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There has been much debate over the last fifty or sixty years concerning the roles of men and women in the local church. The debate rages on, and I imagine that it will continue raging within evangelicalism until the Lord returns. According to Scripture, although God has equipped both men and women to be leaders, providing them with His image, He has also created men and women differently, providing each with various roles to carry out within His church for His glory. He has called women to be women, and men to be men in the local church. Therefore, I believe that women are able to teach men in small group settings due to the example of Priscilla teaching Apollos, the cultural contexts of 1 Timothy 2:9-14 and 1 Corinthians 14:33-35, and the lack of biblical evidence for arguments to the contrary.
Women may Teach Men in Small Group Settings
Argument in Favor: Aquila and Priscilla
The value or capability of women is not in question. I am only questioning the biblical mandate based on exegeting the Scriptures within their specific cultural contexts. In Acts 18:26 Luke wrote, “He [Apollos] began to speak boldly in the synagogue, but when Priscilla and Aquila heard him, they took him and explained to him the way of God more accurately (ESV).” The question arises as to whether or not Pricilla taught Apollos anything. The Bible says that she did. She is not “learning in submission” in this verse as interpreted by some to mean that she should remain completely silent (1 Tim. 2:11), for she is teaching another man with her husband. Granted, she is in private, and is not usurping pastoral authority over Apollos or Aquila, but she is teaching Apollos Scriptural truth. Unfortunately, there are some that believe that teaching necessitates the authority Paul commands women not to possess over men (1 Tim. 2:12). If teaching necessitates authority and the apostle Paul does not permit a woman to have authority over a man (1 Tim. 2:12), then he would condemn the sharing of the gospel by women with men as well. In other words, Priscilla should have been silent if she is biblically forbidden to teach a man anything biblical at any time.
Argument Against: Aquila and Priscilla
Some may choose to argue—and I agree—that Priscilla was under the authority of her husband, but if women teaching men necessitates usurping their masculine authority, then she still had authority over Apollos regardless if she was being submissive to Aquila or not. The hierarchy would proceed: Aquila, Priscilla, and then Apollos. So, in order to understand Priscilla’s private teaching of Apollos, readers must understand that Paul must have been discussing the public gathering of believers in corporate worship, instead of merely sharing the gospel in public or private meetings in 1 Corinthians 14:34-35. In these verses Paul discussed corporate worship, but teaching men segregated from the corporate body was not mentioned. Even though several evangelical denominations do not allow women to teach men in their various bible studies, if Priscilla could teach Apollos in private, and the apostle Paul forbade women to teach men when the body was gathered corporately, then women would be allowed to teach men in a “small group” setting. From the example of Aquila and Priscilla, readers must gather that the private or public teaching of men is not prohibited, but teaching authoritatively over the entire gathered body of Christ is unbiblical; this argument fits with Paul’s masculine qualifications for elders, as well as, his allowance of active prophetesses.
Paul Forbade Women to Teach Men Due to Specific Cultural Contexts
1 Timothy 2:9-14
In 1 Timothy 2:9-14 women were forbidden to wear their hair braided or to wear gold, pearls, or expensive apparel (1 Tim. 2:9-10). Instead, they were told to seek to show their godliness through good works without drawing attention to their physical appearances (1 Tim. 2:10). The amazing reality is that there is virtually no discussion within Protestantism or Catholicism today about whether or not women should be allowed to wear jewelry or braid their hair. These few verses are almost universally understood as specific to the New Testament culture, and they do not literally apply to Christians today. The underlying truth that is binding today is that women should not be focused on their outward appearances, but should instead seek to exalt the Lord through their good works.
Due to the fact that Paul clearly referenced a cultural problem in discussing women and their appearances in 1 Tim. 2:9-10, the very next verses should be understood based on the cultural context as well. It must be noted that in every instance in Pauline literature where he argues that women should be silent in the churches, there is a reference also to their cultural outward appearances. Women learning in silence then as well must be viewed as a cultural stipulation that Timothy was struggling with due to women taking their freedom in Christ past the point of identifying themselves as women. These women were somehow causing confusion in the worship services (1 Cor. 14:36). Furthermore, just as the emphasis of Paul’s reference to clothes refers to godly modesty, so Paul’s reference to learning refers to godly silence in submission. These women obviously were not submitting, but were parading around in fine apparel; and evidently were obnoxiously seeking to usurp the authority of their pastors that were teaching them when the body was gathered for corporate worship.
