God made “light” and called it “good” (Gen. 1.3-4; i.e., pragmatically beneficial); the land and the seas received similar approval from the Almighty (Gen. 1.6-10); next, grasses, flowers, fruits, and herbs of every kind came into reality — again, these were “good” (Gen. 1.11-12).
He fashioned the splendors of the heavens — stars, planets, moons, asteroids, comets, etc. — and, as wondrous as these luminaries are to our race, they too were afforded the same sacred appraisal: “good” (Gen. 1.14-18); so too of every aquatic creature inhabiting the oceans, rivers, and lakes of our globe, and every flying animal dotting the skies above (Gen. 1.20-21); “good” also was the descriptive term assigned to land-based creatures, large and small (Gen. 1.24-25).
When at last God came to the creation of mankind, a single male individual emerged from the ground (Gen. 2.7) — the “first man Adam” (1 Cor. 15.45) — a man made “in the image of God,” exercising “dominion over” all the earth (Gen. 1.26-28). Of all creatures the eternal father had thus far molded, the man was, at the time, God’s masterpiece.
Just then, however, a parade of creatures were brought before the man, but none yet existed who could assist him with propagating his species. Consequently, God, for the first time, pronounced: “It is not good” — not good! (beneficial) — “that man should be alone” (Gen. 2.18f). Adam, by himself, served not the purposes of God for his race. A female was needed.
Womankind — the crowning act of creation — bejeweled the hallowed “handiwork” of God like no other creature could (Ps. 19.1). Only after she arrived did God, surveying the entirety of his creation, proclaim it all, finally, to be “very good” (Gen. 1.31).
In this manner, man became the “glory of God;” while woman, having come from man’s side, became “the glory of man” (1 Cor. 11.7). In that light, man only disparages himself when he disparages womanhood, for she came from him. To demean the fairer sex is to diminish man’s own glory.
But how is the dignity of womanhood to be realized? What are the distinctive roles and relationships which men and women ought to sustain with each other, as God desires?
As we explore this matter further, let us first succinctly take into account a broader, historical view of womanhood — where she started, and how she got to the present.
The Garden Curse
With the expulsion of the first pair from the garden of Eden, owing to their sins, Eve in particular was given this bleak prediction: “Your desire shall be toward your husband, and he shall rule over you” (Gen. 3.16). This “rule” would be accompanied by “sorrow” and “pain,” as a consequence of her role in the fall.
The Hebrew word for “desire” is employed only three times in the Old Testament. It certainly may convey a positive connotation, as in a groom’s longing for his bride (Song 7.10). Yet, as the term here appears “in a context of sin and judgment” (Elwell), it lends itself more to a “negative sense” (ibid; cf. Gen. 4.7) — an impassioned aching.
The Greek translation (LXX) gives us the term, apostrophe, a noun which literally denotes a “turning away from,” and hence, an aversion to or disgust for something. The term is used in Deuteronomy 31.18, where God regards Israel’s rebellion as so repugnant that he had to “hide” his face from them (i.e., turn away). Thus, the ESV may express the gist: “your desire shall be contrary to your husband.”
This sorrowful prognostication is further explained by the phrase, “rule over.” The LXX has the word kurieusei — to lord over; dominate; control. The term translates the Hebrew word, mashal, “reign, dominate.”
Ceslas Spicq, an acclaimed French Biblical scholar of the last century, notes that the term means to “be master, take possession of, possess” (351). Of this very passage, he too remarks that “it seems to have a pejorative nuance, since it expresses a punishment, if not a curse” (352; see also Lk. 22.25; Rm. 6.9, 14; 2 Cor. 1.24).
In effect, the meaning of the passage appears to be this: you shall be achingly banished to your husband’s domineering control.
Whether Adam and Eve’s relationship itself soured, or whether God merely addressed Eve as a representative of womankind’s future woes (more likely), is not certain. Still, the punishments of Gen. 3.14-19 extend far beyond the original pair. Unfortunately, for many ensuing centuries, domineering husbands and downtrodden wives became the order of the day.
Women Among The Gentiles
Among ancient Gentile populations, women were
“degraded and reduced to servitude, [and] became the slave of [man’s] lust and a mere instrument for the production of children” (Engels, 49-50).
