Silence: A Woman's Place
There remains some uncertainty in the minds of some believers today, with regards to the place of a woman within God's Church. There is scripture that seems to indicate that women are not to be in positions of authority, and that they are not even permitted to speak out loud when the Body gathers together.
The scripture seems clear enough, but it is such a strange concept in our society today, we think that surely this cannot be God's intention for the partner of Man.
Is there another meaning to the scriptures, or is this truly the intended role of women in the church?
The bible says that the Holy Spirit guides us into all truth (John 16:13), and illuminates all of the mysteries of God (Colossians 2:2,3). Therefore, may it go forth before us and reveal the will of God for our lives, opening our hearts to the truth, as well as giving us the strength to accept it.
Let us first take a look at the two scriptures that indicate women are to keep silent.
1st Timothy 2:8-15
I want men everywhere to lift up holy hands in prayer, without anger or disputing.
9 I also want women to dress modestly, with decency and propriety, not with braided hair or gold or pearls or expensive clothes, 10 but with good deeds, appropriate for women who profess to worship God.
11 A woman should learn in quietness and full submission. 12 I do not permit a woman to teach or to have authority over a man; she must be silent. 13 For Adam was formed first, then Eve. 14 And Adam was not the one deceived; it was the woman who was deceived and became a sinner. 15 But women will be saved through childbearing-if they continue in faith, love and holiness with propriety.
1st Corinthians 14:33-40
For God is not a God of disorder but of peace.
As in all the congregations of the saints, 34 women should remain silent in the churches. They are not allowed to speak, but must be in submission, as the Law says. 35 If they want to inquire about something, they should ask their own husbands at home; for it is disgraceful for a woman to speak in the church.
36 Did the word of God originate with you? Or are you the only people it has reached? 37 If anybody thinks he is a prophet or spiritually gifted, let him acknowledge that what I am writing to you is the Lord's command. 38 If he ignores this, he himself will be ignored.
39 Therefore, my brothers, be eager to prophesy, and do not forbid speaking in tongues. 40 But everything should be done in a fitting and orderly way.
The Apostle Paul was the author of both 1st Timothy and 1st Corinthians. This is significant, because if we can gain an understanding of the writer, we can gain a better insight into his writings. As we look into Paul's instruction for women, we will understand his words better if we understand his motivations and his reasons for writing them down.
First, you must understand that Paul had an abrasive personality. He came across as being very opinionated, very strict, and very much holier-than-thou.
In 2nd Peter 3:16, Peter makes a comment about Paul's writings: "He writes the same way in all his letters, speaking in them of these matters. His letters contain some things that are hard to understand, which ignorant and unstable people distort, as they do the other Scriptures, to their own destruction."
Peter says that Paul writes some things that are difficult to understand, and that some people take these things the wrong way, distorting the truth of what Paul is actually saying. I agree, and this is what I want to make clear to you as we begin this study.
I have discovered that when you hear Paul make an arrogant-sounding statement, you need to investigate deeper into his words, because he is trying to make an important point. As a rule of thumb, if you find yourself getting offended at Paul's attitude, you have already missed his point.
Paul was a Roman Citizen with a great education. (Acts 26:24) Peter and John were ignorant and unlearned men. (Acts 4:13) This difference will be evident in their writings. Not only will the style of writing be different, but Paul will come across frequently as being superior. (Acts 22:23-29; 1st Cor. 14:18; Romans 11:13, 14) Even when Paul refers to his former life of sin, he calls himself the Biggest Sinner (1st Tim. 1:16: This is a faithful saying, and worthy of all acceptation, that Christ Jesus came into the world to save sinners; of whom I am chief.- KJV; But for that very reason I was shown mercy so that in me, the worst of sinners, Christ Jesus might display his unlimited patience as an example for those who would believe on him and receive eternal life.-NIV).
