuttal of their false teaching, but rather to explain to the congregation, its leaders, and to Timothy himself, how Christians ought to live godly lives in the face of unhealthy teachings and a depraved pagan environment.

The general applicability of 1 Timothy is evident especially in the nature of the subjects discussed. The opening chapter discusses the perverted use of the law by false teachers, the proper use of the law to develop character, the work of Christ and the challenge to Timothy to exercise competent leadership. The second deals with prayers for rulers and worship procedures for men and women. The third and fourth chapters discuss the qualifications for church leaders and practical suggestions for a more earnest ministry. The fifth and sixth chapters explain how Timothy should function in relation to old and young members, widows, elected elders, false teachers, and worldly riches.

The topics discussed are not culturally relative, although they are addressed within the context of the culture of Paul’s time. Any attempt to reduce the instructions of 1 Timothy to local and temporary applicability cannot be legitimately supported from the intent of the letter itself.

2. Modesty and Submissiveness

Prayer and Modesty. The first part of 1 Timothy 2 deals with prayer and modesty. After urging that prayers be made "for all men," especially "for kings and all who are in high positions" (2:1-2), Paul turns to discuss how "men should pray," namely, by "lifting holy hands without anger or quarreling" (2:8). This comment reminds us of Psalm 24:3-4 where David affirms that only "he who has clean hands and a pure heart" shall stand in the holy place. Paul was concerned that men would not mar their prayers by "anger and quarreling."

Paul then expresses his concern for women, saying: "I desire . . . also that women should adorn themselves modestly and sensibly in seemly apparel, not with braided hair or gold or pearl or costly attire but by good deeds, as befits women who profess religion" (2:8-10).

Paul’s call for a high standard of modesty in dress and hair adornment is obviously not culturally relative. What may be culturally relative are some of the examples given: "braided hair or gold or pearls or costly attire" (2:9). It is noteworthy that numerous Jewish and pagan texts also favor modesty and reject extravagant external adornment, arguing that the real adornment of a woman should be her inner beauty.9

Adornment and Insubordination. Ostentatious external adornment apparently expressed a woman’s independence from her husband. David Scholer concludes his analysis of numerous texts regarding women’s adornment and dress in the Jewish and Greco-Roman cultures, by saying:

More important, in virtually all the Jewish and pagan texts, the rejection of external adornment was part of a woman’s submission to her husband and a recognition of her place among men in general. Using external adornments such as pearls, gold jewelry, hair styling and expensive, provocative clothing indicated two undesirable characteristics—material extravagance and sexual infidelity.10

The connection between a woman’s modest adornment and her submission to her husband is also suggested by Peter’s double exhortation that wives be submissive to their husbands and that they be modest in their adornment (1 Pet 3:1-4). Some argue that there is a progression of thought from Paul’s concern for women’s immodest dress (vv. 9-10), which expressed insubordination, to his injunction that women be submissive and silent in public worship (vv. 11-12). The conclusion drawn from this is that it was not women in general that Paul prohibited to teach in the church, but only those women in the church in Ephesus who were indecently dressed. As Philip Payne puts it, "For such indecently clad women to teach in the church would bring the gospel into contempt."11

This argument may be right in suggesting the existence of an underlying unity between Paul’s admonition against women’s immodest dress and their improper roles in the church. Presumably, both of them expressed insubordination. But the argument is wrong in maintaining that a "contributing factor to Paul’s restriction on women in the church in Ephesus was indecent dress."12 First, the problem appears to have been one of overdressing rather than of underdressing, as indicated by the emphasis upon not dressing lavishly (cf. 1 Pet 3:3-5). Second, the reason given by Paul for his prohibition of v. 12 is not indecent dress but the order of creation of Adam and Eve (v.13). Thus, the attempt to relativize Paul’s prohibition by appealing to the alleged indecent dress of the Ephesian women must be rejected as devoid of contextual support.

Quiet Learning. From modesty in dress, Paul proceeds to discuss in verses 11 and 12 the learning and teaching aspects of the lives of "women who profess to worship God" (2:10, NIV): "A woman should learn in quietness and full submission. I do not permit a woman to teach or to have authority over a man; she must be silent" (2:11-12, NIV). These two verses should be taken as a unit, because they form an inverted parallelism. What is stated positively in verse 11, is restated and amplified negatively in verse 12. Quiet learning is paralleled by the command not to teach, and the attitude of submission is paralleled by the command not to exercise authority.

The first injunction is significant because it contains Paul’s positive command (manthaneto--an imperative verb): "Let a woman learn." This command shows that Paul assumed that women can and must learn the truths of the Gospel. His view of women, then, is not rabbinic but "quite radical for his time."13

The manner in which women are to learn is qualified by two phrases: "in quietness (hesychia) and full submission (hypotage)." The word hesychia does not require total silence as the word sigao used in 1 Corinthians 14:34, but rather "quietness, peacefulness."14 As James Hurley points out, "Paul is not just calling for ‘buttoned lips’ but for a quiet receptivity and a submission to authority in his description of the manner of women’s learning."15

To appreciate the relevance of Paul’s injunction it is important to remember that a New Testament church service was rather different from ours. The difference is well explained by N. J. Hommes:

The peculiar and most striking difference between the church services then and now lies in the fact that the sermon, the word spoken, was being discussed among the worshippers, and that there was more than one preacher in the service. We can see this clearly in 1 Corinthians 14:26ff. It is true that Paul is here bringing the order of the worship service in line with the charisma of prophecy, but such mutual discussion was, in apostolic time, always part of the worship service.16

Submissive Learning. Learning "in quietness" is recommended by Paul, presumably not only because much of the talking that went on in conjunction with the "discussion type" of worship service was not always conducive to effective learning, but also because some women through their speaking may have expressed insubordination to their husbands or to the officials of the church. The latter is suggested by the second qualifying phrase "with all submissiveness" (RSV). The concept of "submission" (hypotasso) recurs regularly in the discussion of women in relation to men (Eph 5:21-24; 1 Pet 3:1-5). "Submission" appears to be the pivotal concept that unites the learning of women in verse 11 with the issue of their teaching in verse 12.17

3. Teaching and Exercise of Authority

Authoritative Teaching. After calling for women to learn "in quietness and full submission," Paul moves to forbid the contrary: "I do not permit a woman to teach or to have authority over a man; she must be silent" (2:12, NIV). We noted earlier that this verse forms with the preceding one an inverted parallelism. Therefore, it is important to look at the two verses together, to grasp what Paul is emphasizing. The thrust of the parallelism is well explained by James Hurley:

Verse 11 calls for quiet and submissive learning. Verse 12 forbids teaching or exercising authority over men. The two are visibly parallel. Quiet learning inversely parallels (verbal) teaching and full submission inversely parallels exercising authority. Both verses have the same situation in mind, one in which women are not to teach authoritatively but are to learn quietly. The closing remark of verse 12 makes this clear by summing up both verses with a single short statement: "she must be silent." We conclude, therefore, that Paul intended that women should not be authoritative teachers in the church.18

Local or Universal Prohibition? Before attempting to define what constitutes authoritative teaching, it is important to establish whether Paul’s prohibition is of a local or universal nature. Some writers argue that Paul’s command is neither universal nor permanent (transtemporal), because he uses the first person present indicative active form of the verb: "I do not permit...." This form of the verb, according to Philip B. Payne, "is Paul’s typical way of expressing his own personal opinion." To support this contention Payne appeals to the fact that the verb "to permit" (epitrepo) "in the NT only rarely occurs with reference to a continuing state" and that "Paul in 1 Tim 2:12 does not claim that this restriction on women is from the Lord or to be observed in all the churches."19

The argument that the first person present active indicative is generally used by Paul to express his own personal opinion rather than a universally valid principle cannot be supported. Though this form is relatively rare in Paul’s writing, there are instances in which the apostle uses the first person singular indicative to communicate what he believed to be the will of God. For example, in Romans 12:1, Paul makes this appeal: "I urge you, brothers, . . . to offer your bodies as living sacrifices" (NIV; cf. 1 Cor 4:16; 11:2; 12:3; Gal 5:2,3; Eph 4:1; 1 Thess 4:1; 5:12,14). No one would interpret this exhortation as being Paul’s personal, presumptive opinion merely because he uses the first person singular indicative without a universal qualifier.

The rare occurrence of the verb "to permit" (epitrepo) to express a continuing state, is per se irrelevant because the verb in itself has no temporal connotation. Similarly, the fact that Paul "does not claim that this restriction on women is from the Lord or to be observed in all the churches," does not negate its universal applicability. Paul had just established the ground of his authority in verse 7: "I was appointed a preacher and apostle."