The ancient Chinese, like many cultures from antiquity, esteemed the wife as little more than chattel. The wife, often ill-treated and cloistered, had to gain her husband’s affection competing with mistresses, concubines, and prostitutes. According to third century poet, Fu Hsuan,
“to breed a girl is something no one wants, she’s not a treasure to her family” (see Dawson, 272).
Among the ancient Greeks, life for a woman was just as unenviable. Athenian women in particular were veritable slaves, “with no legal rights at all” (Zinserling, 24).
In the classical period especially, a woman
“went out of her quarters as rarely as possible, since it was thought more decent ‘if the woman remains at home than if she runs around outside’ (Xenophon, Econ., 7)” (ibid., 23).
Although “visits to female friends and neighbors were possible,” according to Aristophanes, such freedom of movement was “regarded with disfavor” (ibid.).
Aristotle, however, makes an exception for women in poor households, whose impoverishment necessitated “going out” to work in the subservient professions of the public environment (Politics 4.1300a). Such women, he adds later, were employed by their husbands as “servants” (6.1323a).
In Rome, women possessed more autonomy, but were still legally deemed second-class individuals. Male chauvinism, in that antique environment, was merely par for the course. It was a man’s world.
Make no mistake: that is not the divine ideal. God’s predictions by no means should be taken as a license for the mistreatment of women — foresight does not amount to approbation.
Originally, the relationship between Adam and his wife was one of benign headship (Gen. 3.23-25; cf. 1 Cor. 11.3). Because Adam was “formed first” (1 Tim. 2.13), and because woman came “from man” and was “created…for the man” (1 Cor. 11.8-9), God gave him the role of a loving leader over her, obliging him to treat her with the same level of dignity and care with which he would treat his “own flesh” (cf. Eph. 5.28-29).
Regrettably, sin changed all that. With it, the scourge of suffering and death entered into the world (cf. Gen. 2.17; Rm. 6.23). And sin’s scourge certainly made no exception for the plight of womankind.
Women In The Biblical Environment
By contrast, however, Hebraic society, though never fully reaching the divine ideal relative to womanhood, nevertheless did much to improve the fortune of Eve’s daughters.
Mosaic law denounced the mistreatment of women (Deut. 22.25-27; 21.14). An incorrigible son who persistently disrespected his mother could be subjected to the severest capital punishment possible (Deut. 21.18f). Motherhood was to be held in high regard (Ex. 20.12).
Furthermore, the Old Testament frequently lauded specific women for their faith, knowledge, wisdom, and virtue. Time would fail me to write in detail of the accolades of women like Sarah, Rebecca, Rahab, Samson’s mother, Hannah, Deborah, Huldah, Abigail, Esther, and Ruth. Many of these women were singularly heralded in times when praiseworthy men were few and far between.
In the New Testament, more advances for womanhood were made. It had become culturally taboo for a Jewish man to converse with a woman in public (cf. Jn. 4.27). Yet, Jesus freely did so at Jacob’s well (Jn. 4.7ff). In fact, women were among the Lord’s most cherished followers (Lk. 8.1-3; Mk. 15.40-41; Jn. 19.25).
Women suffered for the Lord (Acts 8.3; 9.2); prayed to the Lord (Acts 1.14; 16.11-15); were noteworthy servants of the Lord (Acts 9.36f; 12.12; 17.4; 18.26; Rom. 16.1-4; Phil. 4.3). Significantly, it is a woman, Mary Magdalene, who holds the distinction of being the first eyewitness of the resurrected Lord — and, incidentally, the first to spread the joyous news to others (cf. Jn. 20.11-18).
Though numerous men are listed in the New Testament as apostates from the faith, the number of women identified as among that ignoble ilk is scant by comparison (cf. Acts 5.1-11), only one of whom was treacherously subverting the faith of others (Rev. 2.20-23).
Most promising of all, however, God’s garden curse was tempered with a feminine blessing. The salvation of Adam’s race from sin’s curse would come, not through male extraction, but through “her seed” (Gen. 3.15). A female “virgin” would be given the honor of bringing the incarnate God into this world (Isa. 7.14; Mt. 1.23).
