In 21st-century western culture, we see many things practiced in worship and religion that were absent from the 1st-century church. Things taken for granted in some of today's Christian denominations would have been rejected as heresy by the early church. One of the innovations of the past century is the increased participation of women in formal worship services. In today's society, it is considered intolerant to restrict the participation of woman based solely on gender.
However, if we claim to be followers of Yeshua the Messiah and seek to live our lives as he did, what should be our guidance in this matter? Should we follow today's cultural norms without question in order to be "politically correct," or should we look to the Bible to see what God would have us do?
Let's allow Yeshua's own words to answer this question:
MATTHEW 4:4 But he answered and said, "It is written, 'Man shall not live by bread alone, but by every word that proceeds from the mouth of God.' " (NKJV)
Moses also addressed what God expects of His people:
DEUTERONOMY 12:32 "Whatever I command you, be careful to observe it; you shall not add to it nor take away from it." (NKJV)
Additionally, the book of Proverbs speaks of the value in heeding God's words:
PROVERBS 30:5 Every word of God is pure; He is a shield to those who put their trust in Him. 6 Do not add to His words, lest He rebuke you, and you be found a liar. (NKJV)
If we truly are going to live "by every word that proceeds from the mouth of God," we have to put aside what we think and what we want, and see what GOD thinks and what HE wants. Today's world is in rebellion against God and His commands. Paul's exhortation and warning to Timothy in his final letter to him is very relevant to the time we live in now:
II TIMOTHY 4:1 I charge you in the presence of God and of Christ Jesus, who is to judge the living and the dead, and by his appearing and his kingdom: 2 preach the word; be ready in season and out of season; reprove, rebuke, and exhort, with complete patience and teaching. 3 For the time is coming when people will not endure sound teaching, but having itching ears they will accumulate for themselves teachers to suit their own passions, 4 and will turn away from listening to the truth and wander off into myths. (ESV)
Certainly today we have a majority of believers who have rejected sound scriptural doctrine. They have turned away from following the truth (God's word-John 17:17) and have instead crafted rationalized fiction to accommodate their own desires and lusts.
In this article, we're going to look at what the Bible says about the role of women in a formal church service. The following information is not MY opinion; it's what the Bible teaches.
In researching this topic, I read dozens of articles by people with a variety of different views. I encountered an incredible amount of rationalization regarding current practices. Some argued that Paul's instructions were cultural and specific to the situations of his day. Some said that Paul was a male chauvinist and should be ignored because his words contradict the teachings of Yeshua. Some said that the Scriptures addressing this topic were not originally part of the Bible, but were instead added later. Some said that Paul was writing only about unconverted or unlearned women who attended worship services. Some stated that just two passages of relevant Scripture weren't enough to establish church doctrine. Some went so far as to claim that the Bible clearly shows women were leaders, teachers and apostles in the early church, and only later did a male-dominated leadership restrict them from these positions.
Most of the world does not understand or accept what the Bible plainly teaches about men and women. The difference between what most people think today and what Paul taught nearly 2,000 years ago is rooted in the fundamental difference in the modern view regarding the composition of the human race.
To Paul, mankind was made up of families. The family was the basic organizational structure for human relationships. Within families, there was an order prescribed by God. This order was instituted by God at the very beginning.
But for those living in today's western feminist societies, the human race is no longer made up of families, but rather of individuals. A woman is just another person like a man. Therefore, most people in today's world don't see any reason for dealing differently with men and women.
Many believers today feel that what the Bible teaches about male and female relationships is irrelevant in our modern society. When we ignore the Bible, as well as the inherent physical, mental, and emotional differences between men and women, there does not seem to be any reason why we should NOT view the sexes as equivalent.
But if we are going to be honest with ourselves about God's word, we have to consider objectively what is written there about the relationship of men and women. This article is going to examine what the Bible teaches regarding the roles God ordained for men and women. In the end, it all comes back to the authority of the Bible in our lives. Are we really willing to live by every word of God?
