This article is a continuation of a short series in which I am looking at what many would call ‘women in ministry’. If you would like to read the first installment, click here. In the first blog, I looked at one of the main passages discussed around this topic found in 1 Timothy 2:11-15. We saw how helpful it is in understanding the culture, history and language of Scripture when studying it, considering it was written thousands of years ago.
In support of the argument that 1 Timothy 2:11-15 teaches that women should be silent in church meetings and never speak, address, or especially teach the body of Christ, some would also point to 1 Corinthians 14:33-35 as another proof text.
… for God is not a God of confusion but of peace, as in all the churches of the saints.  The women are to keep silent in the churches; for they are not permitted to speak, but are to subject themselves, just as the Law also says.  If they desire to learn anything, let them ask their own husbands at home; for it is improper for a woman to speak in church.
Now in helping us understand this specific passage, one ‘cultural’ aspect to note would be that in early Christian meetings, in line with the practices of the Jewish synagogues, there would be a separation between men and women. The men would sit on one side and the women would sit on the other side in whatever place of meeting.
In vs35, Paul teaches, ‘If they [women] desire to learn anything, let them ask their own husbands at home.’ What was most likely happening was that, during the gatherings, many of the women were asking questions out loud to their husbands sitting across the room from them. This was definitely a disturbance. So Paul addresses this specific Corinthian situation directing the women to wait until they returned home to ask these questions, instead of doing it out loud during the meeting and causing disturbance. Questions are good, and Paul wanted these women to learn, for the current culture never allowed women much opportunity. But he was teaching them they must wait until they got home instead of blurting out loudly and causing commotion.
So, again, if we understand the cultural and historical context, we understand the passage so much clearer. And funnily enough, Paul just spent 1 Corinthians 11:1-16 teaching that when women prophesy and pray, they should wear head coverings. Paul had just taught women can prophesy and pray in the meeting. And we must note that prophecy carries some sort of authoritative measure right? Yet, I would also encourage that these women desiring to prophesy would have a willingness to submit to the oversight and leadership of the local church. Yet, in all, 1 Corinthians 14:33-35 cannot be teaching that women are never allowed to speak in the public meeting.
To end out, I will look at two Biblical examples of women in the New Testament that were used greatly by God in their gifting. The first is Priscilla. She had a ministry with her husband, Acquilla, and their ministry quite possibly could have been apostolic. They had a relationship with Paul, which began in Corinth itself (see Acts 18:1-2), and this couple even worked in the same trade as Paul (Acts 18:3). This couple traveled and worked with churches, helping further the gospel and teaching of Christ. We specifically read in Acts 18:24-26 that both Priscilla and Aquila helped explain ‘the way of God more accurately’ to Apollos. Now, of course, Priscilla was usually with her husband, and so some see this as acceptable that they both instructed Apollos. But I point out one small fact – isn’t it ironic that Priscilla’s name is many times mentioned first when they have their names listed together (see Acts 18:26 and Romans 16:3 – her name is also spelled as Prisca)? It could quite possibly be that Priscilla had the stronger gifting within the couple. And that’s okay. Aquila can still be the head of his household and also recognize that his wife had the greater ministry gifting. There does not have to be tension here. And in her gifting, Priscilla, along with her husband, ‘explained’ the Scriptures more accurately to Apollos. If 1 Timothy 2:11-15 teaches, as simply as some might think, that women cannot teach or exercise authority over a man, then Priscilla is being unfaithful to God and the words of their friend, Paul. But I would argue that is not the case, as seen in my previous post.
The final example would be the daughters of Philip. Philip was one of the seven original deacons in Acts 6:1-7 and the evangelist that led the Ethiopian eunuch to Christ in Acts 8:26-40. We read in Acts 21:9 that he had four unmarried daughters who prophesied (ESV), or the NASB calls them prophetesses. Now, the question to ask is, ‘Did Philip’s daughters only prophesy outside of the public meetings?’ I ask this because, if we take 1 Timothy 2:11-15 and 1 Corinthians 14:33-35 at face value, without any further digging, then the conclusion would be that, though they were prophetesses, they could not prophesy when the church gathers. In those church meetings, they needed to remain silent. They could only express this gift outside of their gatherings. But of course that seems completely out of place. Matter of fact, as we saw, Paul teaches in 1 Corinthians 11:1-16 that women can prophesy in the meetings, and we noted the authoritative measure of prophecy. So, as with Priscilla, Philip’s four daughters with a prophetic gift are examples that the 1 Timothy and 1 Corinthians passages cannot be read simply as is. There must be a deeper level of study into the culture, history, worldview, etc., of the people in Paul’s day to understand the passages more clearly.
There is much more that we could dig into, but I have given my understanding of the situation that Paul was addressing in both 1 Timothy 2 and 1 Corinthians 14. I only hope this has been a helpful study looking at two very misunderstood passages by not only the American church, but much of the church worldwide (because it has been so affected by American missionaries). We must allow for women to have their place to serve with their gifts, testify, prophesy, pray, sing, and, even bring a teaching (see 1 Corinthians 14:26). The body of Christ would only be found lacking if the public edification is left solely to men, and even more, only to men who are ‘ordained’. We are called to share in the fruits and giftings of Christ’s people across the whole body. And as we do, I do truly believe we will grow up in Christ.
What are your thoughts on women elders and apostles?
I know you mentioned Priscilla may have had an apostolic role but I wondered what your thinking was.
I don’t know if it is something I could give full my thoughts on in a shorter comment. I do plan to look at these things at some point in some article. Don’t know when that would be. 🙂
In short, the function of an elder generally seems to be designated for men. We don’t have any instance in the Bible in which a women was appointed as an elder.
In regards to apostles, some might argue that Priscilla and Junias (Rom 16:7 in the NASB) might have had apostolic roles as women. I am open to the idea in both regards, not too dogmatic. We do have a deacon in Phoebe (Rom 16:1), a leading judge in Deborah (Judg 4:4), and many examples of women prophetesses such as Deborah and Philip’s four daughters (Acts 21:9).
But, generally, it does seem that the elder role and apostle gifting are given to men. But, we must allow for women to function in their gift and calling. Interestingly enough, I would also see the value and importance of the husband and wife working together – hence the team of Priscilla and Acquilla. Or, for our own sake, the role of Alan and Betty together.
Just some quick thoughts.
Well written! Probably because I agree with what you have said. 🙂
Re: Women as elders commments. God has certainly made exceptions to the common practice of men in leadership. By restricting elders to just men, we are in effect restricting the Holy Spirit as to any exceptions that he might want to make.