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
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
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.)