1 Corinthians 14:33-35
Furthermore, In 1 Corinthians 14:33-35 the apostle Paul wrote, “Women should keep silent in the churches; for they are not permitted to speak, but should learn in submission, as the Law also says.” It is interesting that the apostle Paul went from discussing order in the church worship services (1 Cor. 14:27-32) to women not speaking in the church. This transition thus naturally follows that the women were the ones being disorderly, trying to usurp the authority of the men. Once again, the emphasis seems not to be on women teaching men; but, there are many that disagree. Four other views are widely held.
Evaluating Arguments against the Cultural Context Argument
Paul Forbade Women to Teach Men in any Christian Setting
First, there are some that purport that Paul was speaking against women teaching men in any Christian setting. This view argues that the apostle Paul was discussing spiritual gifts in 1 Corinthians 14, so the progression of the literary context naturally demands that the apostle Paul continues in this discussion. The problem is that the apostle Paul was discussing the use of gifts in an orderly fashion. So, whether or not the apostle discussed spiritual gifts in the preceding verses is irrelevant, for the apostle could easily still be discussing the orderliness of using spiritual gifts in worship.
Furthermore, readers must assume that these prayers and prophecies were public (1 Cor. 11:1-16), that men heard these women prophesy and that they learned from them; for if readers do not believe this, then they cannot believe that these women heard the men prophesy or learned from them either. If these women did not teach men in their public assemblies through prophesying, then there was no reason for these women to possess the spiritual gift of prophecy. Males and females are placed side by side here as “teachers,” but also notice that they are still different; the women were to show that they were in submission to the men through covering their heads with veils. So, women were able to pray and prophesy publicly as long as they still appeared as women in submission to their husbands.
Paul Forbade Women to Teach During Corporate Worship
Paul Forbade Women to Speak in Tongues. Second, another view is that the apostle Paul was forbidding women to speak in tongues. Since the apostle earlier in this chapter discussed the use of tongues; and since there is no record in the Scriptures of women speaking in tongues, it naturally follows that women were never given the spiritual gift of speaking in tongues. Although it cannot be argued here due to the limits of time and space, I believe that the primary purpose of the spiritual gift of tongues in the first place was so that the speaker could prophesy to his or her audience. Since the apostle permits women to prophesy in 1 Corinthians 11:5, I believe that this view loses ground in light of the primary purpose of the spiritual gift of tongues being to prophesy. If Paul permitted women to prophesy, then he also permitted them to speak in tongues since speaking in tongues is simply prophesying in a miraculous manner.
Paul Forbade Women to Judge Prophets. Third, some argue that the apostle Paul was encouraging orderly worship by forbidding women to judge prophets in the worship services. This view is interesting, for it springs forth from Paul’s discussion in 1 Corinthians 14:29 where he speaks of allowing two or three prophets to speak in worship, and then another prophet to judge what was said. The weakness of this argument is not the purported textual context, for the present context allows for such an interpretation. The problem arises with Paul’s permission of women to prophesy in 1 Corinthians 11. If a woman is permitted to prophesy, then it is improbable that she is not permitted to judge the prophecies of other women. I understand why she could not judge the prophecies of men due to submission, but why could she not judge the prophecies of other women? Also, this argument unbiblically assumes that a person has greater authority if he or she judges prophecies than if he or she gives them. The office however is the same whether judging or prophesying. Furthermore, in verse 35 the apostle Paul wrote that women must learn at home from their husbands. What does forbidding women from judging prophecies have to do with them learning at home? For such an argument to be probable, Paul had to address another problem altogether in verse 35, instead of the same problem as the literary development seems to indicate.
Paul Forbade Women to Prophesy. Forth, some believe that women were not to teach authoritatively when the church was assembled together. John Calvin held this view. He believed that women were not to prophesy or teach when the church was gathered for corporate worship. He assumed that this was the rule of the church and should only be neglected whenever more important matters are at stake. There are exceptions to this rule; for when there are not enough men to fill essential offices or men refuse to lead, the church still must gather to worship corporately. The Word must be preached when they gather; and the church is better to gather with female elders than to not gather at all. The problem with this view is that the apostle in 1 Corinthians 11 clearly permits women to prophesy. The context seems to indicate that their prophecies were given when the body was gathered. These women at the very least prophesied in public.
In light of this knowledge, Calvin still argued that these prophetesses are the exception to the rule, but he wrongly presupposed the ungodliness of all the men in the church at Corinth. If women prophesying when the church is gathered for worship calls into question the authority of men, why would God temporarily give women this gift? The answer is that if prophesying women usurp the authority of men, then whether or not this gift is of God is irrelevant; for it violates the creation order of males and females that God created from the beginning (1 Tim. 2:11-15). If God did give women this gift, then He would not permit them to prophesy in the company of men, for God would not violate His creation order simply to prove a point that can be proven otherwise. I fear that such an argument indirectly questions God’s immutability; or, at the very least, voids the creation argument concerning the differing roles of men and women altogether.