Paul habitually comes across as being the Best Christian, and formerly the Worst Sinner. (He even takes Peter to task in front of a whole crowd - Gal. 2:11; and after meeting Peter, James, and John, he refers to them as "those reputed to be pillars", instead of simply calling them pillars of the Church - Gal. 2:9)
So keep this in mind as you study the words of Paul. He sometimes came off sounding superior, but that was never his intention at all. This was simply a result of his upbringing, his education, and his nationality.
Now let's look at the core of these verses that exude this attitude of silent femininity.
1st Timothy 2:11,12
A woman should learn in quietness and full submission. 12 I do not permit a woman to teach or to have authority over a man; she must be silent
1st Corinthians 14:34, 35
women should remain silent in the churches. They are not allowed to speak, but must be in submission, as the Law says. 35 If they want to inquire about something, they should ask their own husbands at home; for it is disgraceful for a woman to speak in the church
The first thing that becomes apparent when we look at the passage in 1st Corinthians, is that this attitude is the result of a Law. It is not a manifestation of Paul's contempt for women.
Paul says that women must remain silent in the churches because there is a Law that says this is the way things must be.
Throughout scripture, Christians are instructed to obey those in positions of authority.
Hebrews 13:17 (Obey your leaders and submit to their authority. They keep watch over you as men who must give an account. Obey them so that their work will be a joy, not a burden, for that would be of no advantage to you.);
Ephesians 6:5-8 (Slaves, obey your earthly masters with respect and fear, and with sincerity of heart, just as you would obey Christ. 6 Obey them not only to win their favor when their eye is on you, but like slaves of Christ, doing the will of God from your heart. 7 Serve wholeheartedly, as if you were serving the Lord, not men, 8 because you know that the Lord will reward everyone for whatever good he does, whether he is slave or free.);
Matthew 23:1-3 (Then Jesus said to the crowds and to his disciples: 2 "The teachers of the law and the Pharisees sit in Moses' seat. 3 So you must obey them and do everything they tell you…).
These scriptures explain to us that we must always obey those that have positions of authority over us, whether they are doing right or not.
1st Samuel 24:1-22 tells the story of how King Saul was pursuing David in order to kill him. David and his men were hiding in the back of a cave that Saul soon entered as well, but did not see them. David not only refused to kill King Saul at the urging of his men, but was terribly ashamed of the fact that he even dared to cut off a corner of Saul's robe.
Even though Saul was trying to kill David, David refused to harm him because he was the King, and still called him "my lord", "my master", and "my father".
(After Saul returned from pursuing the Philistines, he was told, "David is in the Desert of En Gedi." 2 So Saul took three thousand chosen men from all Israel and set out to look for David and his men near the Crags of the Wild Goats. 3 He came to the sheep pens along the way; a cave was there, and Saul went in to relieve himself. David and his men were far back in the cave. 4 The men said, "This is the day the LORD spoke of when he said to you, 'I will give your enemy into your hands for you to deal with as you wish.'" Then David crept up unnoticed and cut off a corner of Saul's robe. 5 Afterward, David was conscience-stricken for having cut off a corner of his robe. 6 He said to his men, "The LORD forbid that I should do such a thing to my master, the LORD's anointed, or lift my hand against him; for he is the anointed of the LORD." 7 With these words David rebuked his men and did not allow them to attack Saul. And Saul left the cave and went his way. 8 Then David went out of the cave and called out to Saul, "My lord the king!" When Saul looked behind him, David bowed down and prostrated himself with his face to the ground. 9 He said to Saul, "Why do you listen when men say, 'David is bent on harming you'? 10 This day you have seen with your own eyes how the LORD delivered you into my hands in the cave. Some urged me to kill you, but I spared you; I said, 'I will not lift my hand against my master, because he is the LORD's anointed.' 11 See, my father, look at this piece of your robe in my hand! I cut off the corner of your robe but did not kill you. Now understand and recognize that I am not guilty of wrongdoing or rebellion. I have not wronged you, but you are hunting me down to take my life. 12 May the LORD judge between you and me. And may the LORD avenge the wrongs you have done to me, but my hand will not touch you. 13 As the old saying goes, 'From evildoers come evil deeds,' so my hand will not touch you. 14 "Against whom has the king of Israel come out? Whom are you pursuing? A dead dog? A flea? 15 May the LORD be our judge and decide between us. May he consider my cause and uphold it; may he vindicate me by delivering me from your hand." 16 When David finished saying this, Saul asked, "Is that your voice, David my son?" And he wept aloud. 17 "You are more righteous than I," he said. "You have treated me well, but I have treated you badly. 18 You have just now told me of the good you did to me; the LORD delivered me into your hands, but you did not kill me. 19 When a man finds his enemy, does he let him get away unharmed? May the LORD reward you well for the way you treated me today. 20 I know that you will surely be king and that the kingdom of Israel will be established in your hands. 21 Now swear to me by the LORD that you will not cut off my descendants or wipe out my name from my father's family." 22 So David gave his oath to Saul. Then Saul returned home, but David and his men went up to the stronghold.)
