If it were not for the work and influence of godly women on families, churches, government and business this whole world would be in far worse shape than it is now. When Jesus began his ministry the attitudes toward women among the religious folk was not good. Women were not seen as man’s equal in any way. They were property there for the pleasure of the man. Jesus was extremely different from the religious leaders of his day in multiple ways. One of them was his ties to women.
Luke 8:1-4 tells how certain women traveled with Jesus and the twelve and supported their work. He took time from a very busy preaching life to visit the home of Mary and Martha quite often. Even when Lazarus their brother became ill and they contacted him, he made his way back to Bethany to see about them and to raise Lazarus from the dead. He wept with them in their time of hurt.
His first appearance after his resurrection was to a woman to send her back and tell the apostles that he had been raised.
It is also obvious that in Acts 2 when the church started it was only men who were up speaking to the crowd. Throughout the Book of Acts it was men who served as preachers of the word of God. But was that a matter of doctrine or a matter of culture? It is noted in Acts 21 that Philip had four virgin daughters that prophesied and no mention is made of where or under what circumstances they did their prophesying.
In Galatians 3:28 Paul said that there is neither Jew nor Greek, slave or free, male or female for you are all one in Christ. Obviously when it comes to spiritual standing women are on equal footing with a man.
But what about the limitations some Scriptures place on the work of women in the church? Let’s focus on three different Scriptures and see if we can find answers.
In I Corinthians 11 Paul discusses the dress of those who come together as Christians. The first half of this chapter is obviously not talking about the worship assembly but of some other kind of gathering of Christians. When he gets down to verse 17 and following to talk about the Lord’s Supper he starts to emphasize when the whole church comes together in one place. Earlier it was some kind of gathering and there were both men and women there. In that setting some Christians women were “Praying and prophesying with their head uncovered” and in doing so dishonored their head. Notice he didn’t tell the women to quit praying and prophesying while they were together if men were present. He told them instead to wear a veil to demonstrate their submission to the man.
In I Corinthians 14 there is a lengthy discussion of the gathering of Christians to worship. He mentioned several things that should characterize those assemblies, such as taking turns in speaking and not speaking in tongues unless there is someone there that can interpret what is being said. He told the tongue speaker to “Keep silent” if there were no interpreter and the prophet to “Keep silent while another prophet was speaking to the church.”
In that connection in verses 34-35 he said, “As in all the congregations of the saints, 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.”
Notice that the same phrase is used about the tongue speaker without an interpreter, the prophet when another is up speaking and the woman in the assembly. In an old book written by C.R. Nichol called God’s Woman, Brother Nichol argued that the women here are the wives of the prophets and not women generally. They could ask their husbands at home because their husbands were the ones speaking. He saw it as being a problem with the wives of the prophets disrupting the assemblies by asking their husbands questions and keeping others from ever learning the things they wanted to know.
Even if he were right it does seem that the basic principle reaches further out than just with that situation. The phrase, “As in all the churches of the saints” indicates this is a general principle. Also the statement that it is shameful for a woman to speak in the church indicates it isn’t just a single congregation involved.
Notice that the context demonstrates the kind of speaking being referred to. It was the speaking that a tongue speaker shouldn’t do if there was no interpreter and the kind of speaking the prophet remained silent during if there was another prophet speaking. It was that speaking in the sense of proclaiming the word or preaching. We still commonly use the word “speaking” in that since. If someone were to ask you “Who spoke where you went to church Sunday?” none of us would try to list all the people that said a word. We would tell who preached to the congregation as a whole.
Thus this text indicates that a generally accepted principle of the first century was that women were not to be the ones who proclaimed the word of God in the worship assemblies.
The other Scripture that is important on this topic is I Timothy 2:11-15. Paul had been talking about the gathering of Christians for worship. He mentioned that men should pray everywhere without anger or disputing. Women should dress modestly in the worship gatherings. In that context he said, “A woman should learn in quietness and full submission. I do not permit a woman to teach or to have authority over a man; she must be silent. For Adam was formed first, then Eve and Adam was not the one deceived, it was the woman who was deceived and became a sinner. But woman will be saved through childbearing if they continue in faith, love and holiness with propriety.” The quietness seems to have to with demeanor instead of some injunction of what they do. The command aspect of the passage is “I do not permit a woman to teach or to have authority over a man.” Obviously this doesn’t mean women aren’t allowed to teach at all since Paul wrote Titus to teach the older woman to teach the younger women to love their husbands and children in Titus 2:1-3. It isn’t even saying that a woman can’t teach a man. In Acts 18 Paul gave the example of Priscilla and Aquilla taking Apollos aside to teach him more correctly the Lord’s will.
Instead both the words “teach” and “have authority” are modified by the phrase “over the man”. The woman is allowed to teach “Over the man” or to have authority “over the man.”
It seems to me that this is the reason he forbids the woman from being the preacher of the word since the preacher is to teach, encourage and rebuke “with all authority” (Titus 2:15)
Primarily these passages teach that God intended that the woman have a gentle and quiet spirit and not to take on the attributes of a man. Her work in the church is equally important to that of any man but it isn’t the same as that of a man. All people are equal before God but we all have different duties and responsibilities as his people.