Thinking and Living Biblically in a Gender-neutral Society
Biblical Manhood and Womanhood series
First Presbyterian Church
1 Timothy 2:11-15, 1 Corinthians 14
“Silent in the Church: Why Can't Women Preach?”
Dr. J. Ligon Duncan
As we began the study of the subject of Christian Manhood and Womanhood this summer, there were several reasons given for the importance of undertaking this survey.
One is we want to foster biblical manhood and womanhood in the Church because it's never safe for Christians to act unbiblically. If the Bible teaches us to do something, and we ignore that, we can be sure that it will come back to haunt us because God doesn't say something for nothing in His Word.
Secondly, we've said that we want to foster biblical manhood and womanhood in the family and the church because when biblical manhood and womanhood is denied or altered or unpracticed, it always results in disasters of one sort or another for families and marriages and for children and communities where the teaching of the Scripture is ignored.
But thirdly, we have said that this issue is important because it is very much at the heart of the cultural transition that we find ourselves in the midst of right now. And we've given examples of that just about every week during the summer, and I've got two or three more to share with you tonight. And, of course, as you might expect two of these relate to the actions that have just been taken by the Episcopal Church USA. Now, as we have studied the issues of biblical manhood and womanhood, we have argued that a whole range of issues in our society are actually tied together. The definition of a marriage; the definition of a family; the nature of human sexuality–is human sexuality only to be heterosexual or is it to be bisexually or homosexually or androgynously expressed? What is the nature of human sexuality? Where is the proper place for it to be expressed? And we've also said that tied into the issues of homosexuality, the definition of marriage and family, is the whole issue of male-female role relationships. They are tied together.
Now, let me give you a quote from Karen King who is the WIN Professor of Ecclesiastical History at Harvard University's Divinity School, so you can tell that she’ll be coming from the extreme right-wing on this. Obviously not. The point is, listen to Karen King who is very supportive of what the ECUSA did. Listen to her tie together these issues. This is not me forcing this tie-together on her; this is her arguing this tie-together. This is what she says:
“As the Episcopal Church considers the ordination of an openly gay bishop and the blessing of same-sex marriages, it is worthwhile to remember some of the dynamics of sexual politics from the first centuries of Christianity. The earliest surviving documents of Christianity, the letters of Paul, already show that there were controversies over same-sex relations, marriage, and women's roles in leadership. The logic against same-sex relations, that they violated the hierarchical rule of men has remained in place. It's time to break that logic.”
But isn't it interesting that she acknowledges that the letters that we are about to study tonight do, in fact, tie those issues together. It used to be, when evangelicals would argue that, the situation was: women's rights were popular; homosexual rights were not–say, thirty years ago. And when evangelicals would say that these issues are tied together, the response of the left would be an angry reaction. “You’re just saying that as an ad hominem argument against women's rights.” Isn't it interesting now, that those who were supporting same-sex unions, homosexual marriage, homosexual ordination, are now saying, “As a matter of fact, all of those issues are tied together; and if you are going to bring about true liberation, you need to not only bring about allowing women an expansive role in the church, but you need to allow homosexuals an expansive role in the church.” And she goes on to say this:
“The Episcopal Church now needs to consider what the Spirit is saying about the goodness and justice of the ancient rationale against same-sex relations.”
One of the things that you will have heard on NPR, or on Bill O’Reilly, or whatever you've been listening to or reading is this argument in the last twenty-four hours–the Spirit versus the Scripture. “The Spirit is leading us in these new directions over against the old, narrow, ways of these ancient writings.” And so, the Spirit versus the Scripture is a major hermeneutic that is going on in this discussion. And we're going to see tonight why Paul won't let you get by with that kind of a hermeneutic explicitly as he addresses this issue in 1 Corinthians 13. Now listen to what Karen King goes on to say:
“History clearly documents the important contributions that women have made in religion. Whether their leadership roles were formerly acknowledged or not, it's time to remember those Christians who say that sexual difference does not impact one's qualifications for spiritual leadership, nor does sexual identity as one's partner determine whether a marriage relationship fulfills the obligations of love, mutuality and moral goodness.”
