by Chris Reeves
Synopsis: In another installment of "The Progressive Mindset," Chris focuses on changing attitudes toward the role of women in the church.
Another area of the Lord's church where we are witnessing a progressive mindset involves the role of women. For many years in various religious denominations, biblical teaching regarding a woman's role has been ignored. Over the past twenty years or so, the same has been true in some liberal Churches of Christ.
For example, in 2014, Laura King was appointed as one of the ministers for the Fourth Ave. Church of Christ in Franklin, TN. One current website labeled Where the Spirit Leads (wherethespiritleads.org) is set up to promote "gender equality and inclusion in the churches of Christ." This website lists many "gender inclusive and egalitarian Churches of Christ." There are seventy-seven churches listed in the United States and three in Canada. These churches encourage women to "use the gifts they have received from God." These "gifts" include leading in public worship (prayer, communion, song leading, reading scripture), preaching from the pulpit, teaching classes of both men and women, and serving as an elder or deacon.
God's plan is for a woman to be in subjection in the home and in the church (Gen. 3:16; 1 Cor. 11:3; 14:33-35; Eph. 5:22-24; Col. 3:18; 1 Tim. 2:11-15; Tit. 2:5; 1 Pet. 3:1,5). "Subjection" does not mean inferiority, repression, or subjugation. Rather, "subjection" simply means "under authority." Women are equal in value to men as to their relation to Christ, but possess different roles and responsibilities in the home and in the church.
Unfortunately, the Women's Liberation and feminist movements around the world have been pushing for "equal rights" for women. They have restructured marriage, the home, and the church. They assume that women are not equal, when in fact they are. These modern liberal movements say that women are "repressed" and "subjugated"! No, women are "equal" in value, but not "equal" in role. The general rule of God for women in the church is laid down by Paul in 1 Timothy 2:11-12 and a specific application of this rule is set forth in 1 Corinthians 14:34. Let us now briefly examine some of the words and phrases in these two passages.
"Let a woman learn in quietness...." The word "quietness" (here and in verse 12) or "silence" (KJV), is from the Greek word hesuchia, meaning "quiet; peaceful; not causing disturbance" (see Acts 22:2; 2 Thess. 3:12). "Quietness" is the opposite of loud, boisterous, disturbing, or domineering behavior. It is a calm, meek, and quiet spirit.
Paul adds, "...with all subjection." The word "subjection" is from the Greek word hupotage, meaning "under authority; subjection" (see 3:4). Paul wants Christian women to learn in subjection and not take the leading role of teaching in a worship assembly where men are present.
"But I permit not a woman to teach, nor to have dominion over a man...." Note the "permit not" here. Those of a progressive mindset want to allow today what Paul does "not permit." Note also the "but" which presents a contrast. The woman is to learn (v. 11), "but" not to teach (v. 12). Paul's instruction here is not an absolute statement, such as, "women are not to teach, period." If it were, then it would contradict other plain Bible passages which require a woman to teach. The words "teach" and "dominion" modify "over a man." A woman is not to teach "over a man," nor is she to have dominion "over a man."
"Dominion" is from the Greek word authentein, meaning "one who does a thing himself; one who acts by his own authority; to exercise authority; to exercise control." The words "nor have dominion" are explanatory. They explain the word "teach." The word "nor," from the Greek word oude, explains the specific kind of teaching that is forbidden. A woman is not to teach in an authoritative way over a man; that is, teaching that dominates over a man. The kind of teaching that is forbidden here is teaching that violates the principle of subjection. It is not teaching per se that is forbidden, but teaching with dominion "over a man" that is forbidden. Elsewhere in the New Testament, women are commanded to teach (Titus 2:3-4; etc.). Yet, here, a woman is not permitted to teach with dominion over a man.
In the KJV, the wording is different. It reads "usurp authority over the man." Because of this translation, some expositors believe that what is forbidden is the "usurping" of authority. They conclude that if a woman is given authority by man (the man acquiesces to the woman or invites her) to preach, be an elder, etc., that she can do it, so long as she does not "usurp" (take by force or assume) the authority for herself. This use of "usurp" in the KJV is misleading. What is forbidden here is simply to "have dominion" (ASV, ERV), "have authority" (NKJV), "exercise authority" (NASV, ESV, NET), or "use authority" (Greek interlinear) over a man. Paul does not forbid a woman to "usurp" (take by force or assume) authority. He forbids her to "have," "exercise," or "use" authority over a man.
