Let a woman learn quietly with all submissiveness. I do not permit a woman to teach or to exercise authority over a man; rather, she is to remain quiet. For Adam was formed first, then Eve; and Adam was not deceived, but the woman was deceived and became a transgressor. Yet she will be saved through childbearing—if they continue in faith and love and holiness, with self-control. (ESV)
The world cries foul when they read these verses. They claim that Christianity, and especially Paul, relegate women to second place or worse status. Many pastors and Bible teachers cry fowl because they are chickens when it comes to addressing these passages. I would also like to skip this passage as well. However, I also think there is a lot of bad teaching and misunderstanding when it comes to this issue. So, I’ll see what else the Bible says and try to draw my conclusions from it rather than what the world wants me to say.
Women in Authority
The whole Bible must be kept in view whenever we deal with any passage but especially when the passage is difficult. Starting in the Old Testament, I would like to show how God used women in authoritative roles.
Miriam, Moses and Aaron’s sister, was described as a prophetess. She also led worship in Ex 15:20. As you read the accounts of the exodus from Egypt and the wandering in the desert, you can see that Miriam was a respected leader even after sinning and seeking a better position (Num 12).
Judg 4:4 Now Deborah, a prophetess, the wife of Lapidoth, was judging Israel at that time. (NKJV) The judges in Israel at this time heard legal cases, both secular and religious, and pronounced rulings. Deborah was certainly in a position of authority. She was also a prophetess, and as such, spoke for God. In verse six, she commands Barak to go into battle based on God’s Word to her. There is nothing in this account that would indicate that she deferred to any man in making decisions or hearing from God. While her husband is mentioned, she is the main character. After the battle, she leads in singing a song of victory along with Barak.
There were other prophetesses mentioned in the Bible. The priests during the reign of Josiah went to the prophetess, Huldah, to find out what God had in store for Judah (2 Kings 22:14). Isaiah’s wife was a prophetess (Isa 8:3). The prophetess, Anna (Luke 2:36), was selected to speak about Jesus when He was dedicated at the temple. Luke 2:38 And coming up at that very hour she gave thanks to God, and spoke of him to all who were looking for the redemption of Jerusalem. (RSV) Note that she spoke to all, not just to women but also men. Then Philip the evangelist had four daughters who prophesied (Acts 21:8-9). Paul visited them on his way to Jerusalem and, for some reason, Luke added this information about the daughters. Was it superfluous information or did the Holy Spirit have him add it so that we would know that women who Paul knew were active in the early church as prophetesses?
To be fair, there were also a couple of prophetesses who were evil. Noadiah opposed Nehemiah (Neh 6:14) and Jezebel was a self-proclaimed prophetess whom Jesus rebuked (Rev 2:20).
My conclusion is that not only in the Old Testament, but also in the New, there is ample evidence that God uses women in authoritative positions. He has used them to speak openly to both men and women and lead in worship.
At one time, God made a distinction between His people and the rest of the world. There were Jews and everyone else. In the Old Testament, we would be called the uncircumcised. We non-Jews are referred to as Gentiles or Greeks in the New Testament. Eph 2:11-13 Don't forget that you Gentiles used to be outsiders. You were called "uncircumcised heathens" by the Jews, who were proud of their circumcision, even though it affected only their bodies and not their hearts. In those days you were living apart from Christ. You were excluded from citizenship among the people of Israel, and you did not know the covenant promises God had made to them. You lived in this world without God and without hope. But now you have been united with Christ Jesus. Once you were far away from God, but now you have been brought near to him through the blood of Christ. (NLT) We are now dealing with culture and how Jesus cuts through culture. By faith in Jesus, we are now part of God’s family and in equal standing with any Jewish believer. Jesus has brought all of us to God.
In the temple, a wall divided the courts so that Gentiles were separated from Jews. Jewish men and women were also separated. Jesus has torn down the dividing wall between Jews and Gentiles and men and women. Gal 3:26-28 You are all sons of God through faith in Christ Jesus, for all of you who were baptized into Christ have clothed yourselves with Christ. There is neither Jew nor Greek, slave nor free, male nor female, for you are all one in Christ Jesus. (NIV) We are all one in Christ! It doesn’t matter what sex we are or our ethnic or economic background. This is an amazing fact. It stands out above all other things. It is something that must be grasped and believed when we look at what else the Bible says about the way we worship or teach. There are no second-class citizens in God’s kingdom. However, does this mean then, that we all have the same authority in the church?
God’s Authority Structure
God has established an authority structure in the church. It may or may not be the same as people have instituted in denominations, but He has one. First is that Christ is the head. Eph 1:22 God has put all things under the authority of Christ and has made him head over all things for the benefit of the church. (NLT) If Christ is the head of the church, then who comes next? 1 Cor 11:3 But I want you to understand that Christ is the head of every man, and the man is the head of a woman, and God is the head of Christ. (NASB) Woops, I hear the protests already. But this is God’s Word. Is this an isolated idea that is only proclaimed by Paul or in one verse? No, it was established long before Paul and is upheld by Peter.