Hence, just as sin was first brought into this world through a woman (Gen. 3.6; cf. 1 Tim. 2.14), so the savior was “born of woman” (Gal. 4.4; cf. 1 Tim. 2.15). The dignity Eve lost for her daughters Mary more than sufficiently regained for hers — and we “rise up and call her blessed” (Prov. 31.28; cf. Lk. 1.42)!
Consequently, though men and women have distinct God-given roles to fulfill (see below), there is “neither male nor female” when it comes to the ultimate blessing of eternal salvation “in Christ Jesus” (Gal. 3.28); indeed, they are “heirs together of the grace of life” (1 Pet. 3.7). Dwight M. Pratt encapsulated the matter as follows:
“Sin, both in man and woman, has been universally the cause of woman’s degradation. All history must be interpreted in the light of man’s consequent mistaken estimate of her endowments, worth and rightful place. The ancient Hebrews never entirely lost the light of their original revelation, and, more than any other oriental race, held woman in high esteem, honor and affection. Christianity completed the work of her restoration…Wherever its teachings and spirit prevail, she is made the loved companion, confidante and adviser of her husband” (Pratt in: Orr, IV.3100).
Thus, whereas woman overstepped her role at the start, and man overstepped his in subsequent generations, Christ came to restore the male-female relationship which God originally designed at creation (cf. Mt. 19.8) — Man: as the spiritual “head of woman” reflecting the "glory of God" (1 Cor. 11.3, 7); Woman: as reflecting the “glory of man” (1 Cor. 11.7).
Women In The Home
The pulpit commentary makes this sound observation:
“Among the Hebrews the condition of the female sex was one of distinct subordination, though not of oppression, and certainly not of slavery, as it too often has been in heathen and Mohammedan countries. Christianity, while placing woman on the same platform with man as regards the blessings of the gospel (Gal. 3.28), explicitly inculcates her subordination to the man in the relationship of marriage (Eph. 5.22; Col. 3.18; 1 Pt. 3.1)” (Spence et al., V. 1, 67).
How do men and women honor this God-designed relationship in the home in particular? What does it mean for a husband to exercise headship, or for a wife to be the “glory of man”? Scripture offers a few guiding principles:
Husbands are to treat their wives with “love” and “honor” — as they would themselves (Eph. 5.25, 28-29; 1 Pt. 3.7). Headship does not mean she is a man's slave or mere plaything, nor a household servant, forcibly resigned to menial household chores: e.g., cooking his food, cleaning his house, washing his clothes. Marriage is not bondage; and a wife is not obliged to respond to a husband’s every beck-and-call (cf. 1 Cor. 7.15). Nor did God ever give the husband the responsibility of being the micromanager of his wife’s happiness, as if she cannot enjoy life without her husband’s approval.
Instead, being the head of the wife requires a nourishing, compassionate, thoughtful disposition, always acting for the benefit of his house (e.g., spiritually, emotionally, socially, financially, etc.). In truth, the best husband will be his wife’s servant, making her feel like the most important woman in the world. Only a sick head will purposely injure its own body.
On the other hand, wives are to treat their husbands with submissive “respect” (Eph. 5.22-24, 33; 1 Pt. 3.1), stemming from a “gentle and quiet spirit, which is very precious in the sight of God” (1 Pt. 3.4-6). The world may view submissiveness and subordination as degrading and cruel concepts, but in Christianity, such terms mark the summit of human worthiness (cf. Mt. 23.11; 20.25-28).
As such, the wife must remember that the husband is not her perpetual errand boy, to be sent out at her every fleeting whim. The wife who incessantly nags, mocks, or fault-finds her husband is not honoring her husband or her home.
Rather, the best wife will gently make her husband a better man, treating him with dignity and instilling in him the confidence to be a worthy leader of the home (cf. Prov. 31.10-31).
Godly homes produce better men, women, and children; and better homes make for a better world. The husband-wife relationship, when truly implemented as God designed it, will be free of indignity or “terror” on either side of the marital fence (1 Pt. 3.6).
