Women forbidden to preach? …Is that what it really says?
For centuries the church system in Traditional Christendom has restricted the role of women as teachers and as preachers, relegating them to various roles outside of the pulpit; so called “quiet” roles, or any role outside of the pulpit – those roles delegated to Males, whether the male chosen is suitable or not.
The two verses used to support this rule are as follows;
1 Corinthians 14:34-35 1 Timothy 2:11-12
It is important to us who are Christians to, as the Bereans before us, to study the scriptures and be certain of what is being said, and how, and especially by whom. We would not want to quench the Holy Spirit by hindering the children, whether they be sons, or daughters from his expression through them, and their gifts.
Lets look at the verses in the King James Version, the most commonly accepted Bible translation amongst those who ascribe to being traditional protestant assemblies, though Christians of the Catholic tradition may find it applicable as well.
1 Corinthians 14:34-35 (36-40 included for contextual clarity)
Let your women keep silence in the churches: for it is not permitted unto them to speak; but they are commanded to be under obedience, as also saith the law. And if they will learn any thing, let them ask their husbands at home: for it is a shame for women to speak in the church. What? came the word of God out from you? or came it unto you only? If any man think himself to be a prophet, or spiritual, let him acknowledge that the things that I write unto you are the commandments of the Lord. But if any man be ignorant, let him be ignorant. Wherefore, brethren, covet to prophesy, and forbid not to speak with tongues. Let all things be done decently and in order. (1Corinthians 14:34-40)
1 Timothy 2:11-12
Let the woman learn in silence with all subjection. But I suffer not a woman to teach, nor to usurp authority over the man, but to be in silence. (1Timothy 2:11-12)
These two verses, the Corinthian verse from 14:34-35, of which I included 36-40 for reasons of contextual clarity, and the Timothy verses are the commonly used verses used to restrict the role, or outright condemn the role of women in the pulpit of the traditional church. Note: I say “traditional church” to distinguish the Early Church which had no pulpit, liturgy - order of worship, or official building within which they gathered, from the church system of today, and the Catholic system from which the reformation deviated from, but still remained similar.
– – –
Now, in order to gain understanding into what the translated texts are saying, especially since it is a matter concerning doctrine we must look at the Greek; our received text from which our New Testament to our current knowledge originates, and which the earliest held copies were written. I present the Greek here of both verses for reference sake, for I will reference portions of it in this article.
1 Corinthians 14:34-40 Koine Greek Transliteration, and Literal Translation.
Hai gunaikes humOn en ekklEsiais sigatOsan ou gar epitetraptai autais lalein all hupotassesthai kathOs kai ho nomos legei, ei dei ti mathein thelousin en oikO tous idious andras eperOtatOsan aischron gar estin gunaixin en ekklesia lalein. E aph humOn ho logos tou theou exelthen E eis humas monous katEnEsen? Ei tis dokei prophetes einai E pneumatikos epiginOsketO ha graphO humin hoti tou kuriou eisin entolai. Ei de tis agnoei agnoeitO! Hoste adelphoi zeloute to prophEteuein kai to lalein glOssais mE kOluete, panta euschEmonOs kai kata taxin ginesthO.
The women of-ye [ye = plural you, or you-all] in the out-calleds (ecclesias, churches) let-be-hushing (let them be hushing! Or hushed) not for it-has-been-permited to-them to-be-talking (to be speaking) but to-be-under-set (to be being subject) according-as and (also) the law is-saying, if yet any (anything) to-be-learning are-willing (they are willing) in home the own men (husbands) let-them-be-inquiring-of (let them be inquiring of!) vile (shame) for it-is to-women in out-called (ecclesia, church) to-be-talking (to be speaking). Or [What?] from ye the saying (word) of-the God out-came (came out) or into ye only it-attains [arrives at, comes]? If any (anyone) is-seeming (is presuming) before-averer (prophet) to-be or spiritual let-him-be-on-knowing (let him be recognising) which I-am-writing to-ye that of-the master (Lord) they-are directions (precepts). If yet any (anyone) is-un-knowing (is being ignorant) let-him-be-un-knowing (let-him-be-ignorant!)! As-besides (so that) brothers (brethren) be-boiling (be-ye-being-zealous) the to-be-before-averring (to be prophesying) and the to-be-talking (to be speaking) to-tongues (to-languages) no be-forbidding (be-ye-forbidding), all well-figurely (respectably) and according-to order let-it-be-occurring!