The same lesson of respecting our authority figures can be learned by examining the circumstances concerning the end of Saul's life.
Saul was mortally wounded in battle, and ordered his armor-bearer to kill him so that he would not be captured and tortured. The armor-bearer, horrified at the idea of harming the King, even though Saul himself ordered the deed to be done, refused to comply. Saul then attempted to commit suicide.
1st Chronicles 10:1-4 (Now the Philistines fought against Israel; the Israelites fled before them, and many fell slain on Mount Gilboa. 2 The Philistines pressed hard after Saul and his sons, and they killed his sons Jonathan, Abinadab and Malki-Shua. 3 The fighting grew fierce around Saul, and when the archers overtook him, they wounded him. 4 Saul said to his armor-bearer, "Draw your sword and run me through, or these uncircumcised fellows will come and abuse me." But his armor-bearer was terrified and would not do it; so Saul took his own sword and fell on it.)
Again, this is illustrated by David's reaction when he hears about how Saul, unsuccessful in taking his own life, orders an Amalekite to finish the job. David has the man executed for killing the Lord's Annointed.
2nd Samuel 1:1-16 : After the death of Saul, David returned from defeating the Amalekites and stayed in Ziklag two days. 2 On the third day a man arrived from Saul's camp, with his clothes torn and with dust on his head. When he came to David, he fell to the ground to pay him honor.
3 "Where have you come from?" David asked him.
He answered, "I have escaped from the Israelite camp."
4 "What happened?" David asked. "Tell me."
He said, "The men fled from the battle. Many of them fell and died. And Saul and his son Jonathan are dead."
5 Then David said to the young man who brought him the report, "How do you know that Saul and his son Jonathan are dead?"
6 "I happened to be on Mount Gilboa," the young man said, "and there was Saul, leaning on his spear, with the chariots and riders almost upon him. 7 When he turned around and saw me, he called out to me, and I said, 'What can I do?'
8 "He asked me, 'Who are you?'
"'An Amalekite,' I answered.
9 "Then he said to me, 'Stand over me and kill me! I am in the throes of death, but I'm still alive.'
10 "So I stood over him and killed him, because I knew that after he had fallen he could not survive. And I took the crown that was on his head and the band on his arm and have brought them here to my lord."
11 Then David and all the men with him took hold of their clothes and tore them. 12 They mourned and wept and fasted till evening for Saul and his son Jonathan, and for the army of the LORD and the house of Israel, because they had fallen by the sword.
13 David said to the young man who brought him the report, "Where are you from?"
"I am the son of an alien, an Amalekite," he answered.
14 David asked him, "Why were you not afraid to lift your hand to destroy the LORD's anointed?"
15 Then David called one of his men and said, "Go, strike him down!" So he struck him down, and he died. 16 For David had said to him, "Your blood be on your own head. Your own mouth testified against you when you said, 'I killed the LORD's anointed.'"
