Know Your Bible
October 2005

The Role Of Women In The Church

The role of women in society has changed greatly in recent years. It seems that many are even pushing for an almost "gender neutral" society. Some changes that have taken place have been good but many have not been. The changes in society tend to eventually filter into the church.

Renewed discussion is occurring on this issue, and some are contending for an expanded role for women in the church. Among many denominations, women preachers are commonplace. In the past, a woman minister moving into town might attract media attention, but today, in many towns, it takes a "homosexual church" to get the media to take notice.

What does the Bible teach about the role of women in the church? The teaching of the Scriptures is all that really matters (Gal. 1:6-10; Rev. 22:18-19; 2 Jn. 9), and societal changes should not influence our teaching and practice. God's Word teaches that women have an important role in teaching, but it also teaches that their role is different from that of the man.


Matthew 28:18-20 records the Great Commission given to the Apostles. From this we learn that they were to "teach all nations," they were to baptize those taught, and then they were to teach those baptized to "observe all things" which Christ had commanded them. A part of what Christ taught them was to go and teach, so all of those baptized would have the responsibility of teaching. This would include women. However, some limitations are placed upon women, and these must be taken into consideration (1 Tim. 2:11-12; 1 Cor. 14:34-35). Nevertheless, they have a responsibility to teach because of the Commission.

Another passage to consider is 2 Timothy 2:2. Here Paul told Timothy, "And the things that thou hast heard of me among many witnesses, the same commit thou to faithful men, who shall be able to teach others also." Timothy was to take God's Word (which he had heard from Paul) and teach it to "faithful men" who would then be able to teach others. Since the word "men" is used, how does this pertain to women teaching? The answer lies with the Greek. The word found here is not the word "aner" which means males, but the word "anthropois" which refers to mankind. So men and women were to be taught, and they in turn would be able to teach others. Thus, 2 Timothy 2:2 is authorization for women to teach God's Word.

Various other passages show that women are to teach God's Word. Titus 2:3-5 reveals that the aged women are to teach the younger women such things as being discreet, chaste, and keepers at home. Women also have a responsibility to teach their children (2 Tim. 1:5; 3:14-15), and they teach others by their singing (Col. 3:16).

Another significant passage is Acts 18:26 which has Priscilla, along with her husband Aquila, teaching Apollos, a male, "the way of God more perfectly." This shows us that teaching a man in certain settings and situations is proper for a woman. Again, the limitations found elsewhere (1 Tim. 2:11-12; 1 Cor. 14:34-35) in the Scriptures must be kept in mind.

I Timothy 2:11-12

In 1 Timothy 2:11-12, the Bible says, "Let the women learn in silence with all subjection. But I suffer not a woman to teach, nor to usurp authority over the man, but to be in silence." The NKJV says (vs. 12), "And I do not permit a woman to teach or to have authority over a man...." This passage clearly places some restrictions on the woman. Does it, however, restrict a woman from teaching in every situation? Based on the previous passages examined, a woman is clearly allowed, and is in fact required, to teach others. The verses specifically contain a qualification; they tell us that the woman is not to teach or have authority "over the man." Therefore, these verses would prohibit a woman from preaching a sermon, teaching a class, leading a prayer, or leading the singing in any setting in which men are present, either in the assembly or out of the assembly.

The KJV uses the word "silence" in these verses. The word in the original does not mean that she cannot say a word but instead means "quietness." (Note 2 Thess. 3:12 where the same word is used.) These verses would not prohibit a woman from teaching a man (Acts 18:26); they would not prohibit her from making comments in a Bible class, nor would they keep her from reading the Scriptures aloud in a Bible class. She could not do any of these things, however, in an authoritative way or in a position of authority over the man.

1 Corinthians 14:34-35

1 Corinthians 14:34-35 says, "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 anything, let them ask their husbands at home: for it is a shame for women to speak in the church." Unlike 1 Timothy 2:11-12, it is clear that the instruction given here pertain specifically to the assembly; it is talking about when the "whole church be come together into one place." (Please note verses 4-5, 12, 18-19, 23, 26, 34). It is the kind of assembly in which the Lord's Supper might be served (1 Cor. 11: 26), so applying these verses to a Bible class setting would be improper.

The word translated "silence" (sigao) is a more restrictive word than is found in 1 Timothy 2:11-12. Thayer says that it means, "to keep silence, hold one's peace." (p. 574) Along with 1 Timothy 2:11-12, these verses prohibit a woman from preaching, leading the singing, or making announcements. Additionally, 1 Corinthians 14:34-35 prohibits her from making comments in the assembly or, as the text specifically says, even asking questions.

Some teach that Paul is addressing the wives of the prophets in these verses, and since we do not have prophets today, the instructions do not apply now. A good case could be made showing that Paul does not have the wives of the prophets, or for that matter, the wives of the tongue speakers, specifically under consideration in the first part of verse 34. However, even if he is speaking about the wives of the prophets, the general rule which he is applying to them is found in the last part of verse 35 which says, "...for it is a shame for women to speak in the church." It is interesting that the word "your" (vs. 34) which is often relied upon to bolster this position, is not found in many translations (NASB, ASV). Instead, it is "the women" or simply "women."

Some use the expression "let them ask their husbands at home" (vs. 35) to show that these verses only apply to the wives of the prophets and is not intended to be a general admonition. They may ask, "What about the woman who does not have a husband, who is she supposed to ask?" A similar question could be asked about the "at home" part of the statement. Would it be acceptable to ask a question of her husband on the WAY home? How about at a restaurant? Of course she could ask the question there. The home is mentioned because that is where a wife might typically ask her husband a question. Compare also 1 Corinthians 11:34. In dealing with abuses of the Lord's Supper, Paul said "And if any man hunger, let him eat at home...." Again, a person could have eaten at some other place such as under a shade tree. Paul says "home" because that is typically where a person would eat. The same point could be made of women being told to ask their "husbands." Women typically have husbands so Paul worded it as he did in verse 35.

Women do have an important responsibility to teach. However, they have a different role from men in their teaching. 1 Timothy 2:11-12 (which applies everywhere) does not allow the woman to teach the man in such a way as to have authority over the man. 1 Corinthians 14:34-35 (which applies ONLY to the assembly) prohibits the woman from speaking in the assembly, which would certainly eliminate her from taking any leading role in the worship service. Modern man might call this outdated, but we must be willing to obey God!

---Mike Johnson

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