The best place to begin this study is at the beginning:
GENESIS 2:4 This is the history of the heavens and the earth when they were created, in the day that the LORD God made the earth and the heavens, 5 before any plant of the field was in the earth and before any herb of the field had grown. For the LORD God had not caused it to rain on the earth, and there was no man to till the ground; 6 but a mist went up from the earth and watered the whole face of the ground. 7 And the LORD God formed man of the dust of the ground, and breathed into his nostrils the breath of life; and man became a living being. 8 The LORD God planted a garden eastward in Eden, and there He put the man whom He had formed. 9 And out of the ground the LORD God made every tree grow that is pleasant to the sight and good for food. The tree of life was also in the midst of the garden, and the tree of the knowledge of good and evil. . . . 15 Then the LORD God took the man and put him in the garden of Eden to tend and keep it. 16 And the LORD God commanded the man, saying, "Of every tree of the garden you may freely eat; 17 but of the tree of the knowledge of good and evil you shall not eat, for in the day that you eat of it you shall surely die." 18 And the LORD God said, "It is not good that man should be alone; I will make him a HELPER ['ezer] comparable to him." 19 Out of the ground the LORD God formed every beast of the field and every bird of the air, and brought them to Adam to see what he would call them. And whatever Adam called each living creature, that was its name. 20 So Adam gave names to all cattle, to the birds of the air, and to every beast of the field. But for Adam there was not found a helper ['ezer] comparable to him. 21 And the LORD God caused a deep sleep to fall on Adam, and he slept; and He took one of his ribs [tzal'otayv], and closed up the flesh in its place. 22 Then the rib [tzela'] which the LORD God had taken from man He made into a woman, and He brought her to the man. 23 And Adam said: "This is now bone of my bones and flesh of my flesh; she shall be called Woman, because she was taken out of Man." 24 Therefore a man shall leave his father and mother and be joined to his wife, and they shall become one flesh. 25 And they were both naked, the man and his wife, and were not ashamed. (NKJV)
Very soon after the creation, God saw that Adam was in need of someone comparable to himself to help him with the duties that had been assigned to him. So God took a rib (Heb. tzela') from Adam, and used it to create woman to be his helper.
The fact that God took a rib, and not another part of Adam's body, is very significant. The The Theological Wordbook of the Old Testament (TWOT) says of tzela' that "elsewhere it is an architectural term. It refers to the sides of an object" (p. 768, vol. II). The use of man's rib in the creation of woman clearly shows that she was not to be over the man, nor was she to be trodden under his foot. Rather, she was to be his supporter, working with him at his side.
This view of the role of woman is also confirmed by the use of the word 'ezer ("helper") in regard to her. TWOT states that while the word 'ezer "designates assistance, it is more frequently used in a concrete sense to designate the assistant" (p. 661, vol. II). The woman, Eve, was intended by God to be Adam's assistant, helping him with his responsibilities and subject to his authority.
GENESIS 3:1 Now the serpent was more cunning than any beast of the field which the LORD God had made. And he said to the woman, "Has God indeed said, 'You shall not eat of every tree of the garden'?" 2 And the woman said to the serpent, "We may eat the fruit of the trees of the garden; 3 but of the fruit of the tree which is in the midst of the garden, God has said, 'You shall not eat it, nor shall you touch it, lest you die.' " 4 Then the serpent said to the woman, "You will not surely die. 5 For God knows that in the day you eat of it your eyes will be opened, and you will be like God, knowing good and evil." (NKJV)
Notice the tactic of Satan the serpent (Rev. 12:9; 20:2). He approached Eve while Adam was absent. He asked her a question regarding instructions Adam alone had received before she was created (Gen. 2:16-17). Therefore, the only way she would have known what God had instructed regarding the fruit of the tree of the knowledge was if Adam had relayed it to her accurately. Besides clearly calling God's trustworthiness into question, it is likely that Satan was also subtly tempting Eve to doubt that Adam had told her the full story. While disparaging the motive of God regarding the warning, Satan also tried to cause Eve to distrust Adam.