Numbers 12:1-15 describes the Lord's punishment of Miriam and Aaron for speaking out against Moses. (Miriam and Aaron began to talk against Moses because of his Cushite wife, for he had married a Cushite. 2 "Has the LORD spoken only through Moses?" they asked. "Hasn't he also spoken through us?" And the LORD heard this. 3 (Now Moses was a very humble man, more humble than anyone else on the face of the earth.) 4 At once the LORD said to Moses, Aaron and Miriam, "Come out to the Tent of Meeting, all three of you." So the three of them came out. 5 Then the LORD came down in a pillar of cloud; he stood at the entrance to the Tent and summoned Aaron and Miriam. When both of them stepped forward, 6 he said, "Listen to my words:
"When a prophet of the LORD is among you,
I reveal myself to him in visions,
I speak to him in dreams.
7 But this is not true of my servant Moses;
he is faithful in all my house.
8 With him I speak face to face,
clearly and not in riddles;
he sees the form of the LORD.
Why then were you not afraid
to speak against my servant Moses?"
9 The anger of the LORD burned against them, and he left them.
10 When the cloud lifted from above the Tent, there stood Miriam-leprous, like snow. Aaron turned toward her and saw that she had leprosy; 11 and he said to Moses, "Please, my lord, do not hold against us the sin we have so foolishly committed. 12 Do not let her be like a stillborn infant coming from its mother's womb with its flesh half eaten away." 13 So Moses cried out to the LORD, "O God, please heal her!"
14 The LORD replied to Moses, "If her father had spit in her face, would she not have been in disgrace for seven days? Confine her outside the camp for seven days; after that she can be brought back." 15 So Miriam was confined outside the camp for seven days, and the people did not move on till she was brought back.)
The language in these last two passages has been the same: David said to the Amalekite, "Why were you not afraid to lift your hand to destroy the LORD's anointed?", and the Lord said to Miriam and Aaron, "Why then were you not afraid to speak against my servant Moses?".
Numbers 16:31-35 describe the punishment Korah and his men received for questioning the authority of Moses. (As soon as he finished saying all this, the ground under them split apart 32 and the earth opened its mouth and swallowed them, with their households and all Korah's men and all their possessions. 33 They went down alive into the grave, with everything they owned; the earth closed over them, and they perished and were gone from the community. 34 At their cries, all the Israelites around them fled, shouting, "The earth is going to swallow us too!" 35 And fire came out from the LORD and consumed the 250 men who were offering the incense.)
Paul himself, apologizes vehemently after finding out that the man he spoke harshly to was the High Priest of God, in Acts 23:2-5 (At this the high priest Ananias ordered those standing near Paul to strike him on the mouth. 3 Then Paul said to him, "God will strike you, you whitewashed wall! You sit there to judge me according to the law, yet you yourself violate the law by commanding that I be struck!"
4 Those who were standing near Paul said, "You dare to insult God's high priest?"
5 Paul replied, "Brothers, I did not realize that he was the high priest; for it is written: 'Do not speak evil about the ruler of your people.'")
Our last example, 2nd Samuel 6:20-23, shows how God caused Michal, David's wife, to be barren her entire life because of speaking against David. (When David returned home to bless his household, Michal daughter of Saul came out to meet him and said, "How the king of Israel has distinguished himself today, disrobing in the sight of the slave girls of his servants as any vulgar fellow would!"
21 David said to Michal, "It was before the LORD, who chose me rather than your father or anyone from his house when he appointed me ruler over the LORD's people Israel-I will celebrate before the LORD. 22 I will become even more undignified than this, and I will be humiliated in my own eyes. But by these slave girls you spoke of, I will be held in honor." 23 And Michal daughter of Saul had no children to the day of her death.)
The bible makes it clear to us then, in both the Old and New Testaments, that we are to honor and respect those that have authority over us; that we are to treat them as the Lord's Annointed. It doesn't matter if we think that they are being hypocrites, or if we think they are exceeding their authority, or if we think they are making fools of themselves, or if we think they are doing things they should not be doing, or even if they are tracking us down to kill us - they are the Lord's Annointed, and the authority that they have over us is to be respected and obeyed.
