The Bible on Equal Rights for Women: Did God Write "For Men Only" on the Pulpit?
This article was started by Dave Leach R-IA Bible Lover-musician-grandpa (talk) 21:05, 27 June 2019 (UTC). Interaction from other writers will be distinguished from my writing with horizontal lines above and below. Your response to anything you read here is most welcome. Please add your response next to what you are responding to. If your reaction is not to any specific part of this article, please add general comments on the "Discussion" page.
- 1 Did God Write ‘Men Only’ on the Pulpit?
- 2 How Bible Commentators Struggle with these Verses
- 2.1 John Robinson
- 2.2 B.W.Johnson
- 2.3 Matthew Miller
- 2.4 Albert Barnes
- 2.5 John Gill
- 2.6 Adam Clarke
- 2.7 Matthew Henry
- 2.8 Jamieson-Fausset-Brown
- 2.9 Treasury of Scriptural Knowledge
- 2.10 David Guzik
- 2.11 John Wesley
- 2.12 The Pulpit Bible
- 2.13 Robertson's Word Pictures
- 2.14 Preacher's Homiletical
- 2.15 Biblical Illustrator
- 3 Surprising Bible Solutions
- 4 First Timothy
Did God Write ‘Men Only’ on the Pulpit?
Paul says seven times in 1 Corinthians 14 that “all” should participate at the "microphone". Did Paul mean, “all”, that is, except for women?
This isn't just about church. Historical interpretations of these verses are the historical basis for unequal treatment of women throughout Bible-influenced "Western Civilization", to which feminism has been the secular response.
Not that the Bible has been a negative influence in the progress of equal rights for and treatment of women! To the extent a culture in other lands or in other times has had no Bible influence, women's rights occur to no one. Nor does anyone else considered "weak" enjoy equal treatment, or justice, in secular or pagan societies, where the weak are slaves of the strong, leaders rule by force rather than by consent, and law is whatever a tyrant can get away with.
In today’s churches, it is almost a moot issue, since women and men alike are barred from the pulpit, except for just one or two per church. But a church who dares obey 1 Corinthians 14 and “pass the microphone” will have to resolve whether verses 34-36 exclude women from speaking.
NonChristians may be tempted to find only amusement in an exhaustive effort to parse what the Bible actually does, to the letter, say, as opposed to the many human interpretations that have struggled to understand. NonChristians may be tempted to gloat that they never had to waste any of that time, because they found their feminist principles in secular philosophies where feminism shines untarnished.
There is no basis in reality for such a tempting assumption. Nowhere outside the influence of the Bible do women find the most basic civil rights, much less equal rights. Here in Bible-influenced America even Moslems beat their wives less freely, but
Introduction. This section analyzes the contribution which the Bible allows women to make in church, a subject about which few theologians agree, whose interpretations have suppressed, or at the least confused, millions of women.
This section analyzes passages toiled over by centuries of theologians about women in church, including 1 Corinthians 14:34-35, 1 Timothy 2:11-12, 1 Peter 3:1-7, 1 Corinthians 11:3-16, Ephesians 5:22-24, 33, Colossians 3:18, Titus 2:3-6, and several passages about prophetesses.
This section compares the analyses of these passages by about a dozen different Bible commentaries.
Most of these commentaries manage to dispose of this subject in a paragraph to a couple of pages. Not me! This thing goes on for nearly 100 pages! I want to apologize in advance for being so windy, but I want to explain why I don’t know how to avoid it.
Preview of Conclusions. But first I am going to do a risky thing now. I am going to give you a preview of the conclusions I reach, without first making you see the evidence I have for these conclusions. The risk of course is that you will read only as far as this preview, see how different it is than anything you have ever heard of in your life, and throw my book down declaring to your household, “That’s stupid!”
But if you promise to reserve judgment about the validity of my conclusions until after I show you the evidence, I’ll tell you the conclusion this part reaches. Promise?
(Well, maybe after you see how different my conclusions are than anyone else’s, and so far from what you would expect from reading the verses in popular translations, you will be curious how I managed to come up with such a weird theory.)
I conclude that the 1 Corinthians 14 passage really means husbands and wives shouldn’t argue in public; it makes people uncomfortable. But so long as a wife has her husband’s blessing to speak in church, she may speak freely. It doesn’t apply to single women.
1 Corinthians 34 (Husbands,) remind your wives to reverently “let their words be few” in church (as Ecc. 5:13 also commands both of you). They are not permitted to publicly oppose you; but to cooperate with you (as we read in Numbers 30). 35 And if they demand you justify (why you restricted her speech to what you can both support), assure her that when you get home (you will give her ideas a full, fair hearing and you will support her as much as reason permits). For it is embarrassing to everybody when wives quarrel (that is, when they speak autonomously, out of harmony) with their husbands in church.
The Timothy passage isn’t even about church, but is about the husband-wife relationship at home. What is prohibited is no ordinary teaching, but the kind of brawling that sent Solomon up to the roof to sleep. Twice!
Proverbs 21:9 It is better to dwell in a corner of the housetop, than with a brawling woman in a wide house.
Proverbs 25:24 It is better to dwell in the corner of the housetop, than with a brawling woman and in a wide house.
There is a difference between the “prophets” of 1 Corinthians 12, whose numbers were limited, and the “prophesying” of chapter 14 which everyone is called to do, but it is not an absolute difference. Just as everyone “sings” but only some are designated “singers”, prophets are more than usual inspired by God, but not infallibly, beyond the need for correction from time to time by others. While all of us have at least occasional flashes of inspiration from God, so we need to listen to each other.
Thus the theory of some Bible commentators that only infallible “prophetesses” may speak, but not any woman who speaks imperfectly [fallibly], a distinction very difficult for imperfect humans to discern and enforce, is an unnecessary assumption. Women may speak as freely as men in church, so long as wives don’t abuse the opportunity to argue with their husbands in public.
However, women as well as men need to appreciate their need for each other because of the weaknesses of their own sex [gender] alone. You and I need to consider these Bible clues together, and talk about them, and study them.
At serious risk of being simplistic, perhaps one shortcoming of men, which God urges us men to overcome, is that we forget to love. We forget to sacrifice ourselves for others. We should turn to our wives for inspiration in that area. Perhaps one shortcoming of you women is that you are more gullible, more easily misled, more apt to put emotion over reason, so God advises you to double check your reasoning with your man.
But human experience is that while these may be general tendencies, the Bible doesn’t ask us to enforce different treatment or rights upon the sexes as if there can be no individual exceptions.
For example, wives are urged to “obey” and “submit to” their husbands, but no one but the husband is charged with enforcing the rule – no church policeman, nor is any penalty imposed for disobedience; and meanwhile, if the husband rules unreasonably, the wife is invited to seek mediation from the church. Indeed, from the whole church, although probably no church today goes that far.
As you will see if you suffer through all this, Bible commentaries struggle to make their interpretations fit all these references. Sometimes their theories are creative and make a lot of sense. Other times they are as awkward as forcing a square peg into a round hole.
Because of this confusion, a practice has evolved which is not consistent with any of these theories or with Scripture, but which is much simpler than either: women today in most churches can do everything but “deliver” the uninterruptible “sermon”. Of course, the first section of this book reviews the evidence that in the churches of the Bible, no one ever gave an uninterruptible “sermon”.
It is schizophrenic. Because the very churches today which prohibit female sermons, cite as their authority verses which these same churches acknowledge indicate complete female silence – not just from giving “sermons”.
As for “teaching men”, a few more churches allow that in secondary meetings. Ironically, an example is where marriage counselors, usually husband-wife teams, teach husbands and wives! In the very churches which say women must not teach, and must be silent and obedient, a female marriage counselor is invited to speak freely to men whose liberty to respond verbally is very limited!
The general progressive emancipation of women over the centuries has at least been consistent with the general emancipation of women in the Bible compared with every other historical religion.
The schizophrenia, the distance between profession and practice, and the inability of theologians to interpret these passages in a way that fits all of them, has made these passages from God an embarrassment which Bible believing Christians profess to “believe” but hope they will not be called upon to explain, or to obey.
These passages, therefore, have joined the passages that atheists quote to mock the Bible and to mock Christians who say they believe the Bible but appear to disregard it.
My primary motive for this study is to restore glory to God. As Paul wrote,
2 Corinthians 10:3 For though we walk in the flesh, we do not war after the flesh: 4 (For the weapons of our warfare are not carnal, but mighty through God to the pulling down of strong holds;) 5 Casting down imaginations, and every high thing that exalteth itself against the knowledge of God, and bringing into captivity every thought to the obedience of Christ;
The only way I know to do this is to assemble all these passages into a puzzle that fits all of the pieces, and which is reasonable enough and practical enough that people will recognize its benefits.
Assumptions created to resolve seeming contradictions
The “stumbling block” of Bible commentaries is the assumptions they have made to reconcile seeming contradictions in Scripture.
For example, 1 Corinthians 14 says, seven times in seven verses, that “all” should “prophesy”, except verses 34-35 which seem to say “all, that is, except women”.
1 Corinthians 14 seems to say women must never “prophesy”, but chapter 11 says that when women “prophesy” they should cover their heads.
1 Timothy seems to say women must never teach men, but elsewhere Paul commends women who taught men, including himself! Bible commentators may be forgiven for the guesses – the assumptions – that they make to “bring into captivity every thought” that any passage might contradict any other, even if those assumptions aren’t perfect. Please forgive me, too, if my assumptions fail perfection.
One principle of interpretation I follow is that if there are two possible interpretations that both agree with the Greek text, but one is outside known human experience while the other is familiar everyday human experience, I trust the latter.
But I really want all the Bible puzzle pieces to fit together comfortably, without taking a Hyperbole Hammer to pound them together. There is such a thing as hyperbole in the Bible - “exaggerated statements or claims not meant to be taken literally” - but I am careful with that hammer.
The Hyperbole Hammer
For example, “You blind guides! You strain out a gnat but swallow a camel.” (Matt. 23:24, NIV) We have to assume this is hyperbole because all human experience indicates it is impossible to swallow a camel; besides that, there is no historical record that Pharisees literally swallowed camels. So we read the verse as “You pay close attention to little things but neglect the important things.”
Another example: “If any man come to me and hate not his father and mother…he cannot be my disciple.” Luke 14:26 Larry Amirault (www.tentmaker.org/Biblematters/hyperbole.htm) gives this as another example of hyperbole, which really means “one must put God first.” But since there is no physical impossibility with Jesus’ statement I dig a bit deeper and find the Greek word translated “hate” is “mismo”, which means to “love less”. So there is no need to resort to a less-than-literal interpretation.
My goal really is to be as faithful to the Word of God as possible, and at the same time to reach as reasonable, sensible, and practical conclusion as possible, and as beneficial to everybody as possible, which I consider another test of whether I have correctly discovered God’s meaning. Where I can’t yet do all three, I don’t consider my search finished.
Why worry about a theology which nobody puts in practice anyway?
Of course, no church that I can find, that teaches that verse 34 means women must be literally silent, requires its women to be literally silent in church.
All churches permit women to socialize with everybody else in the church building, before and after the actual service, and during the “Sunday School” discussion, and also during the “greeting time” in the middle of the service, and during singing, as much as men, with only two exceptions from which almost all men are also barred: the one that “delivers” the uninterruptible sermon which no one in the Bible did anyway, and the one who moderates the Sunday School discussion who is called the “teacher”.
(Although the “class” members often talk as much as the designated “teacher”, and their discussion is often as instructive, leaving nothing, of what they teach that they should do, in what they do, except in the giving of the uninterruptible sermon which the Bible doesn’t authorize men to do either.)
Women are even appreciated when they sing solos. They also give announcements, prayer requests, and testimonies along with the rest of the congregation.
So then, am I “barking up the wrong tree”, to go to such effort to prove God does not ask women to be acoustically silent in church, when no church has that practice anyway?
No. It’s the right tree. There’s a coon in it, sure as varmints duck when a vulture circles. Sure as a toad jumps when you try to kiss it.
The problem is that the theologies which insist women should not preach, are based on the assumption that these verses describe literal acoustical silence. Just because the same churches don’t observe the silencing of their women on any other matter than Giving The Sermon, or Teaching a Sunday School class containing men, doesn’t mean there is anything in these verses that applies differently to singing, prophesying, teaching, socializing, or anything else. If silence means literal acoustical silence when it comes to prophesying, then that’s what it means when it comes to singing. Disprove that the verse requires literal acoustical silence in any situation, and restrictions on women from prophesying and preaching lose their authority.
When theologians take a verse like that, and take it literally in the situation of concern to them, but arbitrarily agree it would be ridiculous to apply it elsewhere, that is like Des Moines’ animal noise law, which says any sound made by any pet that can be heard across a property line is a simple misdemeanor punishable by up to a $100 fine and 30 days in jail.
Since that makes every pet owner literally a criminal, and since it would be absurd to enforce the law literally, here’s how dog inspectors told me they operate: when they hear a complaint, they put a note on a door with the law’s all-encompassing language, in order to intimidate them into figuring out how to reduce the noise to a level that doesn’t generate complaints. Failing that, they might go to the pet owner and make suggestions about what might reduce the noise. In other words, a law so vague that it criminalizes everybody, authorizes bureaucrats to make up laws on the spot according to their mood.
I search for interpretations of God’s Laws that are more precise than that: which do not leave humans with the power to arbitrarily oppress each other. That’s why it really is necessary to exhaustively present the many Biblical proofs that literal, complete, acoustical “silence” is not God’s fate for any woman in church.
How Bible Commentators Struggle with these Verses
1 Corinthians 14:34 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. 35 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.
The Separatists (Pilgrims) thought, as do many theologians today, that 1 Corinthians 14:34-35 and 1 Timothy 2:11-12 don’t allow women to talk in church. Yet the combination of common sense and Scripture led their pastor, John Robinson, to punch enough holes in that prohibition to use it for a fish net. (That’s “hyperbole”.)
JR: And for women, they are debarred [“excluded”] by their sex, as from ordinary prophesying, so from any other dealing wherein they take authority over the man, 1 Cor. xiv. 34, 35; 1 Tim. ii. 11, 12, yet not simply from speaking: they make profession of faith, or confession of sin, say amen to the church's prayers, sing psalms vocally, accuse a brother of sin, witness an accusation, or defend themselves being accused, yea, in a case extraordinary, namely where no man will, I see not but a woman may reprove the church, rather than suffer it to go on in apparent wickedness, and communicate with it therein.
(“Supposed Mischiefs of Authority being solely in the Church.” The Works of John Robinson, Pastor of the Pilgrim Fathers, with a Memoir and Annotations by Robert Ashton, 3 vols (London: John Snow, 1851). Vol. 2. About page 133.)]
This is an example of a commonly accepted principle of Biblical interpretation, that common sense is allowed to modify the meaning of a verse. Certainly Pastor Robinson did not cite any verses, and I can think of none, supporting his assumption that of course women should be allowed to (1) profess their faith, (2) confess their sin, (3) say “amen”, (4) sing out loud, (5) defend themselves, much less (6) accuse, or (7) testify.
(As for (8) correct the whole church, what man can do that today, without being hounded out as “controversial” and “divisive”?!)
Is it reasonable to allow common sense to modify an interpretation of a passage? It is inconceivable enough that a woman should be prohibited from the first five, that I have never heard of a church censoring them in all of church history, although thousands of churches have taught that 1 Corinthians 14:34 commands “silence” for all women.
Certainly reason would require that we allow our common sense to modify the Word of God in this matter, IF verse 34 really does command “silence” for all women. But what if that is not the literal meaning of verse 34? The verse says “as thus saith the law”. What law is referenced? How might that modify our interpretation, without having to resort to our “common sense”?
Bible commentator B. W. Johnson summarizes, more succinctly than any other commentator, the seeming contradiction between passages that torments Bible commentators:
BWJ: “Let the women keep silence in the churches.” This, in view of other portions of the Scriptures, is confessedly a difficult passage. In 1 Timothy 2:11-12, We have the same teaching.
On the other hand, Deborah was a judge and a prophetess; Huldah was a prophetess; Joel predicted that in the Christian dispensation “the sons and daughters should prophesy” (Joel 2:28), and Peter declared that this was fulfilled on the Day of Pentecost (Acts 2:4).
In addition, the daughters of Philip prophesied (Acts 21:9), and in 1 Corinthians 11:5, Paul gives directions concerning women prophesying.
Today’s churches which even care about these verses, which are not many, silence women during the formal “main worship service”, but not during the less formal secondary assemblies. That is the recommendation of the following excerpt from BWJ. While this seems vaguely rational today, the theory is jarring as an explanation during Bible times; first because no logic or Scripture supports such a distinction – that women should be “under obedience” only during large gatherings but not small ones, and second because Scripture reports no primary vs. secondary assemblies.
I am not the first one to notice that no logic or Scripture limits women being “under obedience” to the largest gatherings. Although noticing it may get me shipped off to the hills of Kentucky. Pastor Matthew Miller describes his first day of preaching:
I will never forget the time that I had just begun to work with a new local church, and was waiting...to deliver one of my first sermons. Immediately before the worship began, I was herded and pinned in by a group of older men who had all grown up in a certain part of Kentucky.
They asked me whether I believed women could speak in Bible class, and, practically before I could utter a word, they inundated me with their own arguments why they thought women could not.
One of them even went so far as to say something to the effect of, “I would rather have musical instruments than women speaking in Bible class, because the Bible doesn’t say not to have them, but it does say women can’t speak.”
...the fact that this question meant so much to these men made me realize that it is not merely some intellectual, theological question, but a valid question which local churches must study and answer. To merely ignore or avoid the question is to have congregations where women do not know what to do, and some are afraid to speak, and some feel that they have something worthwhile to contribute to the class, while some men sit fuming, believing these women to be in sin. www.watchmanmag.com
Miller’s solution is like BWJ’s: not to question whether verse 34 literally tells all women to be absolutely silent, but to assume the instruction for “the whole church” is not for secondary meetings:
BWJ: Probably these apparent discrepancies may be reconciled as follows: (1) Paul's prohibition of speaking to the women is, in the churches; that is, in the church assemblies when “the whole church is come together into one place” (1 Corinthians 14:23). It is an official meeting of the church. “Church” in the New Testament always means the ecclesia. It does not apply to such informal meetings as the social or prayer-meetings, but to formal gatherings of the whole body.
In case that doesn’t work for you, Johnson’s second possibility is that women in Greece were different than other women. Which is a surprising theory since verse 33 had implied that Paul’s rules are for “all churches [assemblies] of the saints.” The other thing that makes that surprising is that one struggles to think of any other human right that the Bible bids us suppress to impress bloodthirsty pagans.
(2) It may be that even this prohibition was due to the circumstances that existed in Ephesus, where Timothy was, and in Corinth, and would not apply everywhere. If so, it applies wherever similar circumstances exist, but not elsewhere. Both were Greek churches. Among the Greeks public women were disreputable. For a woman to speak in public would cause the remark that she was shameless. Virtuous women were secluded. Hence it would be a shame for women to speak in the church assembly. It is noteworthy that there is no hint of such a prohibition to any churches except Grecian. Wherever it would be shameful, women ought not to speak.
Bible commentator Albert Barnes is perhaps the strictest in locking up every female mouth and throwing away the key. (Oops, another hyperbole) Of the many who assume verse 34 enjoins literal, absolute female silence, he is the most faithful to that interpretation:
Barnes: This rule is positive, explicit, and universal. There is no ambiguity in the expressions; and there can be no difference of opinion, one would suppose, in regard to their meaning. The sense evidently is, that in all those things which he had specified, the women were to keep silence; they were to take no part...it does not refer merely to acts of public preaching, but to all acts of speaking, or even asking questions, when the church is assembled for public worship. No rule in the New Testament is more positive than this; and however plausible may be the reasons which may be urged for disregarding it, and for suffering women to take part in conducting public worship, yet the authority of the apostle Paul is positive, and his meaning cannot be mistaken; compare 1 Timothy 2:11-12.
Wow! A position doesn’t get any starker than this! Absolute, literal, acoustical silence. If a baby cries and the mother whispers “Shhh” Mr. Barnes would throw her out in the snow!
Bible Commentator John Gill is more accommodating. His church lets women say quite a few kinds of things that reason suggests, but nothing that implies Biblical authority. Where he finds verses that draw the line he alleges, he leaves us to guess.
Gill: This is a restriction of, and an exception to one of the above rules, that all might prophesy; in which he would be understood of men only, and not of women....
...All speaking is not prohibited; they might speak their experiences to the church, or give an account of the work of God upon their souls; they might speak to one another in psalms, hymns, and spiritual songs; or speak as an evidence in any case at a church meeting; but not in such sort, as carried in it direction, instruction, government, and authority....
Bible Commentator Adam Clarke noticed that three chapters before, Paul had told women what to wear when they speak in church! So he tries to incorporate that into his theory, but the result doesn’t entirely make sense. He jumps on the clue that the prohibition is of asking questions, which he takes to mean to challenge the men – to dispute. To argue.
Although that is a valiant effort to reconcile puzzling verses, it doesn’t explain where the line is between “prophesying”/discussion, and challenging another’s positions. There probably is no such line.
The prejudice against women in synagogues isn’t relevant to what the Bible envisions for churches, as Clarke implies, but I’m leaving in Clarke’s report to let you see how dramatically refreshing Jesus’ treatment of women was.
Clarke: Let your women keep silence in the churches - This was a Jewish ordinance; women were not permitted to teach in the assemblies, or even to ask questions. The rabbis taught that “a woman should know nothing but the use of her distaff.” And the sayings of Rabbi Eliezer, as delivered, Bammidbar Rabba, sec. 9, fol. 204, are both worthy of remark and of execration; they are these: ישרפו דברי תורה ואל ימסרו לנשים yisrephu dibrey torah veal yimsaru lenashim, “Let the words of the law be burned, rather than that they should be delivered to women.”
This was their condition till the time of the Gospel, when, according to the prediction of Joel, the Spirit of God was to be poured out on the women as well as the men, that they might prophesy, i.e. teach. And that they did prophesy or teach is evident from what the apostle says, 1 Corinthians 11:5, where he lays down rules to regulate this part of their conduct while ministering in the church.
But does not what the apostle says here contradict that statement, and show that the words in chap. 11 should be understood in another sense? For, here it is expressly said that they should keep silence in the church; for it was not permitted to a woman to speak. Both places seem perfectly consistent. It is evident from the context that the apostle refers here to asking questions, and what we call dictating in the assemblies. It was permitted to any man to ask questions, to object, altercate, attempt to refute, etc., in the synagogue; but this liberty was not allowed to any woman.
St. Paul confirms this in reference also to the Christian Church; he orders them to keep silence; and, if they wished to learn any thing, let them inquire of their husbands at home; because it was perfectly indecorous for women to be contending with men in public assemblies, on points of doctrine, cases of conscience, etc.
Clarke’s assumption seems preposterous, that Jewish precedent that includes burning Bibles rather than let a woman read them, should guide our application of the New Testament!
Clarke’s second assumption, that “asking questions” really means to “object, altercate, or refute”, is surprising for two reasons. First because Clarke does not support this definition with any evidence, and second because correcting and refuting error – “exhorting” – is one of the purposes given for going to church in Hebrews 10:25. (Remember that correcting the whole church, and anyone in it, is on the Separatist [Pilgrim’s] pastor John Robinson’s list of things women should obviously be allowed to say.)
Clarke’s third assumption, that God’s motive for silencing women is to avoid being “indecorous”, is jarring, because (1) no Scripture is cited in its support, and (2) being “decorous” in a pagan world is hardly a common theme of Godly behavior, not to mention that (3) censoring women hardly seems “decorous” by any Biblical principle we recognize today outside the traditional contradictory interpretations of these verses.
Next, Clarke says that when a woman “received any particular influence from God to enable her to teach,” she should. She just can’t “find fault”. Clarke leaves us to guess how it is possible to teach people how to correctly understand anything if you are not allowed to correct misunderstanding.
Clarke: But this by no means intimated that when a woman received any particular influence from God to enable her to teach, that she was not to obey that influence; on the contrary, she was to obey it, and the apostle lays down directions in chap. 11 for regulating her personal appearance when thus employed. All that the apostle opposes here is their questioning, finding fault, disputing, etc., in the Christian Church, as the Jewish men were permitted to do in their synagogues; together with the attempts to usurp any authority over the man, by setting up their judgment in opposition to them; for the apostle has in view, especially, acts of disobedience, arrogance, etc., of which no woman would be guilty who was under the influence of the Spirit of God.
But - to be under obedience, as also saith the law - This is a reference to Genesis 3:16: Thy desire shall be to thy husband, and he shall rule over thee. From this it is evident that it was the disorderly and disobedient that the apostle had in view; and not any of those on whom God had poured out his Spirit.
Matthew Henry eloquently acknowledges the “problem”.
Henry: “There is indeed an [implication in] (1 Corinthians 11:5) as if the women sometimes did pray and prophecy in their assemblies, which the apostle... does not [completely, totally] condemn, but [he only condemns a particular] manner of performance, ...But [in 1 Corinthians 14:34-35] he seems to forbid all public performances of theirs. They are not permitted to speak (1Co_14:34) in the church, neither in praying nor prophesying.
