November 1, 1987 Issue
John Fisher

Women do not pray audibly (should not be encouraged to do so) in the presence of Christian men." This was stated in a recent article that questioned various practices among Christians today. I Timothy 2:8-12 was cited as biblical support. Verse 12 says, "I do not permit a woman to teach or to have authority over a man: she must be silent." (NIV)

When studied in light of other Bible passages, however, we find that Paul didn't mean to express an absolute prohibition on women's teaching of men. Instead, he was referring to teaching in the public assembly. This distinction is made clear in I Corinthians 14:33,34, where Paul writes, "As in all the congregations of the saints, women should remain silent in the churches. They are not allowed to speak, but must be in subjection, as the Law says." (NIV)

There are numerous examples of women teaching men in the New Testament. In Luke 2:36-38, we are told of the eighty-four year old prophetess, Anna, who finds Joseph and Mary with the baby Jesus. She "spoke about the child to I who were looking forward to the redemption of Jerusalem." (NW) In Acts 21:8,9, we find that Paul and Luke, on their way to Jerusalem, stayed with Philip the evangelist at this home in Caesarea. Verse 9 reads, "(Philip) had four unmarried daughters who prophesied." (NIV) Whether or not their prophesies involved the prediction of future events is questionable; at the very least, though, we know that these women taught during the apostles visit.

Two of Paul's best friends in Christ were the husband and wife team of Aquila and Priscilla. We first read of them in Acts 18. Acts 19 tells of their personal work with Apollos, a zealous Jew who "knew only the baptism of John." (18:25, NIV) "When Priscilla and Aquila heard him, they invited him to their home and explained to him the way of God more adequately." (Vs. 26, NIV) Notice that this doesn't say that only Aquila explained the gospel to Apollos, it says they; in fact, Priscilla's name is mentioned before Aquila's! Was Priscilla usurping her husbands authority by teaching Apollos? Should she have been in the kitchen, washing the dishes, leaving the teaching of the Word of God to men? No! Recall Christ's admonition to Martha, who complained that her sister, Mary was too attentive to the Masters teachings, and wasn't helping her enough around the house. His words: "Martha, Martha, you are worried and upset about many things, but only one thing is needed. Mary has chosen what is better, and it will not be taken away from her." (Luke 10:41,42, NIV)

Priscilla was not Paul's only sister in Christ on record as an active contender for the faith. In Romans 16:1,2, he wrote, "I commend to you our sister Phoebe, a servant of the church in Cenchrea...for she has been a great help to many people, including me. (NIV) In Philippians 4:2,3, Paul said, "I plead with Euodia and I plead with Syntyche to agree with each other in the Lord. Yes, and I ask you, loyal yokefellow, help these women who have contended at my side in the cause of the gospel... (NIV)

There are many heroic women of God to be found in the Old Testament, women whose lives and testimonials to the power of God are inspirations to Christians today. One of Israel's great early victories during the conquest of the Promised Land was engineered by a woman--Deborah, the prophetess (Judges 4). When she commanded Barak to lead the attack against the tyrants general, Sisera, he gave this cowardly response: "If you go with me, I will go; but if you don't go with me, I wont go." As a result, Deborah declared, "the honor will not be yours, for the LORD will hand Sisera over to a woman." (Vs. 8,9; NIV) It was Jael, a Kenite woman, who ultimately took care of Sisera by hammering him to death with a tent peg. Many victories and centuries later, Huldah the prophetess foretold the imminent destruction of Judah to King Josiah's secretary, attendant, and high priest, all of whom were men.

This leads us to an undeniable conclusion: Women, as well as men, have an obligation to lead others to Christ, both in word and in deed. To say otherwise renders I Corinthians 11:2-16 meaning less; for, if a woman could not pray or teach in the presence of a man, why would she need the symbolic covering? Of course, she can pray and teach; and, when doing so, her long hair symbolizes her subjection to both God and her husband.

Too often, the specter of what is public or private haunts us to the point that, to be "on the safe side," we treat every gathering in which there is teaching or praying as a public assembly. When we have reached this point--the point where our overriding concern is no longer winning souls to Christ, but rather worrying about digressive disputes--we are in a sorry state indeed.

In this writer's opinion, it is this mind set, this preoccupation with "what will others think?" that has led to the failure to distinguish between the role of women in the public assembly and in the private Christian life. This is a very grave matter, for the erroneous doctrine that denies women the Christian obligation of teaching the gospel necessarily condemns half the human population to a sub-human existence. Is this what the apostles taught? Is this the product of the first century church? We think not!

Other OPA Article Links:

Women (Prayer & Teaching of)
Points to Consider by Jerry Cutter

John Fisher    1987        OPA Main Page        Home


Hit Counter