Women In The Church
There are two prominent passages in the New Testament which address the role of women in church: 1 Timothy 2.11-12 and 1 Corinthians 14.34-35 (1 Cor. 11.1-16 also addresses the subject, but from a different perspective. We will tackle that matter at another time). The remaining portion of this treatise will be devoted to analyzing them.
1 Timothy 2.11-12 reads:
“Let a woman learn in silence with all submission. And I do not permit a woman to teach or to have authority over a man, but to be in silence.”
Let’s break this text down into several particulars.
“Let a woman learn…”
This translation is hortatory in thrust, meaning it conveys an exhortation to comply. In the original language, the verb is in the imperative mood, indicating that it is an obligation, not a mere allowance. The literal translation is a bit awkward in English (hence, the hortatory rendering). Literally, it reads: “A woman be learning in quietness”…expressed in the indicative mood: “a woman must be learning in quietness.”
The word here is hesuchia, quietness. It is not absolute in force (meaning, ‘don’t even make a peep’). Even in breathing, some sounds are emitted (should a woman stop breathing in church?). For that matter, how could a woman sing (Col. 3.16; Eph. 5.19), if she is to remain absolutely silent in church?
That relative silence (quietness), defined by the context, is the meaning may be observed from the following uses of the term in other passages:
(1) Earlier in the chapter (1 Tim. 2.2), Paul wrote: “that we may lead a quiet (hesuchia) and peaceable life…” He does not wish to live a life utterly devoid of sound, but one where external strife and commotion (from the threat of the carnal government) are quieted. Hence, a specific kind of silence is desired — not total noiselessness.
(2) In 2 Thess. 3.12: “…that they work in quietness and eat their own bread.” Again, he does not require absolute silence while working; but working without complaining or causing turmoil.
(3) Acts 11.18 indicates that some amount of speaking can occur even while being silent — “When they heard these things they became silent; and they glorified God, saying: “Then God…” Here, the term is used with reference to their complaints about Peter associating with Gentiles (11.1-3) — they became quiet relative to their complaints (they spoke no more of it) — but it clearly does not mean they became absolutely speechless or soundless (since, in their quietness, they spoke).
(4) Acts 22.2 demonstrates that there are degrees of silence/quietness. Addressing a crowd in Jerusalem, Paul motioned with his hand for their attention. When a “great silence” swept over the crowd, he began to speak (Acts 21.40). Once they realized he was speaking to them in the Hebrew language, “they kept all the more silent” (Acts 22.1-2). How could the crowd get more silent, if they were already totally silent before? Here it is clear that the term is employed to indicate the crowd’s deferential attentiveness to Paul’s words, and not to total soundlessness.
This is the same sense in which the term is used in 1 Tim. 2.11. A woman is not prohibited absolutely from emitting any and all sounds; but she must remain quiet (deferential; yield the floor) when it comes to authoritative teaching, as defined by the context (see below).
"...with all submission.”
This defines the extent of the injunction. Sounds that are emitted in a submissive capacity are permitted by the passage.
Through the coarse of a church assembly, a woman will generate sound in a variety of submissive ways: she will join with the congregation in singing songs (Col. 3.16); when a man leads a prayer (1 Tim. 2.8), a woman may quietly say “Amen” at the close of it, following his lead (1 Cor. 14.16); she may feel obliged to whisper a question or provide an answer to her neighbor in the pew, without distracting others from learning the lesson, showing as much respect for them as for the teacher and his lesson (1 Cor. 14.40); even comments and questions presented as a pupil, following the teacher’s lead, fall under the umbrella of submissive quietness.
If a woman’s sound-making is quietly submissive — deferentially yielding the floor to another — then she is acting in full compliance with this text. And, incidentally, those men in the pews who are not leading the service are also obliged to be deferentially “silent” to the one who is (cf. 1 Cor. 14.27-33).
The assemblies of the Lord must ever be characterized by solemnity, respect, and orderliness — a leader leading, the congregation submitting. It must be an environment most conducive to learning and encouragement, not chaotic interruptions (v. 31).
“And I do not permit a woman to teach…”
Contextually, the type of teaching to which the apostle alludes has to do with controlling-the-floor, authoritative teaching (as an officiant, driving the discussion of her own agency).