And so, she ties those things together so that the issue of the definition of marriage, family, male-female role relationships, and homosexuality are all part of one particular issue. It is a very interesting admission from the left on this particular theological issue. Now, here's a report on what happened yesterday.
“Yesterday the oldest Protestant tradition in North America departed from biblical teaching on marriage and sexuality.” By the way, this statement is from a non-theologian, non-pastor making this statement. It's a person who is very involved in moral political activism, but is not a minister or another church. “The Episcopal Church USA whose spiritual heritage gave the English-speaking world the King James Bible…” (I think the Anglicans of Britain would take umbrage at that.) …and the Book of Common Prayer, confirmed Gene Robinson as the first openly homosexual bishop in the world-wide Anglican Communion.” That's the significance of what happened yesterday, the first openly homosexual bishop in the worldwide Anglican Communion. Robinson had previously described his relationship with Mark Andrews as “sacramental”–a means of supernatural grace. What Anglican orthodoxy has traditionally identified as sinful behavior and incompatible with Scripture, Robinson has, in other words, called a “grace.”
And that's how serious this particular action is, but again, these issues are all tied together. Now for one last quote. Last week, California Governor Gray Davis approved the transsexual rights bill for the State of California. Heard of this? He has refused to protect the religious consciences of business owners in a move that caters to cross dressers and transsexuals at the expense of the state at large. Yesterday Governor Davis signed a bill that will penalize any company or business that refuses to hire such individuals, and that includes religious businesses such as Bible bookstores. The state will levy the same $150,000 fine on property owners who choose not to rent to transsexuals or cross dressers. Though the homosexual lobby insists that this isn't an infringement on religious rights, we all understand where this is headed–straight to the heart of the faith-based hiring protections debate. No employer should be coerced to hire someone whose views are diametrically opposed to the business or the owner. And this is again another description of what's going on from a particular news source.
So you see these things happening in the world around us even as we have moved through this study this summer, and for this reason, it is very appropriate that we take this time and study this particular matter.
And the final reason that we believe it's important to study the issue is that the denial or twisting of the Bible's clear teaching on this issue is one of the clear ways that the Bible's authority is being undermined in our own times. One of the favorite things for folks to say is “Well, that's just your interpretation.” And that is used to blunt the force of any particular biblical directive.
So, what's our goal, our agenda, our thesis for tonight? I have two points and here's my thesis: God teaches in the Bible that He gives spiritual leadership in the Church to qualified male elders, and thus restricts the teaching office of the church to men who meet the range of qualifications He has established in the Word.
Let me just say something about that statement. You notice that it emphasizes that the qualification for church office is not just that you are male and you have a brain. The qualification is that you are male and that you meet the rest of the qualifications for eldership. There's a long list of them, and being a male is only one of them. So, it's not just a male versus female thing. It's qualified males to hold this particular office. So let me say that one more time. God teaches in the Bible that He gives spiritual leadership in the church to qualified male elders and thus restricts the teaching office in the church to men who meet the range of qualifications He has established in the Word. Consequently, the ministry of preaching and teaching in the church is undelegatably vested in the men who serve as the elders of the church. And that's my thesis.
Now, with that thesis, I have two goals. My first goal is to prove from Scripture what I've just stated. I want to go to five New Testament passages that do not beat around the bush; they just say these things bluntly. So I want to suggest that it is not difficult to prove from Scripture what I've just stated since there is copious, clear, and explicit New Testament evidence for all male ruling elder, teaching eldership in the church. And I've given you the examples on the outline of the passages we're going to go through. I even underlined the salient words in the verses for you to look at. The second agenda that I have is to respond to objections.
I. There are at least five NT passages that explicitly establish an all-male teaching office in the Church.
I have 19 objections written down, and I'm not even sure whether I’ll get to the objections section, but if I don't, somewhere along the line I’ll tape these and we’ll make it available in the series set if you want to pick it up. But let's go to the five passages that are before you on the sheet. Let’ start with 1 Timothy 2:8-15. There are least five New Testament passages that explicitly establish all male teaching in the church. Look especially at verses 11 and 12. “A woman must 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.” Then in verses 13-15, Paul gives his rationale for that. Now, in the context of 1 Timothy 2, Paul is talking about the way he wants the church to behave, especially in its corporate gathering. Paul is saying that he wants an all male teaching office in the church. He wants the women to receive that teaching; he wants them to be disciples–that was revolutionary in and of itself in his own day and time–but, he wants the eldership to be the ones who are responsible for doing that teaching. That becomes clear not only from what he says earlier in chapter two, but what he's going to go on to say in 1 Timothy 3. I'm going to come back to that passage and look at it in a little more detail, but that's just in general a very direct assertion. “I do not allow a woman to teach or exercise authority over a man.” That's very clear.