The only time we are permitted to disobey our authority is when the laws of men contradict the laws of God.
Acts 4:18-20 : Then they called them in again and commanded them not to speak or teach at all in the name of Jesus. 19 But Peter and John replied, "Judge for yourselves whether it is right in God's sight to obey you rather than God. 20 For we cannot help speaking about what we have seen and heard."); and Acts 5:27-29 (Having brought the apostles, they made them appear before the Sanhedrin to be questioned by the high priest. 28 "We gave you strict orders not to teach in this name," he said. "Yet you have filled Jerusalem with your teaching and are determined to make us guilty of this man's blood."
29 Peter and the other apostles replied: "We must obey God rather than men!.
Even Jesus taught this same principle of obeying the rule of those that are over us, in Mark 12:13-17, when he was asked if the law of paying taxes to Caesar should be obeyed. (Later they sent some of the Pharisees and Herodians to Jesus to catch him in his words. 14 They came to him and said, "Teacher, we know you are a man of integrity. You aren't swayed by men, because you pay no attention to who they are; but you teach the way of God in accordance with the truth. Is it right to pay taxes to Caesar or not? 15 Should we pay or shouldn't we?" But Jesus knew their hypocrisy. "Why are you trying to trap me?" he asked. "Bring me a denarius and let me look at it." 16 They brought the coin, and he asked them, "Whose portrait is this? And whose inscription?" "Caesar's," they replied. 17 Then Jesus said to them, "Give to Caesar what is Caesar's and to God what is God's." And they were amazed at him.)
Once you understand this quality that Christians are to have, specifically that characteristic of obeying one's rulers, you can understand the passage in 1st Corinthians 14:34 when it says that women are to obey the law and keep silent while in public.
There remains no such law in our society today, and as such, women are no longer bound by it. Our study of scripture is far from over, however, so let us continue.
Notice the wording of the scripture in 1st Timothy 2:12: I do not permit a woman to teach or to have authority over a man; she must be silent.
"I do not permit".
Who is speaking here? Who is the "I" in this passage? This is Paul. He doesn't say that the Lord does not permit, he says that he does not permit. Paul makes this a personal statement when he says this. Let's back up and read what Paul wrote just before this verse.
1st Tim. 2:8 - I want men everywhere to lift up holy hands in prayer, without anger or disputing.
Paul makes the "I" statement again, and says he wants men to lift up their hands in prayer. Does this mean we are going about prayer all wrong if we pray without our hands raised? If we pray without raised hands, are our prayers not heard by God?
No. Deuteronomy 9:25,26 shows Moses praying while lying prostrate (I lay prostrate before the LORD those forty days and forty nights because the LORD had said he would destroy you. 26 I prayed to the LORD and said, "O Sovereign LORD, do not destroy your people, your own inheritance that you redeemed by your great power and brought out of Egypt with a mighty hand.).
1st Kings 18:39 (When all the people saw this, they fell prostrate and cried, "The LORD-he is God! The LORD-he is God!").
1st Chron. 29:20 (Then David said to the whole assembly, "Praise the LORD your God." So they all praised the LORD, the God of their fathers; they bowed low and fell prostrate before the LORD and the king.).
Sometimes we pray while lying prostrate before the Lord. Other times we pray while driving in the car (when we are unable to lift our hands). Matthew 19:13 shows Jesus praying with his hands not raised, but placed upon others, as we often do when interceding for others in need.
Is it wrong to pray without upraised hands? No. Paul isn't saying that he requires men to raise their hands every time they pray, he is actually emphasizing the "holiness" of the hands. In other words, he wants men to pray with holiness in their lives, and as the verse elaborates, those who pray should do so in righteousness and without anger or grudges in their hearts.
He is saying that when we do raise our hands to God, we should do so with holiness in our lives.
Matthew 5:23,24 explains: "Therefore, if you are offering your gift at the altar and there remember that your brother has something against you, 24 leave your gift there in front of the altar. First go and be reconciled to your brother; then come and offer your gift.
