A Woman’s Role [Part 2 of 3]

for women like these

Both inside the church and out, there has been much debate and misunderstanding regarding the role of women within the Christian faith.  Yet it is clear that women were full and active members of the early church (see, for example, I Corinthians 11:4-5 and Titus 2:1-10).  It was not uncommon for the first convert in a city to be a woman (Lydia is one example, see Acts 16:14).  Older women are called to mentor younger women in life skills and spiritual truths (Titus 2:1-10).  Women are also named as hosts/leaders of house churches in several cities either alongside their husbands or, in several cases, as single women (see Colossians 4:15 and Romans 16:1).  In fact, Paul boldly proclaims that men and women are equal in value and honor.  Galatians 3:28 states, “There is neither Jew nor Greek, there is neither slave nor free man, there is neither male nor female; for you are all one in Christ Jesus.”

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It is also clear that women in the church were called to uphold Godly order without confusion.  As in marriage and the Godhead, God ordained a structure.  Men are designated, as the firstborn of humanity, to uphold positions of headship.  In I Timothy 3:1-7, it is men who are called to the position of overseer or elder.  However, I Timothy 3:8-13 indicates that deacons may be either men or women.  In reality, the early church was served by deaconesses as well as deacons.  Whether men or women, the important point was that they be people of good character who were faithful to the Truth and above reproach in their behavior.  But while the structure is God ordained and good, the Trinity, marriage, and the church are about relationship first and foremost.  The Trinity is the original community.  Marriage is based upon mutual submission even as the husband is the head (see Ephesians 5:21-25).  And the church is a family.  It is an orderly family, to be sure (all good families are), but the structure is meant to free all its members to become who they are most fully.  It was never intended to lord the power and authority of one gender over the other.

That is why as they submit to their husbands (if married) and their pastors or elders, women are free to teach, to prophesy, and to pray in the church according to their gifts, callings, and maturity just as men are.  As already pointed out, older women are called to teach the younger (Titus 2:3-5).  In I Corinthians 11:5, women are described with approval as praying and prophesying before their congregations.  The Greek word for prophecy used here refers to speaking truths under the inspiration of the Holy Spirit.  It can refer to prediction or foretelling but also to simply declaring the truth of God as revealed in Scripture; what we would usually refer to as preaching.  Further, multiple prophetesses are named in Scripture who were used by God (see Exodus 15:20, Judges 4:4, II Kings 22:14, Luke 2:36).

Much is made of the passage in I Corinthians 14:34 in which women are commanded to “keep silent.”  What is often overlooked is that the teaching, prophesying, and praying women are exhorted to do could not happen if they were actually expected to remain speechless. What is more, in I Corinthians 14:28, men are required to “keep silent” themselves when no interpreter is present.  When the entire chapter is read in context, it becomes clear that the real point being made is

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that worship is to be orderly and God-honoring rather than filled with the confusion and turmoil that characterized the Corinthian church at that time.  The issue was not “men versus women, but…confusion versus order.”[1] According to the Biblical scholar Zodhiates, “In God’s sight, it makes no difference who causes the confusion.  It is a shame for any woman to bring confusion into the local church (v. 35), even as it is for any man to do so.”  Looking at the whole counsel of God’s word makes it clear that the command for women to remain silent was not absolute but specific to the situation and to the sort of speech that was being done.  Women in the Corinthian church were speaking[2] in ways that were incoherent or impossible to be understood by the hearers and were thus disruptive.  As women in the church, we are called to live and speak in ways that are honorable and that bring glory to God and not ourselves.  “For God is not the author of confusion, but of peace…” (I Corinthians 14:33).

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Stay tuned.  Final portion coming on Friday.


[1] Spiros Zodhiates, The Complete Word Study New Testament, p. 576.

[2] The word “speak” in I Corinthians 14:34 is laleo “to talk at random.”  Again, the issue is order versus confusion.

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One thought on “A Woman’s Role [Part 2 of 3]

  1. Thanks as always, Terra, for such a well written piece. I was trying to hold out until all three were published but I got too excited. 🙂 I’m referring this to a friend who came to me with questions a few years ago, I think she’ll find a lot of help from it.

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