Only rarely does Paul clarify whether his instruction is personal advice or a command from the Lord. This clarification is usually given only in a few uncertain situations, as with regard to Paul’s counsel to the married and unmarried (1 Cor 7:6, 10, 12, 25, 40). When in these instances Paul expresses his own personal view, he explicitly says: "I say, not the Lord" (1 Cor 7:12; cf. vv. 6, 40). Thus, the absence of any qualifier in the prohibition of 1 Timothy 2:12, suggests that Paul had no doubt as to the normative nature of his instructions. This conclusion is supported by the fact that the similar instruction given in 1 Corinthians 14:34-35 is followed by Paul's statement: "What I am writing to you is a command of the Lord" (1 Cor 14:37).

Female False Teachers? What is the meaning of Paul’s injunction: "I do not permit a woman to teach or to have authority over a man" (2:12)? Obviously Paul’s intent here is not to prohibit all forms of women’s teaching and speaking in the church. We noted in chapter 5 that in 1 Corinthians 11:5 Paul assumes that some women were praying and prophesying along with men in the worship service. Moreover, Paul explicitly enjoins older women "to teach what is good and so train the young women" (Titus 2:3-4).

Some authors argue that Paul’s injunction is only "directed against women involved in false teaching who have abused the proper exercise of authority in the church (not denied by Paul elsewhere to women) by usurpation and domination of the male leaders and teachers in the church at Ephesus."20 This conclusion rests largely on two faulty assumptions: (1) Paul's injunction was occasioned by and directed (exclusively) to "the false teaching plaguing the church in Ephesus."21 (2) The verb authentein usually translated "to have authority over" seems "rather clearly to carry the negative sense of ‘domineer’ or ‘usurp authority.’"22 Thus, Paul is only forbidding teaching to women who were false teachers and who were usurping the authority of male leaders. Had the women been orthodox teachers and respectful of church leaders, Paul would have had no objection to their teaching.

The first assumption is discredited by the fact that, as we have shown earlier, though the writing of 1 Timothy was occasioned by the disruptive influence of certain false teachers (1:3-6; 6:3-5), Paul chose to counteract such an influence not by addressing specifically the false teachers, but rather by offering guidelines on how Christians should live in the world and in the church in the face of unhealthy teachings and a depraved pagan environment.

If Paul intended to prohibit only the teaching done by certain female false teachers, he would have surely alluded to it, as he does refer to young widows who got "into the habit of being idle and going about from house to house. . . . saying things they ought not to" (5:13, NIV). Moreover, the reason given by Paul for his prohibition is not the sinister effect of certain women’s false teaching, but the priority of the creation of Adam and the deception of Eve, both of which are unrelated to the problem of false teaching.

"Authority over" or "Domineer"? The second assumption that the verb authenteo should be translated "to domineer, to usurp authority," instead of "to have authority," is faulty for two main reasons. First, the recent study by George Knight of all the major lexical occurrences of authenteo (published in New Testament Studies, January 1984), has shown that "the recognized meaning for the first century BC and AD documents . . . is ‘to have authority over.’ The nuance is positive, or at least neutral, but in any case there is no inherent negative overtone such as is suggested by the word ‘domineer.’"23

Second, the meaning "to have authority over" fits better in the text with the verb "to teach" (didasko) with which it is joined, since the latter has no negative implications. Moreover, we have seen that authority and teaching in verse 12 are parallel to subordination and quietness in verse 11. This suggests that the converse of authenteo is to be found in the phrase "full submission." The concept of "submission," as we have seen from our study of Ephesians 5, does not carry with it the meaning of "cringing servility under a domineering person but of a willing submission to a recognized authority."24 What Paul disallows, therefore, is not the abuse or usurpation of authority, but simply the exercise of authority by women over men in the church.

Uneducated Women? Some maintain that the reason Paul prohibited women to teach and to exercise authority over men in the church is because women were uneducated. Since this is no longer true today, then Paul’s prohibition is no longer relevant. If the lack of education had been the reason for Paul’s prohibition, then he would have forbidden both men and women to teach, if they were uneducated. Moreover, women as well as men could have been trained to become good teachers. Deaconesses and workers in apostolic times must have received some training.

The real situation in Ephesus may have been just the opposite. Some of the women may have been more educated than many of the men, and consequently they may have felt justified to act as the teachers and leaders of the congregation. Priscilla was well enough educated in the Christian faith to be able to instruct an intellectual like Apollos when he went to Ephesus (Acts 18:26). Paul, as we have seen in chapter 2, commends several women for their outstanding contribution to the life and growth of the church. All of this suggests that the reason for Paul's injunction was not that women were uneducated.

The Nature of Teaching. What is the nature of the teaching forbidden to women? This question has been debated at great length. Some have assumed that Paul prohibits women from participating in any kind of teaching or speaking, including teaching in public schools and having a job in which a woman exercises authority over man. Such a view is obviously unwarranted because, as we have seen in chapter 2, in Paul’s ministry women prayed, prophesied and exercised a teaching ministry (1 Cor 11:5; Acts 18:26; Phil 4:3; Rom 16:12).

The nature of teaching forbidden to women in 1 Timothy 2:12 is undoubtedly the authoritative teaching restricted to the pastor or elder/overseer of the congregation. This conclusion is supported not only by the meaning of the inverted parallelism discussed earlier but also by the use of the verb "to teach" and the noun "teaching" in the pastoral epistles. The teaching ministry is presented, especially in the pastoral epistles, as a governing function performed by Paul, Timothy or appointed elders/overseers of the congregation. Paul speaks of himself as "a teacher of the Gentiles" (1 Tim 2:7; cf. 2 Tim 1:11). He charges Timothy to "Command and teach" (1 Tim 4:11), "Take heed to yourself and to your teaching" (1 Tim 4:16), "teach and urge these duties" (1 Tim 6:2), "preach the word . . . in teaching" (2 Tim 4:2).

The restrictive meaning of the teaching ministry is especially evident in 2 Timothy 2:2 where Paul gives this solemn charge to Timothy: "what you have heard from me before many witnesses entrust to faithful men who will be able to teach others also." The "faithful men" are presumably the elder/overseers of the congregation. A qualification for such an office was "an apt teacher" (1 Tim 3:2). Paul urges that special recognition be given to "the elders who rule well . . . especially those who labor in preaching and teaching" (1 Tim 5:17).

The importance attached to sound teaching in 1 Timothy and the other pastoral epistles is illustrated by the fact that of the 21 occurrences of the word "teaching, doctrine" (didaskalia) in the New Testament, 15 appear in 1 and 2 Timothy and Titus.25 The teaching by appointed church leaders was most important because it involved the careful transmission of the teachings of Jesus Christ (cf. Gal 1:12) and their significance for the life of the church. Before the existence and general availability of the writings of the New Testament, the teacher (pastor, elder, overseer) served the congregation as a kind of living Bible. He was the guardian of the body of teachings which had been received by the churches and to which they were to remain true (Rom 16:17; Eph 4:21; Col 2:7; 2 Thess 2:15).

In light of the restrictive use of the words "to teach" and "teaching" in the pastoral epistles, it is reasonable to conclude that the teaching forbidden to women is the authoritative teaching done by "leaders of the congregation"26 such as Paul, Timothy, Titus, elder/ overseers. "Although women are allowed an audible participation in the gatherings of the church, they are not to aspire to the role of leadership as superintendents of the local congregation."27 The teaching role of these leaders is emphasized especially in the pastoral epistles, where destructive and demonic teaching (1 Tim 4:1) necessitated leaders who would uphold "sound teaching" (2 Tim 4:3). Paul forbids women to teach as the leaders of the church because this would place them in a headship role of authority over men. This role is inappropriate for women, not because they are any less capable or competent than men, but because of the creational order for men and women established by God (1 Tim 2:13). These theological reasons given by Paul will now be examined.

4. Theological Reasons

Reason or Illustration? To justify his ruling about the exclusion of women from teaching (as leaders) and exercising authority over men in the church, Paul submits two reasons: "For Adam was formed first, then Eve; and Adam was not deceived, but the woman was deceived and became a transgressor" (1 Tim 2:13-14). Before examining these two reasons, attention must be given to the conjunction "for" (gar).

