David Lipscomb actively shaped the interpretation of scripture taught in Church of Christ congregations throughout the country for over 50 years, as “the single most influential person among Churches of Christ from 1865 until his death in 1917.”
He was the editor of the Gospel Advocate, the leading religious periodical read by those within the denomination during that time. He also co-founded and taught at the Nashville Bible School (now David Lipscomb University), whose students carried his teachings to their churches, and wrote commentaries on books of the Bible and other topics for Church of Christ audiences.
What did he teach about the role of women in society and church and about God’s view of women?
Let’s let Mr. Lipscomb tell you. Here are six categories of quotes from him:
- “It is wrong for a woman to become a leader or public teacher of men in any place or on any occasion.”
- A “mother is doubtless prohibited by God from all public work because it would interfere with” child rearing, so God “cut her off from all other works that would distract” her from it.
- “As a rule,” a woman speaking in public “is wrong, hurtful to the moral, religious, and physical well-being of the human family.”
- “[A]ll public teaching and speaking on any subject at any place puts woman out of place, out of her God-given work.”
- “All the teaching of the Bible is against women speaking in public.”
3. Better Get to Dusting
- “The word of God is blasphemed when a woman does not keep house well, when she fails to love and honor her husband, when she fails to love her children and guide the house.”
4. Blame the Worshiping Women
- “Where women most freely take part in public worship a much smaller portion of the people are religious than where they remain silent.”
5. Blame the Christian Mothers
- “The place at which above all others the Christian religion fails, is in that work committed especially to women, the raising and training of children.”
- “The gambling rooms, the whisky shops, the whore-houses, … the penitentiaries and prisons, are all … filled with the children of Christian mothers.”
- “Woman is not alone to blame for this failing. But home is her realm, her children her subjects.”
6. Women Had Their One Shot
- God’s message to women (referencing Eve) is “I suffered you to take the lead once; your strong emotional nature led you to violate God’s word and to shipwreck a world, I cannot again trust you to lead.”
- Women’s “unfitness to lead and teach arises from her strong emotional nature causing her to be easily deceived and to be ready to run after anything or body that might strike her fancy against reason and facts.”
Un-Biblical: Comparing What Lipscomb Said With the Bible
David Lipscomb said and did many admirable things, but these are not among them.
He was far off the mark with these sentiments. They contradict the Bible and reality. For example, going in reverse order addressed above—
6. Lipscomb said: God’s message to women after Eve is “I cannot again trust you to lead.”
But God said: Deborah, I want you to lead Israel. Miriam, I want you to co-lead the Israelites. Huldah, I want you to be a prophet and speak for me. Mary, I want you to give birth to and raise the Messiah. Philip’s daughters and other women, I want you to be prophets and speak for me. Junia, I want you to be an apostle. Phoebe, I want you to be a deacon. … ( cites below)
5. Lipscomb said: “Home is her realm ….”
But God said: Female (and male) have dominion over everything that creeps upon “the earth” and let both subdue “the earth.” (Gen. 1:27-28).
4. Lipscomb said: “Where women most freely take part in public worship a much smaller portion of the people are religious than where they remain silent.”
But reality says: The Churches of Christ are near the bottom—fourth lowest—in attendance rate and percentage of members who say religion is very important to them among evangelical denominations / categories. In all the higher ones, women much more freely take part in public worship.
Joining the Churches of Christ in the bottom four are the other denominations that are the most restrictive relative to women’s roles in worship: the Lutheran Church-Missouri Synod, Presbyterian Church in America, and Independent Baptist. The two denominations at the top, in terms of attendance and members who say religion is very important, both have female preachers.