Henry reasons that the silence he sees in chapter 14, though not consistent with chapter 11, is consistent with 1 Timothy 2:11-12:
Henry: ...indeed, for a woman to prophesy in this sense were to teach, which does not so well befit her state of subjection. A teacher of others has in that respect a superiority over them, which is not allowed the woman over the man, nor must she therefore be allowed to teach in a congregation: I suffer them not to teach. [1 Timothy 2:12]
But Henry is puzzled. He can understand how the subjection of women to men might explain a prohibition against preaching to and teaching men. But it doesn’t explain why women shouldn’t be allowed to pray out loud or sing hymns either. So why does 1 Corinthians 14 ban everything with its requirement of female silence?
Henry: But praying, and uttering hymns inspired, were not teaching. And seeing there were women who had spiritual gifts of this sort in that age of the church (see Acts 22:9), and might be under this impulse in the assembly, must they altogether suppress it? Or why should they have this gift, if it must never be publicly exercised? [Acts 22:9 must be a misprint. Acts 21:8-9 says “Philip the evangelist” “had four daughters, virgins, which did prophesy.”]
Singing! Can you imagine a church doctrine that prohibits women from singing? Yet that is the doctrine that must follow an interpretation of “let your women be silent” as meaning literal acoustical silence! As Bible commentator Matthew Henry observed with frustration.
Henry cites Acts 22:9 for evidence of, I thought at first, female singing talent. Before I figured out he must have meant 21:9, about women prophesying, I looked all over for evidence of female singers.
I found two Old Testament passages that help make Henry’s point:
Ecclesiastes 2:8 I gathered me also silver and gold, and the peculiar treasure of kings and of the provinces: I gat me men singers and women singers, and the delights of the sons of men, as musical instruments, and that of all sorts.
Exodus 15:20 And Miriam the prophetess, the sister of Aaron, took a timbrel in her hand; and all the women went out after her with timbrels and with dances. 21 And Miriam answered them, Sing ye to the LORD, for he hath triumphed gloriously; the horse and his rider hath he thrown into the sea.
Next, Henry offers a solution to this “problem” proposed by “some”. He doesn’t say who “some” is, but it must have been the Separatists (Pilgrims) whose pastor, John Robinson, had offered this solution a century before Henry published in 1714, and whose congregation had established the oldest successful colony in the New World and had put this “solution” in practice for a century.
Henry summarizes the solution using the terms “ordinary” and “extraordinary” that Robinson had used. When women are miraculously, divinely inspired, making their words “extraordinary”, they were allowed! Otherwise, mere “ordinary” speech was not!
Henry: For these reasons, some think that these general prohibitions are only to be understood in common cases; but that upon extraordinary occasions, when women were under a divine afflatus, [inspiration] and known to be so, they might have liberty of speech. They were not ordinarily to teach, nor so much as to debate and ask questions in the church, but learn in silence there; and, if difficulties occurred, ask their own husbands at home.
After this, Henry appears to grow weary of resolving these “problems”. He abandons the qualified blessing on female prophesying and praying in chapter 12, and the prophetesses he remembers from Acts, or the fact that prayers and hymn singing do not challenge male authority, and bolts down the apparent absolute silence of 14:34-35 and tells women to settle down to their station.
Henry: 2. We have here the reason of this injunction: It is God's law and commandment that they should be under obedience (1 Corinthians 14:34); they are placed in subordination to the man, and it is a shame for them to do any thing that looks like an affectation of changing ranks, which speaking in public seemed to imply, at least in that age, and among that people, as would public teaching much more: so that the apostle concludes it was a shame for women to speak in the church, in the assembly. Shame is the mind's uneasy reflection on having done an indecent thing. And what more indecent than for a woman to quit her rank, renounce the subordination of her sex, or do what in common account had such aspect and appearance?
The idea that women are so much lower “rank” than men that they shouldn’t even be allowed to speak in the presence of men – Henry’s next statement – leaves any honest man to marvel why God stoops to allow any human to talk to Him at all! Is the “rank” gap between a lowly woman and an exalted man that much greater than that between an exalted man and God?!! Such nonsense drives open our hearts to better interpretation options!
Henry: Note, Our spirit and conduct should be suitable to our rank. The natural distinctions God has made, we should observe. Those he has placed in subjection to others should not set themselves on a level, nor affect or assume superiority. The woman was made subject to the man, and she should keep her station and be content with it. For this reason women must be silent in the churches, not set up for teachers; for this is setting up for superiority over the man.
Jamieson-Fausset-Brown justifies the “silent women” verses with an statement just irrational enough to point us in the direction of a real Biblical solution:
JFB: (1 Timothy 2:11-12). For women to speak in public would be an act of independence, as if they were not subject to their husbands (compare 1 Corinthians 11:3; Ephesians 5:22; Titus 2:5; 1 Peter 3:1). For “under obedience,” translate, “in subjection” or “submission,” as the Greek is translated (Ephesians 5:21-24). [the law — a term applied to the whole Old Testament; here, Genesis 3:16.]
The first thing about that statement that slaps logic in the face, especially today but in all times, is that not every husband wants his wife silenced in public! So when a husband wants his wife heard, is his authority over his wife to be denied in order to preserve his “authority”?!!
In fact, the “virtuous woman” portrayed in Proverbs 31 is a successful business woman who “openeth her mouth with wisdom; and in her tongue is the law of kindness”, v. 26. What decent husband wants words like that silenced? What decent husband thinks his authority is made sure by censoring such wisdom?
The second fact that cries out for notice is that all these verses listed are about husbands and wives. Wives are subject to husbands, but no verse anywhere suggests wives ought to be subject to any other man, as is the case in, for example, Islam. Therefore, there is no authority in any of these verses for applying any of these restrictions to single women, including widows.
JFB has a good list of relevant verses so let’s look at them:
JFB: 1 Corinthians 11:3 But I would have you know, that the head of every man is Christ; and the head of the woman is the man; and the head of Christ is God.
Ephesians 5:22 Wives, submit yourselves unto your own husbands, as unto the Lord. 23 For the husband is the head of the wife, even as Christ is the head of the church: and he is the saviour of the body. 24 Therefore as the church is subject unto Christ, so let the wives be to their own husbands in every thing.
Titus 2:4 That they may teach the young women to be sober, to love their husbands, to love their children, 5 To be discreet, chaste, keepers at home, good, obedient [subordinate] to their own husbands, that the word of God be not blasphemed.
1 Peter 3:1 Likewise, ye wives, be in subjection to your own husbands; that, if any obey not the word, they also may without the word be won by the conversation of the wives;
Genesis 3:16 Unto the woman he said, I will greatly multiply thy sorrow and thy conception; in sorrow thou shalt bring forth children; and thy desire shall be to thy husband, and he shall rule over thee.
Notice that the “female silence” verses include Biblical authority: “as also thus saith the law”. 1 Corinthians 14:34. To understand, therefore, the sense in which the verse enjoins female silence, a sense not clear to Bible commentators, some of whom silence should be total while others think surely women ought to be allowed to sing and pray, we should know what “law” Paul means.
JFB’s footnote says “the law — a term applied to the whole Old Testament; here, Genesis 3:16.”
Several other Bible commentaries think Paul bases his “female silence” on Genesis 3:16. Apparently because they can’t think of anywhere else in the whole Old Testament that supports such an idea.
Nor can I. But neither can I see how Genesis 3:16 supports such an idea. Can you? By what logic does “rule over” translate to “never allow to speak”? And I say again, what about a husband who really wants something said to the assembly which his wife can say best?
Treasury of Scriptural Knowledge
The Treasury of Scriptural Knowledge, whose specialty is cross references, points to a different passage of The Law: Numbers 30. (TSK also mentioned Genesis 3:16, and also Esther 1:17-20 where a pagan king divorced his queen for flagrant public disobedience.)
Numbers 30:10 Suppose a married woman makes a promise to the LORD. 11 If her husband hears about the promise and says nothing, she must do what she said. 12 But if he hears about the promise and does object, she no longer has to keep it. The LORD will forgive her, because her husband would not allow her to keep the promise. 13 Her husband has the final say about any promises she makes to the LORD. 14 If her husband hears about a promise and says nothing about it for a whole day, she must do what she said—since he did not object, the promise must be kept. 15 But if he waits until the next day to stop her from keeping her promise, he is the one who must be punished. 16 These are the laws that the LORD gave Moses about husbands and wives, and about young daughters who still live at home. (ERV)
Verse 16 – “These are the laws that the LORD gave Moses about husbands and wives” – makes it sound as if these are the only laws God gave Moses about husbands and wives. TSK does list two other cross references for verse 16 though: Numbers 5:29-30 where a husband suspects a wife of adultery, and Leviticus 15:32-33 about diseased genitals.
But how do any of these apply to female silence in church? I can’t imagine Paul saw any application from Numbers 5 or Leviticus 15.
But Numbers 30? Could Paul have meant that following the principle of Numbers 30, a wife may speak freely in church up until her husband objects?
If that is “the Law” Paul was thinking of, and that is how he meant to apply it, his restriction plainly did not apply to single women who were never married, or who are divorced or widowed, because verse 9 says:
Numbers 30:9 Widows and divorced women must keep every promise they make to the LORD.
Bible commentator David Guzik concludes that the “silence” of 14:34-35 can’t be literal because “Paul has already assumed the right of women to pray or prophecy publicly (as stated in 1 Corinthians 11:1-16).” So
Guzik: “Here, he probably is saying women do not have the right to judge prophecy, something restricted to the male leadership of the church. Instead of judging prophecy, women should be submissive to what the leadership of the church judges regarding words of prophecy.” “...the context [1 Corinthians 11] suggests speak refers to either the judging of prophecy (something for the leadership of the church to do) or to disruptive speaking.”
OK, 14:34 doesn’t mean literal silence because then it would contradict 11:1-16, but it must censor something, so why not “judging prophecy”? That’s “probably” it.
But can Guzik find anything in God’s words to support such a “probably”? Or to explain how you get from “it is not permitted unto them to speak” to “they just can’t judge prophecy”?
Here are the “troublesome” words again. See if you spot anything about “prophecy” or about “judging”:
1 Corinthians 14:34 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. 35 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.
In support of his theory that prophesying or praying is not prohibited by “it is a shame for women to speak in the church”, he theorizes that the Greek word for “speak” doesn’t prohibit public speaking!
Guzik: Alan Redpath points out that Paul uses the Greek verb laleo, which means, “to talk, question, argue, profess, or chatter.” Redpath says, “It has nothing to do with prophecy or prayer; it is not public speaking as such.”
Unfortunately for Guzik this theory is quickly disproved by simply seeing how the Greek word, G2980, is used in the Bible. It comes up 295 times. Without looking up all 295 verses, just the first 10 are in a context of public speaking.
Matthew 9:18 Jesus speaking to crowds. V. 33 a man healed from being dumb speaking so crowds marveled. Same thing in 12:22. 10:19-20 when we are tried in courts “the Spirit of God” will show us what to say. 12:34, 36 are about “every idle word” that we speak, which includes public as well as private speaking.
But why did Paul say women shouldn’t even ask questions of their husbands at church? How is asking questions at home any remote kind of challenge to any husband’s “authority”? On the contrary, isn’t the very asking of a question acknowledgment of a husband’s superior understanding? What conceivable Old Testament law can be invoked as a precedent for even prohibiting questions?
Guzik can’t imagine. So he resorts to a theory I have heard elsewhere that “chattering or disrupting the meetings with questions” was the problem at Corinth, a theory not confirmed by any Bible verse, nor by any historical report, nor by experience today, but supported only by his incorrect assumption that “laleo” doesn’t mean public speaking.
Guzik: In the ancient world, just as in some modern cultures, women and men sit in different groups at church. Among the Corinthian Christians, there seems to have been the problem of women chattering or disrupting the meetings with questions. Paul is saying, “Don’t disrupt the meeting. Ask your questions at home.” ...with many women from Gentile backgrounds, they did not know how to conduct themselves at a church meeting. Paul is teaching them how.
“There seems to have been a problem” – in other words, “is it possible to explain this seeming contradiction between chapter 11 and 14 by imagining that women were shouting questions to their husbands from across the hall?”
Well, I suppose one can imagine anything, but some things are harder to imagine than others. But when nothing in the Bible or recorded history supports a scenario that we imagine, imagination alone is a shaky basis for interpreting a passage.
John Wesley, writing in 1766, repeats the theory of John Robinson, pastor of the Separatists, that only women speaking miraculously – “under an extraordinary impulse of the Spirit” – get to speak.
Wesley is the only commentator on my computer who transfers God’s subjection of wives to husbands to subjection of women to the single man in the church who “leads” the service:
Wesley: Let your women be silent in the churches – Unless they are under an extraordinary impulse of the Spirit. For, in other cases, it is not permitted them to speak – by way of teaching in public assemblies. But to be in subjection – To the man whose proper office it is to lead and to instruct the congregation. Genesis 3:16.
The Pulpit Bible
The Pulpit Bible says the Bible’s “prophetesses” couldn’t have spoken in public!!! In fact, no woman should ever speak in a secular meeting either!!!
But what about the prophecy of Joel which says women, prophesying, will be one of the “latter days” “signs”? Which Acts says was fulfilled then?
This commentary even starts out with that little “problem”, but “solves” it by saying Joel doesn’t specify that this “sign” will happen in public! Which leaves me gasping, “how can an event which is not public be a sign – when the word “sign” means a proof to the public?”
PB: It had been foretold, “Your sons and your daughters shall prophesy” (Joel 2:28), and in Acts 21:9 we read of four daughters of Philip who prophesied; but in neither case is anything said of prophesying in public and mixed assemblies. The apostle does not prohibit women from prophesying, but only from prophesying in public. This, according to his view, would conflict with modesty and with woman’s rightful position, and would lead to many evils.
That matter settled, PB attacks the theory that silence is commanded only for some kinds of meetings but not others:
PB: It is an evasion to discriminate between women speaking in Church meetings and women addressing general congregations. The apostle’s objection was to the public character of the act, and when he is speaking of “meetings of the Church” in this very chapter, he is referring to gatherings to which unbelievers had access (Acts 21:24).
And what about unmarried woman without husbands to answer their questions? Let them find a male relative to ask! Just so they never ask a question in church!!!
PB: IV. WOMEN’S INSTRUCTION ENCOURAGED. To supplement instruction of the sanctuary, women may ask questions at home of their husbands. It may be said—What are those to do who have no husbands? Emphasis seems to rest upon “their own” (Revised Version) rather than upon “husbands.” It would be acting in the spirit of the apostle’s injunction for the unmarried to ask their relatives or personal friends. There seems no possible reason why an unmarried woman should be allowed to speak in public mixed assemblies whilst a married woman is debarred, but rather the reverse.
And what about husbands who don’t even go to church, or read the Bible, or believe in God, like the husbands mentioned in 1 Peter 3:1?
This very real situation is answered with a fantasy:
PB: ...husbands should be well furnished with religious knowledge....If he glories in a superior position, he should realize its responsibilities.
For its resolve that no woman should ever be allowed to ask questions or share information, in any church or secular meeting, it is amazing that PB professes concern that women be well informed!!
PB: ...women are not in the religious sphere to be mere automata. They are not to be the dupes of priests. They are to think, ask questions, understand. They are not to be kept in ignorance. Intelligent service is expected from them. Highest culture is as open to them as to men. There is nothing unwomanly in being well informed.—H.
Robertson's Word Pictures
Robertson’s Word Pictures, published in 1933, can’t even decide how sure to be about what Paul means. It says “There is no doubt at all as to Paul’s meaning here” but...
RWP: “Women do most of the teaching in our Sunday schools today. It is not easy to draw the line. The daughters of Philip were prophetesses. It seems clear that we need to be patient with each other as we try to understand Paul’s real meaning here.”
In between this affirmation and this confession, Robertson is pretty dogmatic:
RWP: In church the women are not allowed to speak (lalein) nor even to ask questions. They are to do that at home (en oikōi). He calls it a shame (aischron) as in 1 Corinthians 11:6 (cf. Ephesians 5:12; Titus 1:11). Certainly women are still in subjection (hupotassesthōsan) to their husbands (or ought to be). But somehow modern Christians have concluded that Paul’s commands on this subject, even 1 Timothy 2:12, were meant for specific conditions that do not apply wholly now.
Preacher’s Homiletical, published in 1892, begins with an inspiring affirmation of trust in the God-inspired authority of Scripture. This is a refreshing departure from theories that treatment of women in synagogues and by pagans is somehow relevant to understanding Paul’s meaning, or worse, theories reported in more liberal commentaries than I am quoting, that Paul let his cultural prejudices creep into what he reported as from God.
PH: How far Paul’s words are binding.
1. Paul’s pronouncements upon the position of woman in Christendom and her relation to man are not to be reckoned as simply remainders of “Oriental” or “Israelite” preconceptions, from which even he, who wrote Galatians 3:28, had not worked himself free. Nor are they to be regarded as merely intended to apply to a temporary phase of social life which found its typical exemplifications in Corinth or Ephesus in Paul’s day; and as therefore without force for English or American life today. As to the former point,—whilst the human element in Revelation is to be recognised, the Divine is not to be minimised.
The abundant literary and historical material in whose light (say) the Epistles of Paul can to-day be studied, and that development of the historic sense in the students, which they share with the writers and readers of all history to-day, tend to obscure the fact,—ascertainable and verifiable on other lines of approach to and examination of the topic of Inspiration,—that the Spirit of God makes Himself responsible for the Book which is the product of the historical, or epistolary, or other activity of Paul and the other contributors to it.
The judgments on this topic are Paul’s; but not those of a Jew, only half-emancipated from the prejudices of his early education and training, on whom more enlightened or advanced readers may sit in judgment in their turn, and with fresher light review or revise his pronouncements.
To assume this takes all finality, all authority, from Revelation on this topic or any other. As does the alternative suggestion. Is anything merely and only temporary put upon permanent record in the Bible at all? Rather, everything is of permanent value and authority, if even indirectly. If the temporary and “accidental” is put upon record, it is because in it is embodied some truth of abiding value.
The temporary and accidental form carries a principle which is part of the universally applicable and binding Revelation of the mind and will of God.
This faith in the trustworthiness of the “Word of God” is particularly justified by verses 36-38 where Paul doubles down on his words being those of God:
PH: 2. Here Paul, in point of fact, does most pointedly claim for his dicta on our topic an absolute, Divine authority. He claims to speak as a prophet. Every true prophet will recognise the prophet in him. “The word of the Lord has come” to him; the words which he utters and bids his amanuensis write are “the commandments of the Lord.”
[The assertion is made in regard to this one topic, indeed, or to the group of topics dealt with in this chapter. But it would hardly be denied that this is a test case, a sample case, and, that when coupled with Colossians 4:16 and 1 Thessalonians 5:27, it extends its applicability to all his Epistles and their instructions.]
He also lifts the case, both here and in the two other places where the topic is formerly dealt with (chap. 11, and 1 Timothy 2), above the level of the temporary and local.
He traces the relation of woman to man up to the primal ordering of Creation. It is no novelty; it is no Oriental peculiarity; it is no wrong done to women by the men of the ancient world.
Abused the principle may have been,—shamefully and cruelly,—until woman has become the slave, or at best the plaything, of man, the drudge of his idle, selfish, masterful will, or the vehicle of his sensuality. But the relation of subordination of woman to man is shown to be rooted in the physical characteristics and the creation-history of both.
Wesley is cited, who wrote to a woman that she could speak only when her speech was “extraordinary”, (miraculous), which was the theory of Separatist pastor John Robinson. However, Wesley actually wrote, all of Methodism is “extraordinary”, so maybe it’s OK!
PH: [So conservative a man as John Wesley, e.g., wrote to a Mrs. Crosby, who had been led into a modified public activity: “I think the strength of the cause rests … on your having an extraordinary call.… It is plain to me that the whole work of God termed Methodism is an extraordinary dispensation of His providence. Therefore I do not wonder if several things occur therein which do not fall under ordinary rules of discipline. St. Paul’s ordinary rule was: ‘I permit not a woman to speak in the congregation.’ Yet, in extraordinary cases, he made a few exceptions; at Corinth in particular.”
Preacher’s Homiletical rejects Wesley’s reasoning, fortunately! PH observes
PH: (For this he offers no proof. See 1Co_11:5.) Works, xii. 339, Anno 1771.] Hence, then, the only “dispensing power” which can relax these positive injunctions and modify the force of these pronouncements, is His Who through Paul uttered them. ...But the “dispensing power” should never be assumed by man, and very assured credentials should be presented by the “woman suffered to teach” [before she is allowed to speak].
PH next reminds women of their “consolation prize” from God even though they don’t get the prize of Freedom of Speech: compared to all other religions and legal systems, the Bible still was a leader in women’s rights. Women still “owe much to the Gospel.”
After that, PH notices that the Holy Spirit, in fulfillment of a prophecy of Joel, inspired women as well as men; and even female slaves:
PH: 3. The Spirit of “prophecy” made no distinction of sex. Pentecost began to fulfil Joel’s word in a point which perhaps even Peter hardly appreciated as he quoted it [Acts 2:17-18 (Joel 2:28-32)]; the “daughters” should prophesy as well as the “sons”; the very “handmaidens” [i.e. be it noted, the female slaves; station should matter as little as sex] should share with the “servants” the outpouring of the Spirit.
PH puts, with this prophetic and Holy Spirit endorsement of Spirit-inspired women, the seemingly unqualified “Ye may all prophesy” in 1 Corinthians 14:31, and floats its rather desperate theory that the “silence” of verse 34 must not apply to prophesying but only to “teaching”. After all, chapter 14 doesn’t authorize “all” to “teach”, and the Bible elsewhere does distinguish between the two.
PH: But he says here [in 1 Corinthians 14], “Ye may all prophesy,” which, coupled with the equal treatment accorded to women by the endowing Spirit, seems still further to narrow his absolute prohibition, to “teaching” (1 Timothy 2:12), an office which once at least he distinguishes from “prophesying” (Ephesians 4:11; cf. Acts 13:1).
Ephesians 4:11 And that same Christ gave these gifts to people: He made some to be apostles, some to be prophets, some to go and tell the Good News, and some to care for and teach God's people. (ERV)
Acts 13:1 In the church at Antioch there were some prophets and teachers.
Well, yes, there is a difference between “prophets” and “teachers”, but the difference is one of emphasis; there is so much overlap that it is impossible to feature one if you censor the other. “Prophesying”, consisting of challenging, correcting, and comforting according to 14:3, will normally involve some teaching, and good teaching will always involve some challenging, correcting, and comforting.
An analogy from music: a Soprano is definitely different than an Alto. But you can’t censor all of the notes that one can sing, without censoring most of the notes that the other can sing. Even some Bass notes overlap some Soprano notes.
PH mixes in Pastor Robinson’s theory that women can talk if their words are miraculous [“extraordinary”]:
PH: As was said above, the extraordinary charism [Holy Spirit Gift; charism is the Greek word for gift] was above ordinary prudential regulations; the Spirit is sovereign.
The bottom line? You need a microscope to find it:
PH: The line of division between the public “speaking in the Church” which is forbidden, and the “Bible lesson” given by a lady to a class of big lads or men in a Sunday school, which everybody sanctions, becomes a very fine one, and is indeed nearly at the vanishing-point.
PH reports John Wesley’s wild search for God’s line, in his letter to the same woman. One senses he is totally guessing, but is making his guesses a law binding the unfortunate woman:
PH: “I advise you, as I did Grace Walton formerly, 1. Pray in private or public, as much as you Song of Solomon 2. Even in public, you may properly enough intermix short exhortations with prayer, but keep as far from what is called preaching as you can: Therefore, never take a text; never speak in a continued discourse, without some break, about four or five minutes” (Works, xiii. 339).]
PH comes to what people struggling with inflexible law call a “hard case” where the traditionally inflexible reading of verses 34-35 slaps reason in the face so hard that it simply can’t be followed; “none will rebuke” female talk in this situation; it gives “help which must not be refused”.
PH: There are also traces in the early Church of a distinct duty laid upon the “widows” to keep up a perpetual intercession on behalf of the active, busy, younger Church. The prayer meeting is a field for a grand activity for woman which none will rebuke. Her testimony in a meeting for witness-bearing or praise is help which must not be refused; nor should she withhold it, if, as part of her consecration of herself to Christ, she may, by doing violence to her temperament and her modest reticence, honour Him, or may help seeking or battling and oppressed souls, in telling “how great things the Lord hath done for” her. ...Women who often enter into the Holy of Holies of the “spirit,” and there commune with God, are not idlers in the Church.
I sympathize with the resulting departure from the absolute silence assumed to be the meaning of verses 34-35, but it is unfortunate that PH reaches it without the explicit blessing of any other Scripture. PH thus appears to abandon its earlier resolution that “the only ‘dispensing power’ which can relax these positive injunctions and modify the force of these pronouncements, is His Who through Paul uttered them. ...But the ‘dispensing power’ should never be assumed by man....”
PH notices a time Jesus insisted a woman give her testimony publicly. (True, Jesus didn’t do this in a church building with a cross or bell tower on it, on Sunday morning during the 11:00 am service, but it is definitely a precedent for women testifying publicly.)
PH: [Note how Christ would not allow the woman with “the issue” to steal away in silence with her blessing, but will have her testimony borne, there in the street, before all the crowd (Luke 8:45-47).]
PH: IV. The one reserved thing is “teaching.”—[You say,] “But they are often better qualified to teach than the man who stands up to teach them.” Perhaps, but such “hard cases” make “bad law.”
When an application of God’s Laws produces “hard cases”, maybe that indicates a bad application.
