Contending for the faith | Making Disciples | Equipping the Saints for Ministry

by Rayola Kelley

Q: Hello, my name is Bryan. Please tell me what you do with these verses: 1 Cor. 14:34-37 and 1 Tim. 2:12? I look forward to you[r] reply as it will detirmen [sic] if I will continue reading anything on your site. 

A: You are not the first person who has asked us this question, and no doubt you will not be the last. I must admit that I sometimes wonder how many people, including you, would ask this same question to women missionaries on the foreign field. After all, many women have given all to follow Jesus and to fulfill the two-fold commission given to all followers of Christ: to preach the Gospel and make disciples or followers of Jesus Christ (Matthew 28:18-20; Mark 16:15-16).

However, I will take this time to answer your question. Every time we have to take time out to answer this question, I think about the Sadducees who were trying to cleverly set up Jesus in regards to the subject of resurrection in light of the Law, in order to bring accusation against Him. Jesus’ response to them was: “Ye do err, not knowing the scriptures, nor the power of God” (Matthew 22:29b).

As I confront his issue of women’s place in God’s kingdom, I have discovered that people who stumble over this issue err in one of three ways: 1) They are either erring in how they handle the Word of God, 2) they are erring due to ignorance about the cultural and political influences of that day, and/or 3) they are erring in their knowledge and attitude about the character of God. The question I have for you is in what way are you in error concerning this matter? It is apparent you are stumbling over this issue.

Let us now consider the first error people make in handling the Word of God concerning this issue (2 Timothy 2:15). It is a simple error, but nevertheless, a dangerous error when it comes to the Word of God. The first error is that people fail to compare Scripture with Scripture to ensure the integrity and intent of the whole counsel of God. The Bereans did this with Paul’s teaching, and Paul reminds us we must compare spiritual matters with spiritual matters (Acts 17:10-11; 1 Corinthians 2:11-16).

For example, in relationship to the couple of scriptures you made reference to in 1 Corinthians 14, what was the theme of this particular chapter? Was the theme about women’s place in God’s kingdom? Take time to study all of 1 Corinthians 14. You will realize that these Scriptures are not about instituting doctrine in regards to women, but about maintaining order in the Body (1 Corinthians 14:33). Keep in mind, Paul was not a writer that changed themes in midstream. If you look at these verses in question, they do not makes sense if you consider them separate from the rest of the chapter, and for that matter the rest of the letter to the Corinthians.

It is important at this time to have a history lesson. The Church at Corinth was not only confronting carnality, but the influence of Judaism. You can see Paul making reference to two different laws in his letter to the Corinthians. The first law was the Law of Moses (the Torah) (1 Corinthians 9:8-9). However, what law was he referring to in 1 Corinthians 14:34? It was not the Law of Moses. It is also important to note he was not laying claim to it as a law of the Church. For example he stated, “saith the law,” not  my law or the law that was established for the Body of believers. It is also vital to point out that what must govern the Church is not law, but love. We are commanded to love God with all of our being and to love one another as ourselves (Mark 12:29-31). Jesus added a third commandment: “A new commandment I give unto you, that ye love one another; as I have loved you, that ye also love one another. By this shall all men know that ye are my disciples, if ye have love one to another” (John 13:34-35). The reason we are commanded to love is because it fulfills the spirit or intent of the Law of Moses (Romans 13:8-10).

Therefore, my question to you is, what law is Paul referring to in these Scriptures. It is the law or the traditions ofthe Jews (the Talmud). It is in the Talmud, that you will find this law concerning men and women. Women sat in the balcony, while the men sat separate from them in the main part of the sanctuary. This tradition of the Jews was in reference to the fact that when women had questions about spiritual matters, they would yell at their husbands from the balcony, disrupting the flow of the service. As a result, they were instructed to wait until they were in the confines of their house to ask their questions.

Clearly, Paul was simply making reference to this particular practice to make a point about the necessity of order. However, it was not meant to become a law or doctrine unto itself that could be lorded over women who dare have a calling or life outside of what is considered the conventional practice or acceptance of the Church.

