Tuesday, December 11, 2012

Let Your Women Keep Silence In The Churches

Here is the text about which I am going to comment:

 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

The questions I ask myself concerning these verses are these: Does this mean anything to Christian women today and did the author say this with the intention of people ordering their behavior in accordance with what is said? If the author DID intend to be instructive with these words, what do the words mean?

In response to my first question, I will say that I believe that these verses, whatever they mean, are applicable and require the attention of believers in all time periods, regardless of culture. If someone who claims that the Bible is true and that it is the Word of God disagrees with that sentiment, the burden of proof is on him or her to explain why these verses are not modernly relevant. On this point I cite 2 Timothy 3:16-17:

All scripture is given by inspiration of God, and is profitable for doctrine, for reproof, for correction, for instruction in righteousness: That the man of God may be perfect, throughly furnished unto all good works.

Having determined that these verses mean something to me and should be instructive as to my behavior, how can I conform myself to what is taught therein? When Paul says "the" woman, "a" woman and "the" man, to whom is he referring? I do not know Greek at all. I have been told that articles are not necessarily used in the Greek where we see them in English, but they have been added by the translators because they are necessary to English grammar. Therefore, the translators chose the article, whether "a" or "the", which they felt most accurately conveys the meaning of the author based upon their understanding of the language, the context of the passage and the whole counsel of God. (This raises the issue of unbelievers serving as translators, but that discussion is for another day.) Here we see both "the" and "a" used as articles within the same passage referring to "woman".

I have heard it said that "the" woman and "the" man used in this passage means that the words are addressed to the marriage relationship, and therefore within the marriage a woman must be taught by the man and learn in silence and that she is not to teach or usurp authority over her husband. But the very last part of the passage says that the woman should "be in silence", which seems like an extreme position, to teach that women should be silent within their relationship with their husbands.

Another way that I have heard this taught is that Paul is talking about public gatherings of the Church and the public behavior or women within the Church. When the Church is gathered and there is teaching, the teaching is done by the men and the women keep silent. When letting scripture interpret scripture we naturally turn to 1 Corinthians 14:34-35, where the context is specifically the public gathering of the Church and Paul said this:

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 a home: for it is a shame for women to speak in the church.

Obviously Paul could not have been exhorting women in his letter to Timothy to keep silence in the home when he so clearly exhorted them in his letter to the Corinthians to keep silence in the Church and to ask questions of their husbands at home.

Having settled in my mind that the verses are directed to the behavior of women in church, I am led to the question of what it means to be silent and to not be permitted to speak. The type of speaking being described by Paul in 1 Corinthians 14 is prophesying, which is more commonly known as teaching or preaching. It is also called being "under obedience" here. The complementary passage in 1 Timothy 2 calls it teaching and exercising "authority". It is easy to see that the two passages, both written by Paul, agree with each other and bring a common message. I conclude, therefore, that women should not be teaching, prophesying, exercising authority or requiring obedience within the church service.

There is no prohibition against congregational singing or responsive reading or corporate prayers. The teaching, however, is to be done only by men and while they teach the women are to be silent. I don't see any point in devoting an entire paragraph to the word "silent", it means to be silent.

The reader may wonder whether some event or series of events has inspired this post, and the answer is, "yes". No details are necessary, suffice to say that I tire of the distracting exhibitions of women who must show their puffed up knowledge and spiritual superiority by answering every rhetorical question coming from the pulpit and chiming in with "That's right" and "Amen" and "Thank you, Jesus" after every utterance of the speaker. Even worse are the praises of men who ought to know better who encourage these women in their vain and disobedient blatherings. What part of "silent" do you not understand?

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