Women Teachers?

Historical Background

        It is evident that women played an important part in the New Testament church. Women were present when the church began. (Acts 1.14.) Women were added to the church. (Acts 5.14; 8.12; 16.15; 17,4,12.) Women labored in the church in different ways, including teaching. (Philippians 4,3; Acts 18.26; Titus 2.3,4.) Romans 16 mentions several women who were especially prominent in the church. Certain women had spiritual gifts which allowed them to prophesy and, perhaps, to speak in tongues. (Acts 21.8-9.)

        It is also evident that there were limitations placed on the work of women. No women were chosen to be apostles; none were involved in public preaching. Those who led in public prayer were to be male. (1 Timothy 2.8; The Greek word for “men” here is ANER--males as opposed to the more usual term ANTHROPOS--mankind.) Those who served as Elders were to be male. (Titus 3.6.) In 1 Timothy 2.11-12 Paul provides the clearest description of the limitations which applied to women in the work and worship of the church: “Let a woman 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.” Women were to learn in quietness and subjection. They were not to teach over a man. They were not to usurp authority over a man. These limitations on the role of women were generally observed for several centuries.

        As the church gradually digressed from the New Testament pattern, however, the role of women changed. When it came to be accepted that most teaching was to be done by a special “clergy” class, women began to be regarded with less importance. The Catholic church took the position that most of the religious work of women should be performed by nuns who lived in convents and who had taken special vows. Usually the work of these nuns was limited to deeds of charity and sometimes giving secular education to the children of wealthier classes.

        During the early part of the Protestant Reformation women were generally relegated to the home. Gradually women began to play a more important part in various denominations. In some cases women took over the leadership and claimed the right to publicly speak and teach.

        In the early 1800's a movement to restore authentic New Testament Christianity began to gain momentum in various places around the world--especially America. With the coming of this “Restoration Movement” the question of the woman's role in the church increasingly became a matter of serious study. As churches began to rely more on Bible schools as instruments of education and edification, it became evident that women were usually able to teach children more effectively than men. In 1938 C.R. Nichol wrote, "That women are the better teachers in the primary departments is affirmed by all who are informed." (C.R. Nichol, God's Woman, p. 44.) Also. women occasionally began to be used to teach and speak to other women, especially at college lectureships and in women's Bible classes.

        Some spoke our in opposition to using women in any public way at all. Usually this controversy was linked with the Bible class issue because this is where women were most often used. Those opposed to Bible classes generally were also opposed to women teachers.

Opposition To Women Teachers

        Those who have opposed the use of women in teaching have used as their basic text 1 Corinthians 14.34-35, “Let the women keep silent in the churches; for they are not permitted to speak, but let them subject themselves, just as the Law also says. And 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.” A study of the context of this passage shows that it applies to a meeting unlike any we have today. Clearly, the meeting in question was one at which miraculous spiritual gifts were exercised. (cf vs. 1, 4, 5, 6, 13, 18, 22, 23, 27, 29, 30, 31, 32, 33.) "The women" (wives) seems to refer to the wives of those who were exercising the gift of prophecy. The instruction, therefore, does not seem to be intended for unmarried women or widows or women whose husbands were not members of the church. The passage, therefore, teaches that when a prophet receives a revelation which his wife sitting in the audience does not fully understand, she is not to interrupt and make inquiry on the spot but must wait in silence and ask her husband at home.

        It is also possible that the passage refers to women who prophesied or spoke in tongues and the teaching is that they were not to do so in public worship services.

        If the passage is applied literally to all women at all times, it would eliminate both their singing and confessing Christ. The Greek word for “silent” in 1 Corinthians 14.34 is SIGAO and means not to break the silence at all. Women could not break silence in any way in the service--even to sing or confess Christ before baptism if we take the position that Paul is speaking to all women here. Closer study shows that the ban of 1 Corinthians 14 applies even to some of the men who were also told “to keep silent” - (vs. 28, 30; the same Greek word SIGAO is used.)

        Some have argued that women should not teach because they are to be in subjection to men. (cf 1 Timothy 2.11-12.) It is certainly true that women are to be in subjection, but a woman teaching children and other women is not setting herself over men. The “silence” (or “quiet”--NASB,) mentioned in I Timothy 2.12 is the Greek word HESUCHIA and is very different from the word used in 1 Corinthians 14.34. It is elsewhere used in the New Testament to describe the life of one who stays home doing his own work and does not meddle with the affairs of others. (cf. 1 Timothy 2.2.)

        It has been argued by some that if a woman is allowed to teach she will also preach and lead public prayers. Paul says in 1 Timothy 2.8 "Therefore, I want the men in every place to pray..." This is not said of women. Therefore, there is no scriptural authority for them to lead public prayers. Part of the work of an evangelist is that he is to “reprove with all authority.” (Titus 2. 15.) 1 Timothy 2. 11-12 would not permit a woman to do this.

Scriptural Authority for Women Teachers

        Women, though subject to some scriptural restrictions and limitations, have a definite place in teaching God's Word. “Jehovah recognized woman's ability to teach, else there would have been no restrictions thrown around her in the work of teaching.” (C. R. Nichol, God's Woman, p 44) “Though there are some restrictions thrown around women in their work of teaching, no man has the right to deny her the right to teach, save as the Lord has circumscribed her activities as a teacher.” (C. R. Nichol. God's Woman, p, 45)

        Women were commanded to teach in Titus 2,4 and they did teach according to Acts 18.26. These passages provide proof that a woman is to teach. This teaching took place either in an assembly or out of it. If it was out of it, then this was a class. Wherever there is a teacher, a pupil. and a lesson in progress there is a class, call it what you will!

        The New Testament refers to the following women who taught: Phillips four daughters (Acts 21.9); Priscilla (Acts 18.26); Aged women (Titus 2.3-4.)

        The restrictions on women teachers are listed in 1 Timothy 2.11,12. This passage forbids a woman to teach in such a way as to exercise a certain type of dominion. It is obvious that these prohibitions are limited in nature, for a woman may both teach and exercise dominion of her children. Thus while a woman may teach and exercise dominion, she may not exercise either over a man. Teaching over a man involves the inherent idea of usurption of authority and assumption of dominion. Any time the woman usurps the authority she is wrong. There are several ways of a woman usurping authority. She may teach without approval of the elders. She may refuse to recognize the headship of her husband. She may refuse to be in subjection. But she may scripturally teach where she does not usurp the authority.

        God is glorified and the church is strengthened when we observe both the opportunities and the limitations established by Scripture in connection with the role of women in the work of the church. “If anyone thinks he is a prophet or spiritual, let him recognize that the things which I write to you are the Lord's commandment.” (1 Corinthians 14.37.)