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"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." (1 Corinthians 14:34-35).

Here is another one.

"But I suffer not a woman to teach, nor to usurp authority over the man, but to be in silence. For Adam was first formed, then Eve. And Adam was not deceived, but the woman being deceived was in the transgression." (1 Timothy 2:12-14).

I asked my mom once about this and she explained that when the holy spirit descended, both men and women received it. And this gives us many different gifts such us prophesying, singing and preaching. I understood her but what i could not ask her was that, Corinthians and Timothy came after the holy spirit descended in Acts. In Africa you cannot keep on asking challenging questions to the elderly as it might be seen as disrespect. Someone help me here.

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Great question, very important and relevant. –  Wikis Mar 30 '12 at 8:59
    
The council of biblical manhood and womanhood is a great ressource : www.cbmw.org/. –  David Laberge Mar 30 '12 at 11:58
    
possible duplicate of What did Paul mean by "women must be silent in church"? –  warren Apr 2 '12 at 4:30
    
I opened a discussion regarding the erasure of the only attempt here at a Christian Feminist answer : meta.christianity.stackexchange.com/questions/1036/… . –  Ron Maimon Apr 2 '12 at 5:06
    
no way! they are second class, duh! –  Greg McNulty May 23 '12 at 16:52
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5 Answers 5

Your question can be asked using the theological terms of complementarianism and egalitarianism. The crux of the question is this - Did God make all humans the same or did He give each "separate but equal" roles to uniquely fill within the church?

This, like most real issues of substance, is not one where a single proof verse can answer it. (Although, watch me violate this in a minute!) Rather, one needs to pit the whole of Scripture and discern what the whole of God's heart on the matter is.

A whole lot of good ink has been shed on this subject, and entire books can only begin to scratch the surface of a fully biblical answer to that question.

For a deeper understanding of the 1 Corinthians 14 passage in particular, this article references Gordon Fee, one of the preeminent experts on how texts should be read. It is a solid summary (albeit 3 long pages) that really should be consulted. Finally, as to the "women should keep silent in church," verse in Corinthians, I have heard it argued that this is actually a return to the subject of Chloe and Scynthe, two women in the church at Corinth who were fighting a lot, but I cannot source this claim. This wiki article also does a good job of summarizing the role of women in the Bible, using these headings.

The implication of complementarianism would be that women were not created for this role, but rather were to be nurturers rather than leaders. Egalitarians, on the other hand, stress passages like Galatians 3:22 (In Christ there is neither Jew nor Greek, slave nor free, male nor female.)

Biblically speaking, the opening of 2 John makes it difficult for me to say that a "woman should keep silence" in church. After all, it is directly addressed to "the elect lady and her church," which indicates to me that in New Testament times, there were churches in which which women were in charge.

This said, as a guy, I'll admit, I'm not convinced this is a matter that should divide Christians. It could be one of those "tyranny of the weaker brother" questions, in which the Christian freedom afforded to women could cause others to stumble. Likewise, in churches that have accepted it, keeping women out of the pulpit could be a major stumbling block to those who see this as blantly unfair.

As Romans 14:5 says,

Let every man be fully persuaded in his own mind.

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As far as 1 Corinthians goes, it's necessary to consider at least verse 33 as well, and (in NIV) the whole passage from v26 has a heading "Orderly worship". I have heard it posited that Paul was addressing a particular issue: that women in Corinth chattered in church, missed what was said and then asked about it. If they were quiet and listened, everyone benefited. –  Andrew Leach Mar 30 '12 at 11:00
    
Women were the priestesses and prostitutes at the temple of Artemis in Ephesus, so when Paul refers to prohibition of women in the epistle Timothy, it is to make a distinction between the workings and outward apparance old temple of Artemis and the role of women then and how Christianity, in the form Paul taught, should not be confused with. –  Monkieboy Oct 17 '12 at 14:49
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I think nearly everyone believes you should play to your strengths... or in biblical terms, that you should use your "gifts"... and preaching is definitely included among the spiritual gifts. Apply that to this question, and it follows that if it's permissible for a woman to preach, then it is required of some women that they should do so. You can't simply say that some women may preach without also also making it in some cases mandatory that they at least try.

So we now have a position (that some women must preach) that is in direct opposition to a plain reading of scripture (that women must be silent). Personally, I do not believe that this is an impossible situation; sometimes the full context of a passage can lead to interpretations that are counter-intuitive or the polar opposite to that first reading. However, in these cases I think the standard should be set exceptionally high before adopting such an interpretation.

I'm not sure that bar has been met in this case. In fact, I'm inclined to say that in the rush to appease modern sensibilities we have been a little too eager to look for mitigating circumstances around those passages.

But I'm not done yet. I also recognize that my judgement is not infallible. I recognize that, if I'm wrong, the systematic repression of the talents and dreams of our young women is at least as great a sin as the alternative... and it's interesting to examine who the guilty party is in each scenario. Oughtn't I be first concerned about my own conduct, about my own sin? I may have a clean conscience based on my interpretation of scripture, but that does not make me right, and it won't take away the guilt if I'm wrong. Thank God for the grace made possible by the blood of Jesus, that can cover either my sin or that of a woman who preaches, because there are many issues like this and no one is right about all of them.