In conclusion, although there has been much discussion concerning the roles of women in leadership and ministry in the local church, there are still more arguments that will be levied in the future. The surrounding culture demands an answer concerning biblical manhood and womanhood in the local church and abroad. Although men and women are created equal, and although they both carry the image of God, God has still created them to be male and female in His church, nation, and world. Based on the example of Priscilla teaching Apollos, understanding 1 Timothy 2:9-14 and 1 Corinthians 14:33-35 in context, and a close examination of the other less probable arguments, the answer to the question concerning the roles of women in ministry is to encourage them that they may teach men in a non-pastoral manner while submitting to their husbands and/or pastors.
Calvin, John. The First Epistle of Paul the Apostle to the Corinthians. trans. John W. Fraser, in Calvin’s Commentaries. ed. by David W. and Thomas F. Torranco. Grand Rapids, MI:Wm. B. Erdmans Publishing, 1960.
Knight, George W. The New Testament Teaching on the Role Relationship of Men and Women. Grand Rapids, MI: Baker Book House, 1977.
Shreiner, Thomas R. “Women in Ministry.” Two Views on Women in Ministry. ed. J. Beck and C. Blomberg; Grand Rapids, MI: Zondervan, 2001.
Greenbury, James. “1 Corinthians 14:34-35: Evaluation of Prophecy Revisited.” Journal of the Evangelical Theological Society 51, no. 4 (December 1, 2008): 721-731.
Hurley, James B. “Did Paul Require Veils or the Silence of Women: A Consideration of 1 Cor 11:2-16 and 14:33b-36.” Westminster Theological Journal 35, no. 2 (December 1, 1973): 190-220.
Merkle, Benjamin L. “Paul’s arguments from creation in 1 Corinthians 11:8-9 and 1 Timothy 2:13-14: An Apparent Inconsistency Answered.” Journal of the Evangelical Theological Society 49, no. 3 (September 1, 2006): 527-548.
Rowe, Arthur. “Silence and the Christian Women of Corinth: An examination of 1 Corinthians 14:33b-36.” Communio viatorum 33, no. 1-2 (March 1, 1990): 41-84.
Saucy, Robert L. “Woman’s Prohibition to Teach Men: An Investigation into Its Meaning and Contemporary Application.” Journal of the Evangelical Theological Society 37, no. 1 (March 1994): 79-97.
Zagano, Phyllis. “The Question of Governance and Ministry for Women.” Theological Studies 68, no. 2 (June 1, 2007): 348-367.
Barnes, Daniel. The Meaning of “Let the Women Be Silent in the Churches,” in I Corinthians 14:34-35. Th.M. Thesis, Capital Bible Seminary, 1981.
Mann, Randy T. 1 Timothy 2:9-15 and the Evangelical Debate on the Role of Women. Th.M. Thesis, Grace Theological Seminary, 1992.
In Evangelicalism, this battle is evident due to some denominations ordaining women as elders: Pentecostal, Church of God, etc., and other denominations speaking against female ordination: Southern Baptist, Presbyterian, etc. Even outside of Evangelicalism within the Catholic Church, the battle is publicly evident as recent as 2006. See Phyllis Zagano, “The Question of Governance and Ministry for Women,” Theological Studies 68, no. 2 (June 1, 2007): 348-367, for an interesting discussion of a development within the Catholic Church where a priest within the diocese of Rome asked the Pope in a public meeting why women could not be more involved in the governance and ministry of the Catholic Church. The historical arguments and the Pope’s answer may surprise readers. Although the Pope spoke against the ordination of women as priests, he spoke in favor of their further involvement in Catholic government and ministry. Zagano speculated that the Pope was talking about the ordination of deaconesses, but time will tell exactly how the Pope carries out and encourages further use of women in Catholic government and ministry.
See Thomas R. Shreiner, “Women in Ministry,” Two Views on Women in Ministry (ed. J. Beck and C. Blomberg; Grand Rapids, MI: Zondervan, 2001), 177. He argues that the role of women in the church is the most controversial and sensitive issue within evangelicalism today.
This paper will seek to present opposing sides of the argument, being fair to both, while making a decision based on the biblical evidence.
Due to the limits of time and space, this paper will deal sparingly with the subject at hand, hoping only to present and evaluate the major arguments within Evangelicalism today.