Secondly, 1 Timothy 3:1-2, 4 and 12. Paul gives the directions for elders. What are the qualifications for elders? What is the job of elders? What are the qualifications for deacons? Look at what he says about elders in 1 Timothy 3:1 and 2. He says, “If a man desires the office of overseer, or elder, or bishop, it is a fine work he desires to do. An overseer must be above reproach, the husband of one wife. Now, if you were just taking that in the abstract, you might argue, “Well, all that is a requirement for monogamy; that the man is not a polygamist.” Therefore, you could apply it and say in that case if there was a woman elder then she would need to make sure that she was not a polygamist, that she did not have more than one husband corresponding to the idea that the man only has one wife. But in the context of 1 Timothy 3, it's clear that what Paul is actually getting at is that the man fulfills the qualifications of the role distinctions that are to be expressing themselves in Christian families and that is, that he is a good leader of his own home. Proof? Look at verse 4. “He must be one who manages his own household well.” So there's more to it than he's simply monogamous. In verse 2 when it says he's the husband of one wife. What's being said here is that he is following the pattern of Christian spiritual leadership in the home. He's the husband of one wife, and he manages his own household well. So, this is more than simply saying that whoever the person is, they’re just married to one other person. OK?
Interestingly, the same thing is said about deacons. They are to be husbands of only one wife and good managers of their children and their own household. There Paul pulls those things right together, and the description of elders put in verses 2 and 4 and separated slightly by a little discourse, but in verse 12 you see those two qualifications for deacons pulled together proving my point that Paul has more on his mind than that the person is just married to one other person at the particular time that he is elected.
Thirdly, look at Titus 1: 5-6 where you have the parallel list for qualifications for elders and now you will see again that same qualification. For the man to be the husband of one wife having children who believe, not accused of dissipation or rebellion, and that again is the picture on the one hand of a good husband, and on the other hand, he's a good manager of his home. The same ideas are being carried through there. So, what's the point? He has to manifest manly, godly, spiritual leadership in the home. That's the qualification. So, it's not simply the requirement that the person be married to just one other person at the particular time that they are elected, it's the reflection of manly, godly, biblical, spiritual leadership in the home.
The fourth passage in the New Testament is 1 Corinthians 11:5-10. “Every woman who has her head uncovered while praying or prophesying disgraces her head, ” and “The woman ought to have a symbol of authority on her head because of the angels.” We looked at this passage in some detail the last time we were together, but the significance of it is this. Even in the situation where you have a genuinely supernatural, charismatic congregation like Corinth, where there were women who were endowed by the Holy Spirit with the gift of prophecy, even those prophetesses, in their head covering, were to show their submission to male spiritual leadership in the exercise of that supernatural gift supplied to them by the third person of the Trinity. That's mind boggling; that these women are direct conduits for God the Holy Spirit, and even when they’re direct conduits of God the Holy Spirit, they are to do so in such a demeanor that they show their warm and happy and delightful and willing acceptance of male-female role relationships as they are defined in Genesis 1,2, and 3, and in the Law of God.
