The apostles and first century believers in Christ were faced with many challenges in establishing the New Testament Church. One of these was combining various groups of people into one body of believers.
For He Himself is our peace, who made both groups into one and broke down the barrier of the dividing wall, by abolishing in His flesh the enmity, which is the Law of commandments contained in ordinances, so that in Himself He might make the two into one new man, thus establishing peace, Ephesians 2:14-15
The “both groups” Paul is talking about here is the Jew and
Gentile (non-Jew). They came from completely different backgrounds, each coming
to the Lord from different perspectives, yet in Christ they become “one new
When anyone believes in Christ they become a part of a body
of believers, which is called the body of Christ (1 Corinthians 12:27,
Ephesians 4:12). This includes not only Jew and Gentile (Greek), but also the
slave and the free man, as well as male and female. All are one in Christ.
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. Galatians 3:28
NO MALE OR FEMALE IN CHRIST?
Though there is no distinguishing between male and female in
Christ, because they are one in Christ as a part of His body, this does not
mean that men and women do not have different roles. So here we address these
roles, specifically the question of whether women can teach, or even speak, in
"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. If they desire to learn anything, let them ask their own husbands at home; for it is improper for a woman to speak in church." 1 Corinthians 14:34-35
Paul is addressing the Corinthian church which was extremely
zealous for the Lord. He said that they were “not lacking in any gift,” and
they were “awaiting eagerly the revelation of our Lord Jesus Christ,” (1
Corinthians 1:7). However, there was some disorder in the church so Paul
addressed this in his letter. He said he was informed of their quarrels among
them by Chloe, and her “people” (1 Corinthians 1:11).
Paul addressed their level of maturity, their sin, their
disputes, keeping their bodies pure for the Lord, and fleeing from idolatry. He
talked about considering their brothers and sisters in Christ by not using
their freedom to cause others to stumble, (chapters 1-10). He went on to praise
them for remembering him and holding fast to what he had taught them. Then he addressed
the issue of women praying or prophesying without their head covered.
“3 But I want you to understand that Christ is the head of every man, and the man is the head of a woman, and God is the head of Christ. 4 Every man who has something on his head while praying or prophesying disgraces his head. 5 But every woman who has her head uncovered while praying or prophesying disgraces her head, for she is one and the same as the woman whose head is shaved. 6 For if a woman does not cover her head, let her also have her hair cut off; but if it is disgraceful for a woman to have her hair cut off or her head shaved, let her cover her head. 7 For a man ought not to have his head covered, since he is the image and glory of God; but the woman is the glory of man. 8 For man does not originate from woman, but woman from man; 9 for indeed man was not created for the woman’s sake, but woman for the man’s sake. 10 Therefore the woman ought to have a symbol of authority on her head, because of the angels. 11 However, in the Lord, neither is woman independent of man, nor is man independent of woman. 12 For as the woman originates from the man, so also the man has his birth through the woman; and all things originate from God. 13 Judge for yourselves: is it proper for a woman to pray to God with her head uncovered? 14 Does not even nature itself teach you that if a man has long hair, it is a dishonor to him, 15 but if a woman has long hair, it is a glory to her? For her hair is given to her for a covering. 16 But if one is inclined to be contentious, we have no other practice, nor have the churches of God.” 1 Corinthians 11:3-16
We'll address verse three in a little bit, but here Paul addressed the practice of head coverings during prayer or prophesy. The practice of the day was for married women to have their
head covered in public. This may have been a scarf or some type of cloth
covering. Paul also referred to the length of a woman’s hair as a head covering
(verse 15). This covering was a “symbol of authority on her head,” showing she was under the authority of her husband, because she was created for man’s sake
(Genesis 2:18). The role of husband and wife is a profound example of the relationship
between Christ and the church (Ephesians 5:22-23), as well as an example to the
angels as Paul references here (1 Peter 1:12).