Some argue that "for" is illustrative and not illative, that is to say, it is designed to introduce an example and not a reason for Paul’s ruling.28 To defend this view they appeal to grammar and context. Grammatically, the illustrative use of gar ("for") is a lexical possibility. Contextually, they see Paul’s reference to Eve as a historical example of what once happened when, in a situation similar to that at Ephesus, a deceived woman taught a man. Thus, Paul’s statement does not offer reasons for the general exclusion of women from teaching or exercising authority over men in the church, but merely a historical example relevant only to the local situation in the Ephesian church.

This interpretation of gar ("for"), as Douglas Moo has cogently shown, flounders both on grammar and context.29 Grammatically, the "illustrative" use of gar ("for") is rare. All the major lexicons and grammars give the causal meaning as the first and most common one. Contextually, the illustrative use of gar ("for") fails to explain how, for example, the priority of Adam’s creation can illustrate what happens when women false teachers teach and exercise authority over men in the church. Reasons such as these indicate that the conjunction "for" is used to introduce not an illustration but a reason for the ruling of verses 11-12.

Priority of Adam’s Creation. The first reason given by Paul to justify his ruling is the priority of Adam's creation: "For Adam was formed first, then Eve" (1 Tim 2:13). The meaning of this statement is clearly expressed by Paul Jewett: "The plain meaning of Paul’s argument is that the subordination of woman to the man is an essential part of the hierarchy which God himself established to insure a proper order in the relationships of life."30

According to several writers, Paul’s argument from creation is faulty on two counts. First, it is based on the wrong creation account. Instead of using the creation account of Genesis 1 which accurately speaks of the simultaneous creation of man and woman, Paul made the unfortunate mistake to use the second, "poetic," account of creation.31 Second, it attaches hierarchical significance to the fact that man was created before woman. "If beings created first are to have precedence, then the animals are clearly our betters."32 Paul allegedly fell back on his rabbinic eisegesis, which caused him to argue for a wrong doctrine from a wrong text.33 Therefore, the argument from creation offers no valid support to Paul’s ruling in verses 11-12.

Authority of Scripture. The charges that have been leveled against Paul on this issue are not inconsequential. If Paul made a mistake in interpreting the meaning of Genesis for the role relations of men and women, he could have been equally in error in interpreting the meaning of the life and death of Christ, of the resurrection, of the Second Advent, or of the relation between faith and works in the process of salvation. Ultimately what is at stake is the authority of Scripture. If any part of the Scripture presents false teachings through faulty exegesis or reasoning, then its normative authority is discredited.

Paul stated very clearly his own understanding of the authority of his teaching and of those who would challenge it: "If any one thinks that he is a prophet, or spiritual, he should acknowledge that what I am writing to you is a command of the Lord. If anyone does not recognize this, he is not recognized" (1 Cor 14:37-38). Strikingly, Paul made this claim in the very context of his teaching about the role of men and women in the church. Therefore, it behooves us to accept his interpretation of Scripture.

Priority of Creation and Subordination. Why does Paul appeal to the prior formation of Adam to justify his injunction that women should not be permitted "to teach or to have authority over men" (1 Tim 2:12)? Primarily because Paul saw in the priority of Adam’s creation the symbol of the leadership role God intended man to fulfill in the home and in the church.

From an empirical standpoint, it seems arbitrary and irrational that leadership should be assigned on the basis of priority of creation. From a Biblical standpoint, however, the arbitrariness and irrationality disappear because the priority of creation is seen not as an accident but as a divine design, intended to typify the leadership and headship role man was created to fulfill. The sanctification of the seventh day provides another example. From an empirical standpoint, it seems arbitrary that God should choose to bless and sanctify the seventh day instead of the first day or any other day. After all, the seven days, each consisting of the same 24 hours, seem identical to one another. From a Biblical standpoint, however, it is not arbitrary that God should choose the seventh day as a symbol of creation and sanctification (Gen 2:2-3; Ex 31:13,17; Ezek 20:20).

In the same way Paul sees the priority of Adam’s formation and the derivation of woman from man (1 Cor 11:8) as typifying the role distinctions between men and women. This typological understanding of the priority of Adam's formation is reflected in the meaning both the Old and New Testaments attach to primogeniture (being first-born). The first-born son inherited not only a "double portion" of his father’s goods, but also the responsibility of acting as the leader of worship upon his father's death.

Christ the "First-Born." The typological meaning of the first-born is used by Paul also with reference to Christ in Colossians 1:15-18: "He is the image of the invisible God, the first born of all creation; for in him all things were created. . . . He is the head of the body, the church; he is the beginning, the first-born from the dead, that in everything he might be pre-eminent." The rich imagery used in this passage presents Christ as (1) the Image of God, (2) the First-born, (3) the Source of Creation, (4) the Head of the church. All of these are drawn together to establish the pre-eminent authority of Christ over everything.

It is noteworthy that the headship and authority of Christ are tied in with His being the "First-born." Our earlier study of Ephesians 5 has shown how Paul used the headship and authority of Christ as the model for the headship role a husband is to exercise for the sake of his wife. His use of the "first-born" typology to express the headship and authority of Christ suggests that he may have attached the same meaning to Adam’s being "first formed." In light of the Old Testament background, Paul may have seen in the priority of the formation of Adam a type of the headship role God called man to fulfill, and thus, a reason why men, rather than women, should exercise teaching leadership authority in the church.

Priority of Animals. The above observations help to show the weakness of the argument which claims that Paul’s reasoning leads to the conclusion that animals should rule mankind by right of their temporal priority in creation. Proponents of this argument overlook the fact that no typological significance is attached in Scripture to the temporal priority of the animals. Moreover, in 1 Corinthians 11:8-9 Paul clearly associates the priority of Adam’s formation with Eve’s derivation out of man. The animals were created before mankind, but mankind does not derive from animals.

The significance that Paul attaches to Adam’s priority of formation is compatible with the central role of man in Genesis 2. We have shown in Chapter 3 that the leadership role of man is implied in Genesis 2, not merely by the priority of his creation, but also by the fact that God provided him with a garden, an occupation, and a wife to be "a helper fit for him" (v. 18). Moreover God called man ha-'adam("the man," "the human"), the collective name of mankind, and charged him with the responsibility of naming first the animals and then the woman. Paul offers in 1 Timothy 2:13 an explicit interpretation of these historical facts, applying them to the role of women in the worship service, which should be in accordance with the subordinate, helping role envisaged for them in creation.

The Deception of Eve. The second reason given by Paul to support his ruling is derived from the deception of Eve: "and Adam was not deceived, but the woman was deceived and became a transgressor" (1 Tim 2:14). This argument is less developed by Paul, and it has produced many dangerous interpretations. Some have assumed that this verse teaches that women are not qualified to teach religious doctrine in the church, because they do not have the same critical acumen as men and thus they are more susceptible to external pressures.34

This view is without warrant, because the text does not say that "the woman is deceivable," but simply that "the woman was deceived." If it were true that women are more susceptible to deception, it would ultimately make God responsible for having created women less perfect than men. If Paul believed that women are more prone to err than men, he would not have admonished them "to teach what is good" to children and other women (Titus 2:3-4; cf. 2 Tim 1:5; 3:15).

Typological Role of Eve. The best way to understand the statement "the woman was deceived" is to look at it not empirically, that is, by asking how Eve’s deception affects the subordination of women; but rather typologically, that is, by asking what Eve’s deception represents for Paul. Stephen B. Clark perceptively points out that we tend to think empirically, that is, in terms of observable causes, while Bible writers are "more inclined to think typologically,"35 that is, in terms of the symbolic meaning of an event. "Typological thinking," explains Clark, "focuses on the concrete event—the ‘type’ which reveals the general purpose or intention of God. Empirical generalizations focus on verifiable facts and observed regularities."36

Typological thought assumes that if Adam was formed first, then Scripture must be indicating something about the role of man. Similarly, if the woman was deceived and not man, then Scripture must be indicating something about the role of women. As Adam is a "type" man (Rom 5:12, 18), so Eve is a "type" woman, and her being deceived points to what women should do or not do.