In other contexts, Paul requires women to sing in church, which, according to Paul, is a form of teaching (Col. 3.16; Eph. 5.19). When a woman sings: “There is beyond the azure blue, a God concealed from human sight,” she is teaching her fellow congregants (male and female alike) about God, making points from which others learn. They, in turn, are simultaneously teaching her. This type of submissive teaching is thus not under consideration here.
Rather, the context pertains to assuming the lead role as a teacher (particularly in assemblies with other men present — see below). Hence, if she can teach men in church in a submissive capacity, without assuming the lead of the service, she has not violated the passage.
“…or to have authority over a man…”
The conjunction, or (oude), further explains the type of teaching prohibited here: i.e., authoritative teaching. She may teach, but not in a capacity whereby she “assumes dominion over the man” (Jackson; see also Lenski, 563) — i.e., whereby she controls the proceedings over the men of the church. In short, she is not to be the lead-teacher (the authority-teacher).
The KJV improperly gives us the term, usurp (to take illegally or forcibly; supplant), here. That rendition is far too specific, for the word is much broader in meaning.
Due to the word, usurp, some have supposed that Paul only prohibits a woman from arrogantly supplanting the authority of a man, pushing her way up to the pulpit and insisting on taking the lead of the service, without authorization. Based upon this misconception, they have further argued that if the men should allow her to have authority, then she may do so freely. This reasoning is erroneous.
In earlier usage (Attic Greek), the term, authenteo (to have authority), denoted: to self-arm; to kill with one’s own hands. In New Testament times, however, it had broadened its meaning: “to do something one’s self” (lit., self-work), that is, without delegating the task to another or allowing another to act on her behalf.
Hence, it simply has to do with the exercise of authority or dominion (see Vincent, 225). It is the difference between a woman leading a prayer herself (which she is not permitted to do over a man in church), versus allowing a man to lead on her behalf.
Accordingly, she can neither take (usurp) authority, nor can she be given authority — for she is not permitted “to have authority over a man” in the assembly. Translating this text literally accentuates this point even further:
“And I do not grant permission to a woman (dative) to be teaching (infinitive), nor to dominate (infinitive) over a man (genitive of authority).”
Those who suggest that a woman may freely exercise authority over the congregation, provided the men have delegated that authority to her, are doing the exact opposite of the inspired author — who expressly affirms that he does not delegate that authority to her.
By focusing on the term, authenteo (and misunderstanding its significance), they have bypassed entirely the phrase: gunaiki ouk epitrepo (I do not grant permission to a woman). Whether she usurps man’s authority, or is given that authority by the men, she is still doing that which God himself never gave her permission to do.
Furthermore, observe that she cannot exercise authority over a man. This injunction applies to assemblies with men present. In assemblies consisting of only women or children, she has been given no such restrictions.
Hence, women have often taught assemblies for children and other women. But in assemblies with men present, men must assume the lead (e.g., prayer-leader; song-leader; lesson-leader, etc.).
“…but to be in silence.”
This, again, defines the extent of the silence. It is not absolute soundlessness, but quietness relative to the issue of who wields authority in church. In short, she must not make a sound as a leader of the service in an assembly with men present. Other sounds, however, such as those delineated above, which are not made as an authoritative leader, are permissible.
The remaining verses in this chapter (vv.13-15) clarify that these commandments are not given owing to some cultural preference, but are universal in their applicability, since the reason for which they are given pre-dates human culture, going back to the order of creation established by God at the beginning of our race.
The second passage, 1 Corinthians 14.34-35, reads as follows:
“Let your women keep silent in the churches, for they are not permitted to speak; but they are to be submissive, as the law also says. And if they want to learn something, let them ask their own husbands at home; for it is shameful for women to speak in church.”
“Let your women…”
This is also an imperative, not a mere allowance: i.e., “Your women must keep silent…”
This is a different word from the passage in 1 Timothy, but it is also relative in thrust, and must be defined by the context.
Sigao has to do with keeping something secret. The issue at hand, again, has to do with authoritative speaking. Who leads the sermon, the class, the song, or the prayer, etc.?
Like hesuchia, there are plenty of passages that demonstrate that the term does not imply absolute silence, but silence relative to the matter at hand.