The structure of authority is a result of Adam and Eve’s sin. Because Eve was the first to sin and then brought Adam into it, God pronounce the consequences of the sin as was fitting to each person’s involvement. Gen 3:16 To the woman He said: "I will greatly multiply your sorrow and your conception; In pain you shall bring forth children; Your desire shall be for your husband, And he shall rule over you." (NKJV) Before sin entered into the world, Adam and Eve were most likely equals in every sense. They were naked and unashamed. They didn’t appear to have any conflict; they were one with God and there was no apparent need for one to be in authority over the other. Some could argue otherwise because Eve was taken from Adam but Scripture doesn’t say anything one way or another. Part of the curse for Eve is to have a desire for her husband. Many people say that this means she will have a desire to rule over her husband but God puts Adam’s rule over her. Eve is the pattern for all women after the fall who are without Christ. This is the reason that Paul and Peter affirm the authority structure in the home and in the church. See Eph 5:22-24, Col 3:18, 1 Peter 3:1, 5-6.
Women Restricted or Not
In the Corinthian church, there were many problems. They were factious, worldly, and out of control. Most of the book of first Corinthians is Paul trying to bring them back to order. They were not the highly educated and influential people of Corinth (1 Cor 1:26). Because of this, I think women were generally even less educated and if is possible many may have even been illiterate. Women’s poor educational level may have been the norm in most of the churches, which may explain why Paul wrote these instructions: 1 Cor 14:33-35 For God is not a God of disorder but of peace. As in all the congregations of the saints, women should remain silent in the churches. They are not allowed to speak, but must be in submission, as the Law says. If they want to inquire about something, they should ask their own husbands at home; for it is disgraceful for a woman to speak in the church. (NIV) I can only conclude that Paul had to clamp down on women simply because they were coming up with ideas that were leading into disorder, were not accurate, or were interrupting the meetings with off the wall questions. I’m assuming here, that the churches were house churches and not large congregations. They were more like a small Bible study group. Instead of providing instruction to the whole group, the leaders were spending too much time answering these questions and getting the meetings back on track. I’m sure we’ve all been in small groups where the study has been derailed by someone, whether a man or a woman. Unfortunately, it appears that women were doing most of this.
Now the question is whether or not women should still be restricted in today’s churches since they are more educated. In both 1 Tim 2:12 and 1 Cor 14:34, Paul instructs women to be silent in the church, which I’m interpreting to mean the smaller group meetings. I believe this is supported by Paul’s instruction that they should ask their husband at home. However, consider this verse. 1 Cor 11:5a But every woman who has her head uncovered while praying or prophesying, disgraces her head; (NASB) It tells me that even with Paul’s command for women to be silent, he doesn’t restrict them from prophesying in the church otherwise the covering would not be an issue if it were in private. Paul is not restricting women from paying or prophesying in church but from disrupting the services. That’s why he says God is a God of peace and not disorder. Women who prophesy in church are restricted just as men are. 1 Cor 14:29 says that two or three prophets (men or women) should speak and everyone should weigh what they say.
In one sense, women are restricted in the church. Paul made it clear that they are not to have authority over a man or be in a position to teach men. Paul goes back to Genesis and the fall to justify this. According to Paul, women are more prone to being deceived by Satan and led away from the truth than are men. As I stated above, this is the reason God has established His authority structure. I know that there are many churches and organizations that get around this by having a man as a senior pastor or director who is the authority. Since God has demonstrated His use of women in authoritative positions in the past, this seems to be the best way to be in submission to His Word and have gifted women minister.
Saved in Childbirth
Beats me what this means. It could be a reference to Genesis where women are inflicted with pain in childbirth and Paul is affirming that they will survive that if they follow the authority structure God has established and live godly lives. This doesn’t track with observations. Godly women have died in childbirth and it will continue to happen. The reverse is not true either. Godless women who want to usurp men’s role in the church don’t all die when they give birth. If that were true then only Christian women would survive childbirth and the world’s population would plummet. I’ll need to look for a better explanation.
I also don’t think it means that if women have lots of kids, they will be saved from hell. That just goes against all other Scripture that affirms we are saved by faith.
Some commentaries say that this means that the human race is saved because Jesus was born of a woman. But that doesn’t make sense. When Paul wrote this, Jesus had already been born, died for our sins, and raised from the dead proving that He is God and our sins are forgiven.
Perhaps this means that even if a woman dies in childbirth, she will go to heaven when she has faith in Jesus and that faith is demonstrated to be true by her love, holiness, and propriety. Perhaps Paul is reassuring women that salvation is the same for them as it is for men, in spite of the different authority structure God has established. Lacking a better explanation, I’ll stick with this.