It is true that women should not be pastors/elders that lead the whole church in doctrine and spiritual direction. But, let me say plainly that I believe the Bible allows women to teach, foretell, pray and evangelize outside the church. Moreover, just as a woman should do all of these things outside the church setting, I believe the Bible allows women to do all these things within the church setting (ex. Sunday School, Retreat, Topical Study Series, Camp Week), IF and ONLY IF the pastors/elders agree to let it happen and IF that woman is in clear submission to her own husband.
When a married woman comes to me with a desire to teach in a church setting that is both men and women, I immediately ask her husband–preferably without his wife there to avoid pressure–what he thinks. If the husband knows his wife would use the teaching time in a pretentious way to “instruct” or correct her husband, then I decline the situation. If however, the husband safely trusts in his wife’s heart and knows she is not pretentious, I invite the woman to create some lessons and submit them for review. If the woman is a single lady, then I ask her father the question. If there is no father, then I make the determination of her character with much prayer and observance.
The lady teacher should realize she is accountable to the pastor/elders (who are not to be women) for what and how she teaches. In general, a woman should never openly correct or flatly contradict the pastors or her husband in public. That brings shame to the husband and/or pastor; and so, it shows a lack of respect for God’s order. It doesn’t mean the men are never wrong. It just means there are Godly and respectful ways to handle everything. Specifically, the lady teacher should not make a pretense of “speaking out” against or openly correcting the Pastors/Elders’ teachings or spiritual direction by what she teaches, unless a matter of essential biblical Christian doctrine or morality is at stake.
If morality of a pastor/elder OR essential biblical doctrine is compromised, then it is the duty of every believer to follow the instructions given in Matthew 18. Again, the woman teacher should not “speak out” against or shame her own husband in the church setting. She should be willing to learn from, be corrected by and follow the instruction of both her husband and her pastors/elders. It doesn’t mean she must be a mindless, mousy woman. It means she is like Mary, who pondered things in her heart and showed outward respect to those whom God made responsible for her.
Lastly, if the teaching venue is–for example–a standard Sunday School class, I ask what she would do if any man in the church ever wishes to teach in her place. Would she gladly step aside? If so, that is a genuinely surrendered and valuable attitude. She is certainly qualified, seeing that is the way and heart of Jesus for a Christian woman. If not, I gently ask the woman to consider God’s order for the church.
Below are exegetical treatments of the subject matter and passages most commonly debated when it comes to women teaching in church.
- Eph. 5:22-24 — women must be in subjection to their OWN husbands.
- Titus 2:5 — This passages says a wife must be sober minded and chaste and a worker at home. But, many women do not work at home these days. I have to say that this requirement, if taken traditionally, means a severe change for many people who find themselves with the woman working outside the home to make a living. Thankfully, tradition is not the standard. God’s Word and literary interpretation of it — i.e. (attention to contexts and grammar) — are the standards. I interpret these Scriptures about working at home to be connected directly with, “being in subjection to their own husbands.” If a husband says it is ok for his wife to work outside the home, then it’s ok. Furthermore, I see that Proverbs 31 indicates an honorable woman is industrious and her husband’s heart safely trusts in her to be outside the home.
- 1 Peter 3:1-6 — Again, I find the highest priority is that the woman is subjected to her own husband and of a meek and quiet (at peace) spirit.
- 1 Cor. 14:33-35 — I agree with L. E. Maxwell in his book Women in Ministry that the Greek words and context do not indicated absolutely no speaking in church for women. For example, very few honest Bible scholars would say that a woman shouldn’t speak words once she passes the threshold of the church building doors. Rather, the words and context in this passage indicate that a woman should not “speak out” in the middle of the church meeting in the name of learning or opinion—especially while a man is teaching–as had been the case in Corinth. Some women were asserting their “freedom” to say anything they wanted, any time they wanted, even if a man (one of the elders or her husband) was teaching. Notice that the passage gives a “not this but that” kind of statement when it reads, “not permitted unto them to speak; but to keep in subjection.” That wording tells us that the real problem is a lack of subjection. The women in Corinth were speaking out so as to correct and question the teaching of their men (their husbands and their pastors). Paul indicates they should not do that; but what they can do, at a later time, is ask their own husbands. This protects the man’s dignity and forces the man to take up the spiritual responsibility in his home. As a pastor, when I open up a Bible Study for questions, I am inviting women to ask their questions. That means they are under my authority as pastor. But, if a woman blurts out contradictions or asks questions in a snide or proud way, not giving pause and respect to my teaching or her husband… then she is guilty of breaking the command found here in 1 Cor. 14:33-35.
