Why did the Apostle Paul tell women to keep silence? So can women teach or not?

Dear BPCWAians, Last week we saw that God does not prohibit women from teaching in the church. Also, we established that the Bible does not limit women to teach on things related to womanhood only. But what about women being told by the Apostle Paul to “keep silence in the churches” (1 Cor 14:34) and “I suffer not a woman to teach” (1 Tim 2:12)? Are there contradictions in Scriptures? Who can women teach? The Bible does not contradict itself. Some people erroneously use these verses to insist that women cannot teach women in church. We shall look at these this week.

What does women to “keep silence in the churches” (1 Cor 14:34) refer to? Firstly, we know it cannot refer to not being allowed to teach at all. If so, the Apostle Paul would be contradicting himself regarding what he wrote in 1 Cor 11:5 and Titus 2:2-4. This would mean that the Word of God has contradictions. The complete and straightforward reading of the verses of 1 Cor 14:34-35 will tell us, “(34) 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. (35) And if they will learn any thing, let them ask their husbands at home: for it is a shame for women to speak in the church”. Being in silence here was not about being prohibited to teach. Rather, if they had any questions concerning what was said in church, they should ask their husbands in the privacy of their homes. This was dealing with women who were aggressively challenging male authority in the church.

What does “I suffer not a woman to teach” (1 Tim 2:12) refer to? If the Apostle Paul did not forbid women prophesying (which includes forth-telling ie teaching forthrightly what God says) in 1 Cor 11:5, but even specifically told Pastor  Titus to instruct older women to teach younger women in Titus 2:2-  4, then what does this statement mean? We know that God does not give contradicting instructions. Let us look at the verses, “(11) Let the woman learn in silence with all subjection. (12) But I suffer not a woman to teach, nor to usurp authority over the man, but to be in silence” (1Tim 2:11-12 ). The context is about subjection and usurping authority over the man. If the Apostle Paul allowed women to teach in the churches of God, then this statement must refer to the conditions under which the women can or cannot teach. Women should voluntarily subject themselves to take the learning position under male teachers. Women were to let the men provide leadership, and men should teach in a public assembly of both men and women. In other words, while women are allowed to teach, Scripture does not allow them to teach men or to exercise authority over male leadership in the local church in public teaching. From here, we establish that women can teach women in public, but not to teach men. Hence, in Titus 2:4, Paul specifically instructed the older women to teach the younger women, not younger men.

What is the key issue that Paul was addressing regarding women teaching publicly in the church? Women usurping male authority was the issue here, not women teaching women or teaching doctrines to women. How do we know? The context of the covering of the woman’s head in 1 Cor 11:1-10 is about headship, “But I would have you know,  that the head of every man     is Christ; and the head of the woman is the man; and the head of Christ is God” (1Co 11:3). Women covering their heads is about submission to male headship. In 1 Tim 2:12, the Apostle Paul used authenteo instead of exousia for the word “authority”. Authenteo can have the negative connotation of domineer or misappropriate authority, ie changing the hierarchy of God’s intended model in the church. Both 1 Cor 11 and 1 Tim 2’s contexts are clearly about male leadership in public where both men and women are present. The male headship context is also seen from instructions regarding public prayers – Paul told Timothy that “I will therefore that men pray every where, lifting up holy hands . . .” (1Tim 2:8). “Men” here is aner, meaning males. The context is the male leadership, whether in public prayer or public teaching where men and women are present in the same room at the same time. The ongoing and regular ministry of women taking upon themselves to teach men is what God is against in the local corporate church, not women teaching women! If there is a need for an exception, the church needs to evaluate them very carefully and it should be temporary and rare, not the ongoing norm. The aim is always to move to the biblical model given by God as soon as possible.

Should a woman be allowed to instruct in the gathered church? If the “gathered church” means that both men and women are present under her teaching ministry, then the answer is obviously no. Under such gatherings, women are to learn in silence (1 Tim 2:11), ie let the men teach. It is under such situations that the Apostle Paul told the women to be silent. It is unbiblical for women to be teaching the congregation, consisting of men and women together, over the pulpit in church, if there are men able to do so. This is why it is unscriptural to have women Pastors or women Elders. Even a woman who is an Assistant Pastor under a male Pastor is still in the position of an Elder who rules over men and women in the church. This is why women cannot be Pastors or Assistant Pastors. The Pastoral and Elder’s office is a position of authority over the entire church, which includes men and women. Since women can teach women in the church, it is not wrong for women to be teaching women in one room, and men teaching men in another room at the same time (eg at our men fellowship and ladies fellowship) in church gatherings. I should also add that this refers to teaching, so it does not mean that women cannot share prayer requests or thanksgiving testimonies, as long as she does not do it in a manner which teaches men when doing so.

Does allowing women to teach make them authorities in church? Authenteo ie “usurp authority” is to act on one’s own authority autocratically. There is  no usurping of authority over men when the church assigns teaching roles to women to teach women. Usurping of authority refers to women ruling over men, or instructing men publicly in a group. Women teachers who teach other women continue to be under male authority since they are assigned by the male leadership of the church and overseen by the male authorities. Hence, women should not desire to lead and teach men in the church. And men should not be passive and lazy and rather have women lead and teach them.

The danger. Why do some people end up with errors in understanding Scriptures? When they refuse to let Scriptures interpret Scriptures, using the clear to explain the difficult or less clear. All of us must be warned that when we take some verses out of context, zero in on them, and refuse to see the verse in the light of the context, we can end up in errors. And if one refuses to check if one’s interpretation is consistent with other parts of Scriptures, or if it contradicts clear teachings across other parts of Scriptures, then one can end up being cultish. Sometimes, we stubbornly choose to ignore other parts of Scriptures because the passages we choose support our personal agenda or preferences. Do not use Scriptures this way. The slide is a slippery one and will only end in one direction – downwards. It is my hope and prayer that this matter is clear for all in BPCWA, through the use of Scriptures to point out what is error and what is biblical.

The conclusion. We have established from 1 Cor 11:5 that women did teach publicly in the church and women were, in fact, told that they were to teach other women Titus 2:3-5. We also saw that when the Apostle Paul stated  that he would not permit a woman to teach in 1 Tim 2:12, he is talking about women usurping authority over male leadership, meaning that women should not teach men. Hence, women can teach other women publicly in the church’s women meetings, but not to teach men.

Yours in our Lord’s service