To confirm this, consider what Jesus said about the traditions of the Jews: “…Thus have ye made the commandment of God of none effect by your tradition” (Matthew 15:6b). Obviously, these traditions or doctrines superceded the importance and authority of the examples, practices and instructions found in the Word of God.

In 1 Timothy 2, once again there is a failure to compare Scripture with Scripture in order to come to terms with the real issue being confronted. If you consider these Scriptures alone, they clearly imply women are not to teach men. However, at this time I must state here that truth stands alone, but Scripture cannot. Scripture must be compared with other Scriptures to ensure that the integrity of truth is properly presented and maintained.

If you compare Scripture with Scripture, you would realize that there had to be more going on with the Church of Ephesus than just the issue of women’s place in God’s kingdom. Instead of making a doctrine out of these couple of Scriptures to once again put women in some type of controllable package in regards to God’s kingdom, it is our responsibility to understand the real issues behind Paul’s instruction.

For example, if we compare Scripture with Scripture, we must conclude it is not to tell women they cannot teach men. After all, Pricilla taught Apollo along with her husband (Acts 18:26). Paul instructed those at Rome to assist Phoebe in whatever business that she had need of, for she had been a helper of many. We have the daughters of Philip who went around the countryside prophesizing (Acts 21:8-9; Romans 16:1-2). Prophesizing points to forth telling, that of preaching and exhortation (instruction).

We also must not forget Jesus’ instruction to His followers to make disciples out of believers. To disciple someone involves teaching. Consider the example of Mary in Luke 10:38-42. Jesus said of her action that she had chosen the good part of His kingdom, which cannot be taken away. In the Hebrew culture, sitting at the feet of a teacher, such as Mary, identified a person as a disciple. You cannot forget that the man that was beckoning to Paul to come to Macedonia, turned out to be a business woman by the name of Lydia. She was not only the first convert, but there are some theologians that conclude that Lydia was the first overseer of the church that met in her home in Philippi (Acts 16:9-15). The Apostle Paul also clearly stated if a woman wants to serve the Lord, it is better to remain single in order to avoid having to care for the things of the world (marriage), so she can care for the things of the Lord (1 Corinthians 7:25-33).

 When you consider these examples, one must conclude there was something else going on. After all, Paul did not rebuke such women as Pricilla for teaching a man. Therefore, did Paul change in midstream concerning women’s responsibilities in God’s kingdom or were there other issues involved?

According to history, there was political unrest that was manifesting itself in the form of persecution of the Christians. Christianity brought tremendous liberty to the Jewish women in the area of dress and calling. For example, Jewish women were conservative in dress and were not allowed to learn, let alone teach. However, in Christ they found liberty from the strict bondages put on them by the different laws (Galatians 5:1). Apparently, soldiers watched for such liberty to locate Christian churches.

As you consider the political ramifications, you can see why Paul would call for restraint in dress and practices as well as discretion. Note, he encouraged women to continue to learn to be sure that they would not be deceived and find themselves in transgression (the breaking of the law or covenant) like Eve, but to restrain from teaching men. He also reminded them that women (I might note men as well) are saved by the fact that Jesus came through the woman through a natural birth process. Genesis 3:15 refers to the seed of woman, and Isaiah 7:14tells us the Messiah would be born of a virgin. Therefore, Paul was not establishing doctrine in regards to women, he was trying to protect the Christians from undue persecution. This not only explains the instructions found in 1 Timothy 2, but it maintains the rest of the integrity of the Word of God.

This brings us to erring in attitude towards the character and knowledge of God. The Bible refers to believers as vessels or instruments (Romans 6:11-13; 9:18-21; 2 Corinthians 4:7; 2 Timothy 2:19-20). In other words, there is no respecter of persons based on gender or any other differences when it comes to who God uses (Acts 10:34-35). Galatians 3:28 confirms this: “There is neither Jew nor Greek, there is neither bond nor free, there is neithermale nor female; for ye are all one in Christ Jesus.”

