May Women SPEAK in Church?

May Women SPEAK in Church?
by Jack Cottrell (Notes) on Thursday, April 29, 2010 at 3:34pm

QUESTION: In view of 1 Timothy 2:12, are women forbidden to serve communion in a church service? Is a female song leader allowed? Can a woman lead prayers in a church service? Does this verse not say that a woman must “remain quiet”? Does not 1 Cor. 14:34 say that “women are to keep silent in the churches; for they are not permitted to speak”?

ANSWER: Here I have combined several questions into one, namely, what limitations does the New Testament place upon women’s roles in the church? As I understand it, the only text that limits the activity of women in the church today is 1 Tim. 2:12, where Paul says, “But I do not allow a woman to teach or exercise authority over a man, but to remain quiet.” This basically says that women are not permitted to do two things: they cannot teach Christian doctrine to Christian men, and cannot exercise authority over Christian men (as in the offices of apostles and elders). (1 Tim. 3:15 shows that in this letter Paul is discussing what should be done within the context of the church.) For more detail about this verse see my book, “The Faith Once for All,” 431-440; and my book, “Feminism and the Bible,” 313-327.

Though it goes against a very entrenched tradition in Restoration churches, I do not believe women serving communion violates either of these prohibitions. This is a role of service, purely and simply. Here are two cautions, however. First, as with all permissible activities, the rule of expediency must be applied (see my commentary on Romans 14). I.e., even though it may be right in itself, we must always ask if it might cause harm to weaker brethren and thus to the church itself. In such a case it should be delayed until sound teaching can be done on the subject, showing why it is consistent with Biblical teaching. Second, giving the communion meditation is quite different from serving the emblems. The former usually involves teaching and thus falls under the first prohibition in 1 Tim. 2:12, while the latter does not.

Regarding leading singing and leading prayers in a church service, my opinion is that neither of these activities constitutes teaching Christian doctrine or exercising authority. We should not confuse “leading” in these contexts with “exercising authority.” Authority gives a person the right to tell others what to do, in the sense that the latter have a moral obligation to obey (e.g., Luke 6:46; Eph. 6:1; Heb. 13:17). This is not happening in leading singing or in leading prayer.

But what about the teaching that women must “remain quiet” and “keep silent”? Does not Paul specifically say that “they are not permitted to speak”? Here it is important to see that the Greek words in 1 Tim. 2:11-12 and in 1 Cor. 14:34 are different. In 1 Tim. 2:12 the word is “hesuchia,” which does NOT mean “be silent” (contrary to the NIV translation), but to have a quiet, submissive demeanor or attitude. This same word is used also in verse 11, “Let a woman QUIETLY [with a quiet spirit] receive instruction.” Thus this passage does not forbid women to speak in a church service.

But what about 1 Cor. 14:34? Here the Greek word for “keep silent” is “sigao,” which DOES mean literal silence; and the Greek word in the phrase “not permitted to speak” is “laleo,” which is the ordinary word for oral speaking or talking. However, the context of the verse shows that Paul is referring to a specific kind of speaking, namely, the public use of the miraculous spiritual gifts of speaking in tongues and prophesying. In apostolic times women had such gifts and could use them outside the public assembly, (1 Cor. 11:5; compare v. 18), but not in the assembly or church service as such. That is the point of 1 Cor. 14:34; see 1 Cor. 14:26-33, where the word “laleo” is used three times for this special kind of speaking. (This prohibition would apply, of course, only as long as the special gifts existed in the church.)

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