In What Ways Are Women Restricted From Speaking in Church?

by | Dec 6, 2023

A brother in Christ wrote to ask:

I would like to ask you a question on women’s roles in the church setting. I agree with you that women should not teach men, even in cyberspace. You are a brave man to say something so bold and “contentious” as this. Let God be true and every man a liar. You will be aware of Paul’s instructions to the Corinthian church and Timothy about women remaining silent in the church. 1 Cor 11v5 indicates that Paul allowed women to pray and prophesy in the church however. I for some time have tried to resolve this apparent inconsistency. 1 Chronicles 25v 3 says “…..under the supervision of their father Jeduthun, who prophesied, using the harp in thanking and praising the Lord.”

In coming to a workable church practice, which is obedient to the scriptures, could the following be an acceptable practice? No women is permitted to teach, but they are permitted to pray and prophesy (i.e. words of thankfulness and praise with their heads covered) aloud… I know you have been an elder before – what are your views?

Dear Brother,

I have often been greatly edified by hearing a Christian woman give a testimony, prophecy, or prayer. And yes, I have even been instructed, and gained some insight into truth, through the testimony of a spiritual woman. I have often shared with others that it is apparent from Scriptures that some of the women around Christ during the time of His ministry were more spiritually perceptive than some of the men. Yet Christ never appointed any of these women to be apostles or leaders of the church. This was not because women had nothing valuable to say or contribute, but rather because God had established in His divine government that women should be subject to man, and they should not usurp the authority of man.

I have often pondered the many admonitions of Paul regarding a woman’s role in the church. I have truly wanted to understand what the mind of the Spirit of Christ is in this matter. I have no axe to grind, and I am certainly not a hater of women. My own daughter is gifted with much spiritual insight, and I would not want to hinder her in ministering the life and wisdom of Christ that is present within her. At the same time, I do not want to transgress the will of the Father, but to know His mind and His pleasure in all things.

I will share with you some things I have discerned as I have meditated upon this subject. I will begin with a passage of Scripture that is often brought up in support of women teaching men.

Acts 18:24-26
Now a Jew named Apollos, an Alexandrian by birth, an eloquent man, came to Ephesus; and he was mighty in the Scriptures. This man had been instructed in the way of the Lord; and being fervent in spirit, he was speaking and teaching accurately the things concerning Yahshua, being acquainted only with the baptism of John; and he began to speak out boldly in the synagogue. But Priscilla and Aquila hearing him, took him aside and explained to him the way of God more accurately.

The statement here seems pretty plain, and I would conclude from it that both Aquila (a man) and Priscilla (a woman) were involved in explaining to Apollos (a man) the way of God more accurately. What occurs to me is that explaining a matter is not necessarily an act of usurpation, for it need not touch on issues of authority at all. Now if Priscilla had commanded Apollos, giving him specific instruction in what he must do, then there would have been issues of authority involved. However, the context of the passage does not indicate that this was the case.

I would point out, however, that this passage was not given to instruct the church in male/female roles. We are merely told what happened, and no specific endorsement or judgment of Priscilla’s role is mentioned. It is not the same as the account of Ananias and Sapphira, another husband and wife team whose actions and words are spoken of in another passage of Acts. We are clearly told from the context of that passage that their actions were ones of disobedience. Here we are given no similar indication of a divine judgment or endorsement. We are simply told a snippet of history from the lives of these three people.

This passage might be used to support that which is clearly taught on in another place, but by itself it could not be used to establish a doctrine. I have heard some use this passage to say, “See, it is okay for women to teach men.” They would rather establish their doctrine upon something as weak as this than to accept the apostle’s doctrines where they teach specifically on this matter and give very plain instruction. Another example that some cite is the following:

Acts 21:8-9
On the next day Paul and his company came to Caesarea, and entering the house of Philip the evangelist, who was one of the seven, we stayed with him. Now this man had four virgin daughters who were prophetesses.

That women may prophesy as well as men is well established in the Bible. The Word of God speaks of prophetesses as well as prophets. This was true in the Old Testament as it is in the New Testament.

Joel 2:28-29
And it will come about after this that I will pour out My Spirit on all mankind; And your sons and daughters will prophesy, your old men will dream dreams, your young men will see visions. And even on the male and female servants I will pour out My Spirit in those days.