Randy T. Mann, 1 Timothy 2:9-15 and the Evangelical Debate on the Role of Women, (Th.M. thesis, Grace Theological Seminary, 1992), 55. Staunch complimentarians argue against any form of teaching or prayer from women in a group of the gathered body. I am a “loose” or consistent complimentarian that allows for women to teach men except from the position of an elder. For a great argument of the varying positions of egalitarians and complimentarians concerning 1 Timothy 2:9-15, see pages 31-127.
Robert L. Saucy, “Woman’s Prohibition to Teach Men: An Investigation into Its Meaning and Contemporary Application,” Journal of the Evangelical Theological Society 37, no. 1 (March 1994): 84. Saucy argues that teaching always carries authority, but this authority varies based on the identity of the individual teaching. This admittedly raises another question as to which “range of authority”—Sauceane language—the apostle Paul permits a woman to have over a man.
The apostle Paul in 1 Timothy 2:9-14 wrote, “Likewise also that women should adorn themselves in respectable apparel, with modesty and self-control, not with braided hair and gold or pearls or costly attire, but with what is proper for women who profess godliness–with good works. Let a woman learn quietly with all submissiveness. I do not permit a woman to teach or to exercise authority over a man; rather, she is to remain quiet. For Adam was formed first, then Eve; and Adam was not deceived, but the woman was deceived and became a transgressor. Yet she will be saved through childbearing–if they continue in faith and love and holiness, with self-control.”
Mann, 1 Timothy 2:9-15 and the Evangelical Debate on the Role of Women, 33-34.
The apostle Paul in 1 Corinthians 14:33-35 wrote, “For God is not a God of confusion but of peace. As in all the churches of the saints, the women should keep silent in the churches. For they are not permitted to speak, but should be in submission, as the Law also says. If there is anything they desire to learn, let them ask their husbands at home. For it is shameful for a woman to speak in church.”
See Daniel Barnes, The Meaning of “Let the Women Be Silent in the Churches,” in I Corinthians 14:34-35, (Th.M. Thesis, Capital Bible Seminary, 1981), for a lengthier discussion of the various views concerning 1 Corinthians 14:34-35 within conservative inerrantist circles.
George W. Knight III, The New Testament Teaching on the Role Relationship of Men and Women, (Grand Rapids, MI: Baker Book House, 1977), 36.
Arthur Rowe, “Silence and the Christian Women of Corinth: An examination of 1 Corinthians 14:33b-36,” Communio viatorum 33, no. 1-2 (March 1, 1990): 56.
James B. Hurley, “Did Paul require veils or the silence of women: A consideration of 1 Cor 11:2-16 and 14:33b-36,” Westminster Theological Journal 35, no. 2 (December 1, 1973): 217.
James Greenbury, “1 Corinthians 14:34-35: Evaluation of Prophecy Revisited,” Journal of the Evangelical Theological Society 51, no. 4 (December 1, 2008): 723. See Greenbury for an exhaustive discussion of the view that 1 Corinthians 14:34-35 forbids women to judge prophecies, and many reasons why this argument is not probable.
John Calvin, The First Epistle of Paul the Apostle to the Corinthians, trans. John W. Fraser, in Calvin’s Commentaries, ed. by David W. and Thomas F. Torranco (Grand Rapids, MI: Wm. B. Erdmans Publishing, 1960), 306.
Furthermore, in Luke 2:36 and Acts 21:9 prophetesses are mentioned in passing. They definitely served a New Testament office and purpose. I do not understand how prophetesses could possibly prophesy through the power of the Holy Spirit if women teaching men in all instances violated the creation order. God would not contradict His order, if a woman is unable to teach a man due to usurping his authority. Women therefore must have prophesied in a teaching manner that did not usurp the authority of other men. If someone wants to argue against this reasoning, then he or she must prove that prophetesses served in an office that was an exception to the rule that women cannot teach men. There is no way in the New or Old Testaments to make a sound biblical argument that prophetesses did not carry the same teaching authority as prophets.
Admittedly, Paul used creation in both of his arguments found in 1 Timothy 2:13 and 1 Corinthians 11:6-9; however, evangelicals have largely taken 1 Timothy 2:13 to be binding on Christians today and the requirements of 1 Corinthians 11:6-9 to be culturally bound and not timelessly applicable to Christians today. See Benjamin L. Merkle, “Paul’s Arguments from Creation in 1 Corinthians 11:8-9 and 1 Timothy 2:13-14: An Apparent Inconsistency Answered,” Journal of the Evangelical Theological Society 49, no. 3 (September 1, 2006): 527-548, for a great argument as to why 1 Timothy 2:13 is binding on Christians today, but 1 Corinthians 11:6-9 is culturally conditioned and is not binding today.