GENESIS 3:6 So when the woman saw that the tree was good for food, that it was pleasant to the eyes, and a tree desirable to make one wise, she took of its fruit and ate. She also gave to her husband with her, and he ate. 7 Then the eyes of both of them were opened, and they knew that they were naked; and they sewed fig leaves together and made themselves coverings. 8 And they heard the sound of the LORD God walking in the garden in the cool of the day, and Adam and his wife hid themselves from the presence of the LORD God among the trees of the garden. 9 Then the LORD God called to Adam and said to him, "Where are you?" 10 So he said, "I heard Your voice in the garden, and I was afraid because I was naked; and I hid myself." 11 And He said, "Who told you that you were naked? Have you eaten from the tree of which I commanded you that you should not eat?" 12 Then the man said, "The woman whom You gave to be with me, she gave me of the tree, and I ate." 13 And the LORD God said to the woman, "What is this you have done?" The woman said, "The serpent deceived me, and I ate." 14 So the LORD God said to the serpent: "Because you have done this, you are cursed more than all cattle, and more than every beast of the field; on your belly you shall go, and you shall eat dust all the days of your life. 15 And I will put enmity between you and the woman, and between your seed and her Seed; He shall bruise your head, and you shall bruise His heel." 16 To the woman He said: "I will greatly multiply your sorrow and your conception; in pain you shall bring forth children; your desire shall be for your husband, and he shall rule over you." 17 Then to Adam He said, "Because you have heeded the voice of your wife, and have eaten from the tree of which I commanded you, saying, 'You shall not eat of it': "Cursed is the ground for your sake; in toil you shall eat of it all the days of your life. 18 Both thorns and thistles it shall bring forth for you, and you shall eat the herb of the field. 19 In the sweat of your face you shall eat bread till you return to the ground, for out of it you were taken; for dust you are, and to dust you shall return." (NKJV)
The sin of Adam and Eve led to curses being placed on both men and women. Likewise, the sin of Satan brought a curse upon him and those angels who joined him in rebellion against God. The curses on women are specifically listed in Genesis 3:16.
The book of Genesis provides us with an understanding of God's original intent and purpose (Matt. 19:8). As we'll see when we review the apostle Paul's comments on the role of women in the church, he appeals not to the culture of the day, but rather to the teaching of the Torah. He uses chapters Genesis 2 and 3 to support his position.
The Genesis 2 account emphasizes the relationships of the man with his Creator, plants, animals, and the woman. Genesis 2 highlights the three features which differentiate the man and the woman:
All three of these distinctions are mentioned in the New Testament as being significant to the divinely defined roles of men and women. However, this does NOT in any way mean that women are inferior to men. As Paul tells us in Galatians 3:28, all who accept the Messiah become heirs to the promise of Abraham:
GALATIANS 3:26 For you are all sons of God through faith in Christ Jesus. 27 For as many of you as were baptized into Christ have put on Christ. 28 There is neither Jew nor Greek, there is neither slave nor free, there is neither male nor female; for you are all one in Christ Jesus. 29 And if you are Christ's, then you are Abraham's seed, and heirs according to the promise. (NKJV)
In this passage, Paul shows the potential for the salvation for ALL of humanity. Both men and women will be in the kingdom of God. However, Paul does not mean that NOW there are no longer defined roles and lines of authority. Even though Jews, Greeks, slaves, men and women can all be saved, there are still roles that each will play in God's plan during this age. And these roles are different.
In the the book of Acts, we are told that Paul went from Athens to the Grecian city of Corinth (Acts 18:1). He taught in the synagogue at first, and then at the house of Justus, who lived next door to the synagogue (Acts 18:4-7). In a vision, Yeshua told Paul to stay there because he had many people in the city (Acts 18:9-10). So Paul spent "a good while" longer than a year and half in Corinth, teaching the word of God to many former pagans (Acts 18:11-18).
However, some time after Paul had moved on, he heard from members of the Corinthian church that disputes and heresies had arisen there within the congregation. From the letter Paul subsequently wrote to address these problems, it is clear that the practices of the Corinthian assembly had begun to significantly deviate from those of other messianic congregations.