How could Paul view Eve’s deception as a type of woman’s subor- dination to man? The text does not tell us. We can presume that Paul understood Eve’s deception to be the result of her attempt to assert her independence from man. The Seventh-day Adventist Bible Commentary supports this interpretation: "The apostle's second argument for the submissiveness of women is that when Eve tried to assert leadership she was beguiled."37 What happened to Eve at that most historic and significant occasion becomes then a type of what can happen when the order of creation is reversed. "In verses 13-14, then," as Douglas Moo observes, "Paul substantiates his teaching in verses 11-12 by arguing that the created order establishes a relationship of subordination of woman to man, which order, if bypassed, leads to disaster."38

Subordination and the Fall. Some contend that the argument from the deception of the woman is untenable because it bases the subordination of the woman to man on the results of the Fall. If Paul’s ruling about the subordination of women in the church is based on the "curses" which resulted from the Fall, then such ruling has been reversed by the work of Christ.39

The weakness of this reasoning is twofold. First, it ignores the fact that Paul’s primary appeal is to the priority of Adam’s formation. Second, it fails to distinguish between the cause of the Fall and the results of the Fall. Eve’s deception was the cause of the Fall but it occurred before the human race faced the judgment of God and began suffering its consequences. Paul does not ground the subordination of women on the Fall, but on creation. The point of his argument is that "Adam was formed first" and "the woman was deceived." (vv. 13-14). These two events, which occurred before the human race faced the judgment of God, typify for Paul the headship role of man and the subordinate role of women.

Saved through Childbirth? To counteract any possible misunderstanding derived from his negative statements in verses 11-14, Paul concludes his argument with a positive statement: "Yet woman will be saved through bearing children, if she continues in faith and love and holiness, with modesty" (v. 15). This verse is clearly connected with the preceding by the preposition de ("yet") and forms the climactic conclusion to the whole argument introduced in verse 9 with the phrase "likewise women." Therefore, an understanding of this closing statement can further clarify the meaning of the whole passage.

The interpretation of this verse poses some linguistic problems. The major one has to do with the verb sothesetai, which can mean either "she will be saved" or "she will be kept safe through childbirth." The second option has been adopted by the New International Version.40 According to this translation what Paul is saying is that woman will survive childbirth if she is pious. This interpretation is not only irrelevant to the context but also empirically untrue. Godly Christian women have died bearing children.

The first translation is in harmony with the usage of the verb "to save" in Paul’s writings where it virtually always refers to salvation from sin. The question is, in what sense will a woman be saved through childbirth? Some believe that it means that Christian women will be saved through good works, figuratively represented by childbearing.41 This would be a flat contradiction of Paul’s view of salvation by faith in Christ.

Others believe that it means that Christian women will be saved through the childbirth, that is, the coming of the Messiah.42 This inter- pretation finds support especially in the presence of the article "the childbirth" (tes teknogonia), which could suggest a particular childbirth, namely, that of Christ. Such a view, however, is discredited first of all by the most likely lexical meaning of teknogonia ("childbearing" or "child-rearing") which denotes the woman’s role in giving birth, not the birth as such (cf. 1 Tim 5:14). Second, this interpretation does not fit the context. How can Mary’s role in the birth of Jesus be the means of the salvation of women?

Faithfulness to Proper Role. The interpretation which best fits the vocabulary and the contextual location of verse 15--the concluding statement to the whole discussion on the role of women in the church—is the following: Women will be saved, not by aspiring to the leadership role of teacher-superintendent of the local congregation, but through faithfulness to their maternal and domestic roles, providing they continue in faith, love, and holiness, with modesty.43

This interpretation admirably suits the immediate context of verses 9-14, where the concern of Paul is to emphasize the proper sphere of women’s activities. It also finds support in the larger context of the pastoral epistles where a recurring motif is the need for Christian women to devote themselves to their maternal and domestic roles (1 Tim 5:9-14; Titus 2:3-5).

This admonition was apparently needed to counteract the sinister influence of false teachers, who counseled women to abstain from marriage (1 Tim 4:3) and to seek fulfilment outside the home (1 Tim 5:13-15), by assuming leadership roles in the church (1 Tim 2:12). To counteract this teaching, Paul urges Christian women to maintain their modesty" (sophrosyne)—a term he uses twice (vv. 9, 15), at the beginning and at the end of his admonition. Christian women were to show their modesty and propriety by dressing sensibly, by learning submissively, by refraining from aspiring to the role of teacher (leader) of the congregation, and by fulfilling their maternal-domestic roles.

Salvation through Childbearing? Our interpretation poses a problem: Did Paul mean in verse 15 that all women should get married and bear children in order to be saved? Obviously not. We know from 1 Corinthians 7 that Paul considered both celibacy and marriage a divine calling. Moreover, this view would reduce salvation to a human relationship and biological process, rather than to a divine gift of grace (Rom 3:28; Gal 2:16). Therefore,it is more likely that Paul mentions childbearing as a typical, but not exclusive, aspect of a woman’s role. This is supported by 1 Timothy 5:14 where Paul expresses the wish that younger widows "marry" and "bear children" (teknogonein). It is obvious that Paul did not expect all young women to marry. Rather, he expected them to maintain their proper domestic roles.

To remove any possibility of attributing meritorious value to childbearing, Paul adds the essential Christian virtues women must maintain: "faith and love and holiness, with modesty" (v. 15). Verse 15 ends by emphasizing "modesty," the very quality mentioned at the beginning of the passage (v. 9). This quality is emphasized by Paul because it expresses the chief virtue of a Christian woman, manifested not in aspiring to be the teacher-leader of the congregation, but in maintaining a submissive and domestic role, which is in accordance with the role for women established by God at creation.

In its immediate and larger context, then, 1 Timothy 2:15 helps to clarify why Paul forbids women "to teach or to have authority over men" in the church, namely, because he sees such a role as a violation of the proper domestic and subordinate role God has established for women at creation. By maintaining this proper role in faith, love and holiness, women, like men, become recipients of the gift of eternal life.

Contemporary Relevance. How relevant for us today is Paul’s teaching about the role of women in the home and in the church? Some argue that it is totally irrelevant because today many married women find their fulfilment not in rearing a family, but in pursuing a professional career. They argue that had Paul lived in our age, he would have taken a much different stand. Consequently, to be faithful to the "central thrust" or "greater vision" of Paul, we must reject his restrictions and allow women to function as leaders not only in the secular world, but also in the church where they ought to be ordained as pastors/elders of the congregation. This reasoning is unacceptable for three main reasons.

First, Paul’s conviction on the role of women in the church and in the home derives not from cultural perceptions, but from his understanding of the special role God has called women to fulfill. Rearing a family and being subordinate were for Paul central elements of the Biblical definition of womanhood and of her fulfilment of God's calling to mankind. Therefore, if Paul lived today he would still admonish women to be true to their divinely established roles.

A second reason why Paul’s teachings on the role of women are relevant today is because in some ways the contemporary emancipation of women may be strikingly similar to that of his time.44 If, as numerous writers argue, Paul’s opponents in the pastoral epistles included "women [who] were in the forefront of the libertarian trend,"45 as evidenced by their extravagant dress, the "forsaking of domestic roles such as raising children in order to assume such a prominent role in congregational life—as teaching,"46 then Paul was addressing a situation rather similar to the one existing today.

The existence of a "women’s liberation" movement in early Christianity is implied not only by Paul’s strictness (1 Tim 2:11-12; 5:13; 2 Tim 3:6; 1 Cor 11:5-10; 14:34), but also by such post-NewTestament documents as the apocryphal Acts of Paul (about A.D. 185). In the latter, Paul commissions a woman, Thecla, to be a preacher and teacher of the word of God: "Go and teach the word of God." Thecla obeyed by going away to Iconium. There she "went into the house of Onesiphorus . . . and taught the oracles of God."47

The attempt of this apocryphal document to present Paul, not as forbidding, but as commissioning a woman to be an official teacher of the Word of God in the church, offers an additional indication of the possible existence of a feminist movement already in Paul's time.48 If such a movement existed at that time, then Paul’s instruction on the role of women in the church would be particularly relevant to our time, when a feminist movement within the church is gaining strength.

The Witness of the Text. A third reason for accepting Paul’s teaching in 1 Timothy 2:11-15 as relevant for today is the fact that the text contains no cultural elements that should be modified in the light of our new historical situation. If Paul had said "I do not permit a woman to teach as the leader of the church or to have authority over man because women are uneducated and culturally unacceptable as leaders in the church," then there would be a legitimate reason for rejecting his injunction as culturally relative.

Paul, however, grounds his ruling not on cultural factors, but on the events of the opening chapters of Genesis. He makes no reference whatsoever to cultural factors such as lack of education and any possible cultural offense which might result if women were allowed to teach as the leaders of the congregation. His argument precludes the introduction of "new cultural factors" which would cause him to take a different stand today on the role of women in the church.