Isn't it interesting that in these passages so far, in Timothy where Paul is dealing with Ephesus, in Titus where he's dealing with Crete, and in Corinthians when he’ dealing with the church in Corinth, each of those areas, you understand, are areas where the church is heavily mixed with Gentiles. So, if ever there were a time where Paul were going to say, “We’re going to throw off all these old Jewish traditions about male-female role relationships, and we're going to get “with it” and say we're in Gentile territory, and you Gentiles don't have the kind of hang ups that we Jews had culturally imposed upon us about male-female role relationships and it's going to be free for all here in Corinth, Crete, and Ephesus. If ever there was an opportunity for Paul to do that, this was his time. And what does he do? He says, “By the way, Gentiles, I know that you are ignorant barbarians and you don't know how things are done back in Jerusalem, but this is how things are going to be in Crete, Ephesus, and Corinth.” And he goes out of his way in 1 Corinthians, twice in chapter 11 and in chapter 14, to say that “what I am telling you is not just for you.” You see, a lot of people will say that these rules were just for Corinth, or these rules were given because there was a particular problem in Ephesus. Well, it's interesting that Paul goes out of his way to say, “what I am telling you is the way it's supposed to be everywhere.” Notice 1 Corinthians 11:16. “If one is inclined to be contentious, we have no other practice, nor have the churches of God.” Paul is not just saying, “We don't do it that way anywhere else, so ya’ll need to do it that way.” Paul is saying, “There is no other practice for the church of God.” The reason that all the other churches do it this way is because this is the way God wants them to do it.” And so, Corinthians, whether you like it or not, this is the way we're going to do it here in Corinth.
Now, follow on to 1 Corinthians 14, where he goes on to say in verse 34, “The women are to keep silent in the churches for they are not permitted to speak but are to subject themselves just as the law also says.” It goes on to say in verse 35, “It is improper for a woman to speak in the church.” Now again, in this passage Paul is prohibiting the preaching and authoritative teaching activity of women in the congregation of the church. So, given the crucial ness of his statement in 1 Timothy 2, and in 1 Corinthians 14, we need to look at those passages in more detail. So turn back to 1 Timothy 2, verses 8-15.
Let me make just a few high-point comments on this passage. In 1 Timothy 2:8, Paul makes a point that he wants men leading in the public prayer of the church. This does not mean that it is illegitimate for women to pray at the prayer meeting of First Presbyterian Church. How do I get that? What's happening in Acts, chapter 1? The apostles are gathered in the upper room and who is with them praying? Mary and the other women are praying. So, it is a wonderful thing for men and women of the church to get together and pray at a prayer meeting. But who does Paul say that he explicitly wants leading the whole congregation in worship in prayer? He says I want the men. He doesn't use the generic, I want people everywhere, but I want the men everywhere lifting up their hands in prayer and leading the congregation. This is what he is arguing for in 1 Timothy 2:8.
Then corresponding to that in verses 9 and 10, he says, “what I want the women to do is to adorn themselves in godliness.” By the way, he's not making an absolute prohibition towards the women wearing certain types of clothing. His point is that the thing that women in the church are to be esteemed for is not that they have the prettiest outfit, or the best figure, but that they are to be godly women. They are to be esteemed and honored for that in the church for their godliness, and women are to cultivate those graces as part of the thing they are honored for in the church.
By the way, you see what a substantive view of women that is. A shallow view of women is to say, “She who dresses the cutest and looks the cutest is the bestest.” The substantive way to treat a woman is to say, “I care about your mind and your soul, your spiritual character because those things encourage me; they inspire me; they move me; the challenge me.” That's a substantive way to treat a woman; that's not a superficial way to treat a woman. Don't ever buy the lark about Paul being a misogynist; you read what Paul says about women and you’ll see that he had the most profound respect for women who served along with him, often risking their lives in gospel ministry. He wants them to adorn themselves with godliness.
Then he says this in verse 11. There's clearly an issue going on in Ephesus. He says women are to quietly receive instruction with entire submissiveness. I want to say two things about that phrase. The first thing that we see there when we are reading this is that women must quietly receive instruction with entire submissiveness. We lock in on “quietly” and “submissiveness.” And we think, “Paul, you are just coming down on women like a ton of bricks,” and we miss something really big. Paul says here that women must receive instruction. Paul is saying, “Yes, in the Christian church; women are disciples.” Now in Rabbinic Judaism, this was not the way. You know, the prayer of the Rabbi was to wake up in the morning and to say, “I thank God that I am not a barbarian or a woman.” That was the Rabbi's prayer. So women were not disciples of the same manner in Rabbinic Judaism as Paul, and, of course, as Jesus intends. Jesus had women in his circles of disciples; Paul said women are to receive instruction. So, don't miss the positive thing there. But then he goes on to say this. Women are not to be the givers of instruction as the church gathers and as the word is authoritatively proclaimed. They are to receive that instruction and godly men, elders are to be giving that instruction. So, that the headship of men, the authority of elders, is not to be tested or attacked or challenged by women in the public assembly. Instead, they are to receive that teaching and feast upon that teaching. That is what Paul is saying in 1 Timothy2:11.