Much of Paul's first letter to the Corinthians deals with proper conduct of believers during informal and formal worship. As part of his correction and instruction, Paul outlined the divinely established order to the Corinthian congregation in the 11th chapter of his first letter:
I CORINTHIANS 11:1 Imitate me, just as I also imitate Christ. 2 Now I praise you, brethren, that you remember me in all things and keep the traditions just as I delivered them to you. 3 But I want you to know that the head [kephale] of every man [andros] is Christ, the head [kephale] of woman [gunaikos] is man [aner], and the head [kephale] of Christ is God. (NKJV)
Paul starts this section of his letter by exhorting the Corinthians to follow his example ONLY as he followed the example of Messiah (v. 1). He begins his correction with a quick acknowledgement that the Corinthians were still adhering to the instructions he had given them while there (v. 2). However, Paul then immediately lays the groundwork for his ensuing guidance by listing the line of authority established by God (v. 3).
God is not the author of confusion (I Cor. 14:33). In the church, as in families, there must be some defined structure of authority for all things to work properly. The Greek word kephale is used metaphorically in verse 3 to signify one (or a group) who is superior in authority. According to Paul, the line of authority in the church is as follows:
The Greek noun andros, and its variants (including aner), can refer generally to males or specifically to husbands, depending on the context. Alternately, the noun gune and its various forms can be translated either as "woman" or "wife" based on context.
However, it is evident in this passage that the broader meaning is intended. Messiah's authority over the church does not extend just to husbands and wives. He is over the ENTIRE church (all men and women).
Paul begins his discussion of the wearing of a headcovering by telling the Corinthians that God the Father is the ultimate authority. Under Him is Messiah Yeshua, then males, and finally, females. This seems like a strange way to begin this topic, but it is actually very relevant, as we shall see.
I CORINTHIANS 11:4 Every man [aner] praying or prophesying, having his head [kephales] covered [kata], dishonors his head [kephalen]. (NKJV)
After outlining the authorities in the church, Paul starts his corrective instructions. He tells the Corinthian men that if they pray or prophesy with their physical head "covered," they dishonor their spiritual head, Yeshua the Messiah (v. 3). The Greek preposition kata, which is translated "covered" here, denotes direction and literally means "down from."
Many take the discussion of the headcovering in this passage to be referring specifically to hair. As we shall see shortly, verse 6 absolutely eliminates that possibility. Paul is actually referring to the wearing of a fabric veil or covering on the head.
Paul starts out by addressing the practice the Corinthian men had adopted of praying or prophesying with a veil or covering hanging down from their head. A similar custom is currently practiced by some Jews and messianics, where a tallit ("prayer shawl") is draped over a man's head during prayer. This custom is supposed to represent the man creating a personal "prayer closet" to ensure privacy during the act of praying. It appears that it was the Corinthian's adoption of this custom (or one similar to it) that prompted Paul's instructions here.
I CORINTHIANS 11:5 But every woman [gune] who prays or prophesies with her head [kephale] uncovered [akatakalupto] dishonors her head [kephalen], for that is one and the same as if her head were shaved [exuremene]. (NKJV)
Paul now addresses the reverse situation which was occurring among the Corinthian women. The Greek compound word akatakalupto ("uncovered") is made up of three parts: the negative particle a, kata, and kalupto, which means "to cover" or "to veil." Literally, this word means "not veiled" or "not covered" (with a garment that hangs "down from" the head).
Here, Paul notifies the women in the Corinthian church that if they pray or prophesy with their physical head "unveiled" or "uncovered," they dishonor the men in the congregation, who are their spiritual head (v. 3). At the end of this verse, Paul states that the practice of a woman praying or prophesying without a veil covering her head was as scandalous as if her head were shaved (Gr. root xurao).
At that time, shaving a woman's head was one of the punishments decreed for convicted adultresses. Additionally, it appears that some of the sacred prostitutes from the pagan temples shaved their heads. Properly understood, this statement was designed to show the Corinthian women how shameful it was to abandon wearing a headcovering.