1 Timothy 2:11-12 Koine Greek Transliteration, and Literal Translation.
GunE en hEsuchia manthanetO en pasE hupotagE, gunaiki de didaskein ouk epitrepO oude authentein andros all einai en hEsuchia.
Woman in quietness let-be-up-learning (let her be learning!) in every (all) under-setting (subjection), to-woman yet to-be-teaching no I-am-permitting not-yet (nor yet) to-be-domineering of-man but to-be in quietness.
– – –
We will begin with the Corinthian verse; looking at its interpretation, its context, and the text itself.
First, we should break the verse down into its basic form. What is it trying to say? What is being said?
a. Let your women keep silence in the churches: for it is not permitted unto them to speak; but they are commanded to be under obedience, as also saith the law.
b. And if they will learn any thing, let them ask their husbands at home: for it is a shame for women to speak in the church.
Then Paul proceeds to say: What? came the word of God out from you? or came it unto you only?
Is it not possible that Paul was addressing an issue of women being commanded to be silent, and to learn at home? Very much so, looking from the context, and the reaction in the next part of the passage. People do not often say; “Let this be thus…What? Are you this and that?” Without it being in the context of an objection to a quote. It is almost as if Paul where saying: “What?! Are you serious? Really? Seriously really?” But there is more to look into besides the way the passage presents itself. We must look closely at the two portions of passage, the statement of restriction, as well as the statement of objection.
“Let your women keep silence in the churches, for it is not permitted unto them to speak; but they are commanded to be under obedience, as also saith the law.”
There is much to address here, notably with the setting, and the premise behind the command. Where are the women to keep silence in? The churches. Where are the churches? In today’s Traditional Christianity we have deviated far from the Early Christians in our very idea of church, this is important when you look at the meaning of what is being said in the Bible concerning churches. Churches are not buildings within which we gather to worship, on Wednesday or Sunday far from it. Churches are the living people themselves, it is we the body of believers in Jesus Christ, the very body of Christ indeed who are the Church – the Ekklesia twenty four seven, from Sunday to Sunday through the fullness of the year and beyond.
Churches are the assembling communities of Christians and the individuals that make it up, you never leave church, because you are the church. You cannot go to what you are, and the idea of church being a “building containing the worshipers” in itself has become a problem amongst the body of believers today. So, with that established, what do we have when the word Ekklesia, or Church(es) comes up? A community of individual believers in a locale. So with that in mind, how would the verse read?
“Let your women keep silence in [the community, the assembly of Christian believers]”
Or to put it simply…
“Let your women keep silence in the community”
What of the rest of the statement of restriction?
“For it is not permitted unto them to speak; but they are commanded to be under obedience as also saith the law.”
