A Question I Was Asked:

Should Women Take Church Leadership?

The Question:

1 Corinthians 14:34 seems clear enough. What are your comments?

Let your women keep silence in the churches: for it is not permitted unto them to speak; but they are commanded to be under obedience as also saith the law.

UK Apologetics Reply:

Okay, actually I have recently addressed this problem, or perhaps one should say, matter of interpretation, since it is not really a problem theologically speaking. When I recently addressed this topic, I did not look at this particular Scripture.

The big difficulty with certain parts of Paul, of course, is what parts of his comments refer to the traditions of his own day which he did not want to unnecessarily upset/cause offence to, and what parts are eternal truths which should be upheld in all Christian congregations of all times. For example, when speaking about the sexual duties of husbands and wives, Paul states this:

Do not deprive each other except perhaps by mutual consent and for a time, so that you may devote yourselves to prayer. Then come together again so that Satan will not tempt you because of your lack of self-control. I say this as a concession, not as a command. I wish that all of you were as I am. But each of you has your own gift from God; one has this gift, another has that. (1 Corinthians 7:5-7, NIV).

So, on this occasion, Paul (although at this particular point in life, living as a single man), offers intimate marital advice (there is evidence that Paul had been married, but his wife is no longer on the scene for some reason which his writings never make us aware of). Paul was (apparently) granted the gift of being able to live as a single man without sexual temptation being a problem; some can do that, others cannot. So he makes a comment/suggestion but admits it is purely his own opinion.

Perhaps realising that some would not think him (while plainly living as an unmarried man), an ideal person to offer such advice, Paul qualifies his comment by saying, "...I say this as a concession, not as a command." Some have suggested that certain other Pauline comments are also 'not as a command,' but are the expression of his own opinion - especially in regard of not offending local customs and not bringing unnecessary persecution upon believers. They say look upon such comments as those in 1 Corinthians 14:34 in a similar manner, but I think, in the case of 1 Corinthians 14:34, that they are wrong.

Again, as I have pointed out recently, the preaching would be done by those who were elders, presbyters, or elder overseers (bishops), and that elder had to be a more mature man; that much nobody can deny. There is also evidence that the women could be a problem at Corinth, maybe there were a few overly-dominant ladies there. We should also take that into account when looking at 1 Corinithians 14:34. Nevertheless, Paul is clear that to speak, or to take the lead, within church Lord's Day meetings (since he plainly states that women are not permitted to speak) cannot be seen as a female role. Could he be any clearer?

Now some would loosely accept all of the above but would then - often quite triumphantly - point to Galatians 3 as though it changes everything:

So in Christ Jesus you are all children of God through faith, for all of you who were baptized into Christ have clothed yourselves with Christ. There is neither Jew nor Gentile, neither slave nor free, nor is there male and female, for you are all one in Christ Jesus. If you belong to Christ, then you are Abraham's seed, and heirs according to the promise. (Galatians 3:26-29, NIV throughout).

But if one carefully checks the context of Paul's comments here (always important!), it is plain that in Galatians 3, he is not speaking about the leadership within church congregations; he is speaking about salvation and Eternal Life and pointing out that everyone is on the same footing in that regard. Within Judaism, women had to do this and do that, within Judaism, Gentiles had no rights, in fact Jews should not even address them - all the promises were only offered to the people of Israel. But within the Church of God, the categories of 'Jew and Gentile' - and 'male and female' - have no relevance regarding the availability of the spiritual promises. Paul was, of course, well aware of that when writing 1 Corinthians 14, but he was addressing a different matter. In that chapter, he is expressly addressing the behaviour within church congregations, especially in regard to the demonstration of the Gifts of the Spirit - check it out! And it is in that context (not talking about the spiritual promises and Eternal Life), that he states, "Let your women keep silence in the churches: for it is not permitted unto them to speak."

Now some say (and I myself went through a phase of saying), it is obviously perfectly fine for women to 'prophesy' (give a prayer, read a Scripture etc), in churches because - does not Paul actually accept that this would be fine in the first part of this chapter? Actually, we need to take a much closer look at that:

What then shall we say, brothers and sisters? When you come together, each of you has a hymn, or a word of instruction, a revelation, a tongue or an interpretation. Everything must be done so that the church may be built up. If anyone speaks in a tongue, two - or at the most three - should speak, one at a time, and someone must interpret. If there is no interpreter, the speaker should keep quiet in the church and speak to himself and to God. (1 Corinthians 14:26-28).

Because Paul starts off here by addressing "brothers and sisters," it is then assumed that when he goes on to state, "when you come together, each of you has a hymn, or a word of instruction, a revelation, a tongue or an interpretation..." then that must include both men and women, but Paul never states that. In fact, because such a question could well arise, Paul is then quick to state that, "let your women keep silence in the churches: for it is not permitted unto them to speak; but they are commanded to be under obedience as also saith the law." So Paul never actually states that it is perfectly fine for women to prophesy in church at all - he actually bans it! He is merely keen to address both "brothers and sisters" in this matter (for obvious reasons). What great lengths some will go to to overturn the clear teaching of Scripture! So Paul starts off with "brothers and sisters," because he wants all to get his point.

Now let us get all of this straight: women always have a part to play, they seem to make good church secretaries and there is a place for deaconesses (not originally a preaching and teaching role, of course), also in working with children, women have an essential part to play; more mature ladies are also invaluable in teaching the younger mothers the principles of sound child rearing - why is this vital role often ignored? Yet within what I would describe as normal Lord's Day meetings, ladies should not be speaking from the lectern! That, of course, would not necessarily apply to various mid-week meetings of a more informal nature. Now, of course, all of this is widely ignored within modern Protestantism and we cannot perhaps entirely reject the good that many congregations attain just on this one point, but this is the Bible viewpoint and I am pointing it out even though it will be unpopular with many, but this is valid Bible teaching.

Robin A. Brace. June 23rd, 2012.