I CORINTHIANS 11:6 For if a woman [gune] is not covered [ou katakaluptetai], let her also be shorn [keirastho]. But if it is shameful [aischron] for a woman [gunaiki] to be shorn [keirasthai] or shaved [xurasthai], let her be covered [katakaluptesthe]. (NKJV)
Paul here greatly strengthens his condemnation from the preceding verse. He goes so far as to command that if any woman in the Corinthian assembly refused to wear a headcovering during prayer or prophecy, she should have her hair cut short (Gr. root keiro), or shaved off altogether, to make her shame evident to all. He then reverses his statement by saying that if it was considered shameful for a woman to have her hair cut short or shaved off (and it WAS), then she should avoid that fate by covering her head (with a fabric headcovering).
This verse destroys the argument that Paul is speaking of a woman's long hair as her covering. To illustrate the absurdity of that position, let's look at part of this verse using that assumption:
For if a woman is not covered (by long hair), let her hair be cut short.
To take the position that Paul is speaking here of long hair as a woman's covering, we have to believe that his command was that if a woman had short hair, she needed to have her hair cut short as punishment. As you can see, this view doesn't make any sense. Obviously, the covering Paul is speaking of has to be something other than hair.
I CORINTHIANS 11:7 For a man [aner] indeed ought not to cover [katakaluptesthai] his head [kephalen], since he is the image and glory of God; but woman [gune] is the glory of man [andros]. 8 For man [aner] is not from woman [gunaikos], but woman [gune] from man [andros]. 9 Nor was man [aner] created for the woman [gunaika], but woman [gune] for the man [andra]. (NKJV)
Contrary to the claims of some, Paul is not basing his teaching on the headcovering on 1st-century culture or circumstances unique to the Corinthians. As he does elsewhere in his writings (cf. I Tim. 2:13), Paul refers back to the creation story to support his position. The order established at the beginning by God is the basis for his teaching. Man was created first. Woman was created afterward from man and for man.
I CORINTHIANS 11:10 For this reason [dia touto] the woman [gune] ought to have a symbol of authority [exousian] on her head [kephales], because of the angels. (NKJV)
To most people, this is one of the most enigmatic verses within Paul's writings. However, the beginning of the sentence ("for this reason" - dia touto) shows us that Paul's conclusion in this verse is directly tied to his observations in the previous verses. Woman was created for man; THAT IS WHY (dia touto) a woman should wear a headcovering. This veil is a powerful symbol which shows the angelic realm (Gen. 6:1-4) that the woman wearing it has accepted the divine order established at creation.
As a side note, in his work Against Heresies, Catholic church father Irenaeus (120-202 C.E.) rendered this verse as follows: "A woman ought to have a veil [kalumma] upon her head, because of the angels" (sec. 2, ch. 8, bk. 1). Irenaeus understood the "power" (exousia) on a woman's head to be a cloth covering of some kind and not a woman's hair.
I CORINTHIANS 11:11 Nevertheless, neither is man [aner] independent of woman [gunaikos], nor woman [gune] independent of man [andros], in the Lord. 12 For as woman [gune] came from man [andros], even so man [aner] also comes through woman [gunaikos]; but all things are from God. (NKJV)
Paul now seeks to balance his exposition of scriptural authority with a proper understanding of how that authority should be viewed. In the Lord, men and women are not independent of each other. Just as woman was initially created from the man, now man comes through woman via the birth process. Man was placed in charge by God because order is necessary to the proper functioning of the family, not because man is somehow "better" than woman.
I CORINTHIANS 11:13 Judge among yourselves. Is it proper for a woman [gunaika] to pray to God with her head uncovered [akatakalupton]? 14 Does not even nature itself teach you that if a man [aner] has long hair, it is a dishonor to him? 15 But if a woman [gune] has long hair, it is a glory to her; for her hair is given to her for a covering [peribolaiou].(NKJV)
Paul concludes his teaching on the headcovering by drawing an analogy between nature and the requirement for a woman to be veiled during prayer. Just as nature shows that a woman should have long hair (and conversely, a man should not), Paul states that during prayer, a woman should be veiled (and a man should not).