God does not look at the stature of a person, but at his or her heart (1 Samuel 16:7). As a result, He has used various vessels to bring forth His truth. For example, as the disciples were debating over who would be the greatest, He used the example of a child to relate greatness in the kingdom of God. In the case of Balaam, God used an ass to make a point as to his foolishness. When the Pharisees were being critical of people acknowledging Jesus as King, He told them if they did not acknowledge Him, the rocks would cry out (Numbers 22:22-33; Luke 9:46-48; 19:39-40).

It is obvious that you do not believe God will use women in certain areas. Based on your question, I can only conclude you believe only men can be used in certain capacities. But, consider 1 Corinthians 1:25-29. According to your attitude who would God most likely use according to His qualifications in 1 Corinthians, men or women? Or, would you have to agree it comes down to the heart attitude of a person after all.

When you consider leadership, He used women such as Miriam, Deborah and Huldah (Exodus 15:20; Judges 4-5; 2 Chronicles 34:21-28; Micah 6:4) Even though Jesus chose 12 men, it was the women who ministered to Christ out of their substance. While Jesus was talking to His disciples about the harvest, the Samaritan woman, who He met at the well of Jacob was witnessing in the harvest field. She led the men of her city to Jesus, and many believed upon Him (Luke 8:2-3; John 4:27-42). This also reminds me that while you are trying to figure whether you should give any of our articles any real credence since we are mere women, think about the ratio of women on the mission field compared to men: For every 16 women there is only one man.

How important have women been in God’s kingdom? It was a woman by the name of Anna that told the Jews that redemption had come to them. While the men were feasting, a woman (Mary) anointed Jesus for His burial. Her action serves as a memorial to us today. While the disciples were hiding behind closed doors and weeping and mourning, another woman name Mary witnessed that her Lord had risen, and was told that she needed to go tell the disciples the good news. And, we must not forget the women in the upper room. They were also filled with the Holy Ghost and went forth and witnessed of their Savior and Lord (Matthew 26:6-13 refer to John 12:3-8; Mark 16:1-14; Luke 2:36-38; Acts 1:13-14 refer to Acts 2:16-18). Finally, we have that great cloud of witness (Hebrews 12:1). According to Hebrews 11, many of these witnesses included women. Women were also persecuted for their faith, and their blood has been shed for the sake of Jesus throughout the centuries. It is this glorious witness we have banked our faith on, and that continues to serve as a living testimony of Jesus up to the present time.  

As far as women teaching men, who influenced Timothy? (2 Timothy 1:5).  In the list of Romans 16 in regards to co-workers in the harvest field, women are named as well as men. In Romans 16:13, Paul instructs to greet Rufus and his mother who is also his mother. Did this mean Rufus was Paul’s actual brother or does this mean this woman served as a type of spiritual mother to Paul? If so, this means this woman was a spiritual nurturer to the Apostle Paul.

As you can see a woman’s heritage is rich with examples in God’s Word. The attitude that God would never use a woman to bring any kind of instruction or serve as any kind of influence to a man is ridiculous! God uses whoever is available.

The truth is God is not limited by the sex or race of a vessel. Rather, He is limited by arrogance, prejudice and unbelief that refuse to humble itself to properly receive. God has used various vessels to proclaim His truths. In my own personal case, God has used the very vessels (servants) that would not only try my heart, but would humble me to be receptive towards His truth.

The real issue is not the vessel God may choose to use, but whether the message is truth. All truth comes from God and not man or woman. Clearly, it is the responsibility of those who claim to love the truth, to humble themselves and receive it with the disposition of a child (Matthew 18:1-4).

I have to be honest with you, it is no concern of mine whether you read our articles or not. However, I cannot help but wonder how much of God’s truths have you shunned, ignored, rejected, mocked, or missed because you have judged the vessel, rather than discern the message. Clearly, in such a situation it would be your loss and not that of the vessel who delivers it.