The main thing to remember in this situation is that it is not for me or any other human to pass sentence on the hearts and motives of a woman who chooses to preach. I may believe it to be sin, but ultimately God decides; only He can condemn. If a woman is convinced it's permissible to her, she has the gift, and she does it for God's glory, I say leave her be. Even if she doesn't quite live up to all of that, I would point you to Philippians 1:18.

At the same time, I must adhere to the interpretation that I believe to be correct, and so I do not attend a fellowship that normally allows this.

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"I may have a clean conscience based on my interpretation of scripture, but that ... won't take away the guilt if I'm wrong." I'm not sure I understand what you mean by guilt in this sentence. –  Ben Dunlap May 25 '12 at 17:27
    
You can believe you are right, but still be wrong and bear guilt for the actions that result. The Pharisees provide ample evidence of that. –  Joel Coehoorn May 25 '12 at 17:49
    
I'm familiar with the concept of doing something in good conscience that is in fact materially evil, may have destructive consequences, etc. -- maybe you're saying the same thing in different words. But to my mind it's impossible to sin in good conscience -- that would be a contradiction in terms -- and 'having sinned' is part of the definition of being 'guilty' as I've always understood it. –  Ben Dunlap May 25 '12 at 17:57
    
Man's conscience can be corrupted. In the Old Testament, God even requires an annual sacrifice for the sins Israel did not know it committed. –  Joel Coehoorn May 25 '12 at 21:18
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Great question.

For starters, I encourage you to read @Affable Geek's response about slavery in the Bible here.

In his response, @Affable Geek says:

As stated, slavery was a fact of the Ancient World, and so when the Bible addresses the topic, it should not be compared against the sensibilities of the modern world, but rather against the sensibilities of the ones to whom the Bible was addressed.


  • Christians believe that the founders of the early Church and the authors of the Bible were divinely inspired by God, but the fact remains that all concerned were humans.
  • When the Bible was written, men and women did not share equal rights.
  • Founders and Biblical authors could not help but be influenced by the culture and mores of their time.
  • For this reason, it is my belief that the exclusion of women from the (Catholic) priesthood, diaconate, and sermon preaching is an accident of the time at which the Church was founded and the Bible was written.
  • The culture and mores of the time caused an error of omission rather than an error of commission, because the founders and Biblical authors (namely the authors of the New Testament) did not seriously consider the inclusion of women.
    • To do so would have required extremely progressive thinking that would have been quite strange to the ancient world.

Now, back to your question:

Should women give sermons?

Absolutely, 100% Yes!
Christian Churches can no longer logically defend the exclusion of women from this role.

The problems:

  • Christian Churches are slow/resistant to change.
  • Christian Churches are unsure if they should follow the Bible's prescription for the exclusion of women literally, or if the Church should evolve with the times. [Please see my question here.]
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Which is "this role"? Senior pastor? Leader of a women's ministry? Teaching children in Sunday school classes? –  Ben Voigt Apr 3 '12 at 7:03
    
Much of this argument hinges on the "culture and mores of the times" being wrong, and so it's a failing of man... and yet it's God who chose the timing. It appeals the need for extreme progressive thinking... which was already found elsewhere throughout Christian thought, which was already extremely progressive for the days in other ways. I could get past all this anyway and agree with progressive viewpoint, if not for the addition of the direct contradiction of plain-text scripture. –  Joel Coehoorn Apr 3 '12 at 14:15
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Most of today's conservative churches interpret these passages as a prohibition on women preaching to men. Far from being a prohibition on women ever giving sermons, women are not merely allowed but actually commanded to teach younger women:

The aged women likewise, that they be in behaviour as becometh holiness, not false accusers, not given to much wine, teachers of good things; That they may teach the young women to be sober, to love their husbands, to love their children, To be discreet, chaste, keepers at home, good, obedient to their own husbands, that the word of God be not blasphemed - Titus 2:3-5 KJV

There is a possible interpretation that this type of teaching excludes sermons in favor of exclusively individual mentoring, but my church and many others have women's groups taught by women.

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I think this is a question for which historical context needs to be afforded considerable weight. As others have mentioned, it is not the case that women never did any teaching in the days of the early church, even in the days when Corinthians and 2 Timothy were written. So these verses are certainly not, even in their most restricting interpretation, meant to remove all educational authority from women. However, it was clearly meant to restrict their role in a church setting.

When I think about the early days of the church, I can't help but imagine that it was very hard work - most of the people a Christian would meet on any given day would not be Christian, and would find belief in Christ to directly conflict with existing beliefs. Such people would not be persuaded easily. The best advocate for Christ would have been someone who spoke with authority, determination, and conviction, and someone with as much likelihood of being respected by the target audience as possible.

In those days, women were not taught to act with authority (outside the role of motherhood). Women were of lower station than men, they were expected to depend on their husbands for many things. In such a culture, the ability of a woman to teach with authority would be very suspect, not because of any innate difference between men and women, but because of how the woman had been raised and taught.

When I consider these verses, I find myself thinking "Well, I don't think I'd want a first-century woman giving sermons, either." However, I don't think that way about modern women at all. I grew up in a church with a female assistant pastor, and I learned very much from her, in sermons and at other times. Women today have just as much opportunity to become knowledgeable people of authority, people who speak with conviction and strength, people that an audience would expect to hear from.

For all these reasons, the justification for these commands in a literal sense is much diminished. The underlying concern (people who are meek, unsure, or indecisive do not teach well) is still very valid, but the universal application of that concern to all women loses validity.

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