Conclusion. The conclusion of our examination of 1 Timothy 2:9-15 is that the intent of this passage, in the light of its immediate and wider context of the pastoral epistles, is not to prohibit women from participating in the general teaching ministry of the church ("they [women] are to teach what is good"—Titus 2:3), but rather to restrain women from aspiring to the restricted teaching role of the leader of the congregation. The reason for Paul’s ruling is that for a woman to exercise such a leadership role is incompatible with the subordinate role which God at the beginning assigned to women in the home and in the church. Essentially the same view is expressed by Paul in 1 Corinthians 14:33b-36, a passage which we shall now examine.


1 CORINTHIANS 14:33b-36


1. Content and Interpretations of the Passage

The Injunction. In 1 Corinthians 14:33b-36 Paul gives a brief instruction regarding the role of women in church, somewhat similar to the advice found in 1 Timothy 2:9-15. The passage reads as follows:

As in all the churches of the saints, the women should keep silence in the churches. For they are not permitted to speak, but should be subordinate, as even the law says. If there is anything they desire to know, let them ask their husbands at home. For it is shameful for a woman to speak in church. What! Did the word of God originate with you, or are you the only ones it has reached? (1 Cor 14:33b-36).

This statement occurs in the context of the discussion of how to maintain order in the worship assemblies. Beginning with verse 26 Paul gives specific instructions on how speaking in tongues and prophesying should be regulated in the church, so that good order might prevail. In this context Paul gives his instruction regarding the silence of women in the assembly. This passage has been the subject of considerable controversy, especially because it appears to stand in stark contrast to 1 Corinthians 11:5 where, as we have seen, Paul assumes that women will pray and prophesy in the church.

Four Interpretations. Four main interpretations have been proposed to resolve the apparent contradiction between 1 Corinthians 11:5 and 14:34. One view maintains that 1 Corinthians 14:34-35 is a post-Pauline interpolation.49 There is no textual evidence for such a view, though a few manuscripts tend to edit the text by placing the passage after verse 40.50 Except for the difficulty of the text, there is no reason to view it as an interpolation.

A second view holds that Paul was simply inconsistent in his application of the Gospel.51 It is hard to believe that a man of Paul’s caliber would not have recognized his inconsistency on a practical matter, within the space of three chapters. Such a view undermines confidence in the inspiration of Scripture.

A third view assumes that Paul in 1 Corinthians 11 did not give permission for women to pray or prophesy publicly but only privately. Consequently, in 1 Corinthians 14 we have "an absolute prohibition against women’s speaking in the services."52 The weakness of this view is that there is little warrant for believing that the praying and prophesying mentioned in 1 Corinthians 11:5 was to be done privately alone at home. Paul saw prophecy as a gift for public use.53 Moreover, it is hard to believe that Paul would prohibit women from praying with their heads uncovered in the privacy of their homes. By the same token, it is hardly conceivable that Paul would forbid a man to pray with his head covered when alone outdoors in the cold weather.

A fourth view maintains that chapter 14 does not contradict chapter 11, but only restricts certain forms of talking on the part of women, such as wives asking questions publicly of their husbands, or women engaging in a disorderly form of speech.54 A basic weakness of this view is that it ignores the fact that Paul instructs women to be silent in the church not because they are disorderly, but because they are women.

If the problem were disorderly speech, it is difficult to see why Paul would single out women (or wives) when in the immediate context he speaks of the confusion created by people in general who were speaking simultaneously in tongues or as prophets. If the problem had been one of disorder, as with tongues or prophecy, then Paul would have simply prescribed order (cf. vv. 27, 29, 31), not the silence of women. Surely not all the people behaving in a disorderly way were women.

Second, Paul says that the same rule is followed in all the churches of the saints. It is unlikely that the problem of noisy women had arisen in all the churches. Finally, Paul clearly says that "it is shameful for a woman to speak in the church" (v. 35). What is shameful is not her disorderly speech but her "speaking" as a woman. Thus the reason for the injunction must be sought not in some kind of disorderly speech, but in the type of speaking that would have been inappropriate for a woman in the assembly.

2. Prohibition of Authoritative Speaking

The Key Phrase. The sentence which may provide the key to understand the meaning of the injunction is the phrase "For they are not permitted to speak, but should be subordinate, as even the law says" (1 Cor 14:34). The phrase "should be subordinate" is often overlooked in determining the meaning of the passage, yet it contains an important qualification. The strong contrast implied by the preposition "but" (alla), suggests that the speaking that Paul has in mind is that which involves not being subordinate. Women are forbidden a specific type of speech, namely, that which constituted some sort of exercise of authority and was therefore inconsistent with the subordinate role which Paul believed women should fulfill in the church. The speech then denied to women is a speech that is inappropriate to their position as women or wives.

What kind of speaking by women in the church represented for Paul a violation of the principle of women's submission to men? Three major views have been expressed.

(1) Teaching. Some maintain that Paul must be referring to teaching because "teaching is by nature an exercise of authority and would violate the principle of submission of women to men."55 This view is plausible because, as George W. Knight explains, "the correlation of speaking and silence found here is paralleled in 1 Timothy 2:11-14, where what is prohibited is women teaching men. Such an understanding seems most appropriate for 1 Corinthians 14."56 On the other hand, it must be admitted that there is nothing specific in the context of 1 Corinthians 14:34 which indicates that Paul is referring exclusively to teaching.

(2) Evaluation of Prophets. On the basis of a rather convincing structural analysis of 1 Corinthians 14:29-36, both James Hurley and Wayne Grudem conclude that what Paul prohibited is the participation of women in the evaluation of the prophets.57 The specific issue addressed in verses 29 to 33a is the regulation of the speaking of the prophets. The number of speakers is restricted to two or three and the words of the prophets are to be "weighed" (literally, "judged," or "assessed," diakrino) to ensure conformity to apostolic teaching.

The following three verses 33b to 36 are seen as an additional instruction regarding the evaluation by women of the message of the prophet. In light of this, what Paul would be saying is "Let the women keep silent in the churches during the evaluation of prophecies." The reason why women would be prohibited to publicly evaluate the message of a prophet is because this would be seen as exercising a leadership role inappropriate for women.

(3) Words Spoken. A slight variation of this view is offered by Walter L. Liefeld who feels that the "judging" need not be restricted to the message of prophets, but could refer to the words spoken in general by any leader of the congregation. He finds support for this interpretation in Paul’s reference to the "law:" "as even the law says" (v. 34). He suggests that an example of such a "law" could be Numbers 12:1-15 where Miriam and Aaron complained against Moses. Liefeld draws the following conclusion from this example:

Miriam was a prophetess (like Deborah, Judges 4:4, and Huldah, 2 Kings 22:14; 2 Chronicles 34:22), but when she countered the authority of Moses, she transgressed. She was a leader (Mic 6:4) but should not have "judged" the prophet Moses (Deut 18:15). So, Paul’s argument might run, women in the church can prophesy, but should not judge the words of others. They should be "in submission" just as Miriam should have been to the leadership of Moses. This fits well but does not require that the limitation placed on women in chapter 14 was with regard to the "judging" of the prophets.58

Authoritative Speaking. All the above attempts to define the nature of the speaking prohibited to women in 1 Corinthians 14:34 in terms of official teaching, evaluation of the prophets or of the words spoken by others, appear to contain an element of truth. The notion that some kind of "judging" may be involved is suggested by the immediate context which speaks about weighing the words of prophets (v. 29). On the other hand, the lack of an explicit connection between the regulation about prophets (vv. 29-33a) and that about women (vv. 33b-36) suggests that the speaking prohibited to women includes any form of speech inappropriate to the subordinate role of women.

The key phrase that qualifies the kind of speaking by women Paul had in mind, is "but should be subordinate" (v. 34). This phrase suggests that the speech denied to women is a kind of speech that was seen as inappropriate to them as women or wives. Such speech could include women speaking up in the church as authoritative teachers of the congregation, or as judges of the words spoken by prophets, elders or even by their own husbands. It could also include any form of questioning that was seen as challenging the leadership of the church. In the light of these observations, it is preferable to understand Paul's prohibition in broader terms, that is, inclusive of any form of speaking by women that was seen as reflecting lack of subordination to their husband and/or church leaders.