Wearing a head covering was the practice of married women in
the Corinthian culture. (You might relate it to a married woman wearing a wedding
band today). To not do so would send a wrong message in that culture. It was also
a disgrace to have a shaved head (and in the Jewish culture it was a sign of
mourning), which is why Paul said if a married woman does not cover her head
she might as well shave her head too. It was disruptive to the church services due
to the cultural norm of that day. Considering Paul’s discussion earlier in the
letter about not using their freedom to cause others to stumble (1 Corinthians
8:9-13), he confirmed that this practice of head covering for women was a good
Today, in most Christian cultures, it wouldn't be considered improper for a woman to have her head uncovered, or to have shorter hair, while praying or prophesying. That alone wouldn't be a sign that she was attempting to present herself in an unnatural way, or as unsubmissive to God's order of authority. Would it be considered disrespectful to the Lord for a man to have his head covered, or wearing a hat, while praying? Not long ago it would have. As he says here, judge for yourselves.
However, not having that custom anymore doesn't mean we are removed from God's order of authority. That still applies. Nor do we cast off all restraints thinking our freedom in Christ means we have no self-control or self-discipline. We don't behave in an unrestrained way and then blame it on the Holy Spirit. Paul addressed this in chapter fourteen when he said that if everyone was speaking in tongues, with no order to the service, then when an unbeliever or ungifted person came into the assembly they would think they were all crazy (14:23). He told them if there was no interpreter in the church then to keep silent and speak to themselves and to God (14:28). This applies to both men and women. Paul said that the spirits of the prophets are subject to the prophets (14:32). In other words, you can control yourself, you can't blame God for your unrestrained behavior. He said to let all things be done properly and in an orderly manner (14:40).
It's worth noting back in chapter eleven that Paul said neither man nor woman is independent of the other (verses 11-12). In Christian living, all of us are to be subject to one another in the fear of Christ (Ephesians 5:21). Earlier in the letter Paul had told the Corinthians that the jealousy and strife among them were a sign of their immaturity in Christ (1 Corinthians 3). Jesus said that the world would know we are Christians by our love for one another, and that we are to love one another as He has loved us (John 13:34-35).
It may be wise to consider the custom of the day or
region you are in, yet the main take-away from this portion of Scripture is to submit to God’s order
of authority from the heart no matter what your God-given role is in Christ, man or woman. When we focus on the letter of the law, we'll often miss the Spirit of it.
Having said that, it’s clear that Paul did not mean women could
never speak in the church because he gave instruction regarding women who pray
or prophesy in church. If women were allowed to pray or prophesy in the church
then of course they were allowed to speak.
So women, and men, should show proper respect for God’s
order of authority. That would include an inward submission to God’s authority,
however that is respectfully expressed outwardly before God, and taking customs
and practices into consideration so as not to be a stumbling block to others.
This would especially be true during times of prayer or prophesy.
Let’s move on from there while still considering the order
of authority God has established. It’s important to understand that the Greek
language does not have separate words for wife and woman, or husband
and man. The word gyne in the Greek was the same word for both woman
and wife. And the word aner was used for both man and husband.
“But I want you to understand that Christ is the head of every man, and the man is the head of a woman, and God is the head of Christ. 1 Corinthians 11:3
Literally, Christ is the head of every man, every husband is the head
of his own wife, and the head of Christ is God.
"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." 1 Timothy 2:11-12
"Let the 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." 1 Corinthians 14:34-35
A woman is to “learn in silence with all subjection.” Subjection to what? To the order of authority God has placed her under. When she is learning in church, she is not to “teach” or “usurp authority over” the one in authority over her—particularly “the man” or her husband. She is not to take over, argue, or attempt to correct her husband. Though the temptation may be there to point out to your spouse where he is missing it, or how he is not practicing the Word that is being read or taught, pointing out his faults, maybe even adding an, "I told you so," we must resist the urge to do that--as wives or husbands. If there were any questions or disagreements, then the wife was to talk it over with her husband at home, and I would add to apply 1 Peter 3:1-2 when applicable.