Our challenge is not to “make law” in any case, but to understand God’s.
As sincerely as PH seeks to honor every word of God-inspired Scripture, its analysis simply fails to explain how the “silence” of verses 34-35 can apply to “teaching” and “testimonies” but not to prophesying, praying, or singing. If “silence” means “silence”, then the verses simply don’t permit female sound.
But if somehow “silence” means something other than accoustical “silence” – a theory I will actually propose soon – then there are no hard cases, and there need be no frenzied search for a line protecting miraculous speech or obviously helpful speech from the censors of all other speech.
Biblical Illustrator repeats some from PH under the heading “Women in the Church”. Here are a few additional zingers:
BI: ...speaking in Church assemblies....Does not accord with woman’s true position (Genesis 3:16; 1 Corinthians 11:1-34.). It had been foretold that “your sons and daughters shall prophesy,” and we read that Philip’s daughters prophesied; but in neither case is anything said about prophesying in public and mixed assemblies, which is what Paul forbids, inasmuch as it would conflict with modesty and woman’s rightful position, and would lead to many evils.
...the home. A beautiful temple for her ministry. Oratorical females are frequently poor housewives.
Wow! That last sentence – how would one measure such a thing? Even if one could, one must ask if an “oratorical female” would be made a better housewife by censoring her?!
After a few jabs like that, BI launches a long Scripture-based rationale for regarding Paul’s silencing of women as restricted not only to that time, but to that country and its unique customs!
(Although I find this theory surprisingly credible, reasonable, and not clearly inconsistent with faith in the infallibility of Scripture, it is not a rationale I rely on. The way I analyze these verses, Paul never did silence all women, or any woman all the time.) Here is BI’s theory:
BI: ....while the Scriptures are of binding authority in matters of faith and morals, this and other injunctions are local, national, and therefore transient....
The modern Church is totally different from the assemblies of the first Christians. The civil state has been revolutionised since the time of Christ. The family has changed, and no one organisation resembles the organisations of two thousand years ago. The presumption is that when Christ was leaving everything else to the wisdom and experience of after times it did not step in with this single exception and fix the position of women. Such a course would have been contrary to its genius in every other direction.
II. Such a universal, limitation could not have taken place without violence to Jewish ideas. Woman was far more nearly equal to man among the Hebrews than among other Oriental nations. She was a public instructor. Note the cases of Miriam, Deborah, Hannah, Huldah, Anna, and the prediction of Joel, “Your sons and your daughters shall prophesy,” with Peter’s comment in Act_2:1-47.
So when the Spirit of God rests upon them, and they have a message to give, if you undertake to set up the letter of Paul round about them, I will set up the message which says, “On My handmaidens will I pour out My Spirit, and they shall prophesy.”
True, in the synagogue it was forbidden women to teach, but the service was not extemporary, but liturgical and expository; and women had not the technical education for it. But outside the synagogue it was eminently in accordance with the Hebrew sentiment that women should speak out—and speak in meeting too.
III. Only to Greek Churches were there such limitations to woman’s rights And privileges. The text and 1 Timothy 2:11-12 were addressed not to Jewish, but to Greek assemblies.
Why this distinction? Look at the condition of Greek women. The highest thought of womanhood that the Greeks had was that a woman should remain at home, that she should serve her husband and his household, and that she should not be known beyond her own family.
She was not permitted to go into the street unless veiled, otherwise her reputation for virtue was destroyed.
For a woman to do what is done by women in modern civilised nations—to develop that which the poorest man toils to give his daughters—to learn music, poetry, art, and philosophy, was to stamp her as a courtesan. [A prostitute for wealthy men.]
Such being the popular feeling and custom, what would have been the effect if a Greek had looked in on a Christian meeting and seen a woman rise uncovered and pour out her heart?
He would have said, “That is Christianity, is it? Why, then the Church is but a house of orgies. I understand your new religion. It teaches our wives that they must forsake their virtue, and go out into public exposure and do as courtesans do.”
Therefore it was that Paul said, “You shall not violate the customs of your country. You shall not bring into discredit the religion of Christ by doing that which can be interpreted but in one direction by every man who sees it. I forbid your women to teach in Greek communities.”
1. Is it right to say that this is the last word which the genius of Christianity had for women? Are you to take a command which had a peculiar interpretation in one province of the globe and in no other, and make it the criterion for judging of woman’s position and instruction everywhere?
Creative, indeed. BI’s theory doesn’t explain, however, why the women in chapter 11 could speak freely while the women in chapter 14 could not, even though they were the same women in the same Greek church. But let BI continue:
BI: Shall this be done where Christianity has raised and inspired woman, and shall a manacle, which belonged to the degradation of the Greek period, be put upon the limbs of enfranchised womanhood? You might as well say that the command of the physician to the leper is the prescription that you should take care of your children by.
2. Scripture commands are binding only where they apply: e.g., we are commanded to “honour the king,” but what about countries where there is no king? And you cannot give a rigid interpretation to the text without running against the whole fruit of civilisation for the last 1,800 years. Are you going to put back the shadow on the dial? Christianity has made woman a prophetess, and no false interpretation of the text can ever close her mouth.
3. It is fair to apply to this subject the argument of Peter in Acts 11:17.
[“Forasmuch then as God gave them the like gift as he did unto us, who believed on the Lord Jesus Christ; what was I, that I could withstand God?”]
If in the providence of God women are called to preach, if their discourse is accompanied with power from on high, and blessed to the salvation of souls, then the Spirit itself bears witness to the right of woman to speak, and who are we that we should resist God?
Well, now, wait a minute: I also conclude that women may talk in church, but not because I place my personal discernment above Scripture! I have more confidence in my ability to understand God’s written Word than I do in my ability to understand God’s will by what feels right. When the two collide and I can’t reconcile them, I keep praying and studying.
BI: 4. Paul’s doctrine in Galatians 3:27-28, is the Christian doctrine for the future. “In Christ there is neither male nor female.” Faith, hope, love, learning, eloquence, etc., have no sex. Whoever can bring the kingdom of God nearer to men has the right to do so. We have trumpets enough; let us have some flutes. Women can sing and speak in the secular sphere often to mightier effect than men; why not, then, in the Divine? (H. W. Beecher.)
Surprising Bible Solutions
(I call these Bible Solutions "surprising" - these solutions to seeming inconsistencies that have tormented Bible-believing Bible commentators over the centuries - because I have not found them anywhere outside my own searching, so maybe you haven't heard of them either. Surely many others have noticed the Bible answers I found, and the only reason I never heard of them is that people didn't pay much more attention to what they discovered than people are likely to pay attention to what I have discovered.)
“Keep Silence” - not literally, the first section, lists verses which make it impossible to interpret "keep silence" as talking about literal acoustic silence.
For Wives Only shows the Greek grammar proving these controversial verses do not apply to single women.
Speaking not just for yourself but as a Family Representative shows how common it is in ordinary everyday language for a person to speak in harmony with others, as a representative of a team, with terminology as if the person literally speaking is not the one really speaking.
Appeals Courts for Wives shows that even though these verses give husbands the decision-making edge over wives, by no means are wives left without recourse when their husbands decide foolishly or unjustly.
The Bible sanctions no 'Outer Court' to which women were relegated explodes the idea that anywhere in the Bible, not even in Moses' laws, were women relegated to second class status before God.
“Keep Silence” - not literally
If Paul literally meant women aren’t allowed to say a single word in church, or in public, how was it possible for prophetesses to function? Miriam led a whole nation in worship, and Anna managed a public relations campaign for baby Jesus.
Exodus 15:20 And Miriam the prophetess, the sister of Aaron, took a timbrel in her hand; and all the women went out after her with timbrels and with dances. 21 And Miriam answered them, Sing ye to the LORD, for he hath triumphed gloriously; the horse and his rider hath he thrown into the sea.
Luke 2:36 And there was one Anna, a prophetess, the daughter of Phanuel, of the tribe of Aser: she was of a great age, and had lived with an husband seven years from her virginity; 37 And she was a widow of about fourscore and four years, which departed not from the temple, but served God with fastings and prayers night and day. 38 And she coming in that instant gave thanks likewise unto the Lord, and spake of him to all them that looked for redemption in Jerusalem.
You say, “Those are from the Old Testament. Well, Anna was in the New Testament, but she did her deed before Jesus was crucified and everything changed. When Paul silenced women, he didn’t need Old Testament authority. He created an entirely new, unprecedented law.”
If that is the case, why did Paul justify his commandment by saying “as also saith the law”? And why did he, in 1 Corinthians 11, give instructions how women should prophesy in church? (Remember that 1 Corinthians 14:3, three chapters later, defines “prophesy” the way we define “preach”.)
1 Corinthians 11: 4 Every man praying or prophesying, having his head covered, dishonoureth his head. 5 But every woman that prayeth or prophesieth with [her] head uncovered dishonoureth her head: for that is even all one as if she were shaven.
How could Paul tell women not to speak in church, 1 Corinthians 14:34, right after he told them to wear veils when they preach? 1 Corinthians 11:5?
For Wives Only
This section shows the Greek grammar proving these controversial verses do not apply to single women.
“Let your women keep silence...” Huh? Why is the possessive pronoun used to refer to women in 1 Corinthians 14:34? Just whose women is Paul talking about here?
This is the only time in the Bible “your” precedes “women”. Why here? There is one other time I found when a possessive pronoun, in this case the third person “their”, precedes “women”:
Romans 1:26 For this cause God gave them up unto vile affections: for even their women did change the natural use into that which is against nature:
In this case the identity is given of those whose women these are: it is wicked men who know better. Men who “hold” the truth, but are unrighteous anyway. Specifically, sodomites. (Homosexuals. Gays.)
Romans 1:18 For the wrath of God is revealed from heaven against all ungodliness and unrighteousness of men, who hold the truth in unrighteousness;
(What sort of sodomite man could be described as owning [“their” is a pronoun denoting possession] a sodomite woman? Perhaps Paul is describing sodomite men who are legally married to sodomite women.)
But whose women does Paul refer to in verse 34? Who has any authority over women, towards whom women may in any remote sense be spoken of as “possessions”?
The church? Are women subject to pastors and priests? No Scripture says such a thing, that I can find.
They are subject only to husbands. (Minor girls are subject to fathers; but then of course minor boys are too – but the subjection of children to parents is a different issue, and exists for different reasons, than the subjection of wives to husbands.)
Single adult women, including widows, are not subject to men through any law in the Old Testament to which Paul might have referred.
True, the Catholic church has nuns, which are subject to the church in the same way wives are subject to husbands. (Which these days is less and less, in either case.) Catholics would no doubt like to think nuns are not their own invention, but were sanctioned by Paul. But Paul says he didn’t invent a new relationship. He says, in verse 34, that he was just copying “the law” (Moses’ law). So we should be able to learn from Moses’ law about the “subjection” to which Paul alludes.
1 Corinthians 14:34 ...but [they are commanded] to be under obedience, as also saith the law.
Moses’ law describes the subjection of women to husbands, (and before marriage, to fathers), but never of subjection to any other man (any more than the everyday subjection of men to various authorities).
Genesis 3:16. Unto the woman he said, I will greatly multiply thy sorrow and thy conception; in sorrow thou shalt bring forth children; and thy desire [shall be] to thy husband, and he shall rule over thee.
Is that the reference in Paul’s mind when he wrote verse 34? At least six Bible commentaries say it is.
Adam Clarke: But - to be under obedience, as also saith the law – This is a reference to Genesis 3:16: Thy desire shall be to thy husband, and he shall rule over thee.
Jamieson-Fausset-Brown [the law — a term applied to the whole Old Testament; here, Genesis 3:16.]
Treasury of Scriptural Knowledge, (whose specialty is cross references, points to a different passage of The Law: Numbers 30. TSK also mentioned Genesis 3:16, and also Esther 1:17-20 where a pagan king divorced his queen for flagrant public disobedience.
John Wesley: But to be in subjection – To the man whose proper office it is to lead and to instruct the congregation. Gen 3:16.
Biblical Illustrator ...speaking in Church assemblies....Does not accord with woman’s true position (Genesis 3:16; 1 Corinthians 11:1-34.).
John Gill: In Genesis 3:16, “thy desire shall be to thy husband, and he shall rule over thee”. By this the apostle would signify, that the reason why women are not to speak in the church, or to preach and teach publicly, or be concerned in the ministerial function, is, because this is an act of power, and authority; of rule and government, and so contrary to that subjection which God in his law requires of women unto men. The extraordinary instances of Deborah, Huldah, and Anna, must not be drawn into a rule or example in such cases.
(Hmmm. If not "a rule or example" in general, we cannot escape "a rule" that any general rule we concoct that women must not lead, must be subject to individual exceptions. In other words, any such rule must not be enforced legalistically, blind to individual leadership qualities, but must at most be advisory.)
But how does Genesis 3:16 support the idea of silencing women?
There are two reasons it cannot.
1. By what logic does “rule over” translate to “never allow to speak”? What about a husband who really wants something said to the assembly which he knows his wife can say best? Would Paul then trample down the authority of husbands over wives in the name of establishing the authority of husbands over wives?
Of course not. Genesis 3:16 can’t be “the law” upon which Paul based his censorship of female speech.
That is, if Paul ever censored all female speech.
2. Genesis 3:16 makes women subject to their husbands. Not to any other man or men, or pastor, or church board. So if that is “the Law” Paul had in mind, Paul did not mean his prohibition to apply to women who were never married, divorced, or widowed.
There is only one other passage in “the law” which speaks of the subjection of women, that my trusty concordance, working together with my memory, could find. It is part of the laws given by Moses, making it part of “the law” in the sense that it is an actual law, as well as in the sense that it is part of what is generally called “the law”.
It does not depict subjection of women to anybody to a degree approaching the subjection of children to parents, but only states that the husband’s decision shall prevail when there is a conflict between a husband’s and a wife’s decision whether to “sign a contract” involving nonfamily members or God. Surely it was on Paul’s mind when he wrote verse 34, and it may be crucial to our understanding of it.
It does not provide for subjection of women to their husbands or fathers in any other detail other than authorizing legal contracts, and it provides no subjection of women to any other man besides their own husbands or fathers.
Numbers 30:10 Suppose a married woman makes a promise to the LORD. 11 If her husband hears about the promise and says nothing, she must do what she said. 12 But if he hears about the promise and does object, she no longer has to keep it. The LORD will forgive her, because her husband would not allow her to keep the promise. 13 Her husband has the final say about any promises she makes to the LORD. 14 If her husband hears about a promise and says nothing about it for a whole day, she must do what she said—since he did not object, the promise must be kept. 15 But if he waits until the next day to stop her from keeping her promise, he is the one who must be punished. 16 These are the laws that the LORD gave Moses about husbands and wives, and about young daughters who still live at home. (ERV)
Here is my paraphrase of 1 Corinthians 14:34-35, showing how Numbers 30 applies. Another Scripture that applies is from Ecclesiastes. I’ll explain why after the paraphrase. First, here is the KJV again:
1 Corinthians 14:34 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. 35 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.
Now my paraphrase, which includes other Scriptures understood by Paul and his readers:
34 Husbands, remind your wives to be reverent in your fellowship gatherings, just as you know you also should be, having read Ecclesiastes 5:1-3:
“Ecclesiastes 5:1 Keep thy foot when thou goest to the house of God, and be more ready to hear, than to give the sacrifice of fools: for they consider not that they do evil. 2 Be not rash with thy mouth, and let not thine heart be hasty to utter [any] thing before God: for God [is] in heaven, and thou upon earth: therefore let thy words be few. 3 For a dream cometh through the multitude of business; and a fool’s voice [is known] by multitude of words.”
Agree with your wives, to stop speaking publicly beyond the point where you can speak for each other, in harmony.
Remember that Numbers 30 commands that when the decision of a wife differs from that of her husband, regarding relations with the public, the decision of her husband shall prevail. Respect God’s Word, and let there be no public arguing between husbands and wives during our meetings, nor let any wife demean her husband by public statements which embarrass him but which he cannot refute without arguing with, and publicly shaming her!
I don’t mean your wives have to get your prior approval before speaking; Numbers 30 allows wives to articulate their positions before their husbands have to decide whether to endorse them. Likewise your wives should be free to articulate their positions without the restraint of securing your prior approval. But as Numbers 30 provides, so I provide that when a husband hears what his wife is saying and indicates to his wife that he cannot accept what she is saying, she must stop and continue the discussion at home.
35 Neither do I mean wives have to forever accept whatever their husbands decide without further discussion. If you have a really serious problem which you really can’t work out at home, there is still the appeals process Jesus provided in Matthew 18:15-17. You know we have people in our assembly who will be glad to help mediate.
But please, wives: on matters not that serious, defer to your husbands. If there is something you just can’t see eye to eye about, work it out at home. Because when you argue with your husband during our fellowship gatherings, it makes everybody feel embarrassed.
Speaking as a Family Representative
This section shows how common it is in ordinary everyday language for a person to speak in harmony with others, as a representative of a team, with terminology as if the person literally speaking is not the one really speaking.
Ecclesiastes 5:1-3, just quoted, helps us understand "keep silent" in 1 Corinthians 14, because the emphasis of the Greek word (σιγάω; KJV, “silent”) is on the respect, reverence, awe, etc. which renders one “speechless”, rather than the acoustic silence itself, according to a synonym study:
5847 Comparison of Synonyms.
2270 hesuchazo: describes a quiet condition in general, inclusive of silence
4601 σιγάω: describes a mental condition and its manifestation, esp. in speechlessness (silence from fear, grief, awe, etc.)
4623 σιopω: describes the more external and physical term, denotes abstinence from speech
Strong, J. (1995). Enhanced Strong’s Lexicon. Woodside Bible Fellowship
A context study of the other eight verses with this word shows that σιγάω means to stop talking about a particular subject or to stop hindering someone, not that anyone became completely silent.
(1) After Jesus’ transfiguration, where Moses and Elijah appeared to Jesus in front of Peter, John, and James, the apostles didn’t talk about it afterwards. That doesn’t mean they were silent about other matters.
Luke 9:36 And when the voice was past, Jesus was found alone. And they kept it close, (Gr. σιγάω) and told no man in those days any of those things which they had seen.
(2) Even Jesus’ enemies, the hard-hearted Pharisees, were “silenced” partly by their awe of his wisdom. A statement like this does not normally mean they said nothing more; it is normally understood to mean they no longer hindered Jesus. They gave up trying to accuse Him.
Luke 20:26 And they could not take hold of his words before the people: and they marvelled at his answer, and held their peace. (Gr. σιγάω)
(3) After Peter was brought out of prison by an angel and was trying to explain what happened to the flabbergasted church, the church quieted down to listen out of awe at what just happened. That doesn’t mean there were no questions, or “Praise the Lord”s, or stories of their own about their prayers, their doubts, and their relief! It means they no longer hindered his telling of his story.
Acts 12:17 But he, beckoning unto them with the hand to hold their peace, (Gr. σιγάω) declared unto them how the Lord had brought him out of the prison. And he said, Go shew these things unto James, and to the brethren. And he departed, and went into another place.
(4, 5) In a similar spirit, the Council of Jerusalem respectfully heard the report of Paul and Barnabas. After Paul and Barnabas gave their testimonies of God’s miracles among the Gentiles, the formerly critical audience was so moved, so shamed by their doubts about works of God which obviously merited their reverence, so incapable of any further criticism, that no one had any more to say.
That doesn’t mean there was no further verbal interaction or discussion or questions or expressions of approval. It only means they no longer hindered Paul and Barnabas from telling their own story. They no longer opposed Paul and Barnabas.
Acts 15:12 Then all the multitude kept silence, (Gr. σιγάω) and gave audience to Barnabas and Paul, declaring what miracles and wonders God had wrought among the Gentiles by them. 13 And after they had held their peace, (Gr. σιγάω) James answered, saying, Men and brethren, hearken unto me:
(6) It was the holiness of the Gospel which was God’s reason for keeping much of it “secret” before men were prepared to receive it. That doesn’t mean God had nothing else to say during that time!
Romans 16:25 Now to him that is of power to stablish you according to my gospel, and the preaching of Jesus Christ, according to the revelation of the mystery, which was kept secret (Gr. σιγάω) since the world began,
(7) It is respect for the flow of understandable “prophecy” in church that should silence speaking in languages not understood by others. But that doesn’t mean the person was not allowed to say anything in the language common to the group. He was asked only not to hinder the edification of the group with meaningless sound.
1 Corinthians 14:28 But if there be no interpreter, let him keep silence (Gr. σιγάω) in the church; and let him speak to himself, and to God.
(8) It is respect for the “freedom of speech” of all that should silence someone who has been talking, so that the next may have his or her turn. But that doesn’t necessarily mean that after someone “yields the floor” to another, that he must not say another word. It means at the least that train of thought will then have another at its steering wheel, but there might still be questions or clarifications or corrections which the previous speaker might raise – as the Word says, “the spirits of the prophets are subject to the prophets. This only means the former speaker should not hinder the train of thought taken by the present speaker.
1 Corinthians 14:30 If any thing be revealed to another that sitteth by, let the first hold his peace. (Gr. σιγάω)
Finally we return to 1 Corinthians 14:34, armed with the meaning of σιγάω in the previous 8 passages. The word does not force us to believe women could say nothing. It means that they could not hinder the expression of positions which are theirs, with ideas which are only hers and which are incompatible with his.
That is the literal meaning of σιγάω, in the context of Numbers 30. We need no Hyperbole Hammer to force this interpretation to work. Literal silence is not the meaning of σιγάωin any of its other contexts, so we need not force such a meaning here.
So long as a wife has her husband’s support, then the views she expresses are not peculiar to herself, but she speaks for him as well. In that sense, the words are not hers, but theirs. In that sense, she is “silent”.
But that only deals with “Let your women keep silence... How about the next clause, ...it is not permitted unto them to speak? How long can our “luck” hold out in “explaining away” these “difficult passages”?
Can “speak” be translated as not the use of vocal cords, but as the articulation of positions only peculiar to the speaker?
Actually that happens to be the 5th listed definition in my Logos lexicon: “To use words in order to declare one’s mind and disclose one’s thoughts.”
But what about the concept of a person who speaks for another, being described as not, himself, speaking? Has language ever been pressed into that service? Particularly, does the Bible speak this way elsewhere?
Yes it does. Here are a few examples of similar usage:
Galatians 2:20 I am crucified with Christ: nevertheless I live; yet not I, but Christ liveth in me: and the life which I now live in the flesh I live by the faith of the Son of God, who loved me, and gave himself for me.
(Paul not only speaks for another, but LIVES for another, to the extent it is not entirely accurate to say he himself is the one who lives!)
Here are two examples from that same first letter to the Corinthians, one on either side of chapter 14:
1 Corinthians 15:10 But by the grace of God I am what I am: and his grace which [was bestowed] upon me was not in vain; but I laboured more abundantly than they all: yet not I, but the grace of God which was with me.
(Paul labors, yet it is not entirely accurate for him to take credit for his labor, since the real work is the Grace of God within him.)
1 Corinthians 7:10 And unto the married I command, [yet] not I, but the Lord, Let not the wife depart from [her] husband:
(Paul seems to speak, but it is not really him speaking, but the Lord through him. In other words, it is not quite accurate to call Paul’s words his own. He only carries them to his readers from another, God, who actually dictated them. In this sense, a wife who is at one with her husband may speak words with her mouth, and yet for as long as they have the blessing of her husband, it is not entirely accurate to call the words her own; for the words are theirs.)
Examples of speaking as a representative of another, without the idiom that it is not the representative speaking:
John 12:50 And I know that his commandment is life everlasting: whatsoever I speak therefore, even as the Father said unto me, so I speak.
John 8:28 Then said Jesus unto them, When ye have lifted up the Son of man, then shall ye know that I am [he], and [that] I do nothing of myself; but as my Father hath taught me, I speak these things.
When speaking for another renders oneself “silenced”, in everyday life.
You ask, “But is it a natural use of language for one who is representing another to speak as if it is not himself speaking, but the one he is representing?”
In other words, are you asking whether God is using language properly? I think we are safe in assuming that where God uses language a certain way, we can do no better than to use language the same way.
But we humans use language this way, too.
If you are an ambassador, no one imagines that the words you say are your personal opinions or preferences, but that they accurately express the position of your nation. In fact, if it were ever suspected that your words expressed your own feelings and not those of your nation, you would lose your job and maybe go to jail.
If you are a school teacher, you have to teach the curriculum assigned you by the school board. Were you to ignore your contract and teach just what you personally would rather teach, you will be fired.
If you are a salesman, or anyone who has any job communicating with other people, you are supposed to communicate what your boss tells you to communicate. People dealing with you understand your words reflect your job requirements more than your personal desires, to the extent that the next employee who replaces you will say about the same things you do, while you, upon taking a job elsewhere, would immediately say entirely different things which are like the things said by other employees at your new job.
In that sense, your words are understood to be not your own. The inner “you” is virtually “silenced”. Were you to tell people the things you are saying express “the real YOU”, that would not be accurate.
Even a politician is not completely free to stand up for the principles he personally believes in, when the public is solidly against him.
(And not every time that he “caves in” to the “winds” of public pressure or changing opinion, is he an ungodly compromiser. For example, in 1978, Iowa Governor Terry Branstad campaigned as an ideological opponent of an Iowa Lottery. However, he said that if the public continues to clamor for it, and if the legislature passes it, he would sign the bill even though he believes it is wrong.