Speech and Authority. To appreciate the significance of Paul’s ruling, it is important to note that in most cultures, including the Jewish culture of Paul’s time, people were expected to speak in a manner appropriate to their position and status. For example, as Stephen B. Clark points out, "a trained disciple in first century Palestine would be very reluctant to voice an opinion in the presence of his rabbi or any other rabbi; he would even be reluctant to intervene in a discussion when his rabbi was present."59 I discovered to my surprise that the same custom still held true in most of the classes I took at the Pontifical Gregorian University in Rome. Questions were to be asked not publicly in the class but privately to the teacher after class. Refraining from asking questions in class was seen as a sign of respect for the authority of the teacher.

Disciples, wives and children were expected to hold their speech in a public gathering where the teachers or the heads of the households were discussing issues of concern to the community. These men represented in public the concerns of their household members to whom they would later explain or expand any question discussed.60 Presumably this is why Paul urges women to ask their questions not publicly in the assembly, but privately to their husbands at home (v. 35). By so doing they were showing respect for the headship role of their husbands. On the contrary, if a woman insisted on presenting her own viewpoint, irrespective of the presence of her husband or church leaders, that, according to Paul, was "shameful" (v. 35), because it violated the "law" (v. 34) regarding the subordination of women.

3. Basis and Scope of Paul’s Ruling

Cultural or Biblical Law? To validate the authority of his ruling, Paul appeals to "the law:" "For they are not permitted to speak, but should be subordinate, as even the law says" (v. 34). To which "law" is Paul referring? Some argue that Paul is referring to cultural "Jewish and Gentile laws that restricted the public participation of women."61 This view is discredited by the fact that the term "law" (nomos) is never used in Paul’s writings with reference to cultural customs. Moreover, as we have seen in our analysis of 1 Timothy 2:13 and 1 Corinthians 11:8-9, Paul grounds his rulings regarding women not on cultural customs, but on Biblical revelation.

The problem is to figure out which Old Testament "law" Paul had in mind. Obviously he could not be thinking of an Old Testament law requiring women to be silent at all times in worship, because such a law does not exist. The Old Testament shows the opposite to be true (Ex 15:20-21; 2 Sam 6:15, 19; Ps 148:12). The "law" Paul had in mind is most likely the Old Testament principle of headship and subordination which we discussed in Chapter 1.

Some commentators think that Paul was thinking of Genesis 3:16 ("Your husband . . . shall rule over you") when he spoke of the "law."62 This is most unlikely because the New Testament never appeals to the "curses" of the Fall as a basis for Christian conduct or teaching. We have seen that in those other passages where Paul gives instructions on the roles of women, he consistently appeals to the relation of Adam and Eve before and not after the Fall, that is, to Genesis 2 and not Genesis 3 (cf. 1 Tim 2:13; 1 Cor 11:8-9).

Headship-Subordination Principle. Since the law to which Paul appeals in the parallel or analogous passages (1 Cor 11:8-9; 1 Tim 2:13) is the order of creation of Genesis 2, we can safely presume that the latter is also what Paul has in view in his reference to the "law" in 1 Corinthians 14:34. This means that Paul’s appeal to""the law" need not have any particular text in mind. It is sufficient for him to remind women of the headship-subordination principle that God had established in the Old Testament, a principle still applicable to the participation of women in the worship service (1 Cor 11:5).

At this point it is necessary to distinguish between a permanent Biblical principle and its cultural, time-bound application. Refraining from asking questions in the assembly was the customary way for women to show subordination to their husbands and/or church leaders. Thus, "not asking questions in the assembly" was a custom subservient to the principle "[women] should be subordinate" (1 Cor 14:34). While the principle is permanent, its application is culturally conditioned. Yet in every culture the principle is to be expressed in the home and in the church through appropriate customs.

This interpretation is consistent with Paul’s concern to maintain an authority structure in the home and in the church, where men are called to exercise responsible and sacrificial leadership, and women to respond supportively. We have seen in the course of our study that Paul repeatedly emphasizes the importance of respecting the headship- subordination principle: "the head of a woman is her husband" (1 Cor 11:3); "Wives, be subject to your husbands, as to the Lord" (Eph 5:22; cf. Col 3:18); "Let a woman learn in silence with all submissiveness. I permit no woman to teach or to have authority over men" (1 Tim 2:11-12); "train the young women . . . to be submissive to their husbands" (Titus 2:4-5).

Harmony Between 1 Corinthians 11:5 and 14:34. In the light of the headship-subordination principle, it is understandable why Paul would deny to women an authoritative speech function in 1 Corinthians 14:33b-34. To allow the latter would have undermined the above principle. On the other hand, Paul readily allowed women to pray and prophesy in 1 Corinthians 11:5, because these activities did not involve the assumption of a position of authority over men.

Prophesying at Corinth was apparently understood in the broad sense of communicating to the congregation a message of exhortation from God. This ministry did not involve assuming the leadership role of the church for at least two reasons. First, Paul suggests that the prophetic ministry of "upbuilding and encouragement and consolation" (1 Cor 14:3) was open to all: "For you can all prophesy one by one" (1 Cor 14:31). Second, each member of the congregation could question and challenge the speech of the prophets: "Let two or three prophets speak, and let the others weigh what is said" (1 Cor 14:29).

The implication of the Greek word diakrino, here translated "weigh what is said," is that members were to listen critically, sifting the good from the bad. It is hard to imagine that an Old Testament prophet like Isaiah would have invited the people to critically evaluate his message and to accept only what they viewed as sound. This suggests, as Wayne A. Grudem notes, "that prophets at Corinth were not thought by Paul to speak with a divine authority of actual words."63

This conclusion is supported by verse 36: "What! Did the word of God orginate from you, or are you the only ones it has reached?" This statement implies that the word of God had come forth from Paul and the other apostles; thus even prophets in the local churches were to be subject to apostolic directives. In the light of this observation there is no contradiction between the prophetic speaking of women in 1 Corinthians 11:5 and the prohibition of their speaking authoritatively in 1 Corinthians 14:34, since the former did not involve the latter.

Wives or Women? Is Paul’s directive in 1 Corinthians 14:34 intended for all women or only for wives? Verse 35 refers explicitly to wives: "If there is anything they desire to know, let them ask their husbands at home." This statement has led some to conclude that Paul’s ruling applies exclusively to wives and not inclusively to all women.64 In our discussion of 1 Corinthians 11:3 we have shown that for Paul the husband-wife relationship is the paradigm for the man-woman relationship in general. Married women, which made up the majority of women in the congregation, served as a model for women in general. Stephen B. Clark illustrates this point with a fitting analogy:

If Paul had forbidden children to speak in public as an expression of their subordination to their parents, no one would hesitate to apply the rule to orphans as well as to children with parents. The parent-child relationship would be the normal case, but the rule would also apply to children with surrogate parents. Similarly, unmarried women would be expected to adhere to a rule for married women.65

Women and Spiritual Gifts. Note should be taken of the fact that Paul’s ruling concerning women in the church in 1 Corinthians 14 is given in the context of a chapter dealing with spiritual gifts. Apparently some people claimed then, as now, that if a person has received a spiritual gift, then he or she can freely use it in the church without restrictions. A question often asked is, who has the right to deny to a woman the opportunity of serving as a pastor/teacher of a congregation if the Holy Spirit has given her such a gift?

In this chapter on spiritual gifts, Paul shows, first of all, that an unrestricted use of gifts results in confusion and disorder. The latter is contrary to God's will, "for God is not a God of confusion but of peace" (1 Cor 14:33). Second, the apostle refutes the apparent contention that unless women are allowed to speak as the authoritative leaders of the congregation, then the church may be opposing God and His Spirit. Paul responds that such an exercise of that spiritual gift is contrary to God’s law, that is, to the headship-subordination principle which is grounded in the order of creation. Therefore, spiritual gifts are given to be used, not contrary to, but in harmony with the revealed will of God. In other places Paul explains how women can use their spiritual gifts with propriety by praying and prophesying in the church (1 Cor 11:5) and by teaching women and children (Titus 2:3-5; 1 Tim 5:14).

No Independent Norms. Paul closes his instructions about the "speaking" of women in the church, saying: "What! Did the word of God originate with you, or are you the only ones it has reached?" (1 Cor 14:36). These words are directed not merely to women but to both men and women, as the masculine plural form of monous ("only ones") indicates. In this closing statement Paul challenges the right of the Corinthian church to establish norms for church worship which are contrary to the ones he has laid down, namely, that women should, in a qualified sense, keep silent in the churches.

Paul’s direct challenge ("What! Did the word of God originate with you?") suggests that the Corinthian church had adopted the practice of allowing women to speak and teach authoritatively as the leaders of the congregation. The apostle challenges their course of action by reminding them that they were not the source and definition of Christian principles and practices. On the contrary, they should conform to what was done "in all the churches of the saints" (v.33).