(Fig. 1: Percentage of members who said they attend services at least once a week, by denomination/category)
3. Lipscomb said: “The word of God is blasphemed when a woman does not keep house well ….”
But the Bible says: Martha’s sister Mary sat listening to Jesus, but “Martha was distracted by all the preparations that had to be made. She came to him and asked, “Lord, don’t you care that my sister has left me to do the work by myself? Tell her to help me!” “Martha, Martha,” the Lord answered, “you are worried and upset about many things, but few things are needed—or indeed only one. Mary has chosen what is better, and it will not be taken away from her.” (Luke 10:38-42)
2. Lipscomb said: “All the teaching of the Bible is against women speaking in public.”
But the Bible says: Anna, a prophet and servant of God, prophesied about Jesus to the public in the Temple. (Luke 2:36-38)
And God says: “Your sons and daughters will prophesy …. Even on my servants, both men and women, I will pour out my Spirit in those days, and they will prophesy.” (Acts 2:17-18)
1. Lipscomb said: A “mother is doubtless prohibited by God from all public work ….”
But the Bible says: The Proverbs 31 woman, a mother, “considers a field and buys it; out of her earnings she plants a vineyard…. She sees that her trading is profitable, …. She makes linen garments and sells them, and supplies the merchants with sashes. …. [A]nd let her works bring her praise at the city gate.”
Lipscomb’s views undergirded his interpretation of scripture relevant to women.
If you are about 45 – 70 years old, those in your grandparents’ generation who grew up in the Church of Christ were taught and sermonized by people who learned directly from Lipscomb (in person, via his writings, etc.).
Those in your grandparents’ generation were highly likely taught Lipscomb’s interpretations as the “Biblical” interpretation—and that any contrary view is “unbiblical.”
And your grandparents’ generation taught your parents’ generation. And your parents’ generation taught you.
Throughout, teachings from outside the Church of Christ were warned against as “denominational” and untrustworthy. Some edges were smoothed, language was updated, and sensitivity increased over the years, but if a teaching departed too much, then it was “unbiblical.” Before too long, anyone who disagrees is speaking contrary to God.
Maybe you did not learn the song (say it quickly) “the fruit of the spirit is not a woman talking in public.”
And maybe you never attended a VBS themed “God gave women their one chance to lead and they blew it.”
And maybe you did not have a class on how “all the teaching of the Bible is against women speaking in public.” (or maybe you did)
But versions of Lipscomb’s scriptural interpretations almost certainly were taught to you as Biblical if you attended Churches of Christ.
It was probably not put to you as “this is what Lipscomb says.” It was probably put to you as “this is what the Bible says and means.”
These teachings of David Lipscomb on women — and those of Alexander Campbell, discussed in the last post — had a major impact and continue to have a major impact on what members of the Church of Christ call “Biblical” and “unbiblical” and how many now understand the Bible.
Sources and Notes
Interestingly enough, Lipscomb indicated that he thought it was Biblical for women to teach men in Sunday School (a “mixed class”) because it was not when the entire assembly came together and he considered it more akin to in-home teaching than “public” speaking and not as having authority over a man (the man could choose to attend or not attend, after all). See, e.g., David Lipscomb and E.G. Sewell, Queries and Answers, ed. by M.C. Kurfees, Nashville: McQuiddy Printing Co. (1921), page 736 (“So I am sure that a woman may teach the Bible to old or young, male or female, at the meetinghouse, at home, at a neighbor’s house, on Sunday or Monday or any other day of the week, if they know less than she does, if she will do it in a quiet, modest, womanly way.”).
Also, note that J.W. McGarvey, another influential Church of Christ scholar active in the late 1800s and early 1900s, thought that 1 Corinthians 14, at least, did not bar modern women from speaking in the assembly.
“… single most influential person …”: Richard T. Hughes, The Churches of Christ (Student Edition), Westport, Connecticut: Praeger (2001), page 76.
Lipscomb generally: Hughes, supra; Robert E. Hooper, “David Lipscomb (1831-1917),” in The Encyclopedia of the Stone-Campbell Movement, ed. by Douglas A. Foster et al., Grand Rapids, Michigan: William B. Eerdmans Publishing Company (2004), pages 480-482.
” … wrong for a woman to become a leader or public teacher of men in any place or on any occasion”: David Lipscomb, Answer to “Information Wanted on the ‘Woman Question,'” Gospel Advocate 78, (January 19, 1911), page 78 ( “condemn woman’s leadership in other places as well as in the church on Lord’s day”) .