That position seems strange mostly because it is rare. But that is exactly the approach God took in 1 Samuel 8, when free people under a democracy clamored to be enslaved under a dictator (king). God told Samuel to go along with it, but to protest: to plainly tell the people how much suffering their choice would cost them. It’s when politicians lie about what they really believe, or what they will really do, pretending to agree with whatever opinions are popular, that “compromise” becomes an accusation.)
American lawyers are very familiar with the concept of “representing” their clients to the extent the lawyers are not considered to speak for themselves at all, but rather every word they say is, officially, the statement of the client!
It even enters their language, just as it was in Paul’s language, so that a lawyer will write, even in a legal brief which his client the defendant only barely comprehends, if he even sees it, “Defendant asserts that....”
In American law, lawyers are only permitted to speak so long as their clients authorize them to speak on their behalf.
It literally “is not permitted for a lawyer to speak in court”, except as a representative of a party to the case. If a lawyer walked into a court during a case not his own, no matter how much he wanted to speak, he would not even consider actually speaking, because he knows he is not permitted to speak in court. Both in the sense that he is physically restrained from speaking in anyone else’s case, and in the sense that his own personal ideas are never welcome in any court, except to the extent he can gain for them the support of a client who is a party to a case. (Or if he himself becomes a party to a case.)
In the following fictitious Supreme Court Opinion, I express these principles of the attorney-client relationship in the same order as verses 34-35 deal with the husband-wife relationship. Where Paul makes allusion to the Mosaic law, I include a “citation” to a (fictitious) court case which expresses the familiar principle just described.
Justice Paul concurring: Lawyers in this situation must keep their own views, which are not shared by their clients, silenced in the courts: for it is not permitted unto them even to say anything with which their clients do not concur. Our rule has always been that lawyers must serve their clients, which means they must obey their clients in any matter upon which their clients insist.
As we have said in Doofus v. Nutcake, 666 U.S. 49 (1973), “No attorney has any voice of his own in court. He may speak only as a representative of his client. No attorney may proceed with any statement or action which his client cannot tolerate. This is a matter of ethics, and more: clients can and do enforce this rule by terminating their attorney’s power to ever speak again in their case.”
We conclude that an attorney and client may not argue with each other before the Court. If they cannot agree, they must resolve their disagreements outside the Court. It is an embarrassment to the demeanor of this Court to hear a lawyer speak in court whose representation of his client is under a cloud of uncertainty.
Surely anyone even slightly familiar with the attorney-client relationship will not feel such a description of a lawyer “not being allowed to speak in court” puts the slightest strain on the English language. Therefore it should not be a strain on the Greek language, for anyone familiar with Numbers 30, Ecclesiastes 5, and with Paul’s idiom that it is not himself speaking when he speaks for God, to interpret 1 Corinthians 14:34 as allowing the wife to speak so long as she does not lose her husband’s support.
But is it a stretch to interpret the KJV “women” as not all single adult women and widows, but only “wives”?
Our first clue that this is Paul’s – uh, that this is God’s meaning, is that Paul said “as thus saith the law”, and the law provides for women to be subject only to their fathers, and later to their husbands, but to no other man. Our second clue is that of the 221 times the word (gunaikes, KJV “women”) appears in the NT, it is translated “wife” 92 times in the KJV. Almost half. So there certainly is no textual reason to apply Paul’s teaching to all women rather than just wives.
Our third clue is that the women who are silenced are able to ask their husbands questions at home; which implies that women who cannot, because they have no husbands, are not among those silenced. Fortunately this evidence delivers us from the pressure to take seriously the unreasonable burden on women which the Pulpit Bible imagines: “It would be acting in the spirit of the apostle’s injunction for the unmarried to ask their relatives or personal friends.”
Our fourth clue, and our clincher, that Paul meant to address, not unmarried women or widows, but only wives whose husbands were with them in church when he reminded “wives” that they were under subjection, is that Paul said in 1 Corinthians 7:32-34 that single adult Christian women who are not subject to their husbands are loyal (only) to Christ! Therefore they cannot be subject in any similar sense to any man.
1 Corinthians 7:32 But I would have you without carefulness. He that is unmarried careth for the things that belong to the Lord, how he may please the Lord: 33 But he that is married careth for the things that are of the world, how he may please his wife. 34 There is difference also between a wife and a virgin. The unmarried woman careth for the things of the Lord, that she may be holy both in body and in spirit: but she that is married careth for the things of the world, how she may please her husband.
Once we prove Paul imposed “silence” only upon married women, and not single adult women and widows, then we have also proved, even without the passages about prophetesses and preaching with veils, that even the “silence” imposed upon married women could not possibly have restricted their contribution to services beyond some accommodation of their relationships with their husbands. If there is any deficiency in women at all that makes women less fit than men to contribute to a service, then it would be absurd to give married women, whose “deficiencies” are mitigated by their husbands to whom they are obedient, LESS voice than the unmarried women whose “deficiencies” are NOT mitigated by the oversight of a man!
That point was made by the Pulpit Bible:
PB: It may be said—What are those to do who have no husbands? ...There seems no possible reason why an unmarried woman should be allowed to speak in public mixed assemblies whilst a married woman is debarred, but rather the reverse.
However, as noted a moment ago, PB would not consider this is a clue that unmarried women weren’t included in the censorship, but the opposite – their path to truth is even more littered:
PB: It would be acting in the spirit of the apostle’s injunction for the unmarried to ask their relatives or personal friends.
Here is a more precise paraphrase, with parenthesis around the ideas which are implied by other Scriptures but which are not explicit in passage. I am presuming “silence” has a double meaning; not only the point that wives should speak “for” their husbands, but also a sense of quiet reverence which likewise is often described as “silence”. The KJV “to be under obedience” is from the Greek: (hupatasso), to “arrange themselves under”. In other words, to cooperate.
1 Corinthians 34 (Husbands,) remind your wives to reverently “let their words be few” in church (as Ecc. 5:13 also commands both of you). They are not permitted to publicly oppose you; but to cooperate with you (as we read in Numbers 30). 35 And if they demand you justify (why you restricted her speech to what you can both support), assure her that when you get home (you will give her ideas a full, fair hearing and you will support her as much as reason permits). For it is embarrassing to everybody when wives quarrel (that is, when they speak autonomously, out of harmony) with their husbands in church.
KJV: 1 Corinthians 14:34 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. 35 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.
Appeals Courts for Wives
This section shows that even though these verses give husbands the decision-making edge over wives, by no means are wives left without recourse when their husbands decide foolishly or unjustly.
Now don’t get carried away and take even this modest restriction on women out of the context of the rest of the Bible. Paul is offering a general rule here; he is not giving license to unreasonable husbands to hold the absolute reins of censorship over their God-inspired wives. Every woman will stand before God on the Judgment Day, not before her husband.
Acts 4:19 But Peter and John answered and said unto them, Whether it be right in the sight of God to hearken unto you more than unto God, judge ye. 20 For we cannot but speak the things which we have seen and heard. 5:26 Then went the captain with the officers, and brought them without violence: for they feared the people, lest they should have been stoned. 27 And when they had brought them, they set them before the council: and the high priest asked them, 28 Saying, Did not we straitly command you that ye should not teach in this name? and, behold, ye have filled Jerusalem with your doctrine, and intend to bring this man’s blood upon us. 29 Then Peter and the other apostles answered and said, We ought to obey God rather than men.
Most differences between husbands and wives are not Heaven or Hell issues where the wife is certain that her obedience to her husband would constitute disobedience to God. Yet even the smallest of problems, never resolved, can become great problems. If there is some really serious issue which a wife cannot resolve with her husband, but which she must, Jesus offers her an appeals process in Matthew 18:15-17.
Matthew 18:15 Moreover if thy brother shall trespass against thee, go and tell him his fault between thee and him alone: if he shall hear thee, thou hast gained thy brother. 16 But if he will not hear thee, then take with thee one or two more, that in the mouth of two or three witnesses every word may be established. 17 And if he shall neglect to hear them, tell it unto the church: but if he neglect to hear the church, let him be unto thee as an heathen man and a publican. 18 Verily I say unto you, Whatsoever ye shall bind on earth shall be bound in heaven: and whatsoever ye shall loose on earth shall be loosed in heaven. 19 Again I say unto you, That if two of you shall agree on earth as touching any thing that they shall ask, it shall be done for them of my Father which is in heaven. 20 For where two or three are gathered together in my name, there am I in the midst of them.
The interpretation of 1 Corinthians 14:34 that women must never speak in church, no exceptions, even to ask their husbands a question in church, would revoke the third step Matthew 18:15-17 in which a marital dispute is heard by the whole assembly.
Probably no church today allows personal disputes to be heard before the whole church anyway. But the contradiction between passages produced by that interpretation is another red flag against that “no exceptions” interpretation. But Matthew 18:15-17 imposes itself on my interpretation too. My interpretation acknowledges that everyone feels uncomfortable when wives argue with their husbands in public. So how could Jesus recommend that wives literally bring their complaint against their husbands before the whole church?
But is it still just “wives arguing with their husbands” when the case has been processed by, and is presented by, three or four impartial mediators? No, it is hardly the same! Such involvement strips the presentation of the case of partiality. Involvement by the whole church body subjects the discussion to the same Biblical rules of order that govern all other church discussions.
Of course, in the real world where churches refuse to participate in this process past providing a “counselor” to fulfill the first of the three steps, many wives (many husbands too), when more steps are needed, are only too quick to initiate their own “appeals” process to anyone who will listen, with no real thought of actually resolving the problem, but just grateful for the opportunity to complain about one. The other word for this: gossip.
Leviticus 19:16 Thou shalt not go up and down as a talebearer among thy people: neither shalt thou stand against the blood of thy neighbour; I am the LORD.
Proverbs 11:13 A talebearer revealeth secrets: but he that is of a faithful spirit concealeth the matter.
Proverbs 18:8 The words of a talebearer are as wounds, and they go down into the innermost parts of the belly.
Proverbs 20:19 He that goeth about as a talebearer revealeth secrets: therefore meddle not with him that flattereth with his lips.
Proverbs 26:20 Where no wood is, there the fire goeth out: so where there is no talebearer, the strife ceaseth.
Proverbs 26:22 The words of a talebearer are as wounds, and they go down into the innermost parts of the belly.
Jesus’ appeals process is therefore not totally new, but it is better. It is more effective, and more holy.
So even when a church will not officially help, wives who feel they must “appeal” their husband’s restrictions have the authority of Scripture, when their husbands are intractable, to find someone willing to try to mediate between her and her husband; and if that doesn’t resolve the problem, to go to as many of their mutual Christian friends as possible, and ask them to help mediate, but not to divulge details of the dispute until they agree to actually help intercede.
What makes Jesus’ model unattractive to a “talebearer” is that it subjects the “plaintiff” (the one complaining) to the same scrutiny as it does the “defendant” (the one accused). If a wife appeals her husband’s decision to an impartial mediator, such as a friend of both of them, she may very well find the mediator agreeing with her husband. Seldom does anyone, with a beef against another, want to face such risk, of submitting their case to an impartial mediator! Much safer to pick a partial, friendly ear! And the best way to get a friendly ear is to spill your case to someone who has no intention of using your information to confront the person you accuse!
In fact, to make it even safer, the talebearer can tell her audience, “Now this is a secret. Will you promise not to tell a soul if I tell you?” Then, having agreed to such a Hellish vow, the audience will have a commitment to hear only the talebearer’s version, being afraid to confide in the man accused.
That’s what makes “gossip” so insidious. There is no opportunity for the accused to face his accusers, or to provide testimony in his own defense. He is tried in a “court” which is held outside his knowledge, which has the power to destroy him, yet which may never even meet him!
That is the sort of “gossip” which the Bible condemns again and again.
Proverbs 25:23 The north wind driveth away rain: so doth an angry countenance a backbiting tongue. 24 It is better to dwell in the corner of the housetop, than with a brawling woman and in a wide house.
Proverbs 21:9 It is better to dwell in a corner of the housetop, than with a brawling woman in a wide house.
Titus 1:10 For there are many unruly and vain talkers and deceivers, specially they of the circumcision: (These gossips were men, since women weren’t circumcised.) 11 Whose mouths must be stopped, who subvert whole houses, teaching things which they ought not, for filthy lucre’s sake. 12 One of themselves, even a prophet of their own, said, The Cretians are alway liars, evil beasts, slow bellies. 13 This witness is true. Wherefore rebuke them sharply, that they may be sound in the faith; 14 Not giving heed to Jewish fables, and commandments of men, that turn from the truth.
1 Peter 4:15 But let none of you suffer as a murderer, or as a thief, or as an evildoer, or as a busybody in other men’s matters. (“Other men” shows that these gossips, too, were men.)</blockquote>1 Timothy 5:13 And withal they learn to be idle, wandering about from house to house; and not only idle, but tattlers also and busybodies, speaking things which they ought not. 14 I will therefore that the younger women marry, bear children, guide the house, give none occasion to the adversary to speak reproachfully.2 Thessalonians 3:10 For even when we were with you, this we commanded you, that if any would not work, neither should he eat. 11 For we hear that there are some which walk among you disorderly, working not at all, but are busybodies. 12 Now them that are such we command and exhort by our Lord Jesus Christ, that with quietness they work, and eat their own bread.James 3:2 For in many things we offend all. If any man offend not in word, the same is a perfect man, and able also to bridle the whole body. 3 Behold, we put bits in the horses’ mouths, that they may obey us; and we turn about their whole body. 4 Behold also the ships, which though they be so great, and are driven of fierce winds, yet are they turned about with a very small helm, whithersoever the governor listeth. 5 Even so the tongue is a little member, and boasteth great things. Behold, how great a matter a little fire kindleth! 6 And the tongue is a fire, a world of iniquity: so is the tongue among our members, that it defileth the whole body, and setteth on fire the course of nature; and it is set on fire of hell. 7 For every kind of beasts, and of birds, and of serpents, and of things in the sea, is tamed, and hath been tamed of mankind: 8 But the tongue can no man tame; it is an unruly evil, full of deadly poison. 9 Therewith bless we God, even the Father; and therewith curse we men, which are made after the similitude of God. 10 Out of the same mouth proceedeth blessing and cursing. My brethren, these things ought not so to be. 11 Doth a fountain send forth at the same place sweet water and bitter? 12 Can the fig tree, my brethren, bear olive berries? either a vine, figs? so can no fountain both yield salt water and fresh. 13 Who is a wise man and endued with knowledge among you? let him shew out of a good conversation his works with meekness of wisdom. 14 But if ye have bitter envying and strife in your hearts, glory not, and lie not against the truth. 15 This wisdom descendeth not from above, but is earthly, sensual, devilish. 16 For where envying and strife is, there is confusion and every evil work. 17 But the wisdom that is from above is first pure, then peaceable, gentle, and easy to be intreated, full of mercy and good fruits, without partiality, and without hypocrisy. 18 And the fruit of righteousness is sown in peace of them that make peace.
If the only appeal of a husband’s decision is to an impartial mediator, there will not be a flood of appeals! Few human beings, male or female, relish the risk of being scrutinized. That is as it should be. Our friends have enough real problems of their own, without us bothering them with frivolous or fabricated cases. And yet God in His majesty and love does not want to leave any woman in an impossible situation without hope!
Any translator, faced with two possible translations, one of which makes sense and another which contradicts itself, will give the work the benefit of the doubt and choose the translation which makes sense. Better that than to pick the stupid translation only to have other translators side with the work and against your translation, and remark, “my, that was a stupid translation!”
Much more must we give the Bible, which has passed incomparably more scrutiny than any other writing of history, the benefit of the doubt when our feeble attempts to translate it produce one possibility which makes sense, and another which contradicts itself.
Before wives start thinking about Mat 18:15-17, their first step should be to work out as much as they can right at home, with the husbands they love. At that first step, where the wife privately confronts her husband about a problem, God gives husbands the decision-making edge over wives when they can’t quite agree.
Why the edge to husbands? A few more clues later in this chapter. But the edge is only at the first, “District Court” level. (In American law, the District Court is the “lowest” court. Cases decided there may be appealed to the Supreme Court of the state, and from there to the U.S. Supreme Court.) It is not a pit of despair from which a holy wife must suffer at the hand of a stubborn, tyrannical husband with no hope of escape!
In any case, Paul is not talking, in 1 Corinthians 14, about the subjection of all women to all the men of the church. He is not saying women can’t contribute to a church service. “The Law” to which Paul referred only speaks of the subjection of wives to husbands; not of single women, or widows, to any other man.
The Bible sanctions no 'Outer Court' to which women were relegated
This section explodes the idea that anywhere in the Bible, not even in Moses' laws, were women relegated to second class status before God.
You say, “Aw, you’re working too hard to explain this away. Paul was probably just talking about the Outer Court of the Temple, from which women were excluded, when he spoke of ‘the Law’ which was his basis for prohibiting women from speaking in church.”
One problem, were this Paul’s allusion, is that we have no Scripture relating to us what the confinement of women to the Outer Court has to do with women’s subjection to anyone.
But this theory has a greater difficulty: we have no Scripture confining women to any Outer Court!
Here I must petition your help. I have heard all my life that God’s law banished women to the Outer Court of the Tabernacle and the Temple. But now I can’t find it!
I couldn’t find it in God’s description of the “court” around the Tabernacle in Exodus 27:9-21 and 38:9-21. I couldn’t find it in the description of Solomon’s temple in the opening chapters of 2 Chronicles. I couldn’t find it in Ezekiel’s vision of a wonderful future temple, Ezekiel 40:46. The only temple areas I find in Scripture from which anyone is excluded are those reserved for the priests versus everyone else.
In fact, 2 Chronicles 5:13-6:3 indicates “all the congregation” could see Solomon, who in turn was in view of the altar. Notice also that the musicians were by the altar.2 Chronicles 5:12 ...the Levites which were the singers...having cymbals and psalteries and harps, stood at the east end of the altar, and with them an hundred and twenty priests sounding with trumpets:) 13 It came even to pass, as the trumpeters and singers [were] as one, to make one sound to be heard in praising and thanking the LORD; and when they lifted up [their] voice with the trumpets and cymbals and instruments of musick, and praised the LORD, [saying], For [he is] good; for his mercy [endureth] for ever: that [then] the house was filled with a cloud, [even] the house of the LORD; 14 So that the priests could not stand to minister by reason of the cloud: for the glory of the LORD had filled the house of God.... 6:3 And the king turned his face, and blessed the whole congregation of Israel: and all the congregation of Israel stood.
The musicians, around the altar, were within sight of Solomon, who in turn was within sight of the people. As a musician, I further surmise that fine musicians, and especially unamplified musicians, would position themselves where the people could best hear them, and not behind walls such as might separate women from men.
Singers, especially, must be elevated enough that each of their mouths are visible to each member of the audience, or consonants can’t be understood. To this day, speakers which carry the high frequencies where consonants live are mounted where they can be seen by all in the room.
(Consonants are distinguished by very high pitches, in the 1,000-4,000 vibrations per second range. This is about from the first to the third “C” above the treble clef. Very low pitches can bounce around corners and go through walls, but high pitches can only go straight until they are blocked. If you can’t see the source of these pitches, you probably won’t be able to hear them very well either. That’s why it is much harder to understand someone not facing you, even though the overall volume of his voice does not change. It’s the relative volume of those high frequencies, which carry his consonants, that drop off dramatically.)
But either way, there is nothing in the text suggesting any separation of men from women, and “whole congregation” certainly suggests the men and women were together.
The next chapter of 2 Chronicles more strongly suggests all were together, within sight of each other:2 Chronicles 6:12 And he [Solomon] stood before the altar of the LORD in the presence of ALL the congregation of Israel, and spread forth his hands:
I couldn’t even find mention of an “outer court” for women in Josephus’ description of Solomon’s temple. He says:Solomon made all these things for the honor of God, with great variety, and magnificence, sparing no cost, but using all possible liberality in adorning the temple; and these things he dedicated to the treasures of God. He also placed a partition round about the temple, which in our tongue, we call Gison, but it is called Thrigcos by the Greeks, and he raised it up to the height of three cubits; and it was for the exclusion of the multitude from coming into the temple, and showing that it was a place that was free and open only for the priests.He also built beyond this court a temple, the figure of which was that of a quadrangle, and erected for it great and broad cloisters; this was entered into by very high gates, each of which had its front exposed to one of the [four] winds, and were shut by golden doors. Into this temple all the people entered that were distinguished from the rest by being pure, and observant of the law. (Antiquities, Book 8, Chapter 3, Paragraph 9. Greek divisions: #95, 96.)
I couldn’t find women banished to the “outer court” until I found Josephus’ description of the temple built by cruel King Herod!This was the first enclosure. In the midst of which, and not far from it, was the second, to be gone up to by a few steps; this was encompassed by a stone wall for a partition, with an inscription, which forbade any foreigner to go in, under pain of death. Now this inner enclosure had on its southern and northern quarters three gates [equally] distant from one another, but on the east quarter, towards the sunrising, there was one large gate through which such as were pure came in, together with their wives; but the temple farther inward in that gate was not allowed to the women; but still more inward was there a third [court of] the temple, whereinto it was not lawful for any but the priests alone to enter. The temple itself was within this; and before that temple was the altar, upon which we offer our sacrifices and burnt offerings to God. (Antiquities, Book 15, Chapter 11, paragraph 5. Greek divisions: 417419.)
Have I made a glaring error somewhere? Have I read too fast and missed something? Or can it be that God never segregated women in His temple (other than excluding them from the Levitical priesthood, from which non-Levite men were likewise excluded)?
Can it be that an interpretation of 1 Corinthians 14:34 which restricts women, more than men, from participating in worship, even when their husbands want them to speak, is a Biblically unprecedented restriction of women?
By Jesus’ time, attitudes towards women and foreigners were so bigoted that the Samaritan woman of John 4 had to ask, in astonishment, how it could be that Jesus would even speak to her – a male Jew to a female foreigner! Yet Jesus showed for all time what He thought of that bigotry by not only speaking to her, but making her an evangelist! We may surmise that the same bigotry Jesus condemned in Samaria was at work in the cruel King Herod’s temple floor plan, which Herod had worked out with the hard-hearted Scribes and Pharisees who, according to commentator Adam Clarke, (quoted previously), would rather burn a Bible than let a woman read it! An attitude certainly not found in the Bible!
The passage again:14:34 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. 35 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.
Well, now, before we can settle this matter, we’re going to have to have a look at Timothy.1 Timothy 2:11 Let the woman learn in silence with all subjection. 12 But I suffer not a woman to teach, nor to usurp authority over the man, but to be in silence. 13 For Adam was first formed, then Eve. 14 And Adam was not deceived, but the woman being deceived was in the transgression. 15 Notwithstanding she shall be saved in childbearing, if they continue in faith and charity and holiness with sobriety.
THIS IS ABOUT HUSBANDS AND WIVES AT HOME, NOT CHURCH; AND IT IS NOT ABOUT SINGLE WOMEN WHO CAN’T BEAR CHILDREN! It is assumed by preachers I have heard that verse 12 restricts any woman from teaching ANY man.
But if this were talking about single women in church, what kind of sexual cult would Paul be putting forth, wherein if “they” continue in faith, “she shall be saved in childbearing”? This road to salvation definitely rules out single women and widows. At least it better had!
And just who might this “they” be, if it is talking about church? With exactly whom, in the church, besides her husband, is this poor woman, on this road to salvation through childbearing, supposed to be “continuing”, if this counsel is supposed to apply beyond the marital bonds to interactions with the whole congregation?!!
Although the KJV translates (andros) as “the man”, the Greek lexicons more often translate the word as “Husband”. And as noted earlier, there are Biblical grounds for the subjection of a woman only to her husband, but not to any other man.
Further supporting the application of this passage to husbands and wives, and not all women in church, is the comparison with the relationship of Adam and Eve. “Adam was first formed, then Eve.” This bolsters the concept of a husband’s authority over his wife. (The husband was first formed, then the wife.) But how can this refer to a church and its women? We can’t say the church was first formed, then its women! Eve was formed long before there was any church!
There is nothing in the context of this entire chapter which indicates its concern is rules of behavior in church. (Although the next chapter begins with the selection of a church leader.)
In fact, the immediate context is explicitly not just church, but everywhere -- the dress code for women is surely not meant to be limited to how to dress in church but is for everywhere, and Paul explicitly says he is talking about “every where”.
How about prayer? Since Paul is talking about prayer, doesn’t that limit these verses to rules for church? But Paul’s comments are that we should pray everywhere, “lifting up holy hands”! What, did Paul think Christians ought to pray outside Church?!1 Timothy 2:8 I will therefore that men [and/or “husbands”] pray EVERY WHERE, lifting up holy hands, without wrath and doubting. 9 In like manner also, that women [and/or “wives”] adorn themselves in modest apparel, with shamefacedness and sobriety; not with broided hair, or gold, or pearls, or costly array; 10 But (which becometh women professing godliness) with good works.
Apparently my interpretation is but one more controversial statement of mine, since the chapter headings in the Jerusalem Bible think verses 9-15 are about “Women in the Assembly”, the Phillips translation thinks they are about “My (Paul’s) views about Men and Women in the Church”, the NIV thinks the whole chapter consists of “Instructions on Worship”, the Life Application Bible, (a set of notes adapted to several translations; we have the KJV) says the whole chapter is about “Instructions on Worship”, the MacArthur Study Bible says 8-15 are about “Men and Women in the Church”, Scofield says they are about “prayer and the place of women in the church”, etc, etc.