To strengthen the authority of his instructions given in the whole chapter, Paul appeals to any one who regards himself as "a prophet, or spiritual" to acknowledge that what he has written "is a command of the Lord" (v. 37). This forceful statement makes it clear that Paul viewed the teachings of the whole chapter, including those concerning women, as applying not only to the local situation of the Corinthian church but to Christian churches in general. This means that Paul’s teachings on the role of women in the church are to be accepted as an integral part of God’s revelation found in Scripture.


We asked at the beginning of this chapter: How does the principle of headship and subordination relate to the role of women in the church? Our examination of 1 Timothy 2:9-15 and 1 Corinthians 14:33b-36 has shown that the application of this principle in the church requires that women not be appointed "to teach" (1 Tim 2:12) or "to speak" (1 Cor 14:34) authoritatively as the leader of the congregation. We have found that this Pauline instruction derives, not from the cultural conventions of his time which restricted the participation of women in public gatherings, but rather from Paul’s understanding of the distinctive roles for men and women which God established at creation.

Paul felt that the creational pattern of male headship and female subordination in the home and in the church, requires that women should not exercise spiritual oversight for the flock. He grounded his view on the relationship of man and woman before, and not after, the results of the Fall. He did not appeal to local or cultural factors such as the disorderly conduct of some women, their relative lack of education or the negative impact on outsiders of the appointment of women as leaders in the church. The nature of Paul’s arguments leaves no room to make his instructions of only local and time-bound application.

The exclusion of women from the teaching and leadership office in 1 Timothy 2:11-15 and 1 Corinthians 14:33b-36 must not be construed to mean that Paul excludes women from active participation in the ministry of the church. We have seen in Chapter 2 that Paul commends a significant number of women for working hard with him in the missionary outreach of the church. However, women ministered in the church, not as appointive leaders, but in supportive roles such as "fellow-workers," deaconesses, and prophets who edified and encouraged the congregation.

To better appreciate why only certain men and no women were appointed in the apostolic church to serve as pastors/elders/overseers of the congregation, we shall consider in the next chapter the New Testament understanding of the role of the pastor.


1. Some of the studies which view 1 Timothy 2:9-15 as limiting or prohibiting the full participation of women in the ministry of the church, are: George. W. Knight III, "Authenteo in Reference to Women in 1 Timothy 2:12," New Testament Studies 30 (1984): 143-157; Douglas J. Moo, "The Interpretation of 1 Timothy 2:11-15: A Rejoinder," Trinity Journal 2 (1981): 198-222; Carroll D. Osburn, "Authenteo (1 Timothy 2:12)," Restoration Quarterly 25 (1983): 1-12; A. J. Panning, "Authentein--A Word Study," Wisconsin Lutheran Quarterly 78 (1981): 185-191; B. W. Powers, "Women in the Church: The Application of 1 Timothy 2:8-15," Interchange 17 (1975): 55-59; Susan T. Foh, Women and the Word of God (Phillipsburg, New Jersey, 1979), pp. 122-128; James B. Hurley, Man and Woman in Biblical Perspective (Grand Rapids, Michigan, 1981), pp. 193-228.

2. Some of the studies which view 1 Timothy 2:9-15 as supporting the full participation of women in the ministry of the church, are: J. J. Davis, "Ordination of Women Reconsidered: Discussion of 1 Timothy 2:8-15," Presbyterian Communique 12 (November/December 1979): 1-15; N. J. Hommes, "Let Women Be Silent in the Church: A Message Concerning the Worship Service and the Decorum to Be Observed by Women," Calvin Theological Journal 4 (1969): 5-22; Catherine C. Kroeger, "Ancient Heresies and a Strange Greek Verb," Reformed Journal 29 (March 1979): 12-15; "1 Timothy 2:12--A Classicist's View," in Women, Authority and the Bible, ed. Alvera Mickelsen (Downers Grove, Illinois, 1986), pp. 225-244; Philip B. Payne, "Libertarian Women in Ephesus: A Response to Douglas J. Moo's Article: ‘1 Timothy 2:11-15: Meaning and Significance,’" Trinity Journal 2 (1981): 169-197; David M. Scholer, "Exegesis: 1 Timothy 2:8-15," Daughters of Sarah 1 (May 1975): 7-8; also "1 Timothy 2:9-15 and the Place of Women in the Church’s Ministry" in Women, Authority and the Bible, ed. Alvera Mickelsen (Downers Grove, Illinois 1986), pp. 193-224; Aida D. B. Spencer, "Eve at Ephesus (Should Women Be Ordained As Pastors According to the First Letter to Timothy 2:11-15?)," Journal of the Evangelical Theological Society 17 (1974): 215-222.

3. See, for example, Rom 1:27; 1 Cor 15:25, 53; 2 Cor 5:10; 1 Thess 4:1; 1 Tim 3:2; 2 Tim 2:6, 24; Titus 1:7, 11).

4. James B. Hurley (n. 1), p. 196.

5. David M. Scholer, "1 Timothy 2:9-15 and the Place of Women in the Church’s Ministry" (n. 2), pp. 200, 218. The same view is strongly defended by Philip B. Payne (n. 2), pp. 190-194; Catherine C. Kroeger, "1 Timothy 2:12 — A Classicist's View," (n. 2), pp. 225-244.

6. I am indebted for some of the criteria to Douglas J. Moo, "The Interpretation of 1 Timothy 2:11-15: A Rejoinder" (n. 1), pp. 220-221.

7. Carroll D. Osburn (n. 1), p. 11.

8. Susan T. Foh (n. 1), p. 123.

9. For an extensive documentation of this point, see David M. Scholer, "Women’s Adornment: Some Historical and Hermeneutical Observations on the New Testament Passages," Daughters of Sarah 6, (January/February 1980):3-6.

10. David M. Scholer, "1 Timothy 2:9-15 and the Place of Women in the Church's Ministry" (n. 2), pp. 201-202; see also n. 9.

11. Philip B. Payne (n. 2), p. 191; see also David M. Scholer, "1 Timothy 2:9-15 and the Place of Women in the Church's Ministry," (n. 2), p. 202.

12. Philip B. Payne (n. 2), p. 192.

13. Aida Spencer, "Eve at Ephesus," The Journal of the Evangelical Theological Society 17 (1974): 217.

14. Philip B. Payne offers very compelling reasons for translating hesychia as "quiet" and not "silence" (n. 2), pp. 169-170.

15. James B. Hurley (n. 1), p. 200.

16. N. J. Hommes, "Let Women Be Silent in Church," Calvin Theological Journal 4 (April 1969): 7.

17. Douglas J. Moo sees in verses 11 and 12 a chiastic structure (inverted parallelism) with the word "submission" (hypotage) functioning as the pivotal point of the verses ("1 Timothy 2:11-15: Meaning and Significance," Trinity Journal 1 [1980]: 64).

18. James B. Hurley (n. 1), p. 201.

19. Philip B. Payne (n. 2), p. 172; also G. Osborne, "Hermeneutics and Women in the Church," Journal of the Evangelical Theological Society 20 (1977): 347.

20. David M. Scholer (n. 10), p. 205; also Grant Osborne (n. 18), p. 346; Richard and Joice Boldrey, Chauvinist or Feminist? Paul’s View of Women (Grand Rapids, Michigan, 1976), p. 62; Philip B. Payne (n. 2), pp. 173-175; Catherine C. Kroeger (n. 2), pp. 225-232.

21. David M. Scholer (n. 10), p. 203.

22. Ibid., p. 205; the same view is defended by Philip B. Payne (n. 2), p. 175. A similar conclusion is reached by Catherine C. Kroeger who interprets 1 Timothy 2:12 as follows: "I do not allow a woman to teach nor to represent herself as the originator or source of man" ("1 Timothy 2:12 — A Classicist’s View" [n. 2], p. 232).

23. George W. Knight III, "Authenteo in Reference to Women in 1 Timothy 2:12," New Testament Studies 30 (January 1984): 152. The same view is expressed by Fritz Zerbst, The Office of Woman in the Church (St. Louis, Missouri, 1953), p. 53 (Zerbst gives an extensive list of other authors who hold the same view); J. N. D. Kelly, A Commentary on the Pastoral Epistles (London, 1963), p. 68; James B. Hurley (n. 1), p. 202; Stephen B. Clark, Man and Woman in Christ (Ann Arbor, Michigan, 1980), pp. 197-198.