“… doubtless prohibited by God from all public work …”: David Lipscomb, “Women in the Church,” Gospel Advocate 6 (November 21, 1888), page 6
“cut her off from all other works …”: David Lipscomb, “Women in the Church,” Gospel Advocate 6 (November 21, 1888), page 6,
“As a rule, … wrong, hurtful …”: David Lipscomb and E.G. Sewell, Queries and Answers, ed. by M.C. Kurfees, Nashville: McQuiddy Printing Co. (1921), page 739.
“[A]ll public teaching and speaking on any subject at any place …”: David Lipscomb, Answer to “Information Wanted on the ‘Woman Question,'” Gospel Advocate 78, (January 19, 1911), page 78. If men fail to do their duty, though, “God has approved of women doing it in a modest, unassuming way.” Ibid.
“All the teaching of the Bible is against women speaking in public.”: David Lipscomb, Queries and Answers, ed. by J.W. Shepherd, Nashville: McQuiddy Printing Company (1910), page 450. “That woman’s speaking, preaching, and engaging in public affairs would degrade society, I have no doubt. It would destroy the domestic life of our people and lead to anything else than good results.” Ibid., page 453.
“… word of God is blasphemed when a woman does not keep house well…”: David Lipscomb, Queries and Answers, ed. by J.W. Shepherd, Nashville: McQuiddy Printing Company (1910), pages 447-448.
“… Where women most freely take part in public worship a much smaller portion of the people are religious ….”: David Lipscomb, Queries and Answers, ed. by J.W. Shepherd, Nashville: McQuiddy Printing Company (1910), page 453.
“The place at which above all others the Christian religion fails, ….”: David Lipscomb, “Woman’s Station and Work,” Gospel Advocate (October 10, 1888), page 6-7.
“Woman is not alone to blame for this failing. But home is her realm….” David Lipscomb, “Woman’s Station and Work,” Gospel Advocate (October 10, 1888), page 6-7.
“[M]an is what his mother makes him. ….”: David Lipscomb, “Women in the Church,” Gospel Advocate 6 (November 21, 1888), page 6.
“I suffered you to take the lead once….”: David Lipscomb, “Woman’s Station and Work,” Gospel Advocate 6 (October 10, 1888), page 6 (Lipscomb’s fullest exegesis is here, expressed in a sarcastic manner in places).
Women’s “unfitness to lead and teach arises from her strong emotional nature …”: David Lipscomb, “Woman’s Station and Work,” Gospel Advocate 6 (October 10, 1888), page 6.
: Judges 4:4-24; Micah 6:4; Num 12:1-15; 2 Kings 22:11-20; Acts 2:15-21; 1 Cor 11:4-5, 16; Acts 21:8-9; Rom 16:7; Rom 16:1-2.
I am appreciative of JoAnne Toews, Ernst Rollmann, and Professor John Mark Hicks making these sources accessible via the internet, without which I might not have noticed some of the above-quoted statements by David Lipscomb: See generally
(Fig. 2: Percentage of members who said religion was very important to them, by denomination)
The Pew graphics are from this 2014 study from Pew Research: http://www.pewforum.org/religious-landscape-study/religious-denomination/churches-of-christ/
It appears to me that all of the other twelve denominations / categories listed have more female participation in the worship service than the Church of Christ denomination (it would be difficult to have less). I am aware of this study of denominational views on women in church leadership — http://www2.cbeinternational.org/new/E-Journal/2007/07spring/denominations%20first%20installment–FINAL.pdf — but know that it is incomplete.
- Assemblies of God — https://ag.org/Beliefs/Topics-Index/The-Role-of-Women-in-Ministry (full participation — “After examining the various translations and interpretations of biblical passages relating to the role of women in the first-century church, and desiring to apply biblical principles to contemporary church practice, we conclude that we cannot find convincing evidence that the ministry of women is restricted according to some sacred or immutable principle.”)