It's interesting to note that the Greek word translated "covering" at the end of verse 15 is peribolaiou. This word appears only one other time in the New Testament (Heb. 1:12), where it is rendered "cloak." The Greek word for "veil" (kalumma - II Cor. 3:13-16) is purposely not used here, because a woman's hair was not the covering or veil Paul was speaking about.
Historical sources from the early centuries of the church agree that the headcovering mentioned in I Corinthians 11:4-13 was a fabric covering worn by the women in worship. These sources sometimes differ about the application of the headcovering, but they are solidly in agreement that Paul's reference to women being covered in worship was to a cloth headcovering and not to the hair of a woman.
I CORINTHIANS 11:16 But if anyone seems to be contentious, we have no such custom, nor do the churches of God. (NKJV)
Here Paul wraps up his teaching on the headcovering by stating that no custom such as that which had been instituted at Corinth (men praying with their head veiled, women praying without a veil) existed anywhere else. What he had just explained to them was standard practice throughout all the messianic assemblies, and they were bound to follow it.
Moving on to the 14th chapter of I Corinthians, Paul addresses another issue where the congregation was having problems: Speaking in formal worship services. Because of disorderly speaking practices, confusion reigned during the Corinthian worship services.
From the comments made in this chapter by Paul, we see that there were essentially three speaking problems that had arisen:
Most of Paul's instruction in this chapter deals with speaking in tongues. To summarize his teaching on tongues, Paul states that he who speaks in a tongue speaks to God, not men (I Cor. 14:2). He says that speaking in tongues is a sign to unbelievers (I Cor. 14:22). Therefore, it does not benefit the congregation for someone to speak in tongues unless there is an interpreter present, and then only two or three should speak (I Cor. 14:27). But if no one is there to interpret, then the one speaking in tongues should remain silent (I Cor. 14:28). To do otherwise would not build up the assembly, and edification is the primary reason to desire such spiritual gifts (I Cor. 14:12).
Paul also explains how and when prophets should address the assembled congregation. He says prophecy is a more important spiritual gift than speaking in tongues (I Cor. 14:1-5). Prophecy is a sign to believers (I Cor. 14:22-24); it shows that God is present in the congregation (I Cor. 14:25). Only two or three prophets were to speak (I Cor. 14:29), and then only one at a time (I Cor. 14:31). The purpose for Paul to outline these instructions was to reign in the chaos that was ensuing from everyone trying to speak at the same time. As he bluntly states, "God is not the author of confusion" (I Cor. 14:33). Only if things were done in an orderly manner could the congregation benefit from these spiritual gifts.
The final section of I Corinthians 14 deals with women speaking in formal worship services:
I CORINTHIANS 14:33b As in all the churches of the saints, 34 the women [gunaikes] should keep silent [sigatosan] in the churches. For they are not permitted to speak [lalein], but should be in submission [hupotassesthai], as the Law also says. (ESV)
Paul starts off in verse 33 by saying that what he was teaching was common practice in all the messianic congregations. Earlier in his first letter to the Corinthians, Paul stated that his preaching was consistent everywhere (I Cor. 4:17). Therefore, the ensuing instructions were not just for the women of the Corinthian congregation, but for women in all the "churches of the saints." Those who propose that only the Corinthian women were effected by this teaching must ignore other Scriptures which are equally clear on the subject (e.g., I Tim. 2:11-15).
In verse 34, Paul commands that women remain silent and not speak "in the assembly." Some have tried to weaken Paul's teaching by suggesting that the term "speak" here refers simply to idle chit-chat or gossip by women during the worship service rather than to serious public participation in the study of Scripture. This position is not supportable based on the original text, however. The Greek root verb laleo is used 24 times in this chapter (I Cor. 14:2-6, 9, 11, 13, 18, 19, 21, 23, 27-29, 34, 35, 39). It simply means to audibly speak, whether that speech be in another tongue, from a prophet, or from a woman.