So I guess you will have to choose your side: the rest of the world, or me. In a vote, I suppose I wouldn’t do well. Wouldn’t be the first time I’ve lost at the polls. But I hope you are willing to stand against the whole World, when that is the way to stand with God.
I’ve given my reasons for interpreting the passage as referring to family life, not church life. Take courage and judge by the facts, not by others’ opinions.
Wives seen and not heard?
But if these passages are talking about husbands and wives, not women in church, did Paul expect wives to be silent at home? To literally never say a word?
“Silence” is the KJV for ‘ησυχια (haysuchia) which is defined, not as literal acoustical silence, but as the description of someone who minds their own business – not meddling, not unruly, but attentive. “To keep one’s seat”, or to know one’s place.
If the word meant literal, absolute silence, 2 Thessalonians 3:12 (same Greek word) would translate “...we command and exhort by our Lord Jesus Christ, that in absolute silence they work, and eat...”! Paul would be telling both men and women to become mutes on the job and at the dinner table!
But if we select, from the Greek lexicons, the definition of ‘ησυχια (haysuchia) “minding your own business”, that definition helps tie verses 11 and 12 together:2 Thessalonians 3:11 For we hear that there are some which walk among you disorderly, working not at all, but are busybodies. 12 Now them that are such we command and exhort by our Lord Jesus Christ, that with QUIETNESS [MINDING THEIR OWN BUSINESS] they work, and eat their own bread.
Husbands Rule, Wives Obey?
Back to Timothy: 1 Timothy 2:12 But I suffer not a woman to teach, nor to usurp authority over the man, but to be in silence. (Gr. ‘ησυχια, haysuchia)
“Silence” (KJV; Greek: ‘ησυχια) is the wifely behavior Paul wanted; “teaching”, and “usurping authority”, is the behavior Paul didn’t want. Paul used a pretty drastic word to describe how wives shouldn’t behave. Much stronger than the KJV “usurping authority”. It is much stronger than the Jerusalem Bible’s “tell a man what to do”; or the Phillips’ “in authority over men”; or the New English “domineer over men”; or the Revised Standard “have authority over men”; or the NIV “have authority over a man”. It is closer in its extremeness to the Living Bible’s “I never let women teach men or lord it over them.” But it is stronger than that.
Look at this power packed definition of the Greek αυθεντεο (authenteo), which KJV translates “usurp authority”:
1. One who with his own hands kills another or himself.
2. One who acts on his own authority, autocratic.
3. An absolute master.
4. To govern, exercise dominion over one.
That definition is from the Logos computer lexicon. I think everybody can agree that if that is what Paul doesn’t want women to be towards men, Paul is a reasonable man after all. 1. We don’t want husbands to kill their wives, either.
2. Well, this is relative. Everyone acts on his own authority on matters that don’t involve others. Even a slave may slap a mosquito on his own authority. In this context, this implies acting unilaterally at the expense of another’s will. I think we all want husbands to be able to act on their own authority even when their wives would like to veto an action, but I think we also want, and Paul wanted, wives to be able to act even without their husband’s support, on a matter of faith or conscience; for example, see 1 Corinthians 7, where a wife is urged to be true to her faith even if it drives away her husband:1 Corinthians 7:13 And the woman which hath an husband that believeth not, and if he be pleased to dwell with her, let her not leave him. 14 For the unbelieving husband is sanctified by the wife, and the unbelieving wife is sanctified by the husband: else were your children unclean; but now are they holy. 15 But if the unbelieving depart, let him depart. A brother or a sister is not under bondage in such cases: but God hath called us to peace. 16 For what knowest thou, O wife, whether thou shalt save thy husband? or how knowest thou, O man, whether thou shalt save thy wife?
But I think we all consider the marriage bonds stretched by any action taken by either husband or wife which is opposed by the other. That is not Paul’s ideal:1 Corinthians 7:4 The wife hath not power of her own body, but the husband: and likewise also the husband hath not power of his own body, but the wife.
3. An “absolute master?” Not! See discussion under #2.
4. “To govern, exercise dominion over one”?
I think we almost agree we don’t want wives to rule over their husbands. Although really that depends on the wife and the husband, doesn’t it? But generally, in most situations where spouses are fairly even in intelligence and morality, how should logic and experience inform our interpretation of these verses? Do men generally have an edge over women in balancing their own interests with that of their wives and reaching a fair judgment? Paul thinks men are generally so naturally inclined to please their wives that there is the danger men will rather please their wives than God:1 Corinthians 7:32 But I would have you without carefulness. He that is unmarried careth for the things that belong to the Lord, how he may please the Lord: 33 But he that is married careth for the things that are of the world, how he may please his wife.
Paul says that is what happened with Adam and Eve. He says Adam was not deceived by Satan, which leaves, for his motivation to disobey God, that it was to please his wife.1 Timothy 2:14 And Adam was not deceived, but the woman being deceived was in the transgression.
In any case, that word “dominion” is a little creepy. It implies absolute, ruthless power. This discussion has been of the wide range of possible meanings of the Greek word. If “dominion” is the meaning Paul had in mind, I think we all agree with Paul that wives should not have it over husbands, and also that husbands should not have it over wives. Decisions and actions need to be mutual. That is the goal. The gold standard. We are humans and don’t consistently reach it, but to the extent we cannot reason and act mutually, our marriages are strained. Jesus didn’t have nice things to say about “dominion”. He spoke of a different way, a way “new” to the pagan world:Matthew 20:25 But Jesus called them unto him, and said, Ye know that the princes of the Gentiles exercise dominion over them, and they that are great exercise authority upon them. 26 But it shall not be so among you: but whosoever will be great among you, let him be your minister; 27 And whosoever will be chief among you, let him be your servant: 28 Even as the Son of man came not to be ministered unto, but to minister, and to give his life a ransom for many.
Husbands teach, wives learn?
Getting back to the whole 1 Timothy 2:11-15 passage, why did Paul say wives couldn’t teach their husbands, either?
The Greek definition of διδασκο (didasko, “teach” in the KJV) is milder than αυθεντεο (authenteo), but still stronger than “teach”. It contains a couple of loaded phrases, when pictured in a husband-wife relationship: “deliver didactic discourses”, and “to instill doctrine into one”.
It is appropriate for a parent to “instill” doctrine into a child. It may even be appropriate for a mature Christian to “instill” doctrine into a new, eager convert. It is condescending to think of either spouse “instilling” doctrine into the other spouse.
(If Paul meant, as the major translations suppose, that this refers to women teaching in church, then we return to a duel between common sense and our obedience to God’s Word, since common sense fails to explain why in no case is any woman capable of ever teaching any man anything; and were we to apply our belief to the secular world, we would find ourselves voting against any politician willing to perpetuate female school teachers, at lest beyond the elementary grades. We would also return to a struggle between this verse, and the verses in 1 Corinthians 11 about how women should dress when they preach in church.)
What problem was Paul addressing? We can assume the problems between husbands and wives haven’t changed that much in 6,000 years, so we should be able to look at relationships today for problems which merit the strong language Paul used. Is the danger of wives becoming absolute masters of their husbands so common as to deserve so much attention on a list of ways Christians ought to behave?
There is an idiom we use today which describes a problem for which Paul’s words are a perfect description. The idiom is used a lot less now, since feminazis took over Hollywood; it was very, very common when I was a boy. But it is still heard today.
It is “henpecked husbands”. A wife who “henpecks” her husband delivers long, “didactic discourses” to him. She carries herself as if she were his “absolute master”.
She probably isn’t, really; henpecked husbands still “put their foot down” when they’ve had enough. But she certainly thinks she is, or at least ought to be. So to call her “absolute master” is a tad sarcastic. But sarcasm is appropriate for such an outrageous, frustrating problem.
“Henpecked husbands” does not rise in ruthlessness to the reach of αυθεντεο (authenteo). So permit me to speculate what Paul means to describe, that is within common human experience.
Marital disputes run from the merely annoying, to oppressive, to shouting, to violent, to lethal. 21st century American laws blame only husbands for their violent contributions to these squabbles, putting them in jail and giving them “no contact orders” that don’t let them go back home ever again. Our laws never penalize women for their verbal contribution to the dispute. As if no amount of crazed, irrational wifely screaming can cause any legally recognizable harm, but a shove or a face-slap by a husband in response, that doesn’t even cause enough physical damage for a doctor to confirm, costs a husband his wife, his children, his home, and a percentage of his future earnings.
It was the opposite in America until the mid 20th Century, and in most of the rest of the world until this day, where unreasonable wives are targeted in literature and in jokes, but violence by husbands is seldom criminalized and is seen as often justified by unreasonable wives.
The Bible recognizes both harms. Physical abuse that leaves permanent damage is a ground of divorce in Moses’ law. The example of permanent damage given is of the loss of an eye or a tooth. The term “maidservant” is used, which is usually defined as “female slave”, but verse 8 shows that maidservants can also be wives. (Actually even the translation “slave” invokes images of brutality that were crimes under Moses. A “slave” in Israel was more like an employee today, who voluntarily agrees to a multi-year employment contract or mortgage):Exodus 21:26 And if a man smite the eye of his servant, or the eye of his maid, that it perish; he shall let him go free for his eye's sake. 27 And if he smite out his manservant's tooth, or his maidservant's tooth; he shall let him go free for his tooth's sake.
The Bible doesn’t say anything about wives injuring husbands because usually – not always – husbands are so much stronger. Here in 1 Timothy is one of the very few places the Bible appeals to wives to do their part to avoid marital battles. Wives’ arms aren’t usually as strong, but their tongue is, and James 3 describes how much it can hurt.
Not that men are without tongues, too. But some general differences between men and women, whose Bible clues I explore later, suggest a “button” in men which female tongues are able to depress with a ferocity justifying Paul’s language here.
1 Timothy says women tend to be more emotional than reasonable, more gullible. To the extent that is so, men tend to be more sensitive to unreasonable, inaccurate accusations. Violence is an uncivilized, immature response, but it is as natural a male response, as it is natural for women to feel more than they think. The Gospel works to tame both and turn marriage into a blessing.
Back to the reduction of didaskw (didasko) to mere “teaching”. In absolute terms, there is no human relationship in which there is a person who never teaches another. Even among teachers, it is an axiom that when they are teaching, they learn more than the kids do; or that they learn more from the kids than the kids learn from them.
Paul surely cannot have meant to say that wives must absolutely never teach their husbands; he could not have meant that, because that would be humanly impossible. But when the command for wives not to “teach” their husbands is in the context of the sarcastic command for wives not to be absolute masters, or to kill their husbands with their own hands, then it becomes clear that it is the darkest side of “teaching” which Paul is telling wives not to do. It is the long, paternalistic, condescending, “didactic discourses”. It is the cultish drive to “instill doctrine”.
Paul was not telling Timothy to never let women speak in church.
Paul was not telling Timothy to never let women teach in church.
Paul was not telling Timothy to never let women hold positions of authority in church.
Paul was not talking to Timothy about church.
Paul told Timothy to put the brakes on gossiping women.
Paul told Timothy to not put up with women henpecking their husbands.
God’s Rule of Exceptions
Paul does go on to give clues about differences between men and women. Although these differences are at least depicted as general tendencies, arguably the greatest source of misunderstanding about these differences has been the assumption that these differences are absolute, in every case, with no exceptions.
The Bible doesn’t say that, and the Bible is not generally like that. The Bible is full of statements which seem like absolute “no exceptions” rules, to which exceptions are explained in separate verses.
Here are two examples, concerning the rights of women:
Marrying Moabites. Because the entire Moabite nation conspired to lead Israel away from God by sending their women to seduce Israelite men, God told Israel there should never again be intermarriage with Moabite women for ten generations! Nor could any Moabite ever become a citizen of Israel.Deuteronomy 23:3 An Ammonite or Moabite shall not enter into the congregation of the LORD; even to their tenth generation shall they not enter into the congregation of the LORD for ever: 4 Because they [Ammonites] met you not with bread and with water in the way, when ye came forth out of Egypt [but rather with swords and armies, Deut 2:26-37]; and because they [Moabites] hired against thee Balaam the son of Beor of Pethor of Mesopotamia, to curse thee. [Numbers 22] 5 Nevertheless the LORD thy God would not hearken unto Balaam; but the LORD thy God turned the curse into a blessing unto thee, because the LORD thy God loved thee. 6 Thou shalt not seek their peace nor their prosperity all thy days for ever.
10 generations – that is, forever, was how Nehemiah, who lived way more than 10 generations later, understood the rule.Nehemiah 13:1 On that day they read in the book of Moses in the audience of the people; and therein was found written, that the Ammonite and the Moabite should not come into the congregation of God for ever; 2 Because they met not the children of Israel with bread and with water, but hired Balaam against them, that he should curse them: howbeit our God turned the curse into a blessing. 3 Now it came to pass, when they had heard the law, that they separated from Israel all the mixed multitude.[Presumably that included divorcing their Moabite wives; the action parallels the separation 20 years before in which Ezra 10:15-44 explicitly says they separated to the extent of divorcing their wives; since the reason given was that they were unbelievers, surely wives who became believers were not divorced. Since national security – concerns with invasion over the unfinished wall – was also part of the reason for separation, and since the descendants of the surrounding heathens then who were anxious to slaughter Jews still surround Israel and are anxious to slaughter Jews, we can infer that the concern of Nehemiah and Ezra was not with mere unbelief in God, as with atheists in America today, but with filling the land with potential terrorist cells.]
And yet only four generations later, Ruth, a Moabitess, great granddaughter of a Moabite temptress, married a prominent Israelite leader and became the great grandmother of King David, and an ancestor of Jesus Christ.Matthew 1:5 And Salmon begat Booz of Rachab; and Booz begat Obed of Ruth; and Obed begat Jesse; 6 And Jesse begat David the king; and David the king begat Solomon of her that had been the wife of Urias;....16 And Jacob begat Joseph the husband of Mary, of whom was born Jesus, who is called Christ.
Isaiah gives the Rule of Exceptions:Isaiah 56:3 Neither let the son of the stranger, that hath joined himself to the LORD, speak, saying, The LORD hath utterly separated me from his people: neither let the eunuch say, Behold, I am a dry tree. 4 For thus saith the LORD unto the eunuchs that keep my sabbaths, and choose the things that please me, and take hold of my covenant; 5 Even unto them will I give in mine house and within my walls a place and a name better than of sons and of daughters: I will give them an everlasting name, that shall not be cut off. 6 Also the sons of the stranger, that join themselves to the LORD, to serve him, and to love the name of the LORD, to be his servants, every one that keepeth the sabbath from polluting it, and taketh hold of my covenant; 7 Even them will I bring to my holy mountain, and make them joyful in my house of prayer: their burnt offerings and their sacrifices shall be accepted upon mine altar; for mine house shall be called an house of prayer for all people. 8 The Lord GOD which gathereth the outcasts of Israel saith, Yet will I gather others to him, beside those that are gathered unto him.
The other famous Old Testament example of notoriously equal rights for women would be President Deborah.
The general rule to which this was an exception:Isaiah 3:1 For, behold, the Lord, the LORD of hosts, doth take away from Jerusalem and from Judah the stay and the staff, the whole stay of bread, and the whole stay of water, [all they depend on, even their food and water] ...4 And I will give children to be their princes, and babes shall rule over them....9 The shew of their countenance doth witness against them; and they declare their sin as Sodom, they hide it not. Woe unto their soul! for they have rewarded evil unto themselves....12 As for my people, children are their oppressors, and women rule over them. O my people, they which lead thee cause thee to err, and destroy the way of thy paths.
Verse 12 is often quoted as evidence that God requires female leadership as a curse. As terrible as being ruled by children, right? Of course - generally. And yet the two child rulers of Israel ruled righteously! One was the most righteous king in the Bible!
King Joash of Judah (a.k.a. Jehoash in the KJV, which was simultaneously also the name of a king of Israel) was 7 when he began to rule. 2 Kings 11:21. He “did that which was right in the sight of the LORD all his days wherein Jehoiada the priest instructed him”, 12:2, which implies maybe he wasn’t so good when he grew up, although the Bible does not list any evil that he did.
Josiah became king at age 8. He was the most righteous of all the kings of the Bible!2 Kings 23:21 And the king commanded all the people, saying, Keep the passover unto the LORD your God, as it is written in the book of this covenant. 22 Surely there was not holden such a passover from the days of the judges that judged Israel, nor in all the days of the kings of Israel, nor of the kings of Judah; .... 24 Moreover the workers with familiar spirits, and the wizards, and the images, and the idols, and all the abominations that were spied in the land of Judah and in Jerusalem, did Josiah put away, that he might perform the words of the law .... 25 And like unto him was there no king before him, that turned to the LORD with all his heart, and with all his soul, and with all his might, according to all the law of Moses; neither after him arose there any like him.
So how about the “exceptional” women leaders? How about President Deborah?
Deborah was the 4th of the 15 Judges of Israel listed in the Book of Judges and in 1 Samuel. (See chart) Her story is told in Judges 4:4 to 5:31. She should be properly understood as President because judges were elected [See Deuteronomy 1:13] and she was Israel’s chief executive officer and Commander-In-Chief, as U.S. presidents are.
Deborah acknowledged the general rule – that generally, men are better equipped to lead armies than women. She told a general that the Assyrians were attacking, and God wanted him to go defend Israel, and God would give him victory.Judges 4:8 And Barak said unto her, If thou wilt go with me, then I will go: but if thou wilt not go with me, then I will not go. 9 And she said, I will surely go with thee: notwithstanding the journey that thou takest shall not be for thine honour; for the LORD shall sell Sisera into the hand of a woman. And Deborah arose, and went with Barak to Kedesh.
Women apparently had greater rights in ancient Israel than in America today, as indicated by the fact that one of 15 judges was a woman, compared to the U.S. which has had 45 presidents without a single woman.
(The 15 judges ruled Israel for about 350 years, compared with the 45 U.S. presidents who governed the U.S. 231 years as of 2019. The difference was that several judges ruled for as long as 40 years; and also there were periods of time between them when the Bible mentions no chief judge over Israel.)
We may presume, based on our experience in the U.S., that if the Israelites were willing to elect a woman for their chief executive, they must have been willing to elect many more judges in lower positions. It also suggests that women could vote, although there is little historical record of voting in ancient Israel other than the single verse stating that judges were chosen by the people.
It could have been like it was like in earliest America. Actually the first woman in America to vote was Elizabeth Warren, my 12th generation grandmother, who became head of household over 7 children in 1627 when her husband, Richard, died. As a result of their exhaustive Bible studies, available today as "The Works of John Robinson", they gave all the men the right to vote; not just free men but servants; not just members of the favored church but even unbelievers and Catholics; and not just the men but female heads of household. They also recreated, from Scripture, Freedom of Speech to criticize even church and political leaders, a Sunday afternoon open forum where they could exercise that freedom, and freedom of religion to worship in any way without loss of voting or property rights. See my documentary at www.1620.us.
One of the 25 monarchs of Israel and later Judah was Queen Athaliah. She was Number 12. (See chart). Unfortunately she usurped authority through murdering the men, 2 Kings 11:1, but the fact that she reigned for about seven years shows that being a woman didn’t immediately disqualify her.
Natural Barriers to Female Leadership
Commanders-In-Chief without military experience, then
A passage in Nahum that is similar to Isaiah 3:12 makes it more clear that the particular kind of leadership that men are naturally better equipped for than women is military leadership.Nahum 3:13 Look at your soldiers; they're women! The gates of your country are wide open to your enemies. Fire has destroyed the bars of your gates. (GW)
Even with today’s technology, there are a lot of battlefront jobs that can only be done by very strong men. Three thousand years ago, an army of women was pretty poor security. Women didn’t fight in battles. Therefore a commander in chief who was a woman was a commander in chief without military experience.
13 of the United States’ 45 presidents were not veterans; 32 were, counting service in the Continental Army before the U.S. was formed. See list. Although Commanders In Chief of our military have gotten by without military experience, experience is generally acknowledged as a good thing.
Factors keeping lack of experience from being an absolute bar to national executive leadership are:
(1) With today’s technology, physical differences are reduced to the extent that women are able to advance in the military in a wide variety of important operations, and acquire military experience.
(2) Even then, the 15 who became Judges/Commanders-In-Chief of Israel typically had no prior military experience, because Israel didn’t even have any army: it had been occupied by foreign armies. The Judges were raised up by God and told by God how to defeat their oppressors.
(3) The U.S. military is subject to civilian control. In fact America’s “Founders” - meaning those who led independence from England and created our Constitution – were very determined not to allow a permanent full time “standing army” of any significance to even exist, because they feared it would impose its own tyranny over the nation. So they created a system that relies primarily on state “militias”, now called National Guards, which consist of part time troops which spend most of their time and earn most of their income as civilians, and whose advancement as troops is determined not at the national level but by states.
Similarly, in Israel, there was never a standing army until the time of the kings. Rather, someone would announce a need, and civilians by the thousands would grab their weapons and come together.
Which meant that not only were Commanders-In-Chiefs typically without military experience, so were troops.
Boot camp? No time. There were the invaders on the other side of the mountain. Time to go.
More gullible, more faithful
So you fems are saying to yourselves, “whew! That’s a load off! Now I can go back to seminary! Leach has figured out how to make us as powerful as men again!”
Actually Paul does go on to point out an inherent weakness in the nature of women which, though not precluding them from teaching, will cause problems when they take church leadership.
(Although not insurmountable problems – the next section is about the women named by Paul who were church leaders!)
We have to ask ourselves, “if henpecking is what Paul was talking about, what is there in the nature of women that made Paul pick on women and not men? Is there no such thing as roosterpecking?”
Paul went on to explain,1 Timothy 2:13 For Adam was first formed, then Eve. 14 And Adam was not deceived, but the woman being deceived was in the transgression. 15 Notwithstanding she shall be saved in childbearing, if they continue in faith and charity and holiness with sobriety.
“Adam was first formed, then Eve.” What does this have to do with the subject? What is the significance of this? God said, in Genesis 2:18, 20, that Eve was a “help meet”, or “one who helps”, for Adam.
Even Christians are human, and often forget the best parts of the Bible. But what does Jesus say about the social status, or spiritual importance, of the one who helps others?Luke 22:26 ...he that is greatest among you, let him be as the younger; and he that is chief, as he that doth serve. 27 For whether is greater, he that sitteth at meat, or he that serveth? is not he that sitteth at meat? but I am among you as he that serveth.
So when wives help their husbands, who does Jesus regard as the greater?
When society is working properly,
the authority to give orders is associated with the talent to give fair, compassionate, sensible orders. We should presume that if God gives such authority to husbands, He gave, with it, that kind of talent.
Now don’t get sidetracked; Paul didn’t mean husbands should have the “absolute”, unaccountable despotism over women which he made fun of women for trying to exercise over men! Civil disobedience – wives obeying God rather than their God-defying husbands when their husbands force a choice – is provided for in the Bible. That’s just not the subject of this chapter. All we are talking about here is a recognition that husbands have more ability to govern, in general. Why? And does God mean men have an absolute edge in this Mystery Quality, over women? Or that there is a general difference with individual exceptions; just as men are generally taller, but some wives are taller than their husbands? “Adam was not deceived, but the woman”. Are women more gullible? Paul said Eve was more gullible than Adam, and he said it as if that difference explains why all wives should defer to their husbands. [Eve said she was deceived in Genesis 3:13] Our popular culture agreed until a couple of generations ago, portraying men as more rational while women are more emotional. Now movie plots portray wives as smarter than husbands, single women as smarter than wives, and children as the smartest of all. Does emotional power make women inferior? To be looked down upon? Heavens no! Looked at, absolutely! Looked down on, God forbid! What would the world be like without the love which God gave women to share with men?! God loves all His children. To keep our understanding of each other in perspective, God always takes care, in His Word, to show us the weaknesses of His heroes, and the strengths of His average, ordinary folk. In this case, just one way Scripture balances the gullibility of women is with their superior faithfulness:
Luke 24:10 It was Mary Magdalene, and Joanna, and Mary [the mother] of James, and other [women that were] with them, which told these things unto the apostles. (Where were the men? They had fled in fear.) Matthew 27:55-56 And many women were there beholding afar off, which followed Jesus from Galilee, ministering unto him: 56 Among which was Mary Magdalene, and Mary the mother of James and Joses, and the mother of Zebedee’s children. (John was the only man present of Jesus’ followers, when Jesus was most alone.)
Did these women, who exceeded the men in faithfulness and courage, partly reverse the pattern of disobedience of Eve? 1 Timothy 2:14 indicates women are more gullible than men. But Matthew 27:55-56 certainly suggests women are also more faithful than men. They are less willing to leave when someone they love is being hurt. Notice that Jesus illustrates His readiness to protect us at the risk of His own life, with an example of maternal love:
Matthew 23:37 O Jerusalem, Jerusalem, thou that killest the prophets, and stonest them which are sent unto thee, how often would I have gathered thy children together, even as a hen gathereth her chickens under her wings, and ye would not!