God does not want our praises and offerings if we offer them outside of a pure heart.
Hosea 6:6: For I desire mercy, not sacrifice, and acknowledgment of God rather than burnt offerings.
This is what Paul is speaking of. This is his point. When we commune with the Lord, we need to do so in holiness, and out of right living.
Jesus said in Matthew 15:7-9: You hypocrites! Isaiah was right when he prophesied about you:
8 "'These people honor me with their lips, but their hearts are far from me. 9 They worship me in vain;
their teachings are but rules taught by men.'
Matthew 6:5-8: "And when you pray, do not be like the hypocrites, for they love to pray standing in the synagogues and on the street corners to be seen by men. I tell you the truth, they have received their reward in full. 6 But when you pray, go into your room, close the door and pray to your Father, who is unseen. Then your Father, who sees what is done in secret, will reward you. 7 And when you pray, do not keep on babbling like pagans, for they think they will be heard because of their many words. 8 Do not be like them, for your Father knows what you need before you ask him.
Matthew 12:34-37: Offspring of vipers! how can ye speak good things, being wicked? For of the abundance of the heart the mouth speaks. 35 The good man out of the good treasure brings forth good things; and the wicked man out of the wicked treasure brings forth wicked things. 36 But I say unto you, that every idle word which men shall say, they shall render an account of it in judgment-day: 37 for by thy words thou shalt be justified, and by thy words thou shalt be condemned.
If we are full of wicked treasure, then when we speak to the Lord we are bringing Him wicked things. It is necessary then, that we empty ourselves of the wicked treasure and fill up on good treasure, so that when we speak, we will be bringing good things before the Lord.
Paul is not regulating prayer by saying it has to accompanied by lifted hands, he is saying that when it does come time for us to pray, we need to approach the throne of God with holiness and righteousness.
Remember, do not become offended at Paul's words. If you do, you have already missed his point. Keep in mind that he may sound arrogant at times, and seem to be putting procedures into place that have no purpose other than to bog us down with rules and regulations, but nothing could be further from the truth. When Paul begins to offend you, or irritate you with rules, it is a clue that he is actually trying to impart some Godly wisdom for our edification. At these times, don't take what he seems to be saying at face value. Study his words, and dig into the scripture, for you can rest assured that there is an important truth to be learned.
Let's look at 1st Timothy 2:9,10 for another example of this:
I also want women to dress modestly, with decency and propriety, not with braided hair or gold or pearls or expensive clothes, 10 but with good deeds, appropriate for women who profess to worship God.
Again, we see Paul saying that he wants women to dress in a certain way. They are not to dress with gold or pearls or expensive clothing, nor are they to braid their hair.
But wait, is this really the point Paul is trying to make?
Some people believe it is, and therefore forbid women to wear jewelry. Clothing that is extravagant is also forbidden, but the braiding of the hair is curiously left out of their regulations.
If you are going to live by the Law, you must live by all of it. You cannot pick and choose which parts you will decide to comply with and which parts you will not - just as you cannot be alive in Christ and at the same time alive in sin. You cannot serve two masters. (Matthew 6:24)
Why is it, then, that churches allow women to braid their hair, when this scripture expressly forbids it?
Actually, this is just like the previous passage of Paul's that we examined. In verse 8, he was not trying to say that anytime we pray, we are to do so with raised hands. Rather, he wanted us to understand that when we do pray, we should do so in holiness.
Likewise, he is not setting rules here for the wardrobe of women.
His point is this: Women are to dress modestly (and this means that they are not to dress in such a way as to bring attention to themselves, but in a way that brings glory to God).
But completely beside the fact of the manner in which they conceal their nakedness, they are to clothe themselves in good deeds, and allow their Godly actions to be seen by others. This is what they need to draw attention to: the God of Heaven.
To this end, they should dress and be clothed with righteousness, that their good deeds should be seen and that others would be inspired to offer praise to God because of it. (Matthew 5:16 - In the same way, let your light shine before men, that they may see your good deeds and praise your Father in heaven.)
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