Still others have attempted to paint Paul's teaching as a cultural issue, based on conditions unique to Corinth and unrelated to modern believers. But Paul's command was not based on special circumstances in the Corinthian culture. It was based on the biblical principle of humble submission to divinely-ordained authority (in this case, the authority man has over woman based on creation).
This is the reason for the citation of "the Law" as the basis for his instructions at the end of verse 34. Many try to argue that since there is no specific law in the Torah forbidding women to speak, Paul must have been referring to some unbiblical law that is not binding on modern believers. However, Paul's use of "the Law" here is a reference back to the creation account we examined previously (Gen. 2-3). "The Law" is simply another name for the Torah, the first five books of Moses (cf. Matt. 5:17; 7:12; 22:40; Luke 24:44; Acts 13:15).
It is fashionable now to reject Paul's teaching on women speaking as though it was some chauvinistic doctrine that only he taught, some personal bias that is inconsistent with other biblical revelation. Yet the silence of women in the churches was not a new innovation given only to the Corinthians. The practice Paul required in formal church services was based on the scriptural principle of submission found in Genesis. Peter speaks of this same principle in his first general epistle in relation to marriage (I Pet. 3:1-6).
I CORINTHIANS 14:35 If there is anything they desire to learn, let them ask their husbands at home. For it is shameful [aischron] for a woman to speak [lalein] in church. (ESV)
If verse 34 is difficult for many to accept, verse 35 is even more so. Just as a woman having a shorn or shaved head was said to be "shameful" (aischron - I Cor. 11:6), so too is a woman speaking in formal worship services disgraceful. It would almost seem that Paul is "rubbing salt in the wound" here. A woman cannot even ask a question in a formal worship service, but she must ask her own husband at home because it would be shameful for her to speak in church.
Why would God forbid a woman to ask a question in the church meeting? What would be the harm of a simple question?
Questions are seldom neutral. While some questions are sincerely asked to gain information or insight, many are posed for other reasons. Satan, for example, commenced his conversation with Eve with a question ("Has God indeed said, 'You shall not eat of every tree of the garden'?" - Gen. 3:1). He was not trying to learn from Eve, but instead, he was laying the groundwork to deceive her and tempt her into sin.
The opposition which Yeshua faced from the Jewish religious leaders of his day frequently came in the form of apparently innocent questions (e.g., "Is it lawful to pay taxes to Caesar, or not?" - Matt. 22:17). Many who ask questions are really trying to make a point or to challenge the position of the one being questioned. The power to question is the authority to lead and to correct, and thus it should be exercised by the men of the congregation, whom God has appointed to authority (I Cor. 11:3).
Paul used the principle of BUILDING UP the assembly in verse 26 to form the basis for his commands. Therefore, there should also be positive reasons why women are prohibited from asking questions in a formal worship setting.
There are at least two ways that this prohibition teaches men:
First, the men will be stimulated to more serious study when their wives look to THEM for the answers to their biblical questions. As long as the wife looks to someone other than her husband for spiritual guidance, he will not feel the weight of his responsibility as the leader of the home. That is why Paul says, "let them ask their own husbands at home."
Additionally, the husband's authority will not be threatened and he will not be put on the spot publicly if he is asked at home. If he does not know the answer, he will not be embarrassed in front of the congregation, but will be able to investigate the matter more fully before taking a stand.
I CORINTHIANS 14:36 Or was it from you that the word of God came? Or are you the only ones it has reached? (ESV)
The almost bitter words that Paul adds in verse 36 show that he was very displeased with what had happened in Corinth. In this verse, he reproaches the Corinthians for the innovation of permitting women to speak in the formal worship assembly. Paul sarcastically reminds them that they were not the source of the Scriptures, nor were they the only ones who possessed them. He encouraged them to observe the order in the Torah that God had established at the beginning and not to seek some new way of their own devising. This order was the common practice among all the other messianic congregations of God.