24. George W. Knight III (n. 23), p. 152.

25. See 1 Tim 4:6, 13, 16; 2 Tim 3:14-17; 4:1-4; Titus 1:9; 2:1, 7.

26. Karl H. Rengstorf, "Didasko," Theological Dictionary of the New Testament, ed. Gerhard Kittel (Grand Rapids, Michigan, 1974), vol. 2, p. 147; also Douglas J. Moo, "1 Timothy 2:11-15: Meaning and Significance" (n. 1), pp. 65-66; "The Interpretation of Timothy 2:11-15: A Rejoinder" (n. 1), pp. 200-202; R. C. H. Lenski, The Interpretation of St. Paul's Epistles to the Colossians, to the Thessalonians, to Timothy, to Titus, and to Philemon (Minneapolis, 1937), p. 564; David P. Scaer, "May Women Be Ordained as Pastors?" The Springfielder 36-2 (September, 1972): 104; Susan T. Foh (n. 1), p. 125.

27. J. Keir Howard, "Neither Male nor Female: An Examination of the Status of Women in the New Testament," The Evangelical Quarterly 55, 1 (January, 1983): 41.

28. Aida Spencer, (n. 2), p. 219; Philip B. Payne (n. 2), pp. 175-177.

29. Douglas J. Moo provides a most compelling critical refutation of this interpretation in ("The Interpretation of 1 Timothy 2:11-15: A Rejoinder," Trinity Journal 2 (1981): 202-204.

30. Paul K. Jewett, Man as Male and Female (Grand Rapids, MI, 1975), p. 57.

31. Virginia Mollenkott, Women, Men and the Bible (Nashville, 1977), p. 99; Arlene Swidler, Woman in a Man’s Church (New York, 1972), pp. 34-35; Karl Schelkle, The Spirit and the Bride (Collegeville, Minnesota, 1979), p. 90.

32. Letha Scanzoni and Nancy Hardesty, All We’re Meant to Be: A Biblical Approach to Women’s Liberation (Waco, Texas, 1974), p. 28; see also Paul K. Jewett (30), pp. 126-127; Karen Hoover, "Creative Tension in 1 Timothy 2:11-15," Brethren Life 22 (1977): 164; Margaret Howe, Women and Church Leadership (Grand Rapids, Michigan, 1982), pp. 46-47.

33. Elizabeth Fiorenza, in The Liberating Word: A Guide to Nonsexist Interpretation of Scripture, ed. Letty Russel (Philadelphia, 1976), p. 49.

34. Paul K. Jewett (n. 30), p. 61; Francis Cleary, "Women in the New Testament," Biblical Theology Bulletin 10 (1980): 81; Donald Guthrie, The Pastoral Epistles: an Introduction and Commentary (Grand Rapids, Michigan, 1957), p. 77; H. P. Liddon, Explanatory Analysis of St. Paul’s First Epistle to Timothy (Minneapolis, 1978), p. 19.

35. Stephen B. Clark, Man and Woman in Christ (Ann Arbor, MI, 1980), p. 204.

36. Ibid.

37. The Seventh-day Adventist Bible Commentary (Washington, D. C., 1957), vol. 7, p. 296; see also George W. Knight III, The Role Relationship of Men and Women (Chicago, 1985), p. 32.

38. Douglas J. Moo (n. 17), p. 70.

39. See, for example, Ida Ramig, Exclusion of Women from the Priesthood: Divine Law or Sex Discrimination? (Metuchen, 1976), pp. 111-116; A. M. McGrath, O. P., What a Modern Catholic Believes about Women (Chicago, 1972), pp. 36-37.

40. This translation has been adopted also by Moffat and NASB.

41. See C. Spicq, Les Epītres Pastorales (Paris, 1969), p. 380.

42. Philip B. Payne (n. 2), p.; Aida Spencer (n. 2), pp. 219-220; H. P. Liddon (n. 34), pp. 38, 39; Walter Lock, A Critical and Exegetical Commentary on the Pastoral Epistles (Edinburgh, 1924), p. 33; Pace Don Williams, The Apostle Paul and Women in the Church (Van Nuys, California, 1977), p. 113.

43. This view is expressed by Douglas J. Moo (n. 17), pp. 71-72; Robert Falconer, "1 Timothy 2:14-15. Interpretative Notes," Journal of Biblical Literature 66 (1941): 376-378; J. N. D. Kelly, A Commentary on the Pastoral Epistles (London, 1963), p. 69; C. Spicq (n. 41), pp. 382-383; Herman Ridderbos, Paul: An Outline of His Theology (Grand Rapids, Michigan 1975), p. 309.

44. For information on the improved social status of women in the Roman world in New Testament times, see Mary Lefkowitz and Maureen Fant, Women in Greece and Rome (Toronto, 1977); J. P. V. D. Balsolon, Roman Women (London, 1962).

45. Philip B. Payne (n. 2), p. 190; see also David M. Scholer (n. 10), pp. 195-205; Catherine Clark Kroeger (n. 22), pp. 226-232.

46. Carroll D. Osborn (n. 1), p. 11.

47. Acts of Paul 41, 42, in New Testament Apocrypha, eds. Edgar Hennecke and Wilhelm Schneemelcher (Philadelphia, 1965), vol. 2, p. 364; Tertullian challenges the use that some made of Thecla’s example to defend the right of women to teach and to baptize, by pointing out that the presbyter who fabricated the story was convicted and removed from office (On Baptism 17).

48. The suggestion is made by Martin Dibelius and Hans Conzelmann, The Pastoral Epistles, Hermeneia (Philadelphia, 1972), p. 48.

49. See, William O. Walker, Jr., "The 'Theology of Women’s Place and the ‘Paulinist’ Tradition," Semeia 28 (1983): 101-112; E. Schweizer, "The Service of Worship: An Exposition of 1 Corinthians 14," Interpretation 13 (1959): 402f.; Arnold Bittlinger, Gifts and Graces: A Commentary on 1 Corinthians 12-14 (London, 1967), p. 110f.; Hans Conzelmann, 1 Corinthians, Hermeneia (Philadelphia, 1975), p. 246.

50. For a discussion see Wayne A. Grudem, The Gift of Prophecy in 1 Corinthians (Washington, D. C., 1982), p. 241.

51. Paul K. Jewett (n. 30), p. 115; Hans Conzelman (n. 49), p. 246.

52. F. W. Grosheide, Commentary on the First Epistle to the Corinthians (Grand Rapids, Michigan, 1983), p. 342; cf. George Eldon Ladd, A Theology of the New Testament (Grand Rapids, Michigan, 1974), p. 528.

53. For a discussion of prophecy as a gift for public use, see Wayne A. Grudem (n. 50), p. 181.

54. Among those who believe that the issue is disorderly speech are R. Banks, "Paul and Women's Liberation," Interchange 18 (1976): 94; Letha Scanzoni and Nancy Hardesty (n. 32), pp. 68-69; D. Pape, In Search of God's Ideal Woman (Downers Grove, Illinois, 1975), p. 138.

55. L. Birney, The Role of Women in the New Testament Church (Pinner, 1971), p. 15.

56. George W. Knight III (n. 37), pp. 24-35.

57. James B. Hurley (n. 1), pp. 188-193; Wayne A. Grudem (n. 50), pp. 249-255.

58. Walter L. Liefeld, "Women, Submission and Ministry in 1 Corinthians,"_ in Women, Authority and the Bible, ed. Alvera Mickelsen (Downers Grove, Illinois, 1986), p. 150.

59. Stephen B. Clark (n. 35), p. 187.

60. See discussion in Stephen B. Clark (n. 35), pp. 186-187.

61. See Walter L. Liefeld (n. 58), p. 149.

62. See C. K. Barrett, A Commentary on the First Epistle to the Corinthians (London, 1968), p. 330; Leon Morris, The First Epistle of Paul to the Corinthians (London, 1958), p. 201.

63. Wayne A. Grudem (n. 50), p. 73. See Grudem’s analysis of the prophetic speech at Corinth on pp. 58-73.

64. See, for example, E. Earle Ellis, "The Silenced Wives of Corinth," in New Testament Textual Criticism, eds. Eldon Jay Epp and Gordon D. Fee (Oxford, 1981), p. 217; Gilbert Bilezikian, Beyond Sex Roles (Grand Rapids, Michigan, 1985), p. 149.

65. Stephen B. Clark (n. 35), p. 187.

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