Women in the assembly of the church

Nick had a good suggestion in the comments yesterday. (Why does he get all of the good ideas?) He thought I should point out some of the ways in which my views differ from the traditional viewpoint held by many in churches of Christ.

Traditionally, we have mainly built off of what Paul says to the Corinthians about women being silent and his instructions to Timothy in chapter 2. (Though it’s a gross oversimplification to say that’s the whole of the argument) Key verses are:

“Women should remain silent in the churches. They are not allowed to speak, but must be in submission, as the law says. 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.” (1 Corinthians 14:34-35)
“Therefore I want the men everywhere to pray, lifting up holy hands without anger or disputing.” (1 Timothy 2:8) — the argument being that men and only men are mentioned as praying in this verse.
“A woman should learn in quietness and full submission. I do not permit a woman to teach or to assume authority over a man; she must be quiet.” (1 Timothy 2:11-12)

As Nick pointed out, I think that 1 Corinthians 14 is addressing a specific problem that existed in the church in Corinth. This last part of chapter 14 is dealing with disruptive behavior in assemblies. Paul has set limits for those speaking in tongues and prophesying; he also limits how the women should behave. The wording makes it sound like some women were asking questions inappropriately, possibly challenging their own husbands in the assembly. It probably has to do with the testing of prophecy that is mentioned earlier in that chapter. Whatever was going on, I see no reason to see these instructions as trumping those in chapter 11, where Paul told how women were to pray and prophesy in public. (I recognize that some feel this was public prayer/prophesy that didn’t take place in the assembly; I find this unconvincing.)

If Paul’s comments in 1 Timothy 2:8 were meant to keep women from praying (overriding 1 Corinthians 11), he was remarkably obtuse with his instructions. What I see is men being told to stop arguing and concentrate on praying. I see nothing about what women can or can’t do. And I definitely can’t agree with those that insist this verse refers to the assembly while 1 Corinthians 11 doesn’t.

As for the last part of 1 Timothy 2, I find Paul’s whole argument difficult to understand. But I also feel that he was dealing with something specific that was going on in Ephesus. Ephesus was a center of goddess worship, and women were active in pagan religions in that area. Plus there were false teachers in Ephesus who were taking advantage of some of these women. Some of what Paul says to Timothy elsewhere points to this:

“Besides, they (young widows) get into the habit of being idle and going about from house to house. And not only do they become idlers, but also busybodies who talk nonsense, saying things they ought not to.” (1 Timothy 5:13)
“They (false teachers) are the kind who worm their way into homes and gain control over gullible women, who are loaded down with sins and are swayed by all kinds of evil desires, always learning but never able to come to a knowledge of the truth.” (2 Timothy 3:6-7)

It’s also worth noting that Paul says that women are to be in quietness, not in silence. It’s the same word he uses in 1 Timothy 2:2 to describe our lives.

I think one reason that Paul said the things he did (including passages like 1 Corinthians 11 and Ephesians 5) was to defend the principle of male leadership. He could make these arguments because the church was aware of this principle.

Now, how do I differ in application?

  • I see absolutely nothing wrong with women serving communion. The only objection I could see is the idea of authority/leadership (sort of like Paul’s arguments about the veil), but I have yet to find anyone who sees this act of service as authoritative.
  • Since I don’t see Paul’s command about silence to refer to every situation, I have no problem with women giving a greeting or making announcements when the church is gathered.
  • I believe that 1 Corinthians 11 describes women praying in public; I don’t believe that 1 Timothy is saying that only men can pray. Therefore, I don’t have a problem with women leading prayers in the assembly.
  • I believe that reading Scripture is analogous to prophesying; both speak a message from the Lord, not “private interpretation.” I have no problem with women reading Scripture in the assembly.
  • I believe in women deaconesses. I see that role as a role of service, not authority.

I’m sure we can lay out other scenarios and debate if God has authorized women to do this or that. But this is a start. I hold firmly to the principle of male leadership, yet feel that we have wrongly limited women in several areas.

(There should be enough in this post to make just about everyone angry! I’m always open to constructive criticism and instruction.)

6 thoughts on “Women in the assembly of the church

  1. donkeybro

    We enjoyed these verses in our Bible Study today. John 20:17-18 Jesus said, “Do not hold on to me, for I have not yet ascended to the Father. Go instead to my brothers and tell them, ‘I am ascending to my Father and your Father, to my God and your God.’” 18 Mary Magdalene went to the disciples with the news: “I have seen the Lord!” And she told them that he had said these things to her.

    Interesting that the Lord gave this word to a woman to deliver to the men.

  2. Tim Archer Post author

    Yes, Vern, that’s some of what I talked about in my previous post. Women have an important role to play in evangelism, personal teaching, and witnessing. I think Jesus’ ministry makes that very clear.

  3. Dave Hogan

    interesting points, Tim. Most of the applications we fuss about in our churches are serving roles, not leadership roles. Therefore, allowing women in roles that are purely service, like serving communion, should not be an issue.

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