- Church of God (Cleveland, TN) — http://www.beliefnet.com/columnists/news/2010/08/church-of-god-ays-women-can-be.php and https://www.charismamag.com/site-archives/570-news/featured-news/11656-church-of-god-debates-role-of-women (women serve as pastors, in the worship service, preachers, on local congregational boards, but not as bishops)
- Church of the Nazarene (full participation — “The Church of the Nazarene supports the right of women to use their God-given spiritual gifts within the church and affirms the historic right of women to be elected and appointed to places of leadership within the Church of the Nazarene, including the offices of both elder and deacon.”) http://nazarene.org/theology-women-ministry
- Independent Baptist (Evangelical Trad.): https://www.gotquestions.org/Independent-Baptists.html
- Interdenominational (Evangelical Trad.)
- Lutheran Church–Missouri Synod (can read scripture in some congregations, but cannot help with communion; cannot preach; no ordination) https://www.lcms.org/Document.fdoc?src=lcm&id=3286
- Nondenominational charismatic
- Nondenominational evangelical
- Nondenominational fundamentalist
- Presbyterian Church in America: Refuses ordination to women in roles of elder and deacon. http://www.christianitytoday.com/news/2016/june/pca-goes-back-to-where-it-started-womens-ordination.html
- Seventh-day Adventist (women participate fully in worship services, and North American churches and others ordain women, but the international body does not recognize the ordination of women; in 2015, the international body rejected ordination of women by a vote of 1381 to 977 —https://www.washingtonpost.com/local/social-issues/seventh-day-adventists-vote-against-female-ordination/2015/07/08/42920f7e-25c8-11e5-b77f-eb13a215f593_story.html?utm_term=.325cdd2008b5)
- Southern Baptist Convention http://www.sbc.net/resolutions/1088/ (excluding women from roles requiring ordination only; otherwise leaving to congregations
“… undergirded …”: See, e.g., David Lipscomb and E.G. Sewell, Queries and Answers, ed. by M.C. Kurfees, Nashville: McQuiddy Printing Co. (1921), page 739 (“Woman’s work in life is to bear and train children”; “[I]t is wrong for woman to engage in any work or calling that is not in harmony with her life work, and … scripture are to be translated in harmony with these truths.” (referring to 1 Corinthians 14 and 1 Timothy 2)); David Lipscomb, “Woman’s Station and Work,” Gospel Advocate 6 (October 10, 1888), page 6-7 (“Until she trains them to be loyal and true to her religion and her God, it is simply shameful folly as well as treason to herself, her children, her race, and her God, to seek to occupy man’s field of labor.”).
(Note added 4/15/18: Some of Lipscomb’s comments on women came in response to letters to the editor and articles by Selina Moore Holman published in Lipscomb’s Gospel Advocate on several occassions from 1888 to 1896 that disagreed with Lipscomb’s views (one other article by her on the topic was published there in 1913). Some urge that publishing views on the other side of an issue is to Lipscomb’s credit, but I am not so sure what Lipscomb thought he was doing in publishing her articles was allowing disagreement for fairness purposes or the like, at least at first, though. It is clear he thought he was proving his own point by publishing her, for example, when he leads off his response with “if we will read … the article from sister Holman …, we can find a pretty good reason why the Lord did not suffer a woman to teach and lead in his church. When she wants a thing so, her strong emotional nature … will … have it that way …. [Women’s] unfitness to lead and teach arises from her strong emotional nature causing her to be easily deceived and to be ready to run after anything or body that might strike her fancy against reason and facts. This is still strongly woman’s characteristic, as the article of our sister plainly shows.” See October 10, 1888, Gospeal Advocate, supra. He is quite patronizing and condescending to Holman in places. The point of this article is not Lipscomb’s motivations, but is instead the impact his teachings on women had and continues to have.)
Lipscomb’s only child, a son, died at the age of 9 months. See Hooper, supra, page 480. He and his wife were unable to have other children and took in foster children. Ibid.
All scripture quoted is from the New International Version (NIV) unless otherwise indicated.