Now we get into an interesting matter, and into the meal of questions concerning the statement of restriction that is laid out before us. It is not an evil to question what we read, nor to study; we are called to test all things and hold on to the good, and be good Bereans who search the scriptures to see if what is being said concerning a matter is truth. We will look at the part of the verse that says;
“For it is not permitted unto them to speak; but they are commanded to be under obedience”
The first question we must ask; What does not permit them to speak? What commands them to be under obedience? What does obedience imply? There is no law in the Old Testament that forbids women from preaching, teaching, speaking, or otherwise. None whatsoever. And concerning obedience, submissiveness, subjection; while these are virtues for a stable household – there is no commandment or law in the Old Testament for these either. From Exodus, to Deuteronomy where The Law is given there is no mention of marital obedience, or womanly subjection to male authorities. So what then concerning obedience? It is a matter of culture, rather than religious law, and according to the silence of scripture concerning obedience in the Old Testament, it is not even a matter concerning religious law, but is purely that of the culture of the time. This is not to say, women have free reign to disobey; cause discord, rebel, or otherwise vex their husbands. That is not Christ-like, it is unloving, and it is also destructive to the family unit. Whatever God wants to say concerning women being submissive wives, and obedient to their husbands is being said in the context of maintaining peace, not about maintaining male authority, sovereignty, or superiority. Women, as well as Men, are called to be peacemakers, and submissive to Christ, in being Christ-like; to governments, to authorities, and above all of these – God’s voice. These are for the sake of peace, and a good witness so cultural accusation and bad press do not occur. This was especially important during the years of the Early Church in which Paul and other Apostles lived, and taught, and wrote – considering the persecutions of their less than loving neighbors, of whom oppressed women in terrible ways.
So in summary, there is no law that forbids participation in worship based on gender, nor is there any law which forbids speaking, teaching, or preaching, or expression, or sharing of information, or revelation concerning the Bible; there is no law saying women cannot preach. There is no law commanding obedience, neither is there any command for them to be under it.
There simply isn’t any mention of these two issues in The Law as given by God to Moses – it is silent.
And now for the final portion of the statement of restriction;
“As also saith the law”
Even aside from the silence of The Law on the very situation attributed to have mentioned it, there is a thing concerning Grace and The Law; Christians are not under The Law, we are under the grace of God who is not a respecter of persons, and amongst these persons there is neither Jew nor Greek, there is neither bond nor free, there is neither male nor female: for ye are all one in Christ Jesus.
1 Corinthians 14:34-35 Cannot be used to restrict, nor condemn the role of women as preachers – not without adding to The Law as the Pharisees, adding traditions of men and making the word of God to no effect, or else by taking upon oneself the task of following the Mosaic laws, and crucifying Christ again while putting the works of the flesh above the grace of the spirit, and by doing so sinning against The Holy Ghost.
Hence Paul’s reaction; “What? came the word of God out from you? or came it unto you only?”
Let us look now at the rest of the objection;
“If any man think himself to be a prophet, or spiritual, let him acknowledge that the things that I write unto you are the commandments of the Lord. But if any man be ignorant, let him be ignorant. Wherefore, brethren, covet to prophesy, and forbid not to speak with tongues. Let all things be done decently and in order.”
We’ll start with; “If any man think himself to be a prophet, or spiritual, let him acknowledge that the things I write unto you are the commandments of the Lord. But if any man be ignorant, let him be ignorant.”
The Greek says; if anyone, not just any man. But that aside, the context according to my understanding reads as such. If anyone claims to be a prophet, or spiritual, let him acknowledge my writings as commands from God, but if anyone is ignorant, let him remain ignorant.
Paul is not commanding women to be silent in this verse, and even if he did – God did not command it under The Law which no one can fulfill, he will not add burdens under Grace – or add oppression or bondage to the ones he came to set free, such an idea as that is ludicrous and near enough to blasphemy to avoid it. Paul is commenting in summary concerning the whole portion of his letter to the Corinthians about their conduct towards speaking in tongues, as would be seen by any study or glance through 1 Corinthians 14.
Lets look now at the last part of this passage;
“Wherefore, brethren, covet to prophesy, and forbid not to speak with tongues. Let all things be done decently and in order.”
The Greek says, and literally translates to;
“Hoste adelphoi zeloute to prophEteuein kai to lalein glOssais mE kOluete, panta euschEmonOs kai kata taxin ginesthO.”
“As-besides (so that) [therefore; Strongs G5620] brothers (brethren) be-boiling (be-ye-being-zealous) the to-be-before-averring (to be prophesying) and the to-be-talking (to be speaking) to-tongues (to-languages) no be-forbidding (be-ye-forbidding), all well-figurely (respectably) and according-to order let-it-be-occurring!”