Peggy Joyce Ruth observes:
It is interesting that Jesus uses the correlation of maternal love to demonstrate His attachment to us. There is a certain fierceness to motherly love we cannot overlook.... The Lord gave me a vivid picture of what it means to seek refuge under His wings. My husband, Jack, and I live out in the country, and one spring our old mother hen hatched a brood of chickens. One afternoon while they were scattered all over the yard, I suddenly saw the shadow of a hawk overhead. Then I noticed something that taught me a lesson I will never forget. That mother hen did not run and jump on top of them and try to cover them with her wings. No! Instead, she squatted down, spread out her wings, and began to cluck. And those little chickens, from all directions, came running to her to get under those outstretched wings. Then the hen pulled her wings down tight, tucking every little chick safely under her. To get to those babies, the hawk would have to go through the mother. When I think of those baby chicks running to their mother, I realize that it is under His wings that we may seek refuge – but we have to run to Him. “He will cover you with His pinions, and under His wings you may seek refuge.” [Psalm 91:4, NASB; but every other translation says “shall”.] ...All that mother hen did was cluck and expand her wings and tell her chicks where to come. These verses show the maternal hovering side to His protection. Psalm 91, by Peggy Joyce Ruth and Angela Ruth Schum, p. 26
10. Women Church Leaders Several female Biblical heroes stand in line to be explained away by those who insist Paul told women to be acoustically silent in church. Here is a verse noted by several commentators:
Acts 2:16-21 But this is that which was spoken by the prophet Joel [in 2:28-32]; 17 And it shall come to pass in the last days, saith God, I will pour out of my Spirit upon all flesh: and your sons and YOUR DAUGHTERS SHALL PROPHESY, and your young men shall see visions, and your old men shall dream dreams: 18 And on my servants and ON MY HANDMAIDENS I will pour out in those days of my Spirit; and THEY SHALL PROPHESY: Acts 21:9 And the same man had four daughters, virgins, which did prophesy.
11. Women taught preachers Apollos, a church leader, received training from Priscilla, a woman:
Acts 18:24 And a certain Jew named Apollos, born at Alexandria, an eloquent man, [and] mighty in the scriptures, came to Ephesus. 25 This man was instructed in the way of the Lord; and being fervent in the spirit, he spake and taught diligently the things of the Lord, knowing only the baptism of John. 26 And he began to speak boldly in the synagogue: whom when Aquila and Priscilla had heard, they took him unto [them], and expounded unto him the way of God more perfectly.
In other words, Priscilla was a seminary professor. Of course the Bible does not legitimize seven-year seminaries; “elders” were appointed by Paul weeks or months after they were converted. But Priscilla was as close to a seminary professor as the Bible allows a man to be. Priscilla was Aquila’s wife, Acts 18:2. As Jews, they were banished from Rome by Claudius Caesar. They were Paul’s “helpers”, Romans 16:3. They sailed with Paul, Acts 18:18. They had a church in their house, 1 Corinthians 16:19.
Acts 18:2 And found a certain Jew named Aquila, born in Pontus, lately come from Italy, with his wife Priscilla; (because that Claudius had commanded all Jews to depart from Rome:) and came unto them. Romans 16:3 Greet Priscilla and Aquila my helpers in Christ Jesus: Acts 18:18 And Paul after this tarried there yet a good while, and then took his leave of the brethren, and sailed thence into Syria, and with him Priscilla and Aquila; having shorn his head in Cenchrea: for he had a vow. 1 Corinthians 16:19 The churches of Asia salute you. Aquila and Priscilla salute you much in the Lord, with the church that is in their house.
Normally the ability to get people to congregate at one’s house is recognized as a demonstration of leadership of those people. So they were pastors – or, as close to being pastors as the Bible allows. Aquila and Priscilla were a husband/wife team. Is there less authority or service in a co-teacher or co-pastor than in a sole teacher or pastor? Even if Priscilla was “only” a teacher and church hostess on the shirt-tails of her husband, could she have done any teaching or hostessing, if she were not allowed to speak in church? Women, can you imagine a church filling your kitchen and living room, leaving the door open, scuffing your floor, getting Kool-Aid out of the fridge, and you are not allowed to say anything?
12. The woman Paul followed But that’s nothing: Paul himself depended on, and followed, a woman:
Romans 16:2 That ye receive her in the Lord, as becometh saints, and that ye assist her in whatsoever business she hath need of you: for she hath been a SUCCOURER of many, and of myself also.
She was a “succourer”. Greek: “one who stands in front or before; a leader; a protector, champion, patron; patroness, protectress.” (Analytical Greek Lexicon, published Zondervan) Exactly which of the choices in this definition describe Paul’s relationship with this woman? Was she his leader? Did she protect him? Was she his champion – did she fight for him when he was unable to fight for himself? Was she his patron – his financial sponsor? “One who stands in front or before” is the literal meaning of this word, so whichever of the metaphorical meanings best describe the emphasis of their relationship, there must have been at least an element of submission to the woman on Paul’s part. Actually, the farther I go in this study, the more numb my brain gets trying to establish whether, in these verses, submission was only on one side of a relationship. What ruler can rule without submitting to what his subjects will tolerate? What husband can rule over his wife without at times being totally helpless to proceed without her? What boss can manage a business without cooperation and even counsel from his employees? What parent can maintain 100% control of his child without sometimes acknowledging he just can’t figure out what’s wrong, and pleading with his child for help in climbing their way out of their problems? Of course there was mutual submission between Paul and this woman! Just as there was between Paul and every other brother! That’s why Peter wrote, at the end of his list of who should submit to whom, that everyone should submit to each other!
1 Peter 2:13 Submit yourselves to every ordinance of man for the Lord’s sake: whether it be to the king, as supreme; ...18 Servants, [be] subject to [your] masters with all fear; not only to the good and gentle, but also to the froward. ...3:1 Likewise, ye wives, [be] in subjection to your own husbands; 5:5 Likewise, ye younger, submit yourselves unto the elder. Yea, all [of you] be subject to one another, and be clothed with humility: for God resisteth the proud, and giveth grace to the humble.
Whatever Phebe (v. 1) did for Paul, Paul asks the entire church to receive her, and help her with whatever she wants. How could the whole church do this, if she were not allowed to say anything in church?
13. Women founded churches The book of Philippians was written to a church founded by, if not pastored by, a woman. In fact, a founder was a pastor, then, by definition. A “pastor” “shepherds”. In fact, both words are translations of the same Greek word for “shepherd”. Anyone who starts a church in her home, bringing in her whole family and then others, “shepherds” the group in the profoundest sense. Not by today’s definition of “pastor”, of course. Today’s definition of “pastor” is “the one who delivers the uninterruptible sermon, and who decides what other lucky person gets to speak for a minute or two.” But since no one gave an uninterruptible sermon then, or pre-approved who could speak, it isn’t necessary to guess whether she met those criteria, before we may establish that she was truly a “pastor”. Lydia, like Priscilla, had a church in her home, Acts 16:14, 40. She was a Philippian, v. 12. “A certain woman named Lydia” was Paul’s first convert, v. 14, who in turn brought her whole “household” to the Lord, v. 15.
Acts 16:12 And from thence to Philippi, which is the chief city of that part of Macedonia, and a colony: and we were in that city abiding certain days. 13 And on the sabbath we went out of the city by a river side, where prayer was wont to be made; and we sat down, and spake unto the women which resorted thither. 14 And a certain woman named Lydia, a seller of purple, of the city of Thyatira, which worshipped God, heard us: whose heart the Lord opened, that she attended unto the things which were spoken of Paul. 15 And when she was baptized, and her household, she besought us, saying, If ye have judged me to be faithful to the Lord, come into my house, and abide there. And she constrained us....40 And they went out of the prison, and entered into the house of Lydia: and when they had seen the brethren, they comforted them, and departed.
When Paul and Silas were released from prison after being flogged, they came to Lydia’s “house” to meet the “brethren”, that is, the Philippian Fellowship. Paul thanks the Philippians for helping him when he was in need, Phil 4:10, 15-16. In these same verses, Paul identifies them as the church who helped “in the beginning of the Gospel, when I departed from Macedonia”.
Philippians 4:10 But I rejoiced in the Lord greatly, that now at the last your care of me hath flourished again; wherein ye were also careful, but ye lacked opportunity....15 Now ye Philippians know also, that in the beginning of the gospel, when I departed from Macedonia, no church communicated with me as concerning giving and receiving, but ye only. 16 For even in Thessalonica ye sent once and again unto my necessity.
Acts 16:9-12 explains Philippi was the chief city of that part of Macedonia, so his departure from Macedonia must refer to the night he and Silas left after their release from prison, and after one last visit with the church. It is inconceivable that Lydia could found a church, fill it up with converts, have the church meet in her own home, and yet not exercise any leadership in it – no say in any decision of the fellowship. It is much more plausible, much more consistent with our experience of how people relate to one another, to presume she held it together, kept it going, and kept it organized. She was its “shepherd”. It’s “pastor”. Does that make her indeed a defacto pastor? Remember that Paul didn’t define pastor as the one who does all the talking. It is really hard to fathom how a woman could organize a church in her own home, if she had the handicap of not being allowed to talk. In this case Lydia is not a shirt-tail church leader. Her husband, if she has one, is not mentioned.
14. “Notable” women apostles
Romans 16:7 Salute Andronicus and Junia, my kinsmen, and my fellowprisoners, who are of note among the apostles, who also were in Christ before me.
“Andronicus” means “man of victory”. Junia is a woman’s name. Paul could have meant they were his “kinsman” by blood relation, or by nationality, or by race. We don’t know the relationship between Andronicus and Junia, if any. They were married, for all we know. If they were, was Junia not a “real” apostle, but only a shirt-tail apostle, rising to apostleship on the shirt-tails of her husband? No. Married or not, related or not, “who are of note among the apostles” definitely means each of the two. Shirt-tail apostles are not “of note among the apostles”. KJV “of note” is from Gr. V (episemos; ep-is’-ay-mos) which appears twice in the Bible. The other time, Matthew 27:16, it is translated “notable”. Barabbas was a “notable” prisoner. Notorious, in other words. Well known. It is defined: “1) having a mark on it, marked, stamped, coined. 2) marked. In a good sense, of note, illustrious. In a bad sense, notorious, infamous.” Paul obviously means the two are well known, in a good sense. Our point is that a woman was not only an apostle, but a well known one. With a track record even longer than Paul’s, and deserving of public recognition. (Paul asked the whole church to “salute” her. Gr: joyfully welcome, with hugs and kisses. By the way, those “holy kisses” were not on the mouth. Equals would kiss cheeks. A superior would kiss an inferior’s forehead. An inferior would kiss a superior’s hand, or – ugh – feet.) It is pretty hard to imagine how anyone could become a well-known apostle who is not allowed to talk in church!
15. Women servants/teachers
Romans 16:1 I commend unto you Phebe our sister, which is a servant of the church which is at Cenchrea:
Notice that Phebe was a “servant”. “Servants” are supposed to “teach”. In fact, diakonon is defined as “minister” 20 of the 30 times it’s in the New Testament. “Minister” is the title that several denominations give their pastors. Was Phebe their pastor? She was definitely a “teacher”:
2 Timothy 2:24 And the servant of the Lord must not strive; but be gentle unto all [men], apt to teach, [skillful in teaching] patient,
“Servant”, in this verse, comes from a different Greek word: douloV, which means “slave”; which is even lower on the social ladder than the “servant” that Phebe was. True, not all servants in the Bible are leaders. But “servant of the church” seems like a way of describing some leadership role, rather than some janitorial role. Paul did not say “servant of the choir director”, “servant of the elders”, or “servant of the boiler room”. Today’s “servants” are called “employees”. In a corporation, only one person is normally spoken of as “serving” the entire corporation: the CEO. All the other employees are spoken of as “working for” the variety of bosses under the CEO. If Phebe did not have some leadership role, which requires trust among followers, why did Paul single her out to “commend” her? Paul meant that he “stands with” Phebe. The Greek word is (sunistemi; soon-is’-tay-mee). Of the 16 times it appears in the NT, KJV translates it “commend” 10 times, “approve” twice, and “consist”, “make”, “stand”, and “stand with” once. It is defined:
“1) to place together, to set in the same place, to bring or band together; to stand with (or near). 2) to set one with another; by way of presenting or introducing him, to comprehend. 3) to put together by way of composition or combination, to teach by combining and comparing, to show, prove, establish, exhibit. 4) to put together, unite parts into one whole; to be composed of, consist.”
In Luke 9:32 it means Moses and Elijah “stood with” Jesus. In Romans 5:8 it means God “commendeth” His love toward us. Paul could not tell an entire church he stood with this woman, without enhancing her influence there. How remarkably can a servant, regardless of the nature or degree of her influence, serve, without ever talking? The fact that Phebe was allowed to talk in church is pretty clear from verse 2, where Paul tells the church to “receive her in the Lord”. Gr: “To receive one into [social] intercourse and companionship.” Social intercourse and companionship cannot exist where talking is not allowed. An individual, in a church, might be able to have social intercourse and companionship with someone not allowed to speak in church, as long as it takes place outside church. But an entire Fellowship cannot have social intercourse and companionship with someone whom it does not permit to speak!
Romans 16:2 That ye receive her in the Lord, as becometh saints, and that ye assist her in whatsoever business she hath need of you: for she hath been a succourer of many, and of myself also.
They are supposed to give her anything she needs. How are they going to find out what she needs, if they won’t let her talk?! Paul credited Phebe with serving, protecting, etc. many people, which Jesus said is what defines a leader. Luke 22:26. And Paul tells the church to help her with whatever she wants, which sounds like she will be able to tell them what she wants them to do, and they will do it. Sounds pretty much like a church leader to me. A church leader who is allowed to talk.
16. Gifts of the Spirit to women
1 Corinthians 12:28 And God hath set some in the church, first apostles, [including Junia, Rom 16:7], secondarily prophets, [including Phillip’s daughter, Acts 21:8-9], thirdly teachers, [including Anna, Luke 2:38, who “spake of Him”] after that miracles, then gifts of healings, helps, governments, diversities of tongues.
Women evangelists included the Samaritan woman who brought many men to Jesus:
John 4:28 The woman then left her waterpot, and went her way into the city, and saith to the men, 29 Come, see a man, which told me all things that ever I did: is not this the Christ? 30 Then they went out of the city, and came unto him.
17. Women Preachers Perhaps Tryphena, Tryphosa and Persis brought many to Jesus, too; Rom 16:12 says the three women “laboured much in the Lord”. Again, much labor, service, etc., is Jesus’ barometer of leadership.
Romans 16:12 Salute Tryphena and Tryphosa, who labour in the Lord. Salute the beloved Persis, which laboured much in the Lord.
Commentator John Gill, in 1766, said: “These two were women, and are said to be noble women of Iconium...Persis...who being a woman also, and perhaps of Persic original....” But in Gill’s opinion, because he had concluded that 1 Corinthians 14:34 meant no woman was allowed to make a sound in church, “however, as these were women, their labour cannot be understood of their labouring in the word of the Lord, or in the public ministry of it, since this was forbid by the apostle” so it must mean they gave money, and witnessed to people privately. But Adam Clarke, in 1826, refuted such an assumption:
We learn from this, that Christian women, as well as men, labored in the ministry of the word. In those times of simplicity all persons, whether men or women, who had received the knowledge of the truth, believed it to be their duty to propagate it to the uttermost of their power. Many have spent much useless labor in endeavoring to prove that these women did not preach. That there were some prophetesses, as well as prophets in the Christian Church, we learn; and that a woman might pray or prophesy, provided she had her head covered, we know; and that whoever prophesied spoke unto others to edification, exhortation, and comfort, St. Paul declares, 1 Corinthians 14:3. And that no preacher can do more, every person must acknowledge; because to edify, exhort, and comfort, are the prime ends of the Gospel ministry. If women thus prophesied, then women preached.
Women preached! According to Scripture and seemingly impregnable logic! But then do women have leadership potential equal to that of men according to God? Almost, Clarke says, but:
There is, however, much more than this implied in the Christian ministry, of which men only, and men called of God, are capable.
Luke 2:36-38 And there was one Anna, a prophetess, the daughter of Phanuel, of the tribe of Aser: she was of a great age, and had lived with an husband seven years from her virginity; 37 And she [was] a widow of about fourscore and four years, which departed not from the temple, but served [God] with fastings and prayers night and day. 38 And she coming in that instant gave thanks likewise unto the Lord, and spake of him to all them that looked for redemption in Jerusalem.
Anna delivered a message from God, the definition of “prophet”, which is what we say a “preacher” does. She delivered her message in public, in a very busy place, so she reached a lot more people than the 75 reached by the median American Protestant pastor today. [75 is the median Protestant church attendance, , meaning half of America’s Protestant churches have 75 or fewer every Sunday; 186 is the average attendance. http://hirr.hartsem.edu/research/fastfacts/fast_facts.html#sizecong] It is impossible for her not to have also been a teacher, of men as well as women; since she was old, was constantly in the Temple, and was constantly talking about God with people. Such study of any subject makes you an expert on it, so that it is impossible but that as she talked with men, she communicated many things they did not already know, which is the essence of teaching. The Bible explicitly calls her a “prophetess”.
Matthew 28:7 He is not here: for he is risen, as he said. Come, see the place where the Lord lay. 7 And go quickly, and tell his disciples that he is risen from the dead; and, behold, he goeth before you into Galilee; there shall ye see him: lo, I have told you.
The women were “sent” by the angel. “Sent” is the definition of the Greek word for “apostle”. The women were given a message from angels to give to the men! And in the next verse, they were “sent” by Jesus!
Matthew 28:8-10 And they departed quickly from the sepulchre with fear and great joy; and did run to bring his disciples word. 9 And as they went to tell his disciples, behold, Jesus met them, saying, All hail. And they came and held him by the feet, and worshipped him. 10 Then said Jesus unto them, Be not afraid: go tell my brethren that they go into Galilee, and there shall they see me.
Jesus reiterated the command of the angels: go give this message to the men! The women were divinely commissioned as prophets! Prophets to men! “Preachers” to men! “Apostles” (the word means “sent”) to men! The women were to instruct the men! Why? Because the women were more faithful. They did not flee or hide. So when Jesus came out, they were where He was. The men were later rebuked for not believing the women who only confirmed the prophets! Maybe this is the other side of the difference between men and women noted in 1 Timothy. 1 Timothy says women are generally more gullible. The women who interacted with Jesus are described as more faithful. In other words, women are described as quicker to believe, than men, in either the truth or a lie. Men are more discerning, but that makes them also more skeptical, slower to believe. Their carefulness to reason makes men better equipped to make final decisions, but not if they ignore the input of women! Women are rebuked for being quicker to believe a lie, but men are rebuked for being slower to believe the evidence.
Luke 24:24 (The disciples, to Jesus whom they did not yet recognize) And certain of them which were with us went to the sepulchre, and found it even so as the women had said: but him they saw not. 25 Then he (Jesus) said unto them, O fools, and slow of heart to believe all that the prophets have spoken:
18. No sex discrimination: God
Galatians 3:28 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.
How can anyone look at all these passages and still be satisfied with an interpretation of 1 Timothy 2:11-12 that says women must be acoustically silent in church? Of course, that doesn’t mean we should go to the other extreme and have one woman be the one to do all the talking! Let’s do church the way God designed it! But how about:
1 Timothy 3:2 A bishop then must be blameless, the husband of one wife, vigilant, sober, of good behaviour, given to hospitality, apt to teach; Titus 1:6 [appoint elders] If any be blameless, the husband of one wife, having faithful children not accused of riot or unruly.
These verses are given as proof that a pastor cannot be a woman, since no woman can ever be a husband. This interpretation causes us to wonder how Phebe and Junia could have church in their own homes, even though neither one of them was a husband. To interpret the grammar of these verses as prohibiting women from being bishops or elders shows serious forgetfulness of the rules of everyday English grammar regarding gender. “Man” routinely refers to all humanity, both males and females. Whenever groups of human beings are referred to, or when a hypothetical situation is described, the male gender is routinely used to describe either a male or a female. If God does not want women to be church leaders, and Phebe and Junia just slipped through accidentally, it is not evident from the grammar of these passages.
19. Wives subject at home Until now this chapter has only addressed the subjection of women to husbands at church which the Bible calls for. Its conclusion is that married women have freedom of speech as long as they do not publicly oppose their husbands. God does not call upon them to defer to any other man. Single adult women, including widows, are not subject to any man. Just as a few puzzle pieces cannot paint a picture without the rest of the puzzle, these nontraditional glimpses of husband-wife relationships at church are not a coherent picture without explaining how they fit with other Scriptures about husband-wife relationships at home, about why God makes wives subject to husbands at all, and what differences exist between men and women that makes this mutually beneficial to all. What details does the Bible give about the extent of obedience to which wives owe their husbands? Not many. 1 Peter 3:6 describes reverent obedience, but makes clear that God doesn’t want any wife living in terror. God wants wives to be “afraid”, Gr. V (fobos; root of the English word “phobia”. This word can mean anything from fear to veneration to reverent obedience). But “not...with any amazement”, Gr. V (ptoesis, terror).
1 Peter 3:1 Likewise, ye wives, be in subjection to your own husbands; that, if any obey not the word, they also may without the word be won by the conversation of the wives; 2 While they behold your chaste conversation coupled with fear. (Gr. V) 3 Whose adorning let it not be that outward adorning of plaiting the hair, and of wearing of gold, or of putting on of apparel; 4 But let it be the hidden man of the heart, in that which is not corruptible, even the ornament of a meek and quiet spirit, which is in the sight of God of great price. 5 For after this manner in the old time the holy women also, who trusted in God, adorned themselves, being in subjection unto their own husbands: 6 Even as Sara obeyed Abraham, calling him lord: whose daughters ye are, as long as ye do well, and are not afraid with any amazement. [Gr. V God wants you to to be respectful, not to live in terror.) 7 Likewise, ye husbands, dwell with them according to knowledge, giving honour unto the wife, as unto the weaker vessel, and as being heirs together of the grace of life; that your prayers be not hindered. 8 Finally, be ye all of one mind, having compassion one of another, love as brethren, be pitiful, be courteous: 9 Not rendering evil for evil, or railing for railing: but contrariwise blessing; knowing that ye are thereunto called, that ye should inherit a blessing. 10 For he that will love life, and see good days, let him refrain his tongue from evil, and his lips that they speak no guile: 11 Let him eschew evil, and do good; let him seek peace, and ensue it. 12 For the eyes of the Lord are over the righteous, and his ears are open unto their prayers: but the face of the Lord is against them that do evil.
Verse 6, God neither wants wives to live in terror themselves, nor to be a terror to their husbands. Thus God asks wives to be “respectful” or “reverent”. A disrespectful wife is a terror to her husband, to the extent that
Proverbs 21:9 It is better to dwell in a corner of the housetop, than with a brawling woman in a wide house. ... 25:24 It is better to dwell in the corner of the housetop, than with a brawling woman and in a wide house.
Solomon really wanted to make sure we saw this, so he put in exactly the same observation twice. As many wives as he had, he spoke from more experience than most of us would have the stomach. He had houses as wide as they come, but he slept on the roof a lot. The dress code in verses 2-4 sounds like a different subject from “subjection” to husbands, but “subjection” is mentioned both before and after it, and verse 5 specifically relates the two. The dress code seems concerned with modesty, extravagance, (“wearing of gold”; in those days, actual expensive gold thread was woven into the hair; after being worn once, it had to be discarded), and perhaps simplicity regarding the time necessary for preparation (“plaiting the hair” can range from simple “pigtails” that take a minute to fine braiding that can take hours). Perhaps the connection between the dress code and subjection to husbands is that modesty in dress is a message to men that a woman is not in the market for other men. Extravagance of adornment is the way prostitutes advertise their availability. The farther a wife can go from adorning herself like a prostitute, the more clearly she advertises her commitment to a holy marriage.
20. Veils, hair, wives The fact that 1 Corinthians 14:34 is talking about wives, not all women, is further confirmed by the fact that that distinction helps makes sense of chapter 11, which has equally tormented Bible commentators. Below is my paraphrase of 1 Corinthians 11:3-16 side by side with the King James Version. After that are some notes about the Greek words translated “man” and “woman”, explaining why they should have been translated “husband” and “wife” - the veils were not for all women but only for wives. Then there is a history of veils showing that in Greece, only married women wore veils; there is no precedent either in Scripture or in history for thinking veils were for all women. To this day, Orthodox Jewish women cover their hair to show they are married.
“In our society, a ring on a finger indicates marriage. Every society has different norms. Historically, women wore hair coverings, Jews and non-Jews. Gloves and bonnets were a symbol of society. Status. Respect. Dignity. The queen of England always wears a hat or crown on her head when in public till this day.” - Rocking My Crown: Highs and Lows of Covering My Hair, by Eve Levy, aish.com, May 4, 2019 https://www.aish.com/ci/w/Rocking-My-Crown-Highs-and-Lows-of-Covering-My-Hair.html?s=mfeat (The article showed a picture of the authoress with no visible hair covering – the caption explained that she was wearing a wig! In her world, that was sufficient announcement that she was married!)