For example, in Psalm 32.3 (31.3, LXX), David says he “kept silent” — he did this “day and night” (v. 4). Does this mean he didn’t make a single sound for days? Of course not. Here is what he said:
“When I kept silent, my bones grew old, through my groaning all the day long.”
He wasn’t absolutely silent (for he groaned daily), but he was hiding his sins from God — keeping them secret (i.e., didn’t confess them, vv. 1-4).
Hence, he kept silent relative to his sins, which pained him inside and out. It wasn’t until he confessed them to God, that he was restored to wellness and vitality (v. 5).
See how context defines and limits the extent of this term in other passages too: Rm. 16.25 (cf. Heb. 1.1); Acts 12.12-17; Lk. 9.36; 1 Cor. 14.28.
“…in the churches…”
Paul is addressing a single congregation (the church at Corinth — 1.2). Hence, the word, churches (plural), here, refers to the various spiritual assemblies in which the local church participates through the year. These instructions are not designed for the home, or for the secular environment, nor yet for mere social gatherings. They are strictly applicable to those occasions when the local church gathers together to engage in corporate spiritual activity with one another. This includes worship, Bible classes, gospel meetings, song-services, etc.
It is unnecessary to attempt to make a distinction between church worship, and church Bible studies, as though these instructions must be strictly followed during the church’s worship assembly, but less strictly followed during the Bible class hour. Paul makes no such distinction. What women may do in one, she may do in the other; what she may not do in one, she may not do in the other.
As an aside, the reason women do not generally make comments or ask questions during the worship hour is not because her role is different from the Bible class assembly (both are “in church”), but simply because the format of preaching, typically performed during the worship session, is not conducive to any comments or questions, by either male or female in the audience. Scripture certainly authorizes a more conversational (class-oriented) format during the worship of the church (cf. Acts 20.7—“spoke” suggests a back and forth dialogue). However, when the preaching format is adopted, no comments or questions from the audience are entertained.
Whenever the assembly of Christ convenes together as a church, these instructions must be honored. Private gatherings, however, constitute an altogether different environment (cf. Acts 18.26; 1 Cor. 14.35).
“…for they are not permitted to speak;”
The word, speak (laleo), is the closest we come on this issue to anything absolute, but even this must be defined by context. It fundamentally means to emit sound (it is more generic than lego — to say words). But context again reveals that women are not permitted to utter sounds as an officiant in church — i.e., in an authoritative manner. Some speaking is prohibited, but not all speaking.
Again, women speak (laleo) when they sing (Eph. 5.19). But that is not the type of speaking prohibited here.
Observe especially verse 28 of this chapter (1 Cor. 14):
“But if there is no interpreter, let him keep silent (sigao) [same word employed in verse 34] in church, and let him speak (laleo) [same word in verse 34] to himself and to God.”
Hence, the man who speaks in a foreign language without an interpreter must keep silent (where leading the church is concerned), and yet is permitted to speak his tongue privately. This shows that it is possible to keep silent and yet still be able to speak. Context alone defines the extent and nature of the silence and/or speaking. He must not lead the service (remain silent as a leader), but may speak in a submissive capacity.
“…but they are to be submissive…”
Again, this is the extent of the silence and/or speaking. Submissive speech is permitted; authoritative speech is not. Likewise, submissive quietness is required; but not absolute quietness.
“…as the law also says…”
The context indicates that the “law” here refers to the Mosaic regime (cf. 1 Cor. 14.21; 9.8-9). Observe that Paul does not say: “as the law says” — as if Moses is the authority backing these commands. In fact, these are the “commandments of the Lord” (1 Cor. 14.37) — not Moses.
Instead, he wrote: “as the law also says” — Moses was supplemental to his argument, not the source of it. In other words, even Moses supports these instructions, though the authority for these commands stems from the Lord himself.
“…And if they want to learn something, let them ask their own husbands at home…”
Does this suggest that women may not even ask a question in church (worship, Bible class, etc.), even if they are not leading the service?
It does not. Consider.