Women are as much partakers of the Holy Spirit as are men. It is only in government that there are differences. Woman was created for man, not man for woman. Man is the head of woman, and therefore woman is not to usurp authority over a man. Evidently, however, prophesying is not an act of usurpation.

In every instance where women are prohibited from speaking the issue of authority is in view. Women are not to exercise authority over men. I believe the apostles taught that women are not to PREACH to men in the assembly of believers. To do so provides too much of an opportunity for a woman to stray into areas of usurpation. I will show you how Paul’s words declaring that women are not to “speak” in the assembly can be understood to mean they are not to “preach.” There is sufficient evidence in other passages to establish the right of a woman to pray and prophesy in the assembly, so I do not take Paul’s words to be a blanket call to complete silence.

As I mentioned, to pray and to prophesy is not an act of usurpation, for it does not involve taking authority over the man. The issue Paul is addressing is very clearly predicated upon issues of authority and headship, so we must always keep this in mind as we seek to arrive at the mind of Christ in looking at this topic. Prophecy is not intended to instruct or command, but rather to edify, exhort and console.

I Corinthians 14:3-4
But one who prophesies speaks to men for edification and exhortation and consolation. One who speaks in a tongue edifies himself; but one who prophesies edifies the church.

We are further told that prophecy is given as a sign. That is to say, it reveals something that was hidden.

I Corinthians 14:22-25
So then tongues are for a sign, not to those who believe but to unbelievers; but prophecy is for a sign, not to unbelievers but to those who believe. Therefore if the whole church assembles together and all speak in tongues, and ungifted men or unbelievers enter, will they not say that you are mad? But if all prophesy, and an unbeliever or an ungifted man enters, he is convicted by all, he is called to account by all; the secrets of his heart are disclosed; and so he will fall on his face and worship God, declaring that God is certainly among you.

In these passages which speak of the role of prophecy, we see that the word “instruction” is not mentioned. Prophesying is not the same as instructing, nor does it involve commanding a person or exercising authority over them. The office of a prophet and the office of a teacher are mentioned distinctly from one another in the New Testament. Women may teach, and are even commanded to do so in some instances, as in the older women teaching the younger women, and mothers teaching their children. It is only teaching men that a woman is prohibited from doing in the assembly of believers.

Let us look at Paul’s instructions to the churches in this matter as it is found in the following Scriptures:

I Corinthians 14:34-35
The women are to keep silent in the churches; for they are not permitted to speak, but are to subject themselves, just as the Law also says. If they desire to learn anything, let them ask their own husbands at home; for it is improper for a woman to speak in church.

I Timothy 2:11-12
A woman must quietly receive instruction with entire submissiveness. But I do not allow a woman to teach or exercise authority over a man, but to remain quiet.

These are perhaps the two most pointed passages that speak to this issue. It is clear from the passage in I Corinthians that authority is the main issue bearing upon Paul’s instructions. He says women “are to subject themselves.” This reveals that what is said is based upon an understanding of the government God has established among men and women. Again, in I Timothy Paul uses the word “submissiveness” as well as the words “I do not allow a woman to… exercise authority over a man.” This is what is forbidden. It is unseemly for a woman to exercise authority over a man. There is a great temptation for women to begin straying into areas of usurpation when they are given a position of instruction over men. Instructing and exercising authority over others are closely intertwined, and we see these related to one another from the time of our childhood.

As children we are instructed by our parents, and we also know they are our authority and we are to obey them. In school we are instructed by our teachers, and they exercise authority over us. Those in the military are given instructors whom they must obey. On the job we are often instructed by our superiors. Thus we see that instruction and authority are very closely related.

This need not always be the case. There are certainly instances where instructors have no authority over those they teach. They may instead be looked upon as servants to those they teach. I believe a teacher in the church should always seek to maintain a servant’s heart. At the same time we are told that teachers are to be accounted worthy of honor.

I Timothy 5:17
The elders who rule well are to be considered worthy of double honor, especially those who work hard at preaching and teaching.