The Greek word for teach also means to admonish,
so women were not to correct their husbands (or anyone teaching) in public, put
them on the spot, or in an embarrassing position. The men in those days were
better educated than the women, so if a wife addressed questions publicly that her
husband could answer at home, that could be embarrassing and distracting. Paul’s
instruction was for the woman to listen quietly, don't be disrespectful, and take any
further discussion home with her husband. Of course a woman can have an opinion, and can express that opinion, as long as it’s done in a way that is respectful to
Since women were not as educated, they might not have had a
basic understanding of many things that men did, yet as new believers in
Christ were most likely very willing to learn and take their place in the
body of Christ as God had called them. This would call for some cultural
adjustments. The women would have to learn to remain respectful and in
submission to the authority of God during the process, and men would have adjustments to make while the merging of these various backgrounds and roles into new relationships in Christ took place.
WOMEN IN MINISTRY
Can a woman “teach” a man? Can she teach in the church if
men are in the audience? There are disagreements about this. But Paul seemed clear
that to teach or usurp authority over “the man” meant that a wife was not to attempt
to take her husband’s place of authority away from him, and of course she
should be respectful to all positions of authority. Ultimately, she can, and
must, do what God has called her to do. Since the Holy Spirit can and does move
on women to prophesy to both men and women (1 Corinthians 11:5) He could certainly
call her to function in a ministry gift, or a position of leadership or influence
in the church. Jesus is the Head of the Church (Colossians 1:18) and we are all
placed in the body as it pleases Him (1 Corinthians 12:18).
A few biblical examples of this are:
- 1 Corinthians 1:11 which speaks of "Chloe’s people," or some translations say Chloe’s “house” or “household.” Chloe is a female and the one who raised concerns to Paul about the church in Corinth. Paul listened to her and addressed these concerns in his letter.
- 1 Corinthians 16:19 and Romans 16:3-5 talk about the church in Prisca and Aquila's house (husband and wife). Prisca and Aquila were a husband and wife team who had a church in their home. They are always mentioned together in the Bible, sometimes Prisca (the wife) being mentioned first. Acts 18:24-26 tells of when they took Apollos aside, a man who was eloquent and mighty in the Scriptures, though he had only known of the baptism of John and not of Jesus. They explained “the way of God more accurately” to him, in private.
- Colossians 4:15 speaks of the church in Nymphas' house. Most translations agree this is a female.
- 1 Timothy 3:11 includes a reference to women’s role in serving when giving the requirements for deacons.
- Titus 2:3-5 gives instructions concerning older women in relation to teaching younger women and children.
Women most definitely are to serve in the church and assist
in the spreading of the Gospel in whatever capacity God calls them.
Because of the misunderstanding of Scripture which has kept
some women from fulfilling what they feel the Lord has called them to, some women
may fall to the opposite extreme and rebel against the idea of submitting to God’s
order of authority. Wanting to prove there is “no difference” between male and
female in Christ they may end up out from under God’s line of authority.
Considering the cultural trends over the last several decades,
with women’s rights, “equality” movements, and more recently the blurring of
genders, there is a deception trying to settle over the believer’s roles of
male and female, husbands and wives.
As women, we do not need to prove anything or try to be something
God has not called us to be. We do not need to attempt to teach or correct men
simply because we think we can, or should, but we should always seek to take
our place in Christ as he has called us, always be respectful of those in
authority, of other men, and anyone for that matter, and always speak the truth
in love. This is true of both men and women. There are Scriptural procedures in place to address any perceived errors
or suffered wrongs. (See Matthew 18:15-17, 1 Timothy 5:19, Luke 17:3-4). On the
other hand, a woman does not have to submit to any man who believes he holds
authority over her just because he is a man and she is a woman.
A WOMAN’S PRIORITY
In Bible times it was an honor for a woman to be married and
have children. It still is, however, it’s not as highly respected in today’s
society. To bear and raise children is to fulfil the basic purpose of mankind,
the first directive given to the first man and woman (Genesis 1:18).
Not to say that woman cannot ever have an influential place
outside the home, but to push that issue, to force it, to desire it at the
expense of our own homes and families has already had a disastrous effect on
If a woman is not abandoning her role as a wife or mother
(if applicable), and is responding to a call of God upon her life in a way that
honors God’s authority in every aspect, then what place do we have to reject
her as a gift to the body of Christ?
Just as Jewish and Gentile believers had learned (and are
still learning) to form one new man in Christ, so must we learn what it means
for male and females to take their place in the body as well.