Which I would render;
“Therefore brethren, be zealous to prophesy and forbid ye not to speak in tongues. Let all be done respectably according to order.”
Again, Paul is not addressing womankind, neither is he restricting them here; and even if he did by any stretch it is not Paul’s place to create any mandate for Christianity as a whole entity to follow – we are ruled by Christ, and Christ is the head. Paul is not, Paul is just an apostle, another servant, another brother, and our equal. The writings of Paul to the Corinthians are just that, letters to the Corinthians from which God may bring forth revelation and aid to the believers of other churches, but it is by no means an addendum to the law of Grace which tore down the barriers between gender, race, and status; and certainly not an addition to the law of Moses which does not mention, let alone forbid womanly participation, teaching, or handling of the scriptures in expression of revelation, sharing, preaching, or otherwise. Paul is addressing an issue of speaking in tongues, and prophesying in a community of believers, and from what can be gathered out of context; he is also answering questions that where most likely posed by the Corinthians in a letter sent to him that we do not have at this present time.
– – –
Now let us move on to the final, and most commonly used verse for restricting women from the role of pastor, and expressing the call of a preacher.
“Let the woman learn in silence with all subjection. But I suffer not a woman to teach, nor to usurp authority over the man, but to be in silence.”
Here again, looking at the context of the letter Paul is addressing issues in a community of believers, more specifically he is addressing issues most likely posed by his protege Timothy of whom had become one of the leaders of the local community of believers; probably in Ephesus, a church who was having trouble with false teachers, not women. That being said, let us look at the verse itself, and what it says.
We shall start with;
“Let the woman learn in silence with all subjection.”
In the Greek it says, and literally translates to;
“GunE en hEsuchia manthanetO en pasE hupotagE”
“Woman in quietness let-be-up-learning (let her be learning!) in every (all) under-setting (subjection)”
The word translated into “silence” in the King James Version is hEsuchia. A word study is now in order, so we may understand what sort of silence Paul means. The word hEsuchia comes from the root word; hEsuchios which means “Tranquil”, or “Peaceable”, or with an attitude of peaceful tranquility. Other verses use it in this very same sense, here is an example:
Acts 22:2And when they heard that he spake in the Hebrew tongue to them, they kept the more silence.
Original Greek:Akousantes de hoti te hebraidi dialekto prosephonei autois mallon pareschon hesuchian kai phesin.
Literal Translation:Hearing yet that to-the Hebrew dialect he-toward-sounded to-them rather(the-more) they-had-tendered (they tendered) quietness.
In Acts 22:2 he is defending himself in Jerusalem before his fellow Hebrews, who hearing the Hebrew tongue listened with tranquility, peaceable, non-argumentive quietness. The peaceable quietness of their tranquil listening was broken by their violent condemnation only after he gave his testimony of Jesus, whom the Jews would freshly have recalled in their memory as a heretic, blasphemer, and enemy to God just as Paul had done prior to God calling him. But at that particular point before the violence, they where “Hesuchia”, “quiet in tranquility by volition”.
It is important to understand the words behind what is translated as “silence”, if we are to more fully understand the counsel of scripture. In the New Testament these are;
PhimoO, from the root word “phimos” (a muzzle); to muzzle, to make speechless, to reduce to silence, to become speechless, to be kept in check: IE: To shut up, or be shut up.“ephimosen” as used in Matthew 22:34, which means literally “he-muzzles/muzzled”.“phimoun” as used in 1 Peter 2:15, which means literally “to-be-muzzling”.
SigE, from the root word “sizo” (to hiss or hush); Silence.“esigesen” as used in Acts 21:40, which means literally “hushes/hushed”.“siges” as used in Acts 21:40, which means literally “hush”“sige” as used in Revelation 8:1, a noun which means literally “hush” or “a hush”.