Then there are some statements of Bible commentators showing their wide variety of interpretations. Now here are my proposed corrections:Corrections/paraphrase King James Version
1 Corinthians 11:3 Please understand: in the same way that heads guide bodies, God guides Christ, Christ guides husbands, and husbands guide wives. 1 Corinthians 11:3 But I would have you know, that the head of every [husband] is Christ; and the head of the [wife] is the [husband]; and the head of Christ is God. 4 But a husband’s readiness to guide his wife and obey Christ appears in doubt when he stands up to speak in church wearing long girlish hair and no wedding ring. 5 And a wife who speaks in church wearing short masculine hair and no wedding ring embarrasses her husband as much as if she were caught shoplifting. 4 Every [husband] praying or prophesying, [with long feminine hair], dishonour-eth his head. 5 But every [wife] that prayeth or prophesieth with [short masculine hair and not wearing a wedding ring] dishonoureth her head: for that is even all one as if she were shaven. 6 But maybe you don’t agree that being caught shoplifting would be embarrassing. Fine. Go ahead and let her go around half bald then. Or bald. 6 For if the woman be not covered, let her also be shorn: but if it be a shame for a woman to be shorn or shaven, let her be covered. 7 Hair that barely covers a husband’s head is like the barely visible guidance he receives from our invisible God in Whose Image he was made to be God’s glory. While beautiful long hair covering a wife is like the tangible guidance from her very visible husband, she being her husband’s glory.“As the man is, among the creatures, the representative of the glory and perfections of God, so that the fear of him and the dread of him are on every beast of the field, etc.; so the woman is, in the house and family, the representative of the power and authority of the man.” - Adam Clarke
7 For a man indeed ought not to cover his head [with long feminine hair], forasmuch as he is the image and glory of [the invisible] God: but the woman is the glory of the man.
8 The first man was not created from the first woman, but the woman from the man. 9 Neither was the first man created for the first woman, but the woman for the man. 8 For the man is not of the woman; but the woman of the man. 9 Neither was the man created for the woman; but the woman for the man.
10 Long hair and a wedding ring are symbols of a wife’s faithfulness, which glorifies any husband. Wear them for the sake of the angels watching over you, protecting you, because they love God’s order, and can serve you better when you do too. 10 For this cause ought the woman to have power on her head because of the angels.
11 Not that either husband or wife are much without each other, 12 just like the first woman was created from the man, but every man after that came forth from a woman. We are all from God. 11 Nevertheless neither is the man without the woman, neither the woman without the man, in the Lord. 12 For as the woman is of the man, even so is the man also by the woman; but all things of God. 13 What does your gut tell you when a wife takes off her wedding ring, looks like a man, and stands up to pray in church? 14 Or a man with hair so long you need other clues to tell if he’s a woman: is that natural? 15 But a woman’s long hair, covering her, is glorious. Right, men? 13 Judge in yourselves: is it comely that a woman pray unto God uncovered? 14 Doth not even nature itself teach you, that, if a man have long hair, it is a shame unto him? 15 But if a woman have long hair, it is a glory to her: for her hair is given her for a covering. 16 But if you wives still want to go around half bald, and you husbands looking like hairballs, all I can say is, yours is the ugliest church I’ve ever seen. 16 But if any man seem to be contentious, we have no such custom, neither the churches of God.
Adam Clarke: It is a certain fact that a man’s long hair renders him contemptible, and a woman’s long hair renders her more amiable. Nature and the apostle speak the same language; we may account for it as we please.
“Husband”, not “man”, is how KJV translates anhr, Strong’s #G435, 16 of the 18 times the word is written in 1 Corinthians outside chapter 11. “Wife”, not “woman”, for gunh, #G1135, 21 of 24 times. And half those other 5 times, translating “husband” and “wife” would have made more sense. So why do translators – not just the KJV – switch to “man” and “woman” when the whole point of long hair and veils is to symbolize subjection of women, but there is no Bible precedent for any woman to be subject to any other man but her husband? The head of an unmarried woman is not any man, but Christ, 1 Cor 7:34.
21. Their veils = wedding rings To the Greeks, veils symbolized the same kind of subjection of wives to husbands as our wedding rings do. Today we don’t call it “subjection”, but “faithfulness”. However, the two words overlap each other considerably: when we are “faithful”, we put our desires under subjection to the best interests of our spouse. “Faithfulness” doesn’t invoke the kind of slavish dictatorship of husbands over wives that “subjection” does, but Scripture doesn’t either.
Matthew Henry. They were made for one another. It is not good for him to be alone (Gen_2:18), and therefore was a woman made, and made for the man; and the man was intended to be a comfort, and help, and defence, to the woman, though not so directly and immediately made for her. They were made to be a mutual comfort and blessing, not one a slave and the other a tyrant.
To wear veils today is not understood as a symbol of faithfulness/subjection of women to husbands; it would be a symbol of slavish subjection of women to Islam – where it is not just a symbol but an instrument of slavish subjection, being part of an all black covering in a hot climate. But wedding rings today symbolize what veils did then, so sense is made of these verses by translating their symbols. Jesus tells us to do that with his parable of the bottles. His lesson is that an old rule for an old situation must be adapted when there is a new situation.
Luke 5:33 And they said unto him, Why do the disciples of John fast often, and make prayers, and likewise the disciples of the Pharisees; but thine eat and drink? 34 And he said unto them, Can ye make the children of the bridechamber fast, while the bridegroom is with them? 35 But the days will come, when the bridegroom shall be taken away from them, and then shall they fast in those days. 36 And he spake also a parable unto them; No man putteth a piece of a new garment upon an old; if otherwise, then both the new maketh a rent, and the piece that was taken out of the new agreeth not with the old. 37 And no man putteth new wine into old bottles; else the new wine will burst the bottles, and be spilled, and the bottles shall perish. 38 But new wine must be put into new bottles; and both are preserved.
The historical record gives us no reason to imagine veils were urged for all women. Greek women wore them only when they were married, just like women today wear wedding rings only when they are married.
F. B. Meyer, published 1914. The power on a woman’s head in 1 Corinthians 11:10 probably refers to the veil or covering which the Grecian woman assumed at marriage as the sign that she was not free from the sacred ties and duties of wedlock. In Paul’s thought of the matter, therefore, it was unseemly for the Christian matron to lay this aside. He conceded the absolute freedom and equality of male and female in Christ, and yet he stood for the observance of the best customs of the age, lest the gospel should be brought into disrepute.
Smith Bible Dictionary, Veil. With regard to the use of the veil, it is important to observe that it was by no means so general in ancient as in modern times. Much of the scrupulousness in respect of the use of the veil dates from the promulgation of the Koran, which forbade women appearing unveiled except in the presence of their nearest relatives. In ancient times, the veil was adopted only in exceptional cases, either as an article of ornamental dress, Son_4:1; Son_4:3; Son_6:7, or by betrothed maidens in the presence of their future husbands, especially at the time of the wedding, Gen_24:65, or lastly, by women of loose character for purposes of concealment. Gen_38:14. Among the Jews of the New Testament age, it appears to have been customary for the women to cover their heads (not necessarily their faces) when engaged in public worship.
Faussett’s Bible Dictionary, Veil. Ordinarily women among the Jews, Egyptians, and Assyrians, appeared in public with faces exposed (Gen_12:14 [“the Egyptians beheld the woman that she was very fair.”]; Gen_24:16 [“the damsel was very fair to look upon”]; Gen_24:65 [“the servant had said, It is my master: therefore she took a vail, and covered herself.”]; Gen_20:16 [“he is to thee a covering of the eyes”]; Gen_29:10 [“Jacob saw Rachel”]; 1Sa_1:12 [Eli saw her mouth move]). Assyrian and Egyptian sculptures similarly represent women without a veil. It was Mahometanism that introduced the present veiling closely and seclusion of women; the veil on them in worship was the sign of subjection to their husbands (1Co_11:4-15).
Not all Bible commentaries agree about the history of veils. Adam Clarke says all women except prostitutes – not just married women – wore veils!
Adam Clarke ...it was a custom, both among the Greeks and Romans, and among the Jews an express law, that no woman should be seen abroad without a veil. This was, and is, a common custom through all the east, and none but public prostitutes go without veils. And if a woman should appear in public without a veil, she would dishonor her head - her husband. And she must appear like to those women who had their hair shorn off as the punishment of whoredom, or adultery. ...The heathen priestesses prayed or delivered their oracles bare-headed or with dishevelled hair, ...to be conformed to them would be very disgraceful to Christian women.
Likewise, Albert Barnes doesn’t distinguish between married and other women: “The Grecian women, except their priestesses, were accustomed to appear in public with a veil – Doddridge.” Some denominations attempt to comply with the requirement by adorning their women’s hair with a dainty white gauzy cloth about the size of a handkerchief. The word (katakaluptw) however is pretty specific: “covered or veiled to the forehead”, according to the Arndt-Gingrich Greek Lexicon. Which is an interesting definition because that would cover the eyes, blinding women! Unless the “forehead” includes the eyes! Which is exactly what “metapon”, translated “forehead” as the location of the Mark of the Beast in Revelation 13, means, according to that same lexicon. About the only women who wear such veils today are some Muslim women. Of course, the soundness of my interpretation rests on the hope that Barnes and Clarke are wrong, while Faussett, Smith, and Meyer are correct – the veils were for married women then what wedding rings are today. Certainly our application of these passages depends on their meaning then, which unfortunately is not perfectly clear. Until the early 1960’s, and for many years before,
there was an American fashion which may have originated in a desire to obey this passage. Women wore fashionable hats (only for really “dressing up”), with delicate nets hanging down over the forehead. The nets were starched threads with holes about ¼” square, so there was no obstruction of the view. There was nothing modest about them, which was the purpose of Paul’s veils; they were too thin to “cover” anything; and to the extent they did cover anything, they covered the wrong half of the face. But hey, they almost satisfied the letter of Paul’s commandment! The hat style shown here is actually from a 2003 “Pueblo Trader” catalog, but it looks like a hat from 50 years before.
22. Hats for Men
JFB Verse 4 It was the Greek custom (and so that at Corinth) for men in worship to be uncovered; whereas the Jews wore the Talith, or veil, to show reverence before God, and their unworthiness to look on Him (Isa_6:2); however, Maimonides [Mishna] excepts cases where (as in Greece) the custom of the place was different. ....Why, then, ought not man to wear the covering in token of his subjection to Christ, as the woman wears it in token of her subjection to man? “Because Christ is not seen: the man is seen; so the covering of him who is under Christ is not seen; of her who is under the man, is seen” [Bengel]. (Compare 1Co_11:7).
Albert Barnes on a man’s covered head: 4 Having his head covered - With a veil, or turban, or cap, or whatever else is worn on the head. To remove the hat, the turban, or the covering of the head, is a mark of respect for a superior when in his presence. Dishonoreth his head - Does dishonor to Christ as his head 1Co_11:2; that is, he does not, in his presence and in his service, observe the usual and proper custom by which a subordinate station is recognized, and which indicates respect for a superior. In the presence of a prince or a nobleman, it would be considered as a mark of disrespect should the head be covered. So in the presence of Christ, in whose name he ministers, it is a mark of disrespect if the head is covered. This illustration is drawn from the customs of all times and countries by which respect for a superior is indicated by removing the covering from the head. This is one reason why a man should not cover his head in public worship.
However Matthew Henry notes the reversal of the meaning of the symbol of head covering, from then to now:
Matthew Henry The thing he reprehends is the woman's praying or prophesying uncovered, or the man's doing either covered, 1Co_11:4, 1Co_11:5. To understand this, it must be observed that it was a signification either of shame or subjection for persons to be veiled, or covered, in the eastern countries, contrary to the custom of ours, where the being bare-headed betokens subjection, and being covered superiority and dominion. And this will help us the better to understand,... 23. Because of the Angels Albert Barnes, after the most abject apology of any Bible commentator for his failure to understand what angels have to do with veils, offers the most natural sounding theory of any of them, most of which I have copied into my paraphrase.
Albert Barnes. v. 10 There is scarcely any passage in the Scriptures which has more exercised the ingenuity of commentators than this verse. The various attempts which have been made to explain it may be seen in Pool, Rosenmuller, Bloomfield, etc. After all the explanations which have been given of it, I confess, I do not understand it. ....There can, perhaps, be no doubt that the word “power” has reference to a veil, or to a covering for the head; but why it is called power I confess I do not understand; and most of the comments on the word are, in my view, egregious trifling..... I do not know what it means; and I regard it as one of the very few passages in the Bible whose meaning as yet is wholly inexplicable. The most natural interpretation seems to me to be this: “A woman in the public assemblies, and in speaking in the presence of people, should wear a veil - the usual symbol of modesty and subordination - because the angels of God are witnesses of your public worship Heb_1:13, and because they know and appreciate the propriety of subordination and order in public assemblies.” According to this, it would mean that the simple reason would be that the angels were witnesses of their worship; and that they were the friends of propriety, due subordination, and order; and that they ought to observe these in all assemblies convened for the worship of God - I do not know that this sense has been proposed by any commentator; but it is one which strikes me as the most obvious and natural, and consistent with the context.
But what if my proposed translation of veils – their symbol of subjection, to wedding rings – our symbol of subjection today, totally misses the point that the power of veils to serve as a symbol of subjection is based on more than mere cultural usage? What if it comes down to us from the angels in Heaven who similarly veil themselves before God? And since angels “neither marry nor are given in marriage”, Matthew 22:30, so that angelic veils can’t be a precedent for only married women to wear them, what if it is a precedent for all women to wear them all the time for eternity?
Isaiah 6:2 Above it stood the seraphims: each one had six wings; with twain he covered his face, and with twain he covered his feet, and with twain he did fly.
JFB v. 10: Bengel explains, “As the angels are in relation to God, so the woman is in relation to man. God’s face is uncovered; angels in His presence are veiled (Isa_6:2). Man’s face is uncovered; woman in His presence is to be veiled. For her not to be so, would, by its indecorousness, offend the angels (Mat_18:10, Mat_18:31). She, by her weakness, especially needs their ministry; she ought, therefore, to be the more careful not to offend them.”
But it seems unlikely that if the wing-covered faces of Seraphim were God’s pattern for human women (to use veils instead of wings), and not just in relation to culture, that God’s people would have missed the practice all through the Old Testament. The Egyptians saw how beautiful Abraham’s wife was, Genesis 12:14, which Faussett’s Bible Dictionary takes for evidence that she wore no veil. See also 24:16. In 24:65 Rebekkah put on a veil when she was first introduced to Isaac, showing us that she did not ordinarily wear it. In 1 Samuel 1:12 the prophet Eli saw Samuel’s mother’s mouth move – a married woman, showing us that she wore no veil. In Genesis 38:14 it was a prostitute who wore a veil! In Exodus 34:33-35 the veil symbolized the opposite of the “subjection” of 1 Corinthians 11. Moses, Israel’s leader, wore it to keep from scaring the people with the glory of his glowing face! Similarly the Holy of Holies, in the tabernacle and later the temple, had a veil so that people would not see the glory inside and die. And that’s about all the Old Testament has to say about veils. In 2 Corinthians 3:13-16 the metaphor of a veil explains what was taken away from the whole Old Testament by the revelation that Jesus brought. “Which vail is done away in Christ.” JFB’s theory is certainly intriguing and worth our attention, but the theory that wing-covered Seraphim faces is an example God wishes human women to follow lacks the endorsement of the practice of God’s women in the Old Testament. But Paul’s admonition in 1 Corinthians 11 is reasonable, and obviously so, if all he is asking is that married people wear the token established in their culture that they are married; which was veils in Greece according to F. B. Meyer, and is wedding rings today.
24. “Culturally Influenced” verses This issue is one of those over which Paul is accused of being “culturally influenced”, so that his teaching on veils is not at all the Word of God. But Jesus taught that some teachings in God’s Word are expressed with details relevant to the culture to which they are addressed, to the extent those details are inapplicable in a later culture, without saying they are not the Word of God any longer. Nor did He say there are no principles in them worthy of our obedience. He taught that when the cultural or technological situation changes, we are supposed to have enough common sense to apply the principle to our new situation. In other words, laws ought to be interpreted by gleaning the principles they contain. Only mindless legalism preserves obedience to those details of a law that apply to circumstances which no longer exist. We don’t use oxen for farm tractors any more, but that doesn’t invalidate Moses’ laws about paying damages when your ox gores your neighbor. We simply apply those principles in today’s auto liability insurance laws. Human law should be interpreted in the same way: not legalistically, but by discerning their “original intent”, as American courts call it. In those situations we wish were rare where “the letter of the law” conflicts with “the spirit of the law”, the letter must not prevail over the spirit. That undermines the very rule of law, bringing anarchy. Another example of how to extract principles from laws and apply them to new situations, without even necessarily heeding their application in their original situations, comes from Paul’s own interpretation, only two chapters earlier, of Moses’ precedent for salaries for pastors: (if any pastor says Moses’ laws are not for us, then he releases you from giving to his church, since this interpretation of an “obscure” Mosaic law is the strongest case in the NT for paying pastors):
1 Corinthians 9:9 For it is written in the law of Moses, Thou shalt not muzzle the mouth of the ox that treadeth out the corn. Doth God take care for oxen? 10 Or saith he it altogether for our sakes? For our sakes, no doubt, this is written: that he that ploweth should plow in hope; and that he that thresheth in hope should be partaker of his hope.
But be careful. Jesus’ “old wine in new wineskins” should not be used indiscriminately to dismiss all kinds of commandments of God which still do apply literally to our lives. Only prayerfully and humbly dare we reach such conclusions. But the “shame” Paul attaches to going without a veil is simply not within American cultural experience at this point. Perhaps that is not because our culture has less need of it; perhaps it is because our hearts are too hardened to understand. After all, we not only strip some of our women of veils, but of a great many of the rest of their clothes. Perhaps veils are one good thing Muslims have preserved. Theoretically, that is. Personally, I hope not! Paul did not say modesty was the underlying principle Paul saw behind veils. But if it was part of it, then perhaps, short of jumping all the way from semi-nudity to fully covered bodies with only the eyes showing, we could say, today, “13 Judge in yourselves: is it comely that a woman pray unto God [in Church, dressed in a bikini – virtually] uncovered?” Many pastors in fact reprove their young women for immodest dress. The rest, should. Verse 7 excuses men from being covered as much as women. “But if the underlying principle is modesty”, you ask, “shouldn’t men be just as modest as women?” The need just isn’t the same. Why not? I’m going to answer a little like Paul and say “it just isn’t.” When women are immodest, it tempts men. When men are immodest, it doesn’t tempt women, and certainly not normal men. He just looks like a joke. Because of this, modesty in men is much more self-policing. Sodomite men can get pretty immodest, but any fellowship careful enough about obeying God to even wonder about veils will have declared God’s position on sodomy long ago. We can more easily relate to Paul’s comments about hair. Notice he doesn’t say how long “long” is, but the context indicates “length” is relative to gender. Women normally have longer hair than men. Today women’s hair length and styles are so close to those of men that often the only way to tell a woman from a man, if it isn’t clear from their figure, is that women wear lots of eye shadow – as much as prostitutes of a generation or two ago. But to the extent women’s styles are still recognizably feminine, that probably satisfies the spirit of Paul’s observations. It’s when women wear styles which make them look like men or vice versa that Christians who are not into sodomy become justifiably uneasy as they go through unnecessary effort to determine a person’s gender so they may appropriately communicate with him/her. That’s where it becomes “shameful”, literally, that is, where there is embarrassment on both sides; both for the person misperceived, and for the person who perceives mistakenly. The embarrassment is compounded when the voice does not clear up the mystery, and the name likewise is gender-ambiguous. In some cases more clearly than others, inappropriately cut hair is a source of shame in another sense. Many hair styles are selected without any consideration for beauty, but with a desire to achieve nearly the opposite: to “make a statement” or to “be creative”. These goals are treated as something contrasting with beauty, since were a hair style good looking it would not make sense to additionally justify it as a “statement” or as “creative”. Thus people who believe their hair “makes a statement” appear to be conscious of the fact that it is not good looking, or to put it less delicately, that it is ugly. “Ugly” and “shameful” are very similar in meaning. The fact that many people are attracted to “statements” does not change the fact, acknowledged even by their wearers, that, again in some cases more clearly than others, they really are ugly and that their wearers suffer much real embarrassment in the course of running the gauntlet of the stares of strangers. . As for the veil, Paul’s explicit point is that the relationship between men and women and Jesus be reverenced. Husbands are the heads of their families, in God’s Word. This is not the master-slave relationship many have made it out. But there are situations requiring a decision by the family unit, where full agreement seems far off yet SOMEone has to make a decision, and quickly. God has charged husbands, in that situation, with that responsibility. An example of an exception may be when the husband does not fulfill his duty to provide for the family. A husband who does not work – yet who has the capacity to work – either on the job or even at home, does not fulfill the criteria of husbands described in Scripture whom God has made heads of their homes. The wife of such a husband, who must work twice as hard, surely cannot reasonably be expected to turn over all she earns to his irresponsible discretion. In Paul’s days, the veil was a symbol of a wife’s commitment to cooperate with her husband, just as a wedding ring is a symbol of that commitment today – a symbol they did not have then. If common sense may excuse us from wearing veils under the “new wine in old wine skins” principle, our need to submit to Christ has not changed. Nor has the fact that these verses are the Word of God. The “veil” or “covering” which every wife ought today to wear, includes, at the very least, her cooperation with her husband. 25. Men and Women: differences I do not know exactly why God made wives subject to husbands, or to what extent, or by what means of enforcement available to husbands. I do not know how close the following four theories come to God’s reasons. But I think there is something to them – certainly enough to challenge the feminist-inspired attacks on Paul that he must have been “influenced by his culture” instead of by God because there is no rational reason for wives to obey husbands. After 45 years’ experience with marriage, and 65 years’ experience with God’s Word, as of this writing, I cannot say that I fully understand men and women. But I am grieved at how easily others, who don’t understand either, dismiss what God has to say about it as if God is a fool. I may not fully understand God, but God makes more sense to me than they do. One passage that authorizes all of us to try to understand God’s reasons for His commandments is:
Ecclesiastes 1:13 And I gave my heart to seek and search out by wisdom concerning all things that are done under heaven: this sore travail hath God given to the sons of man to be exercised therewith.
John Gill: Or this may be understood of the evil of punishment, which God inflicts on men for the sin of eating of the tree of knowledge; and that as he is doomed to get his bread, so his knowledge, with the sweat of his brow, that is, with great pains and labour; which otherwise would have been more easily obtained: but this God has done to "afflict" or "humble" (m) men, as the word may be rendered; to afflict or punish them for sin; and to humble them by showing them how weak are the powers and faculties of their minds, that so much pains must be taken to get a small share of knowledge.
But while acquisition of wisdom exercises all our capacity, it is rewarding. It gives life meaning:Proverbs 25:2 It is the glory of God to conceal a thing: but the honour of kings is to search out a matter.
(There aren’t many kings left. But Jesus’ lesson about new wine in old wineskins directs us to search for principles that apply to ourselves: It honors the most honorable of us, to search out wisdom. Adam Clarke quotes a letter to himself from “His royal highness the Duke of Sussex”: “although unable to reach the gate, we are still approaching nearer to its portals, which of itself is a great blessing.”) My four theories about the differences between men and women, which logically justify God making wives subject to husbands, are: (1) Although women are as capable as men of clear reasoning, women place more importance on what their hearts tell them than on what their brains tell them. (2) Hormones render the capacity of women to reason well less consistent. (3) Physical safety of wives may be part of God’s concern, since men are stronger and potentially more dangerous when they don’t get their way. (4) God put within men a desire to please their wives so strong that it competes with their desire to please God. This better equips men to make decisions which fairly balance the competing interests and needs of both husband and wife. (5) Men are more “fair”, better able to grasp the needs of others – those of their family and others – against their own. I understand these theories require plenty of explanation, so here it is:
Theory #1: Although women are as capable as men of clear reasoning, women place more importance on what their hearts tell them than on what their brains tell them, compared to men. To whatever extent this theory is true, it is by no means a condemnation of women as being even slightly inferior to men. What hearts tell us is equally important with what brains tell us. This difference is only an example of how husbands and wives need each other. We need to listen to each other, so that we, as family units, may have the full benefit of the wisdom of both our hearts and brains. But is there anything to this theory at all? Here are the Biblical clues:
1 Timothy 2:14 And Adam was not deceived, but the woman being deceived [Gr. “thoroughly deceived”] was in the transgression. 15 Notwithstanding she shall be saved in childbearing, if they continue in faith and charity and holiness with sobriety.
Paul made a point of saying only the woman, not the man, was deceived, as if that indicates women are more gullible than men today. That is pretty amazing, that Paul would dare make such a point, since he admitted that he himself was deceived, precisely to the degree Eve was deceived, on precisely the same matter!
Romans 7:8 But sin, taking occasion by the commandment, wrought in me all manner of concupiscence. For without the law sin was dead. 9 For I was alive without the law once: but when the commandment came, sin revived, and I died. 10 And the commandment, which was ordained to life, I found to be unto death. 11 For sin, taking occasion by the commandment, deceived [Gr. “thoroughly deceived”] me, and by it slew me. 12 Wherefore the law is holy, and the commandment holy, and just, and good.
Paul said he was deceived by the commandment, by which he seems means that when he learned that he was not supposed to do what he was doing, he could not stop. If that is different than what Eve experienced, I can’t pick out the difference. Paul, just like Eve, and we, too, “never saw it coming”. Sin always seems so attractive, but turns out so ugly. Sweet to the taste, bitter as we choke it down. We think we are doing the right thing even if God says otherwise. We figure God’s Word was for others, for another time. Doesn’t make sense now. Paul is in no position to say that since he is a man, he is never going to be fooled like women are. The only point it is possible for him to make, if indeed this is his point, is that women are more easily, more quickly deceived, than men. Eve was deceived before Adam; and when Adam sinned, he had a different reason than that he was deceived. A reason which actually, as we will see, makes him the better choice to make family decisions when they disagree. But let no man forget that if Paul could be so “thoroughly deceived” as was Eve, arrogance is not in order. In humility let every husband overrule his wife when he is absolutely certain her words or decisions show she is deceived, knowing how fragile is his own rationality. Adam sinned, not because he was deceived, but because he wanted to please his wonderful wife. This is indicated by Paul’s statement that men who marry are so inclined to please their wives, that they would rather please them than please God.
