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Women Not Authorized To Speak

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With the world becoming less and less male-dominated as more women assume the top jobs in public life, there is a push in religion for women to lead public worship.

This drive comes from the idea that social trends of this kind should be reflected in the church. It is thus advocated that women have the right to leadership roles in the church. Proponents of this belief claim that women can hold any role men play in a mixed worship assembly.

But the New Testament teaches otherwise. Under the direction of the Holy Spirit, the apostle Paul enjoined women not to speak in public worship. They were not to serve as leaders in the church either. He said, “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. And if they will learn any thing, let them ask their husbands at home: for it is a shame for women to speak in the church.” (1 Corinthians 14:34-35; cf. 1 Timothy 2:13- 14).

For many years it has been debated whether the apostle used the phrase “keep silent” to mean that women were to produce no sound during worship. If he did, his injunction would be a violation of other New Testament scriptures which command all members in worship assembly to sing (Ephesians 5:19; Colossians 3:16). It is unconceivable that women could sing when they were at the same time prohibited from uttering a word. This is an impossibility – it’s as impossible as riding two horses going in opposite directions.

To be sure, the expression “keep silent” comes from the Greek “sige” and means “to hold one’s peace.” What Paul meant by it was that women could not assume any role that involved addressing an assembly made up of male and female Christians. Duties relative to preaching, scripture reading, leading songs, administering the Lord’s supper, praying and the like were therefore excluded from areas where she could exercise her skills. They all require a minimum of speaking activity. Simply stated, Paul’s instruction does not authorize women to actively take part in conducting worship.

Also, the idea that “if they will learn any thing, let them ask their husbands at home” is intriguing to many people. It’s widely understood to mean that women cannot ask questions in Bible class. Not so. Paul rather was warning women against the habit of taking the opportunity of asking a question in a class held by a man to teach. This would amount to a woman usurping authority over the male teacher, something the apostle was famously clear about. He said, “I suffer not a woman to teach, nor to usurp authority over the man, but to be in silence” (1 Timothy 2:12). In the worst-case scenario, a woman could become contentious and start an argument with the Bible teacher over the lesson. All these kinds of behaviour are at variance with the natural modesty of the female gender. Hence, the apostle Peter advised women to have a “quiet spirit”. A quiet spirit is one that is calm and peaceful.

Paul went on to give two reasons for his instruction. He said, “For Adam was first formed, then Eve. And Adam was not deceived, but the woman being deceived was in the transgression” (1 Timothy 2:13-14). The explanation is that Adam was first created, and then Eve, and he was given the right to rule. Paul traced back the male leadership role to creation. The precedence of man over woman is therefore not a culture issue as some believe, it is a God-ordained order that goes back to the beginning of the world. Remember, God said to the first woman “thy desire shall be to thy husband, and he shall rule over thee” (Genesis 3:16).

That said, women can teach in private. They can teach other women as they are required to do in Titus 2. Paul instructed Titus to teach women to “be reverent in behavior” so that “they admonish the young women to love their husbands, to love their children, to be discreet, chaste, homemakers, good, obedient to their own husbands…” (2:3-4). They can also teach children. 

Finally, Paul’s instructions were addressed "unto the church of God which is at Corinth, even them that are sanctified in Christ Jesus, called to be saints, with all that call upon the name of our Lord Jesus Christ in every place, their Lord and ours". They were not intended for the Corinthian church only. In other words, they were written to guide all Christians of all ages and all places.

Whatever reasons people may use to disregard Paul’s directives, they remain positively authoritative. It was never God’s intention that Christian women should lead in worship when men are present. God wants them to submit to Christ and obey His commands, and not follow social changes.

Constant Coulibaly

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