The issue of women taking an active part in leading worship is becoming the issue of our time. One major university affiliated with churches of Christ welcomed their first female preaching student not long ago. I am seeing more and more of my social media friends praise women preachers.
If I’m to be perfectly honest with you, I cannot, in any way whatsoever, understand this issue. Scripture seems very clear to me. My more “sophisticated” brethren will tell me that I’m ignoring the cultural context in which Paul wrote; Paul was writing in a patriarchal society. They might also say that I’m ignoring the situation in Ephesus—there was a great deal of false teaching, and Paul writes to Timothy to tell him not to allow the women who are false teachers to speak in the assembly. I love it when my brethren can go to a seminary and come away knowing more than God Himself and knowing more than the inspired writers.
Paul, with his inspired pen, makes a much different argument than some folks do. I don’t deny that Paul wrote in a patriarchal society, nor do I deny that women were running their mouths in Ephesus (Paul instructs Timothy to get these women to stop). However, the role of women in the church is as it is for a more fundamental reason: “God gave men and women roles in the church.”
1 TIMOTHY 2:8-15
Paul wills that men pray everywhere by lifting up holy hands, without wrath and doubting. Notice that the men are doing the praying, not the women. In light of what Paul writes next, this certainly seems to refer to the worship assembly.
The men are to pray with their holy hands lifted. I trust you know that the New Testament talks about several prayer postures. For example, Jesus lifted His eyes to heaven (Jn 11:41); in the Garden, Jesus “fell on His face, and prayed” (Matt 26:39). The fact that Scripture talks about different prayer postures and the fact that no one posture is commanded tells me that posture in prayer does not matter before God.
The emphasis, of course, is on the “holy” hands. God wants holy people to come into His presence. God wants prayer to emanate from a pure heart. “The LORD is far from the wicked, But He hears the prayer of the righteous” (Prov 15:29). “Whatever we ask we receive from Him, because we keep His commandments and do those things that are pleasing in His sight” (1 Jn 3:22).
Women are to dress in modest apparel. There’s something very interesting—in my opinion—about discussions of modesty in today’s church. When I hear modesty discussed, it’s from the vantage point that people wear too little clothing; Paul is discussing wearing too much clothing.
What’s up with that? There’s been a change, not in biblical truth, but in culture. There are likely a couple reasons Paul mentions the braided hair, gold, pearls, and costly clothing. One: Those who dressed this way would shout to the world, “I’m better than you are.” Not everyone could afford gold and costly clothing. There would be pride on the part of women who could afford to dress this way, and embarrassment on the part of women who couldn’t. Two: Women who dressed this way were not in any way reputable. It was a highly sexualized way of dressing. I don’t want to get explicit, but men raised in the culture of the ancient world would not have been able to concentrate on anything in worship if women showed up with braided hair, pearls, and gold. Instead of dressing in a superior or sexualized way, women are to adorn themselves “with good works.”
Women are to learn in silence with all submission. Paul explains that statement in the next verse: Women are not permitted to teach or to have authority over a man. The prohibition of women teaching would only be in the assembly of the church. Priscilla and Aquila explained to Apollos “the way of God more accurately” (Acts 18:26). In the Greek text, Priscilla’s name is mentioned first. That’s significant because that means Priscilla likely did the bulk of the teaching.
Women are not to have authority over a man. The King James Version reads: “to usurp authority over the man.” That is a horrible translation. The Greek word means “to have authority over a man.” “Usurp” means “to take or seize by force.” People make the argument that if the elders allow a woman to have authority she isn’t usurping authority. However, Paul does not use the word “usurp” in Greek; a woman may not have that authority, whether or not an elder offers it.
I hear that Paul wrote as he does because of cultural issues or because of women who were seizing authority in Ephesus. I’d much rather have the inspired author tell me why he wrote this, and he does. Adam was formed first . . . Male spiritual leadership is because Adam was created before Eve. Eve was deceived and fell into transgression. . . Male spiritual leadership is because the first woman fell into sin before the first man. Therefore, male spiritual leadership is not cultural, but it is something to stand until the end of time. Male spiritual leadership is not tied up in culture. . . It’s because of events that transpired before there was any culture. Male spiritual leadership is not tied up with women who might speak falsehood . . . It’s because a woman was the very first sinner.
Women will be saved through childbearing. Huh? How does that work. There is a figure of speech known as synecdoche where a part of something stands for the whole. Jesus taught us to pray for our daily bread (Matt 6:11). You read that and automatically know that Jesus is talking about food in general. I believe “childbearing” here stands for the totality of a woman’s work in the home.
We need holy lives. Worship is intended to be the natural outgrowth of a heart that seeks to honor God. Men are to lift “holy hands” without fighting; women are to allow godliness to be their adornment. “Let us draw near [to God] with a true heart in full assurance of faith, having our hearts sprinkled from an evil conscience and our bodies washed with pure water” (Heb 10:22).
We cannot live however we please and come on Sunday morning and expect to honor God with our worship. Our hands must be holy; our adornment must be godliness. How holy is your life?
Our worship is to include a careful look at our hearts. “Let a man examine himself, and so let him eat of the bread and drink of the cup” (1 Cor 11:28). Take a close look at your life and ask yourself, “What do I need to do to have holy hands and dress with godliness?”
We need holy dress. Paul talks about modest dress in this text. Yes, he talks about wearing too much instead of too little. However, I do hope you won’t miss what he says: Women shouldn’t dress in a way that screams, “I’m better than you,” nor should women dress in a sexualized way. Here’s the principle that transcends culture: We don’t dress in a way that brings improper attention to us.
Therefore, I believe we need to ask two questions about our dress. One: Am I wearing this out of pride? Pride, you understand, has no place in our lives (Prov 16:18; 1 Jn 2:16). Two: Am I wearing this to show off physically? We cannot dress in a sexualized way (Rom 13:13; Gal 5:19).
We need holy submission. Women must be in submission in the worship assembly. “Let your women keep silent in the churches, for they are not permitted to speak; but they are to be submissive, as the law also says” (1 Cor 14:34). If you read the context of 1 Cor 14 carefully, you’ll see that “speak” means to get up and lead the assembly.
The truth of God is the truth of God; we, therefore, must obey. We dare not allow a woman to teach a mixed class; we dare not allow a woman to lead our singing; we dare not allow women to lead us in prayer; we dare not have a woman who preaches; and we dare not allow a woman to lead the congregation in remembering Jesus’ death.
Male spiritual leadership is an eternal principle that goes back to the Garden. We have no right to change. We obey.
We all need submission. We must all submit to the will of God. “Humble yourselves under the mighty hand of God, that He may exalt you in due time” (1 Pet 5:6). Are you humbling yourself under the mighty hand of God?
Scriptures in today’s post come from the New King James Version.