And then in verses 12-15, he reiterates it. “I do not allow a woman to teach or exercise authority over a man, but to remain quiet.” And then he gives his rationale for it. I won't go into the specifics of that rationale, except to say this. Isn't it interesting that when Paul gives his rationale for this, he doesn't say, “Because this is something that I thought up.” He doesn't even say, “Because this is what Jesus says.” He goes all the way back to the first book of the Bible, all the way back to the Torah written by Moses, and he goes all the way back to the beginning and to the story of Adam and Eve and the Fall. And he says, the reason that this is to be this way in Ephesus is not because of some ad hoc problem that you have, but because this is the way that God made men and women to relate. When that way is not followed, let me tell you a little story from Genesis 3. In other words, Paul says that the reversal of roles that is contemplated when the all male qualified teaching office is violated in the church is precisely the same circumstance that we see played out in the Fall of man where Adam abdicated his responsibility as the covenant keeper and Eve started a chain that led to the fall of man. So, this is his rationale for women not teaching or exercising authority in the public assembly.
Now, turn with me to 1 Corinthians 14. I want to expand the passage as we look at it. Look back at verse 26 where Paul summarizes a list of five things. This is a hard passage; I know that. But it is pretty clear in the main, and here Paul summarizes. It's like, “OK, if you missed everything I said in the first 25 verses, let me just reiterate.” Verse 26: “What is the outcome then brethren? When you assemble, each one has a (1) psalm, has a (2) teaching, has a (3) revelation, has a (4) tongue, and has a (5) interpretation.”
So he said, let's talk about five elements that are going on in this particular service of worship in Corinth. A psalm, so there is a singing of Psalms; teaching, somebody is proclaiming the word; a revelation, there are people who are prophesying, giving revelations from God; there are people who are speaking in tongues; and fifth, there are people who are interpreting those who are speaking in tongues so that everybody in the congregation can hear what it is that the people who are speaking in tongues are saying. And the grand rule–at the end of verse 26, “Let all things be done for edification.” So, rule number one is that everything that happens in the corporate worship of the church ought to be doing what? It ought to be edifying the body. Our goal ought to be edifying the body in the word of God.
That's why Paul has already said in 1 Corinthians 14, that if there's somebody there that has a tongue, that is, that God, the third person of the Trinity, the Holy Spirit, has endowed them with the capacity to speak in an unknown foreign language and there's no one there to interpret it, what happens? He doesn't get to speak. Can you imagine this conversation, “Uh, Paul, you don't understand. God, the Holy Spirit, has given me a tongue.” “Right, there's nobody here to interpret; sit down.” “But Paul, the third person of the Trinity has given me this tongue. You are telling me that I can't use it?” “Right. Sit down.” Do you realize what is going on here? Let anybody try to give you a Spirit versus Scripture argument against that. Paul is saying what? The Scripture regulates the human expression of the activity of the third person of the Trinity in the context of worship. Now, of course, the reason is the Spirit wrote Scripture. So, the Spirit doesn't contradict Himself in our experience, since He wrote the Bible. He wrote it just they way He wanted it to be done in worship. So here, Paul is saying, “A Psalm, a teaching, a tongue, an interpretation; here's the major rule. In everything let there be edification.”
Now, watch what he does in verses 27-34. He starts taking these in reverse order. He takes up the issue of tongues and interpretation first. Look at verse 27. “If anyone speaks in a tongue, it should be by two or three at most and each in turn. And one must interpret.” He sets down several rules. No more than three can speak in tongues at a worship service. Can you imagine that you’re the fourth guy and you've got a tongue. And do you know what Paul has to say for you? “Wait ‘til next week.” That's what Paul has to say. And you start that argument again. “But Paul…” And Paul says, “Wait. At most, two or three at a time speak–that's it. Then, only one at a time–each in turn.” One guy is speaking in a tongue and another guy pops up and he's got a tongue from the Holy Spirit, and Paul says, “Sit down. One at a time.”
