by Stafford North
Subject Sentence: If we are committed to following the teaching of scripture in all things, we need to know what the scriptures teach about this subject so we can follow it as well.
- In the last twenty years, there have been many changes in our society about the role of women. Some of these changes have been good. Women should, for example, receive the same pay for the same work as men. There are jobs to which they now have more access.
The question naturally arises, what does the Bible teach about the role of women in the church. This is one of the hottest topics of the day. Most religious groups have changed their position recently and now allow women to take a leading role in their public worship. A few churches of Christ have begun to do the same.
- God gives men and women equal spiritual benefits.
- Gal. 3:28-29--there is neither male nor female: they both have the same spiritual benefits
- I Peter 3:7--a husband and wife are joint heirs.
- So there is no distinction between men and women in the blessings in Christ. Another example of equality in the teachings of Jesus is in the standards of marriage. While even the Jewish religion allowed a man to have more than one wife and to divorce, the new covenant holds both to the same standards.
- God has always assigned roles of primary spiritual leadership to men.
- In the Patriarchal Age, men were always the spiritual leaders of families and offered the sacrifices--Cain, Abel, Noah, Abraham, Isaac, Jacob
- In the Mosiac Age, only men were priests and, thus, only men led in the worship of God. A few women did have positions of leadership in the nation, but never in the worship.
- In the Christian Age, the order for leadership is God, Christ, man, woman--I Cor. 11:3.
- Paul must settle a question about the conduct of some women seeking to pray and prophesy with their heads uncovered. While we cannot here explore this passage in detail, there is strong evidence this was not a question about the public assembly. When Paul changes the subject in verses 17 and 18 to the Lord’s Supper and says, "Now, first of all when you come together." Since he is changing to discuss the assembly, he appears not to be discussing the assembly just prior to that. And in I Corinthians 14, where Paul clearly is discussing the assembly, he says that women are not to speak. So the discussion about a covering is not about women in the assembly. Nonetheless, when Paul seeks to answer their question about whether a woman exercising a spiritual gift outside the assembly may take off her covering, he goes back to the fundamental principle of the order of leadership: God, Christ, man, woman. This order of spiritual authority is always to be followed.
- Note that God and Christ are equal but have different roles. Likewise, men and women are equal but have different roles.
- "Men and women" here does not mean "wives and husbands," as some have proposed because--
- that would mean that Christ is not the head of single men
- it would mean that husbands "originate" from their wives and have "their birth" from their wives. "Men and women" not "husbands and wives" fits the wording here.
- The same is true in I Corinthians 14:33-35 where Paul says a woman is to keep silent. If this applies only to wives, then single women could speak; widows could speak; married women whose husbands were not present could speak. Only a married woman whose husband was present would be forbidden. Why single them out?
- I Corinthians 14:33. In discussing the role of women here, Paul says women are to be silent in the assembly "as also saith the law." The practice under the law was for men to lead in worship and Paul says in the Christian age, likewise, men are to be the spiritual leaders. Still in I Corinthians 14:33-37, Paul says this principle of women keeping silent (not speaking in leadership) is the plan in all the churches (v. 33), applies to the public assembly (in the church--v. 34, 35), is the command of the Lord (v. 37) and will be recognized as correct by anyone who has a spiritual gift such as prophecy (v. 37).
- So God has used the principle of male spiritual leadership in every age.
- God based these role distinctions on continuing not cultural reasons.
- The reasons for giving man the leadership role are stated in three different passages and always the reason stems from the beginning not from culture:
- I Cor. 11:8; I Tim. 2:13--Women was created from man
- I Cor. 11:9--woman was created for man
- I Tim. 2:13--Woman sinned first
- In the cultures of Corinth and in Ephesus, where Timothy was, it was common for women to take leading roles in the public worship among pagan religions. A recent study by Stephen Lord provides evidence from inscriptions and documents that women, as priestesses, offered public sacrifices at the Corinthian temple of Demeter, gave official pronouncements at the temple of Apollo in Corinth and at Delphi, led in official processions, and held high positions in the cult of Isis.
- Paul’s teaching on the role of women, then, did not come from the culture of that time. Rather, it came from God’s reasons for giving men the roles of primary spiritual leadership. It was counter to their culture as it is to ours. The reasons given for men to hold spiritual leadership are just as true today as they have ever been.