There are several terms for ask in Greek. Aiteo alludes to a suppliant or petitioner. It denotes one who assumes an inferior position, making a request to a superior (cf. Mt. 7.7, 9-10; Acts 12.20). Paul did not use this term here.
Erotao alludes to a petition asked on equal footing (cf. Lk. 14.32). Interestingly, Jesus always used this term in his prayers to God, asking as an equal (Jn. 14.16; 16.26; 17.9, 15, 20). Paul did not use this term here either.
The term he uses here is intensive in flavor — eperotao. It has to do with demanding answers, forceful questioning, interrogations — as a superior to a perceived inferior (cf. Lk. 6.9; 20.21, 27, 40; 22.64; 23. 3, 6, 9; Mt. 16.1). It often signifies either probing questions designed to teach; ensnaring questions designed to test (even distort); or, probably as here, forceful questions which drive the assembly in a direction of the women’s own choosing.
From this description, we can perceive that the women at Corinth had their own studies, curiosities, or enigmas, to which they demanded answers (so as “to learn something”), but which did not comport with the male teacher’s chosen lesson plan. In other words, the women were driving the teaching agenda on their own, instead of following the teacher’s lead.
Thus, women, in the church environment, are not permitted to interrogate their teachers with forceful, leading questionings, or aggressive remarks, filibustering the service. Instead, they are to take these types of questions to a more private setting — “at home” — where it is appropriate for her to be more aggressive in her approach.
Hence, “if they want to learn something, they must interrogate their own husbands at home [“home” simply stands for a private environment].” However, submissive remarks, asked as a pupil and not an interrogator, which follow the teacher’s lead, are not in view here.
“…for it is shameful…”
“Shameful” translates the word, aischros. It is employed only four times in the Greek New Testament. In every instance, it alludes to that which is morally filthy; base; opposed to purity; sordid and therefore disgraceful (cf. 1 Cor. 11.6; Eph. 5.12; Titus 1.11). New Testament writers never use the term to denote that which is merely culturally taboo, but that which God himself considers dirty.
“…for a woman to speak in church.”
Again, context forbids the assertive speaking of a woman, as a leader of the assembly. It is important to observe that even if a woman is not standing behind the pulpit, or in front of the church, it is still possible for her, without realizing it, to lead from the pew. Thus, a woman must take great care in maintaining a deferential attentiveness to the one leading the service.
A confident soprano can contribute mightily to the singing service of the church. However, she must not loudly and aggressively alter the song-leader’s tempo or chosen-pitch, taking the congregation in another direction entirely; the congregation must follow his lead, not hers. Leading from the pew is just as much a violation of these directives as is leading from the pulpit.
A woman may have an excellent question or comment to present during the Bible class session. However, based upon these principles, she must make sure:
1) the matter is relevant to the class-teacher’s lesson plan;
2) she does not reprimand or wrangle with the teacher; i.e., she must remain submissive, not become authoritative with a probing interogation;
3) her remarks are terse and deferential; i.e., she must ensure she does not take over the class with a long and meandering speech.
To summarize, as long as a woman is not song-leading, she may sing (speaking and teaching in church); as long as a woman is not prayer-leading, she may pray in church; as long as a woman is not leading the Lord’s Supper, she may partake, and pass the plate to her neighbor next to her; and as long as she is not leading the lesson, she may contribute to it as a pupil.
Women are essential to the well-being of the church of Christ.
Unfortunately, when men fail to lead the church properly, some women, zealous for the faith, feel compelled to assume a leadership role in their stead, just as Eve did for Adam long ago. Yet, in such situations, a woman should not feel handicapped, nor, in a panic, behave improperly. She has a vital role to fulfill!
Instead, the church needs women who, with profound humility and gentleness, have developed the wisdom to guide their men at the appropriate occasion and in the proper setting, correcting them when they are wrong, encouraging them when they are right. It needs women who are able to instill in men the capacity and confidence to lead. For men may be the public servant-leaders of the church, but women are its backbone.
Finally, neither gender is more important than the other, for man is not “independent of woman, nor woman independent of man, in the Lord” (1 Cor. 11.11). Both must depend upon each other. And both must recognize the different roles God has given them to fulfill.
May we have the strength, humility, and wisdom to assume these roles in a manner worthy of God.
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