- 1 Tim. 2:11-14 — May I point you once again to notice that subjection to one’s own husband is given the highest priority in the passage’s context. The context also indicates this is during times of learning in the church setting. One could literally translate the passage to read, “I permit not a woman to teach [over her man], nor to have dominion over [her] man, but to be in quietness.” So, you will notice that I insert the words “over her man” because it is implied by the interruptive placement of “nor to have dominion” in the second half of the sentence—just the way Greek works. Simply put, “teach” and “have dominion over” share the noun “man.” The ESV translators indicate this in their version. Also, some translators use “the” (KJV) before “man,” and other translators use “a” before man (ESV NASB). However, I think the confusion about whether to translate it “the man” or “a man” comes from not recognizing the context and a rule about definite & indefinite articles in Greek.
- First, the context shows a husband/wife relationship — Adam and Eve. Plus, the Greek words used for man and woman could be equally translated “husband” and “wife.” So, I believe this passage to be talking about a woman’s relationship of subjection to her own husband. What is more, the previous paragraph in the passage commands men (husbands) to pray in the assembly. And so, the women (wives) are to be in subjection to them in the learning setting, not seeking to speak out (as described in 1 Cor. 14:33-35) or instruct the men (husbands) as they pray or teach. The women can pray and teach, but there should never be any indication that a woman is instructing or correcting or bettering men (esp. her own husband) by her speaking out.
- Secondly, the article before “man” is indefinite, just as it is with “woman.” Based on Greek article rules, that indicates the ability to place “her” before each occurrence of “man.”
- Thirdly, the relationship of “nor to have dominion over” is colored and nuanced by “to teach.” These two sets of words are connected. They are not just neighboring words, they hang on one another. The word picture indicated by this interdependent relationship is best communicated by saying a woman should never “reprove, rebuke or exhort” her husband (as if she is more spiritual or authoritative in teachings than he).
THEREFORE, I translate the verses, “Let a wife learn quietly with all submissiveness [to her husband.] I do not permit a wife to teach [over her husband] or to domineer over her husband; rather, she is to remain quiet.”
- 1 Corinthians 11:2-16 — This is a much debated passage, but suffice it to say the main point is a prayer meeting, and the passage (like the ones in 1 Tim. 2:11-14 and 1 Cor. 14) is teaching the same principle of submission to one’s own husband… esp. in prayer meetings. Whereas the above 1 Timothy passage dealt with times of learning in the church setting, this Corinthians passage deals with conduct in prayer meetings. The husband is the head of the wife, and there are ways that the wife can show that submission. In the Corinthian church, women were taking off their headdresses in prayer meetings and speaking out in ways that shamed their husbands (1 Cor. 14:33-35). Both the speaking out and the removal of headdress were very bold signs of their assertiveness in their culture.
- The current-day equivalent would be a woman’s bringing hair clippers to church. While a prayer meeting is going on, she starts to speak out about her views that contradict her husband, all while cutting her hair with the clippers. Another illustration from modern history is the “Bobbed” haircut of the 1920s—shocking for that era and a symbol of rebellious feminist ideology. [I do think women should have basic human rights (equal pay, vote, etc.) but not “rights” that trample or usurp men or leave behind femininity for a masculinity.] Again, the women at Corinth were very assertive, even arrogant toward their husbands in the assembly (ref. 1 Cor. 14:33-35).
- To counteract this taking off of the headdress, Paul reiterates that a woman should either leave her headdress on (the submissive conduct becoming a Christian in that culture), or else shave their heads bald like the vile and sexually perverse and dominatrix-like Greek priestesses of that day. In this way, Paul was saying, “either be a Christian (submissive wife) or be a pagan (whore), but don’t confuse the two.” Paul said this to fight the women’s shocking actions with taking it to the absurd… so as to point out the evil in their thinking. Then, Paul tempers the statement by essentially saying ‘cutting off one’s hair is not the answer, because God gave women their hair as a thing of beauty and to indicate femininity.’ [That is why long hair on a man is unnatural.]
- For current-day application of this passage, a headdress for women is weird in our American culture but not in all parts of the world. It makes no sense to anyone in the USA; a head covering does not communicate submission or modesty in our culture… just weirdness. People don’t see it and say, “Oh, she is being submissive and modest.” Rather, they see a head covering and say, “Hmm. Must be some religious sect.” Seeing that a woman’s hair is given to her by God for a covering (just as a man is given to her as her covering/auhtority before God) I do not see a need for a head covering due to long hair being given to women. Let her hair be her sign of feminine submission and belief in a God-ordained order. That being said, I do think that medical reasons of rheumatism and carpal tunnel hinder some women from maintaining long hair. So, I give lots of leeway on this subject. On the other hand, if an American Christian goes into a foreign culture which requires head coverings or scarves or shawls, then the woman should wear them. In our American culture, I believe the best way to apply this principle is to tell younger and able-bodied women not to get boyish haircuts but to embrace their femininity… but not to the extreme (ex. never cutting it and piling it up). God is not extreme. It should be feminine, not boyish or manly. Likewise, the men should not have hair that gives a feminine appearance.