"Let the women keep silence…" The word "silence" is from the Greek word sigao, meaning "to keep silence; hold one's peace; say nothing." The "silence" demanded here is not absolute and unconditional. Rather, the context determines why and when the woman is to be silent. There is a connection between "silence" and "subjection." The "silence" of the women shows their "subjection" (vv. 34-35), just as the "silence" of the prophets shows that their spirit is in "subjection" (vv. 28-32). Why do many today ask about the "silence" of the women, but not ask about the "silence" of the tongue-speakers and prophets in verses 28 through 32? Note that the prophet also had to be "silent" under some circumstances, but later could speak (vv. 30-31). We must not force the meaning of the words "let the women keep silence," beyond the range of its specific application and its immediate context.
Paul adds, "for it is not permitted unto them to speak." Again, note the words "not permitted" (just like the "permit not" in 1 Timothy 2:12). The progressive mindset wants to allow today what Paul does "not permit." The word "speak" is from the Greek word laleo, meaning "to talk." What kind of speaking or talking did Paul have in mind in this context? Consider the use of the Greek laleo throughout the context of 1 Corinthians 14 (vv. 2, 3, 4, 5, 6, 9, 11, 13, 18, 19, 21, 23, 27, 28, 29, 34, 35, 39). After reading these verses, two things are obvious: first, it is spiritual-gift speaking that is occurring (tongue-speaking, prophesying); and, second, it is speaking that leads the assembly; that is, formal speaking in the assembly or publicly addressing the assembly with a public discourse.
The speaking in 1 Corinthians 14 came from one in the role or position of a public speaker or public teacher (tongue speaker, prophet). A woman is not to have this role or position in the assembly. She is not to speak in the same manner as the tongue speakers and prophets. (The exception would be the female prophetess mentioned in 1 Corinthians 11:5-6 who is veiled.) Paul forbids the women to do a specific kind of speaking; that is, addressing the assembly. Paul is not forbidding speaking in informal teaching arrangements in which Bible classes are conducted. Rather, he prohibits speaking that leads the formal assembly or speaking that disrupts the formal assembly. Not all speaking is here prohibited; otherwise a woman would be forbidden to sing (Eph. 5:19) or say "Amen" (1 Cor. 14:16). To say that this passage forbids any and all speaking by women is to go against the immediate context and plain teaching of the New Testament.
Paul adds, "but let them be in subjection...." The word "subjection" is from the Greek word hupotasso, meaning "to arrange under; submit; subject." Note also the word "but." The word "but" presents a contrast. The kind of speaking that Paul had in mind was of the sort that would not allow a woman to place herself in subjection (the verb is in the middle voice, "subject themselves"). It was speaking that was not in subjection. Paul forbids, not just any kind of speech, but the kind of speech that is not in subjection.
When 1 Timothy 2:11-12 and 1 Corinthians 14:34 are taken together, we find that Paul restricts the role of Christian women in the church ("permit not" is found in 1 Tim. 2:12 and "not permit" is found in 1 Cor. 14:34). Remember, these are the words of the apostle Paul, and what he writes are the commandments of the Lord (1 Cor. 14:37).
A woman is not authorized or permitted to preach with men present because it is this kind of public "speaking" that Paul forbids (1 Cor. 14:34). Her preaching would put her in a position of exercising authority over the ones to whom she is preaching, which Paul forbids (1 Tim. 2:11-12). A woman is not authorized to teach men in a class setting for the same reason. A woman is not authorized to be an elder or deacon simply because the inspired apostle assigns these roles to a "man" who is a "husband of one wife" (1 Tim. 3:1-2, 12).
What Christian women are authorized by God to do in the local church is important. There are many good works that Christian women may do to promote the cause of Christ. Christian women need to learn God's word and teach it to others while remaining in subjection. The Lord's church today needs godly, Christian women without a progressive mindset who will speak with subjection and help others go to heaven. Soon I plan to publish an article in Truth Magazine outlining the many good things that Christian women can do for the Lord in and out of the assembly. Please be looking for that material to come.
Author Bio: Chris preaches for the Warfield Blvd church of Christ in Clarksville, TN. His Bible study website is thegoodteacher.com. He can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.