Knowing the meaning of hEsuchia; compare the word “Silence” translated in 1 Timothy 2:11-12, and Acts 22:2 from hEsuchia (tranquil, gentle quietness), to the words translated into “Silence” in these other verses.
Matthew 22:34But when the Pharisees had heard that he put the Sadducees to silence, they where gathered together.
Original Greek:Hoi de pharisaioi akousantes hoti ephimosen tous saddoukaious sunechthesan epi to auto.
Literal Translation:The yet Pharisees hearing that he-muzzles [muzzled] the Sadducees where-together-led (where-gathered) on the same (same-place)
Acts 15:12Then all the multitude kept silence and gave audience to Barnabas and Paul, declaring what miracles and wonders God had wrought among the Gentiles by them.
Original Greek:Esigesen de pan to plethos kai ekouon barnaba kai paulon exegoumenon hosa epoiesen ho theos semeia kai terata en tois ethenesin di auton
Literal Translation:Hushes [hushed] yet every the multitude and they-heard of-Barnabas and of-Paul unfolding as-much-as(whatever) does the God signs and miracles in (among) the nations [gentiles] through them.
Acts 21:40And when he had given him license Paul stood on the stairs, and beckoned with the hand unto the people. And when there was made a great silence, he spake unto them in the Hebrew tongue.
Original Greek:Epitrepsantos de autou ho paulos hestos epi ton anabathmon kateseisen te cheiri to lao polles de siges genomenes prosephonenesen te hebraidi dialekto.
Literal Translation:Permitting (of permitting it) yet of-him the Paul having-stood (standing) on the up-steps (stairs) gestures to-the hand to-the people of-much (vast) yet hush becoming he-toward-sounds (he-shouts-to-them) to-the hebrew dialect.
1 Corinthians 14:28But if there be no interpreter, let him keep silence in the church; and let him speak to himself, and to God.
Original Greek:Ean de me e diermeneutes sigato en ecclesia heauto de laleito kai to theo.
Literal Translation:If-ever yet no may-be (there-may-be) thru-translater (interpreter) let-him-be-hushing in out-called [community of believers] to self yet let-him-be-talking (let him be speaking) and to-the God.
1 Peter 2:15For so is the will of God, that with well doing yet may put to silence the ignorance of foolish men.
Original Greek:Hoti houtos estin to thelema tou theou agathopoiountas phimoun ten ton aphronon anthropon agnosian.
Literal Translation:That thus is the will of-the God good-doing (by-ones-doing-good) to-be-muzzling the of-the undisposed(imprudent) humans un-knowledge (ignorance)
Revelation 8:1And when he had opened the seventh seal, there was silence in Heaven about the space of half an hour.
Original Greek:Kai hote enoixen ten sphragida ten hebdomen egeneto sige en to ourano hos hemiorion.
Literal Translation:And when he-up-opens (it-opens) the seal the seventh became (occurred) hush in the heaven as (as-it-where) half-hour.
We find that in 1 Timothy 2:11, the women are not called to be muzzled, or called to shut up. They are called by Paul to be tranquil, peaceable, and calm, and to learn in peacefulness, calmness, and tranquility, in subjection a very big difference from the idea of “Silence” carried by those who use this verse to restrict women from the role of preaching. Subjection I will note, is not authoritarian tyranny either, a man would be an idiot to stretch his authority to that extreme, and such a one would be un-Christ-like and un-loving. God is not a tyrant, as Jesus shows, the very Jesus who expresses the fullness of God the Father; if you’ve seen him, you’ve seen the Father.
A woman’s submission to her husband is as the church’s submission to Christ, as seen in Ephesians 5:24. A woman’s submission to her husband is therefore, out of Love, just as the church’s submission to Christ is out of Love; neither are out of The Law, the Mosaic law as I said before does not even mention obedience, or submission, it is silent. In this regard then, a husband is to love his wife, whether she submits or not; just as Christ loves us whether we submit or not. Husbands are to love their wives as Christ loves the church – and Love is not tyrannical, putting people into bondage for its own whim, it edifies and builds up, frees, and heals; as God does, God who is Love.