1 Corinthians 7:32 But I would have you without carefulness. He that is unmarried careth for the things that belong to the Lord, how he may please the Lord: 33 But he that is married careth for the things that are of the world, how he may please his wife.
Eve wasn’t totally unconscious of the fact that she was doing wrong. She knew she was disobeying God. But she was truly deceived into believing her disobedience was at least a little bit justified, because she was forced to choose between two good things: obedience to God, and that wonderful, educational fruit. Adam was not deceived. He knew he was disobeying God, and he didn’t believe that was justified. He wanted to please Eve anyway. Not that Adam was fully conscious that Lucifer’s promises were a pack of lies; but probably Adam was apparently not motivated by any belief that Lucifer was telling the truth. He just wanted to please this pretty woman he so loved. His eyes were so full of her flattering ways, her smile that surely made angels gasp in ecstasy, that he was too busy to think about the precipice of Hell she was just now stepping over, from which it might not be too late to save her! Support for this scenario comes not only from 1 Corinthians 7:32-33, but from the fact that to this day, when we think of a man seducing a woman, our understanding is that he does it by genuinely deceiving her; he persuades her that his love for her, his commitment to her best interests, is far more enduring than it actually is. But when we think of a woman seducing a man, no one thinks the man is actually deceived. He is merely tempted; temptation is made easier for him, and its attractiveness is thrust before his undisciplined eyes. If he has not hardened his heart to the difference between right and wrong altogether, he knows it is wrong, and that the woman is hurting herself, and that there may be terrible consequences for himself. He knows better. He rebels against God consciously. To apply our experiences today to flesh out the probable details of Eve’s seduction of Adam, here is a selection from my fictional account of the event, from my book “The Angel Diary”:
Adam made a modest effort to save her and himself. Eve responded with just a glimpse of the emotional beast beneath her winsome smile and flattering eyes. Clearly, her favorite means of persuasion was not dispassionate logic, as was Adam’s. She was not of the temperament to win the debate with a cogent analysis of the merits of this approach as against that, as was Adam. No! She was slugging it out with raw emotional power! For which Adam had little heart. Adam offered his logical reason for resisting temptation. Eve acted as if logic, in so critical a decision as this, were dangerous. She did not address the points Adam set forth. She did not attempt to analyze Adam’s logic to expose flaws in his reasoning. There are more important things to think about, than to ‘just argue’, she explained. Didn’t he love her? Because if he did, he would do what she wanted! Eve ate the fruit because ‘it feels so right’, and ‘it is important for you to understand how I feel, Adam. Because you always argue’, she informed him. Poor, disoriented Adam responded to this accusation with rational analysis! He offered evidences why it was an overstatement at best. It had yet to be proven that Adam had ever argued, so Eve’s insistence that he had always argued was, at best, unpersuasive, he pointed out to her. “See, you’re doing it again!“ She was winning, and she knew it. She knew that ‘arguing’ is the opposite of ‘agreeing’. So when he isn’t ‘agreeing’ with her, he is ‘arguing’. ‘Discussing’ isn’t ‘agreeing’, so it is ‘arguing’. ‘Seeking the truth’ is perfectly acceptable, so long as it results in ‘agreeing’. If it doesn’t, then it is ‘arguing’. Adam just didn’t get it. As a corollary to these principles, ‘criticizing’ her recommendation is ‘yelling’, regardless of how quietly the criticism is given. Yes, of course, ‘yelling’ is defined as saying something way too loud. But if ‘criticism’ is audible, it is way too loud; hence it is ‘yelling’. Adam’s choice was fairly simple. He could ‘give in’ to please Eve. Or he could lead her away from danger, which would definitely not please her for the time being. Leading Eve, so that she would step away from greater danger willingly, was not a likely option. Eve was not responding to reason, and were Adam to oppose Eve with emotions, there would only be frustrated shouting. Were Adam to choose to lead, his only tool was decisive action. Action without verbal justification. Action subject to rational discussion, should Eve at some later time want to engage in it, but meanwhile, action without apology. Adam was not deceived. He knew better. But would he do what he knew was right? If he does, God will be able to take into account, in dealing with Wo-man, that she was not fully accountable, being partly deceived; and that even though she may be gullible in the future, she has a strong husband who will keep her out of trouble. But if Adam doesn’t do what is right, he will be more guilty than she: because his eyes were wide open as he sinned; and God will have to take into account, in creating future conditions for them, that neither one of them has the self discipline to stay away from that Tree. Lead, or cave? Which would it be? Human history was riding on his choice. We [angels] did our best. But Adam made his choice. Adam chose to be the first cave-man.
1 Timothy 2:9, below, tells women they should be modest and should exercise self control. The fact that women are told this, and not men, implies that women, more than men, need to be told this. Why? Why is immodesty in how women dress a big problem, but immodesty in how men dress a rare problem? Probably because when women dress immodestly, men are tempted, but when men dress immodestly, hardly anyone is tempted. When a women dresses immodestly in church, the pastor may have to correct her. When a man dresses immodestly in church, everybody will correct him. When women bare themselves on TV, ratings go up. Men don’t bare themselves to that degree, on TV. Men don’t bare themselves hardly at all; and when they do, the effect is supposed to be a combination of crude and funny, not any kind of object of desire. Well, I suppose there are people sick enough to actually be attracted to it, but such people are attracted to anything. Some women flirt continuously, even in public, because they often find it helps “persuade” men to favor them. Well, maybe not “persuade”. Perhaps, rather, “lure”. But a man must confine his flirting to a woman who is receptive. And his flirting must be way more subtle; no batting of the eyelashes, no giggly child-like silliness; no hypnotic weaving of the hips. A man who flirts continuously, and publicly, only looks ridiculous. 1 Timothy 2:11, below, tells women not to be meddlers in other’s business; not to gossip. Since Paul’s context for this set of instructions is his comparison of Adam and Eve, Paul implies that one of Eve’s downfalls was trying to “talk about God behind His back”. Which of course she did, by exaggerating His restrictions. V. 11 also tells women to let men lead them, implying Eve made it hard for Adam to lead her. As if supervision by a husband protects a wife from trouble. V. 12 implies that Eve “browbeat“ Adam; that she was emotionally aggressive. It also implies that she attempted to talk down to Adam, as if he were a child, “teaching“ him by means of “didactic discourse“ according to the Greek meaning. Keep in mind that the relationships described in these verses are between husband and wife; they are not instructions for church. (V. 12 makes “man“ singular; if all the men of the church were the subject, it would be plural. V. 8 applies these rules to everywhere, not just at assemblies. Nothing else in these verses steers attention to a Church scenario.)
1 Timothy 2:8 I will therefore that men pray every where, lifting up holy hands, without wrath and doubting. 9 In like manner also, that women adorn themselves in modest apparel, with shamefacedness [Gr: “modesty“] and sobriety [Gr: “self control“]; not with broided hair, or gold, or pearls, or costly array; 10 But (which becometh women professing godliness) with good works. 11 Let the woman learn in silence [see Gr. definition of “silence“ in v. 12] with all subjection. 12 But I suffer not a woman to teach, nor to usurp authority over [Gr: this is a very strong term which means anything from being an “absolute master“ to being a murderer!
It is such strong language that it may express sarcasm, and my correspond to the English idioms “henpeck“ or “browbeat“] the man, but to be in silence [Gr: “quietness; description of the life of one who stays at home doing his own work, and does not officiously meddle with the affairs of others“. In other words, it is like the English idiom, “mind her own business“. The woman is told not to be a “meddler“, or to be a “gossip“.]
13 For Adam was first formed, then Eve. 14 And Adam was not deceived, but the woman being deceived was in the transgression. 15 Notwithstanding she shall be saved in childbearing, if they continue in faith and charity and holiness with sobriety [Gr: “self control“].
Here is more fiction, from my book:
Eve honestly didn’t think about the wonders God had made for her, as she considered Satan’s unsupported statement. Her mind emptied itself of its memory of the joy of God’s very voice. It was as if memory itself required effort, to the point of feeling like a ‘sacrifice’. Satan’s evil speculations filled her thoughts the way a pool which waits under a waterfall is filled with it. She saved no room for God’s thoughts, just as a pool under a waterfall saves no room for the waters of another land. Unlike the waterfall, Eve had free will. She could choose which ideas to concentrate on. Eve had the capacity to recall the evidence for God and against Satan, and to compare that evidence with Satan’s claims. But that would have required mental exertion. It vaguely occurred to Eve that maybe she should make that sacrifice, but that seemed too much to ask. She just wanted a simple life. She didn’t want to have to think that hard. Whatever she decided wasn’t going to hurt anybody, she told herself, so why cause herself such discomfort as deep thought requires? Heavy concentration like that has a cost: it closes you off to the sights and sounds around you. It cuts you off from Life. There are so many pleasures to stimulate you every moment, which you separate yourself from, by concentrating on problems which may not even exist. This seemed to us [angels], as we discussed what we were observing, nearly the heart of the problem of Doubt. God had given Adam and Eve the capacity to Pray: to visualize what did not already exist, to desire it, and to ask God for it. Such visualization indeed requires deep concentration. What a model of such Concentration we had seen in God during those awesome Six Days! It was not a time of relaxation for God. It was hard work. God operated at His capacity! Once God set His hand to Creation, He did it with all His might! (Ecclesiastes 9:10, 2:24, Matthew 25:14-30.) God loved what He created. We know that because the process caused Him sorrow, which we discerned on His face at times as He calculated His preparations for the future. The determination of God to continue was a measure of His love. But Eve did not want to even think hard, let alone work hard. She did not want to operate at her mental capacity. She did not love those who might be affected by her decision, enough to plan as carefully as she could how she might avoid hurting them, and even benefit them. A dark stain was already spreading across creation in consequence of her unwillingness to think. Paradise had already receded from the experience of Adam and Eve. Instead they were experiencing a world filled with a mixture of good and evil, whose evils they did not understand, and for which they blamed God, sealing off their access to pure joy. But when we looked in the direction the stain was spreading, in order to see the future, we saw that if God allowed humans to live and breed, their future generations would look back on the present tragic moment and say that, by comparison with what they will experience then, the present moment is still ‘paradise’! We foresaw a time when Satan would find many men willing to represent him; and that the rest of mankind would obey their orders, as thoughtlessly as Eve obeyed Satan. We knew Satan well enough to shudder at where that might lead! We knew Satan would lead men to the most cruel imaginable actions against one another! But in Adam we saw even greater reason for concern. God had given Adam a greater love for deep thought, so that he was not deceived by Eve’s sinful offer to share her evil fruit. He knew it was God’s plan that he and Eve have many children, which would fill the earth as herds and flocks of animals already had. He was aware that there would be consequences, for himself and his descendants. He chose not to think clearly about what they were. He chose to shut his mind to the images which were making us cry. He chose rather, out of his infatuation with Eve, to do what would seem to please her at the moment. Eve’s sin, therefore, was aversion to deep thought. But that problem would have been overcome, in God’s design, by her respect for Adam’s leadership, through the ‘helpmate’ role in which God had placed her. Therefore Adam’s sin was the more ominous: a lack of empathy with others who would be affected; an aversion to deep love.
(Scriptural support for the greater impact of Adam’s sin than Eve’s, upon their descendants: when the New Testament looks back upon the Fall, it always blames the introduction of sin into the world on Adam; never on Eve.)
Romans 5:14 Nevertheless death reigned from Adam to Moses, even over them that had not sinned after the similitude of Adam’s transgression, who is the figure of him that was to come. 1 Corinthians 15:22 For as in Adam all die, even so in Christ shall all be made alive. 1 Corinthians 15:45 And so it is written, The first man Adam was made a living soul; the last Adam was made a quickening spirit.
(Continuing with my fiction:)
Specifically, Adam’s love failed on two counts: he lacked love for God from whom all good came, and he lacked love for his future human neighbors on this wondrous planet. Eve didn’t think deeply about the consequences, not because she was incapable of deep thinking, but because she did not comprehend the importance of deep thinking. She could think deeply if she knew a reason for it. But without understanding a reason, abstract thought for no known practical purpose held little delight for her. Adam didn’t think deeply about the consequences, even though deep thinking was, for him, a delight, because his love was not great enough to move him to sacrifice the pleasure of Eve’s momentary affection for the sake of saving her life. Eve didn’t think deeply about the consequences because she couldn’t imagine they were worth thinking about. Adam didn’t think deeply about the consequences because he knew they were serious, but was determined to do what he wanted despite them. The more you know about what you should do, and what will happen if you don’t, the more responsible you feel to do it. If you are determined not to do it, then you will determine to avoid the Truth. The very existence of doubt, in a field of ignored evidence, proves the commitment of the doubter to call ‘good’ ‘evil’. As this spirit wanders, it falsely accuses all good. No good is good enough to shame this spirit into acknowledging that it is good. This spirit owes its existence, not to a natural response to reality, but to a choice. Once awakened, it sees everything through the same darkened glass. Even itself. It cannot spread disease all over the universe and remain, itself, uninfected! We also call it ‘The Spirit of Judgment’ Adam had not shown honesty in his evaluation of the evidence! To give him the benefit of the doubt, he really did not have the maturity to conduct scientific scrutiny of the question. So great errors in his conclusions were to be expected. But part of honesty is admitting when a question is beyond your capacity, through lack of intelligence or time, is to investigate accurately. It is not intellectually honest to forbear obeying God until you get your questions answered, when you know very well you lack the commitment or intelligence to understand the answers!
Theory #2: Hormones render the capacity of women to reason well less consistent. So much for fiction. Perhaps the portrayal of women as seeing less importance in complicated, logical thinking, more so than men, is also fiction. But there is one difference between men and women which is absolute. The woman with the least of them has more of them than the man with the most of them. Hormones. Well, men have hormones. But hormones behave much better within men, than within women. Hormones. This one word separates men from women, and every woman knows it. A woman can be more logical, rational, reasonable, and wise than any man one day, and the next day hormones can take over and turn her words into a caricature of her thoughts. When hormones rage, a woman can rage and say terrible things while at the same time intellectually aware of how little she means what she says, and how much she regrets saying them. Impelled by hormones, what were previously only mild uncertainties become monstrous suspicions and jealousies. What were easily endured minor insensitivities become unbearable, cruel assaults. When hormones rage, the strongest impulses in a woman to hear what her brain tells her over the screaming of what her heart tells her are severely tested. Here is an illustration that may perhaps help men understand how hormones attack women: picture yourself carrying an 80 pound package of shingles up a ladder to a two story 45 degree roof. Half way up, you get diarrhea. Three quarters of the way up, your belt snaps and your pants slip. Just as you are finally about to reach the roof, the ladder starts slipping. It is at this point that your wife’s voice peals out the kitchen window, “Dear, did you remember to clean out the cat box? If you haven’t done it, can you please get it done right away? The Harveys are coming over in about 10 minutes. You didn’t forget, did you? Dear? Did you hear me? Why aren’t you answering me?” Do you see how small annoyances can become huge, when they are multiplied by other pressures? Women endure enormous “other pressures” even when it doesn’t look like they are carrying any burdens; even when it doesn’t look like they are working on anything at all; even when they are perfectly healthy. Then if they are working hard, or are sick, on top of raging hormones, they are under pressures men do not face. This does not mean that the statements made by human beings under pressure should just be ignored, on the theory that they will just go away when the pressure is off. It doesn’t matter how irrational such statements are, how out of touch with reality, how consciously exaggerated, “obviously” not really believed by the one speaking: they find a home somewhere in the heart of the person speaking or they would not be said. When the pressure rises again, they will return. Ignored, they will grow. It doesn’t matter how absent such irrational accusations are from a wife when the pressure is off; it doesn’t matter how sweet and kind she becomes, which seems implausible for anyone who really believes what she had said under pressure: she may not “really believe” the accusations when the pressure is off, but she wonders about them, and when the pressure returns, her heart will cry in desperation for the reassurance you will only be able to fully give her while her hormones are quiet. Husbands, don’t ignore the cries! Reassure her! Disprove the accusations! Purify yourselves so that to the extent her fears have any basis, they will no longer. Help her understand when she misperceives qualities in you which you cannot and should not change. Do it tenderly, in humility, with tears for her suffering and for how easily you, too, have been, and will be again, deceived. Don’t wait until the next time her hormones rage, causing her to say terrible words which share the pressure with you, tempting you to respond with violence! Make it a priority to solve the problems during “peace time”, to hopefully prevent the day she “goes to war”. Actually there is a pressure on men which may be comparable to hormonal pressure on women: and that is the pressure of irrational accusations. Men seem to be more disturbed by them. When accusations are rational, a man can respond with reason. But when the accuser is unwilling or incapable of listening to reason, continued accusations build up to a boil within a man. Just as it is difficult for a man to comprehend the hormonal pressures on a woman, even so it appears difficult for a woman to comprehend the pressures of accusations combined with careless logic, such as exaggerations which seem harmless to a woman, on a man’s mind. I don’t mean to suggest that all men are habitually rational and logical. However, they all at least like to think they are. Certainly being accused by the woman they love puts great strain on their self image, and makes men want very much to heal the hurt with soothing words. It is when no possible combination of words will be received, that men are tempted to think of measures other than words, to get the accusations to stop. You may have already discovered there is a practical problem you face when your wife accuses you of hating her, and you try to reassure her. It is difficult to disprove her accusations, without it at some point becoming clear, that in making her accusations, you realize she was “wrong”. She may not appreciate you telling her that she is “wrong”. Should that problem roll your way, here is a song you can sing for her:
Verse 1: I know you still love me,even when you point out my mistake.
Likewise, know I love you, I respect you,though I say you’re wrong.
When your error is fear,that I have contempt for your logic
Then, to reassure you, I must disagree,though through this song.
Chorus: When I say I love you, don’t imagineI don’t mean a word!
Don’t think my words hollow!Don’t deny the evidence they’re true!
I’m not perfect. I pledge to improve myself,for all I’m worth.
I’d be lost without you!When we can’t agree, still I love you!
Verse 2: Jesus gave a vision, of true greatnessthrough desire to serve.
You are Heaven’s Helper.Your hard work has made our family strong.
What’s important to me, I now do with your help.I observe:
you are great in my life!If you disagree then you are wrong!
Verse 3: Even when you doubt me,even when my love you half believe,
even when you’re angry,telling me I fail to prove my love,
that’s when I can tell that,losing me would cause your heart to grieve!
My love’s precious to you!Thank you! Thank you, God, in heaven above!
Theory #3: Physical safety of wives may be part of God’s concern, since men are stronger and potentially more dangerous when they don’t get their way Perhaps God’s reasons for making wives subject to men are not entirely about any superior quality in men, but at least partly about an inferior stubbornness too inclined to boil over into brutality when men don’t get their way! Immature men are more physically dangerous to uncooperative wives, than immature wives are to uncooperative husbands! Maybe God is concerned for wives’ safety! But there is also a problem in this for husbands. In those hopefully rare situations where a family decision must be made, but it cannot be made unanimously, and so it must be made by the husband, how is the husband supposed to enforce his decision? In past centuries, the answer was simple: the husband is bigger and stronger, so he simply achieves compliance physically. Just as he disciplines children incapable of responding to reason, by spanking. In this particular generation, in America, that approach will send the husband to jail. Indeed, God has always imposed limits, in His Laws, on the authority of men to impose their rule by physical force. God said if a husband causes permanent injury to his wife, that is grounds for divorce.
Exodus 21:26 And if a man smite the eye of his servant, or the eye of his maid, (verses 7-11 identify “maids” as wives) that it perish; he shall let him go free for his eye’s sake. 27 And if he smite out his manservant’s tooth, or his maidservant’s tooth; he shall let him go free for his tooth’s sake.
Children are subject to parents; when they are out of control, parents are authorized by God, if not by the state, to physically subdue them. (When the state takes custody of children to “protect” children from parents, however, they subdue children by barbarisms few parents would dream of. Physical restraints, drugs, electric shock treatments!) Citizens are subject to government; when they break laws, police are authorized by God, and also by the state, to physically subdue them. However, if Christians are unruly, God does not authorize elders to physically subdue them. Nor even to physically expel them, though that power has been usurped throughout church history; Jesus’ only “penalty” was to officially recognize that a person is not behaving as a Christian – Matthew 18:17. How about husbands and wives? Does God intend that any husband actually “enforce” anything upon his wife? Is any controversy that arises between husbands and wives serious enough to justify physical restraint? Can any hormone-driven wifely rage justify a husband “laying a hand on her”? If I knew that the answer to this question were “yes”, it would not accomplish anything to say so in print, given today’s political conviction that the answer is a resounding “no”. But I don’t know. I know this: words can be more violent than mere physical violence, James 3. Even though terrible words can sometimes be blamed on great pressures, God gives us the power to overcome the challenges He places before us, 1 Corinthians 10:13. Some words justify stopping them. Not only for the sake of those forced to listen to them, but also for the sake of those uttering them. I also know it is very dangerous for a woman to be physically struck, or restrained, by a man. Men are not only stronger but less fragile; so they do not generally understand how easy it is to seriously injure those they love. Spanking children is generally safe for the children, but there is not a similarly safe way to “discipline” a grown woman. Husbands, if you ever come to the point where you really believe some physical action is necessary to stop the violent words, or her violent actions, then at least do these things: (1) Don’t act from rage of your own! If what disturbs you is your wife’s irrational rage, then don’t make yourself guilty of rage just as irrational, making yourself more guilty than she, by adding physical violence to emotional rage! If you take any physical action at all, do it logically, carefully, and safely. (2) Let your first physical measure be something mild, such as going for a walk. You might say “I’m going for a walk because I love you and I need to think how I can reassure you. I love you, and I am determined to reassure you of that fact, and to make whatever changes in myself are possible, and that would help you. But right now, your accusing words are putting pressure on my ability to think clearly, possibly equal to the hormonal pressures on you.” (3) Don’t leave the violent words to hibernate in peace when the anger subsides! Unpeal the rough bandages. Inspect the wounds. Clean them. Sterilize them. Stitch them up. And don’t forget the anesthetic! Great progress towards order may be possible just by greater acceptance of the differences between men and women, as God created them, and of the wisdom of God in creating the structure He did. Perhaps when God told women to be subject to men, part of God’s reason was no testament to anything at all superior in men after all, but to something shameful. Perhaps God was concerned partly for the safety of women, since men are stronger and are less likely, in a fit of stubborn rage, to injure wives who defer to their judgment! Perhaps part of God’s advice was just being realistic: “Wives, I am going to do everything I can to get your husbands to love you, but there are times decisions will have to be made where you can’t agree, and I just want to point out the obvious to you: if this is something he cares about passionately, enough to become angry if your decision prevails, he may be tempted to hurt you. For that reason, if for no other, I advise you to be careful about imposing your will on your husbands.”
Theory #4: God put within men a desire to please their wives so strong that it competes with their desire to please God. This better equips men to make decisions which fairly balance the competing interests and needs of both husband and wife. As pointed out earlier, 1 Corinthians 7 plainly says the desire of husbands to please their wives competes with their desire to please God. This is a pretty strong desire, especially for a Christian. This almost guarantees that as a husband makes a family decision that needs to balance the needs of himself and his wife, the needs of his wife, as he understands them, will get fair consideration. In other words, it is simplistic to call God’s plan a matter of God arbitrarily assigning to the husband the power to get his own way. The husband’s way is, to the extent he submits to his own nature as well as to God, their way. Rush Limbaugh says something similar when people accuse him of not giving “equal time” to his opponents: “I am equal time”, he says, meaning his opponents find their own positions fairly articulated on Rush’s show. Whether Rush is correct or not, God has given wives “equal time” by delegating authority to husbands. (Obviously authority is always perverted when those in authority do not in turn submit to those in authority over them, especially God. That is a different issue. Wives who do not submit to God, either, likewise contribute to the problems which cause their own suffering.) The lack of hormonal pressures enables men to think more consistently in their relations with their families, and with all others. The apparent greater interest of men in thinking logically, or at least in thinking that they do, also contributes to a pride in solving problems reasonably, with emotions kept out of the road of clear, fair thinking. The very process of logic contributes to a mood of fairness, since a logical process is not supposed to favor one person over another – not even the thinker over others – but only favors right over wrong. It is only consistent that God would combine these qualities in the spouse with the greater physical strength, although not necessarily with any hope that the greater strength would be used offensively, but at least it is available defensively so that the husband is relatively safe from physical attack for his decisions. There are many other Scriptures about husband/wife relationships. There is much about how they must love each other. If a husband will obey all those Scriptures, if he will actually love his wife as Christ loved the church, sacrificing Himself for it, his “rule” will not be oppressive. Conversely, if a husband will not obey the Scriptures about loving sacrificially, it is hard to imagine how he can claim he is authorized by God to rule over his wife! Can he say “Wife, you have to obey this law that tells you to obey me, but this other law that limits me to obeying God, isn’t important”? Remember also Matthew 18:15-17. It’s for wives, too.
To illustrate the stereotypes out there, here is an anagram from a viral email:
MOTHER-IN-LAW: When you rearrange the letters:WOMAN HITLER