1 Cor. 14:34-35 and the role of women in the church

 By Zachary Garris - Posted at Knowing Scripture:


Most of the debate today over the role of women in the church centers around 1 Timothy 2:12, where Paul prohibits women from “teaching” or “exercising authority” over men and instead commands them to “remain quiet.” Based on a variety of arguments, egalitarians conclude that 1 Timothy 2:12 does not prohibit women today from serving as pastors or elders or preaching to men. However, among those that hold 1 Timothy 2:12 does place restrictions on women in the church today (often called “complementarians”), there are differing conclusions.

Complementarian Disagreements

The narrowest complementarian position holds that 1 Timothy 2:12 only prohibits women from holding the office of pastor or elder, which would open the door to some women preaching. However, since Paul prohibits teaching and exercising authority and not just being a pastor, most complementarians understand Paul to prohibit women from performing tasks and not just holding office. Yet interpretations vary regarding which tasks are prohibited. The narrowest complementarian position here holds that 1 Timothy 2:12 only prohibits women from engaging in an “authoritative teaching” to men, and thus women may teach theology to men as long as it is under the authority of the (male) elders (the position of Tim and Kathy Keller, following the grammatical argument of egalitarian Phillip Payne).

But assuming these are separate tasks of “teaching” and “exercising authority” in 1 Timothy 2:12 (as Andreas Köstenberger has argued in Women in the Church), then it becomes a question of when and where the prohibition applies. It at least refers to women teaching or preaching in the public worship assembly. However, many complementarians argue that because the principle is rooted in creation— “For Adam was formed first, then Eve” (1 Timothy 2:13)—this means women should not teach Scripture or theology to groups of men in any public forum, whether Sunday school or the seminary classroom.

Yet even among complementarians who make this broader application of 1 Timothy 2:12, there is still debate over whether women may read Scripture and lead prayer in public worship. This is because 1 Timothy 2:12 targets women “teaching” men, not reading or praying. In response, one may argue that reading Scripture is an extension of “teaching” Scripture and that both reading Scripture and leading prayer are forms of “exercising authority” prohibited by women in 1 Timothy 2:12. However, these arguments could be strengthened significantly by bringing in a similar passage of Scripture to the debate.


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