Let us now look at the second part of the verse;
“But I suffer not a woman to teach, nor to usurp authority over the man, but to be in silence.
In the Greek it says, and literally translates to;
“Gunaiki de didaskein ouk epitrepO oude authentein andros all einai en hEsuchia.”
“To-woman yet to-be-teaching no I-am-permitting not-yet (nor yet) to-be-domineering of-man but to-be in quietness.”
I would render it based on my studies as;
“I do not allow a woman to teach, nor domineer [tyrannise] a man, but instead to be tranquil [peaceable].”
Paul does not permit women to be “authentein”; domineering, usurping authority, dominating, of males – of “andros”, which is the Greek word for a male. To domineer according to the dictionary means; to rule arbitrarily or despotically; tyrannize.
Just as it is un-Christ-like, and un-loving for a husband to domineer over his wife, or for anyone to tyrranise over another – so too is it not permitted for a woman to domineer over her husband. Just as it is evil for a boy to domineer over a girl, it is in the same way evil for a girl to domineer over a boy.
Now, Paul does not permit women to teach either – This is the premise behind which most people who restrict, or condemn women who preach base their actions upon. But notice the important use of the word “I”. It is Paul who does not permit, not The Holy Spirit through Paul, not God through Paul, not God himself, not Christ, not Peter, not John, not Matthew, not Moses, or The Law even. It is Paul – and Paul is not Christ, and so Paul does not have the authority to mandate any rules that cover all of Christianity, neither does he have the right as he is our equal and one of our brothers; it was for this reason, one of the reasons anyway that the Reformation occurred. For Christ alone is the head of the Church, not Peter, not Paul, nor any Pope.
As it stands, Paul is addressing Timothy concerning his own practices. He is not setting a mandate for Christianity, and if he where he would be in the wrong, having no basis in The Law, nor in Grace by which to do so, and having no authority given him over the whole of Christianity; a place that belongs to Christ alone, and to no apostle, and to no disciple; man, woman, or child.
1 Timothy 2:12 Cannot be used to restrict, nor condemn the role of women as preachers – not without putting Paul, a fellow brother, believer, and equal in Christ above Christ himself as the head of Christianity. To do so would not only be usurpation of Christ on the seat on his throne with Paul, but it would be by that usurpation; a grave idolatry in the sight of the Lord, and a wicked abomination.
– – –
But what of women preaching? Does the Bible ever mention women preaching? Yes it does.
Many of these women where prophetesses, the prophets where certainly the preachers of their day, very few would deny that Elijah, and Ezekiel where what we would call today “preachers”, the prophets of the Old Testament stood from their “pulpits” and gave the word of God as it was revealed, just as preachers today (if they are worth their salt) give the revelation of the word of God to the community of believers.
Miriam the sister of Aaron who was the first High Priest, Deborah a Prophetess, and a Judge – the Judges where the pre-king rulers of the Israelites. Huldah, Noadiah, Isaiah’s wife, Anna from the gospel of Luke, the Samaritan woman at the well of whom Jesus spoke to, and of whom she went about and spread the news about him, Priscilla the wife of Aquilla, both of whom where helpers of Paul, Junia who is an apostle! Philip the Evangelist’s virgin daughters.
And last…but not least…
Mary Magdalene, and Mary mother of Christ.
Mary Magdalene who was the first to see the risen Christ, who went forth spreading the good news; Christ is arisen!
Mary mother of Christ, the virgin through whom the Word of God himself came in the flesh, given birth by a woman. Is it not through speech that words are born? Why should it be different with the Word of God, to be spoken into the world by the miracle of birth.
Women, fear not. Preach if you are so called by God, for there is no condemnation, law, nor rule to prevent you – nor anyone save God with the right to hinder you.
-Matthew Lewis (AKA Lefein)