- God has given specific applications of the male spiritual leadership principle for the Christian Age.
- Men only are to be elders--I Tim. 3:1-2; Titus 1:6
- Men, as husbands, are to be the leaders in the home--Eph. 5:22-24
- Women are to keep silent in the assemblies--I Cor. 14:33-35. Some have said that this passage does not apply to our worship because it was regulating worship where spiritual gifts were present. Just the opposite is true. If a woman who had the gift of prophecy or tongues was forbidden to use that gift in the public worship because of the principle of male spiritual leadership, surely a woman who did not have such a gift would not be permitted to speak. An inspired woman must keep silent but an uninspired woman may speak?
- Men are to be leaders in prayer--I Tim. 2:8. Of course women can pray (I Cor. 11:5) so this is not teaching that women can never pray. When, then are only men (males as distinct from females) do the praying? It must, have reference to leading in prayer where men and women are both present. This passage is in a section about public prayer and teaching (2:1-15). In such a setting, men are to do the leading in prayer. In such a setting the women are to be submissive and not take authority over a man.
- Women, likewise, are not to have authority over men by teaching them publicly--I Tim. 2:8-12. Since Priscilla had a part in teaching Apollos privately and since women may ask of their husbands outside of the assembly what they are not to ask in the assembly, then women may do more things outside the formal assembly than they are to do in it.
- The principle of male spiritual leadership was used by divine authority in the first century church.
- Christ chose twelve men to be the apostles.
- The apostles chose seven men to handle the food distribution problem in Acts 6.
- In all accounts of public proclamation in the early church, only men do the preaching.
- God left to us the application of the principle of men as spiritual leaders in cases He did not dictate.
- God did not cover every possible application of the principle. As with other principles, such as modesty, God sometimes leaves us to make applications in specific situations where He has not made them.
- In making applications, we must hold firmly to the principle, not making decisions that will weaken our grasp on the applications God has made.
- Some situations in which we must make the application:
- When does a male child become a man? A woman can teach other women and can teach children. No specific teaching is given on when a child becomes a man. We might select a particular grade or age. We might pick when he becomes a Christian. Since God did not legislate on this point, we must make the application, but we should not force our application on someone else so long as they are making a careful attempt to make an application within the range of what is allowed.
- Can a husband and wife pray aloud with each other. Since I Cor. 14:35 allows the wife options at home that she does not have in the assembly, and as long as the husband is fulfilling his leadership role in the home, this is a choice, in my opinion, that couples may be free to make.
- Can a woman say anything in a Bible class? God made a direct application of the male spiritual leadership principle to the public assembly, but classes are outside that time when the church is assembled for public worship. So we must apply God’s principle to this case. Since it is a time for teaching, the passage about women not taking a position of authority in teaching men should apply. The scripture on men leading prayer where men and women are present should apply for the same reason. Since, however, this is outside the regular assembly, we may allow some options not proper in the church assembly. The case of Priscilla, for example, shows a woman taking part in religious discussions outside the assembly but in the presence of men. Our practice has been that women may make informal comments or ask questions but not take the role of leadership by being the teacher. I believe this is within the latitude God gave us in applying the principle.
- God gave women very important work to do in the church.
- To be clothed in "good works"--I Tim. 2:10
- To train younger women to love their husbands and children and to be workers at home--Titus 2:4-5
- To bring up children, to show hospitality, to wash the saints feet, to relieve the afflicted, to follow diligently every good work--I Tim. 5:9-10.
- To be involved in private teaching--Acts 18:26
- The work limited to men is not more important than this work.
- We have hundreds of women in the church actively involved in the many good works God has given women. Many of fine ministries in congregations have begun at the initiative of women. Many works in benevolence and education have come with the initiative of women. There are a host of wonderful works for them to do in the home and in the church. Their work is as important to God and to the church as anything men only do.
- How we deal with the work of women in the church is important because we need their service in many good things to be done.
- How we deal with the work of women in the church is important because God has given us instructions to follow in this matter.
- How we deal with the work of women in the church is a test of how carefully we seek to follow God’s plan in all matters.
- Let us stand against the pressures that would seek to move us away from God’s word on the work of women. Let women serve faithfully and with great satisfaction in the great work God has given them to do.