In this passage we see that “preaching and teaching” among the body of Christ is related to honor. Honor is itself related to authority in that it is an act of showing deference to another. A younger woman should honor an older woman who provides spiritual instruction by showing deference to her. In the same way, young men should show the same deference to older men who work hard at preaching and teaching. It would create some confusion for women to act as the teachers of men, for then the women would expect the men to show them deference, or to defer to them. The word deference means “humble submission or respect.”

Throughout the Scriptures when we read of male/female relationships, such as that between husband and wife, we are told that husbands are to love their wives, and wives are to respect their husbands. Love is at the heart of both of these admonitions, but a woman respecting her husband also implies an acknowledgment of his authority, and position of headship.

Some have taken the apostle Paul’s words about a woman being silent as a blanket admonition, suggesting she is to never speak in the church. We must ask, “When would she pray or prophesy if she is to be silent among the congregation of believers? Is not prophecy valuable only where there are others to hear it?”

We have read of Philip having daughters who were prophetesses. Where were they prophesying? We are told that Paul and his companions came to Philip’s house. While there, other Christians came and joined with them. Wherever the people of God are assembled, there we will find the church. A church is never defined by a meeting inside a building that is called a church. The New Testament never referred to any building as a church. It is the people of God who are called the church (literally, the eklessia, the called out ones.)

I do not doubt that Philip’s daughters prophesied in his house when other believers were gathered. In doing so they were speaking among the congregation of believers. In the following verse we read of Agabus and others coming to see Paul at Philip’s house.

Acts 21:10-12
As we were staying there for some days, a prophet named Agabus came down from Judea. And coming to us, he took Paul’s belt and bound his own feet and hands, and said, “This is what the Holy Spirit says: “In this way the Jews at Jerusalem will bind the man who owns this belt and deliver him into the hands of the Gentiles.'” When we had heard this, we as well as the local residents began begging him not to go up to Jerusalem.

All of this occurred in Phillips’s house where he resided with his daughters who were prophetesses. The following Scriptures reveal that the church is often congregated at someone’s house.

Colossians 4:15
Greet the brethren who are in Laodicea and also Nymphas and the church that is in his house.

Philemon 2
And to Apphia our sister, and to Archippus our fellow soldier, and to the church in your house:

So, if Philip’s daughters are prophesying in his house while saints are gathered, then they are speaking in the church. Since God did grant to women the gift of prophecy, and prophecy is given to edify the church, we must conclude that women are permitted to do so among the congregation. The following words of Paul also appear to confirm this.

I Corinthians 11:5, 13
But every woman who has her head uncovered while praying or prophesying disgraces her head, for she is one and the same as the woman whose head is shaved… Judge for yourselves: is it proper for a woman to pray to God with her head uncovered?

Paul is writing to the church in Corinth about their meeting together. He mentions women praying and prophesying, so I would conclude that it was the custom of the apostles to allow them to speak publicly in this way. I know some would contest this because Paul says he does not permit a woman to speak, but let us examine more closely the word that is translated as “speak.” The word can hold the meaning of simple speech, but it also holds the meaning of “to preach.” It comes from a root word that means “to lay forth,” and I believe this is speaking of teaching and preaching. We can see this word translated as “preach” in a number of instances in the New Testament.

Mark 2:2
And straightway many were gathered together, insomuch that there was no room to receive them, no, not so much as about the door: and he preached the word unto them.
KJV

Acts 13:42
And when the Jews were gone out of the synagogue, the Gentiles besought that these words might be preached to them the next sabbath.
KJV

Acts 14:25
And when they had preached the word in Perga, they went down into Attalia:
KJV

Acts 16:6
Now when they had gone throughout Phrygia and the region of Galatia, and were forbidden of the Holy Ghost to preach the word in Asia,
KJV

In every one of these instances the same Greek word is used that Paul employed when he said the women were not allowed to “speak” in church. We can see then that the understanding could be that women are not allowed to “preach” in church. They can pray and they can prophesy, they can give testimony, the older women can teach the younger, but they cannot preach to men, for this would be to usurp the authority of man.

So, in answer to your question, the conclusion I am drawn to as I examine Scriptures is that a woman is permitted to both pray and prophesy in church, even in the presence of men. However, she is prohibited from preaching and teaching. This finds a harmony with all of the Scriptures presented here, and I know of none which this understanding violates.

May you be blessed with peace and understanding in these days,

Joseph

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