I CORINTHIANS 14:37 If anyone thinks that he is a prophet, or spiritual, he should acknowledge that the things I am writing to you are a command of the Lord. 38 If anyone does not recognize this, he is not recognized. 39 So, my brothers, earnestly desire to prophesy, and do not forbid speaking in tongues. 40 But all things should be done decently and in order. (ESV)
Paul clearly states that these teachings were not his opinion, but rather the commands of the Lord (v. 37). Those who rejected them would themselves be rejected (v. 38). His overriding concern was that things be done according to the proper order.
What must be noted in conclusion to our review of this passage in I Cor. 14 is:
In addition to the instructions given to the Corinthian church, Paul spoke specifically of the role of women in his first instructional letter to Timothy also:
I TIMOTHY 2:8 I desire therefore that the men [andras] pray everywhere, lifting up holy hands, without wrath and doubting; 9 in like manner also, that the women [gunaikas] adorn themselves in modest apparel, with propriety and moderation, not with braided hair or gold or pearls or costly clothing, 10 but, which is proper for women [gunaixin] professing godliness, with good works. 11 Let a woman [gune] learn in silence [hesuchia] with all submission [hupotage]. 12 And I do not permit a woman [gunaiki] to teach or to have authority over a man [andros], but to be in silence [hesuchia]. (NKJV)
The words of Paul regarding women here are difficult for 21st-century western Christians to accept. But they are plain and unequivocal, and support his earlier comments to the Corinthian church regarding the role of women in church services.
Paul follows up these clear instructions with his rationale for giving them:
I TIMOTHY 2:13 For Adam was formed first, then Eve. 14 And Adam was not deceived, but the woman [gune] being deceived, fell into transgression. 15 Nevertheless she will be saved in childbearing if they continue in faith, love, and holiness, with self-control. (NKJV)
We may like what Paul says, or we may not like it. In the end, we are either willing to do what he commands, or we are not willing to do it. But there is no room for doubt about what he says.
Some attempt to use the NT example of Aquila and Priscilla to say that women can teach men. But let's look at this scriptural example a little more closely, because it's very instructive if properly understood.
We're introduced to Aquila and his wife Priscilla in Corinth:
ACTS 18:1 After these things Paul departed from Athens and went to Corinth. 2 And he found a certain Jew named Aquila, born in Pontus, who had recently come from Italy with his wife Priscilla (because Claudius had commanded all the Jews to depart from Rome); and he came to them. 3 So, because he was of the same trade, he stayed with them and worked; for by occupation they were tentmakers. (NKJV)
They obviously became good friends with the Apostle Paul, because when he left Corinth, they traveled with him for a while:
ACTS 18:18 So Paul still remained a good while. Then he took leave of the brethren and sailed for Syria, and Priscilla and Aquila were with him. He had his hair cut off at Cenchrea, for he had taken a vow. 19 And he came to Ephesus, and left them there . . . (NKJV)
After stopping at Ephesus, we see Aquila and Priscilla meet with the Jewish teacher Apollos:
ACTS 18:24 Now a certain Jew named Apollos, born at Alexandria, an eloquent man and mighty in the Scriptures, came to Ephesus. 25 This man had been instructed in the way of the Lord; and being fervent in spirit, he spoke and taught accurately the things of the Lord, though he knew only the baptism of John. 26 So he began to speak boldly in the synagogue. When Aquila and Priscilla heard him, they took him aside and explained to him the way of God more accurately. (NKJV)
An attempt is made, based on verse 26, to show that women are allowed to teach men because Priscilla taught Apollos. However, the text clearly shows that she did so only in conjunction with and under the authority of her husband, Aquila. Additionally, they did not do so in the synagogue, but rather they "took him aside" and explained "the way of God" to him.
ROMANS 16:3 Greet Priscilla and Aquila, my fellow workers in Christ Jesus, (NKJV)
I CORINTHIANS 16:19 The churches of Asia greet you. Aquila and Priscilla greet you heartily in the Lord, with the church that is in their house. (NKJV)
II TIMOTHY 4:19 Greet Prisca [a shortened form of Priscilla] and Aquila, and the household of Onesiphorus. (NKJV)
Bryan T. Huie
March 1, 2005