Then, the next rule is that if no one is there to interpret, then no one gets to speak. Why? What is Paul's fundamental rule? It is that all things have to be done for edification. If you speak in tongues in a congregation where nobody knows Latin, and there's no interpreter there who has been divinely given the power to translate what the tongue's speaker is saying in the Latin so everyone can understand, then it can't edify. So it is not going to be done. There's his rule for tongues. He starts out with his fourth and fifth things–tongues and interpretation.
Then he goes on in verse 28 and explains about the work of the interpreter. “If there is no interpreter, he must keep silent in the church.” There's his explanation about how things are to be done in regard to the fourth and fifth items in verse 26.
Then, he goes to the third item–the revelation. And in verse 19 he says, “Let two or three prophets speak.” The directive again is three prophecies at the most. If you’re the fourth, then wait until next week. He goes on to give instructions in verses 29, 30, 31, 32, and 33, about how to prophecy. Again, the rules of one at a time, and all of those things obtain. He gives a reason in verse 33. “For God is not a God of confusion, but of peace.” So notices how the Spirit is not put over against order. Orderliness and the Spirit are not enemies. Form is not the enemy of freedom, especially when the Spirit wrote the form. So he says that God is not going to have church services that look like a free-for-all. Why? The Spirit is a Spirit of order. So, Paul is giving these instructions. Then, in that context, look at verse 34. “The women are to keep silent in the church.”
So, is this a prohibition? “Once a woman crosses through those doors into First Pres, she's got to zip it and say nothing else.” Is that what Paul is getting at? No! Why? Not because that sounds unreasonable to us, but look back to what that parallels to–teaching. You've moved from tongue and interpretation, back to revelation, back to teaching. This is not a “gag order” from the Apostle Paul. “OK, women, no talking at church.” This is a directive, “Women, don't preach. It's not your job.” Don't get up in the pulpit and preach; that's a job for qualified male elders. So, this is not a universal gag order when he says they are not permitted to speak. It's not saying, “Women, don't say anything.” It is a directive for all women to respect the all male-qualified eldership in leading the teaching ministry of the church. He makes it very clear in verses 34, 35, and 36. And, by the way, in verse 34, Paul does not say, “I say this because it's the cultural thing to do, or because I thought up this particular regulation.” Look at what Paul says at the end of verse 34, “Just as the law says.” When Paul says “the law,” what does he mean? He means either the whole Old Testament, or especially, the first five books of the Old Testament, the Torah, the Books of Moses. He's saying that I am rooting what I am saying in what God teaches in the Law of God; this is a moral law of God.
Now, if someone wants to argue with Paul, look at what he has to say in verses 37 and 38. “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. But if anyone does not recognize this, he is not recognized.” Paul fully expects somebody to say, “Paul, I'm full of the Spirit, and the Spirit says to me that you are wrong.” And the Apostle Paul says back, “OK, you want to take that position? Here's what I have to say to you. You take that position against what I've just written under the inspiration of the Holy Spirit, you are not recognized in the church because what I am speaking I am speaking as an apostolic authority, one vested with the authority of Christ and inspired by the Holy Spirit to speak His word.”
Notice what he goes on to say. “All things must be done properly and in an orderly manner.” This is a great favorite Presbyterian verse. The beautiful thing is that it is in a passage about the charismatic activity of the Holy Spirit, so that those two things are not put against one another; they work beautifully together. This is God the Holy Spirit in all His power and might regulating the decency and order of the local congregation. So, Paul puts restrictions on those who may preach the word in the corporate worship of the churches, saying that the women are to keep silent in the churches; they are not permitted to speak just as the law says. Paul grounds this injunction not on some temporary cultural problem in Corinth, but in the written Word of God just as the law says. And there's no more easily observable example of the widespread rejection of the authority of Scripture for the worship of the church in our day than the ever growing numbers of people who reject what Paul has to say about an all male-qualified eldership in the church. Even in evangelical circles we have that particular struggle. Paul's directive here is unmistakable. God's Word alone determines who may and may not preach in the worship of the church. That's why our position is what it is. It's not because we're mean; it's not because we're male chauvinists though some of us may act like male chauvinists, but the fundamental reason is because God's Word very clearly teaches this. Amen.