Under a CENI approach, the Bible expresses God’s will that women should actively serve (what some call lead) in worship assemblies that include men and women—both men and women should read scripture, speak, teach, preach, lead prayer, lead singing, and otherwise actively serve in mixed worship assemblies, per CENI.
This will surprise many within the Churches of Christ, primarily because the vast majority of the Churches of Christ prohibit women from so serving and CENI is often associated with fundamentalism today .
This article introduces the basics of CENI (direct Command, binding or approved Example, and Necessary Inference)—an approach to determining God’s will via the Bible—and sets out the main scripture cited for prohibiting women from actively serving in a mixed worship assembly. It then quotes 13 scripture passages that authorize women to actively serve in a mixed worship assembly under a CENI approach, considers their import, and concludes by discussing some implications.
CENI is a short-hand label signaling a certain methodology for determining God’s will via the Bible that is sometimes used within the Churches of Christ, particularly by fundamentalists. CENI generally signals something more than simply analyzing scripture for commands, examples, and inferences, instead also signaling a distinct use of such analysis and of particular assumptions and standards to yield strict rules for life and church.
In general, such a CENI approach includes the view that unless an action is authorized in the Bible, it is a sin to engage in the action, and that no action is authorized unless the Bible (i) directly commands the action, (ii) sets out a binding (or approved) example of the action, or (iii) discusses matters such that it is a necessary inference that the action is commanded or approved.
In the view of some who apply CENI, it is not enough that the Bible sets out an example of the action in positive terms. Instead, for them, such example is binding or approved under CENI only if Jesus or an apostle (Peter, Paul, etc.) indicates it is binding or approved.
A “necessary” inference is a difficult standard to meet under CENI—that the inference is reasonable or likely is not enough to make it necessary. Instead, it is necessary only if “the conclusion drawn from the facts is irresistible” or “the implication in the premises is so strong that the conclusion is sure.” ()
Essentially, under such a CENI approach, an action is a sin unless the Bible very clearly authorizes it.
CENI has been used to designate as unauthorized and sinful things like youth ministers, fellowship halls with a kitchen, children’s church, using multiple cups during communion, missionary societies, denominational names (like Baptist), clapping in church, and pianos in the worship assembly.
Some assert that CENI is the only way to know God’s will, arguing it is the only method of Biblical interpretation ordained by God, Jesus and Paul instructed us to use it, and there is no other method that removes “personal interpretation” from Biblical interpretation. While we may not like what God’s will is shown to be through CENI, we are bound to follow God’s will instead of man-made doctrine, they declare.
Others roundly criticize the CENI hermeneutic and assert that it results in a legalistic, fear-based life and in an attempt to govern other people that God does not intend. It is not the analyzing of scripture for commands, examples, and inferences that is criticized, nor is it the following of some commands, examples, and inferences that is criticized (following the example of Jesus is not criticized, for instance). Instead, it is the distinct use of such analysis in combination with certain regulative assumptions and standards (such as that any action not very specifically authorized in the Bible is a sin) to proclaim and insist on various rules for everyone that is criticized.
This distinct use is criticized as reading all literary forms in the Bible like a rule book, ignoring grace and love, ignoring that we are made in God’s image, turning first-century culture into God’s divine will, emphasizing the often-informal words of men in letters over the example of Christ, devaluing Christ’s sacrifice, and (ironically) creating man-made doctrine.
CENI’s Use Today
CENI was a predominant approach within the Churches of Christ for decades. The intensity has faded, but it is still applied strictly in many quarters. Today, a tremendous number of people—probably including you—use all or some of CENI in their thinking without knowing it, as CENI’s elements are frequently repeated by their Sunday School teachers and fellow church members, mostly because that is what their teachers and members heard from their Sunday School teachers and other church members, and a passing on and reinforcement of tradition occurs.
CENI, its echoes, or some of its elements can today be found in many discussions within the Churches of Christ regarding topics like what the scripture “authorizes,” emulating “the New Testament church,” “the Biblical definition” of a term, and following “the pattern given” in the Bible.
CENI is certainly a very conservative approach. What does its application say about women serving in the worship assembly?
Plain Meaning: Women Prohibited From Speaking in the Assembly
Women actively serve in worship assemblies in which men are present in some Churches of Christ and in most colleges affiliated with the Churches of Christ, but the vast majority of Churches of Christ prohibit women from actively serving in their worship assembly—women are not allowed to read scripture, lead prayer, serve at the communion table, lead singing, or preach.
This exclusion is viewed as God’s will as expressed in two passages, a typical English translation of which are:
- “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.” (1 Corinthians 14:34-35) (NIV)
- “A woman should learn in quietness and full submission. I do not permit a woman to teach or to assume authority over a man; she must be quiet. For Adam was formed first, then Eve. And Adam was not the one deceived; it was the woman who was deceived and became a sinner. But women will be saved through childbearing—if they continue in faith, love and holiness with propriety.” (1 Timothy 2:11-15)
The rule that women must not read scripture, lead prayer, preach, etc., in a mixed worship assembly is plainly and clearly set out in these passages and ought to be obeyed regardless of how we feel about it, as it is God’s will and we are called to demonstrate our faith and trust in God and in the Word of God by following this rule, according to many within the Churches of Christ.
CENI tells a different story …
It will surprise many to learn that under a CENI approach, the Bible expresses God’s will that women should actively serve (what some call lead) in mixed worship assemblies—that they should read scripture, lead prayer, preach, etc., in the Sunday morning assembly.
That is, many within the Churches of Christ will find it surprising that a faithful application of CENI—an approach associated with fundamentalist thinking—yields the rule that women should not be restricted from speaking, teaching, and otherwise fully serving in mixed worship assemblies.
This is contrary to expectations and different from the plain meaning of 1 Corinthians 14:34-35 and 1 Timothy 2:12 and is explained below.
13 Passages with CENI
Below are 13 scripture passages, each introduced through the lens of a CENI approach, that constitute direct commands, binding (or approved) examples, and necessary inferences for women to actively serve in a mixed worship assembly (to speak, preach, teach, lead prayer, read scripture, lead singing, etc.).
Approved examples of, or commands for, women—part of “the whole church,” “everyone,” “brothers and sisters,” and “all”—speaking, prophesying, singing a hymn, teaching, reading scripture, preaching, and having authority in a mixed worship assembly:
(1) The Apostle Paul said, when “the whole church comes together … if an unbeliever or an inquirer comes in while everyone is prophesying, they are convicted of sin …. So they will fall down and worship God, exclaiming ‘God is really among you!’” (1 Cor 14:23-25; see also 1 Cor 11:5, 14:6, 20) (all scripture from NIV unless otherwise specified)
(2) Paul said, when “brothers and sisters … come together, each of you has a hymn, or a word of instruction, a revelation, a tongue or an interpretation. …” (1 Cor 14:26) (NIV)
(3) Paul said, in the assembly, women and men, “you can all prophesy in turn so that everyone may be instructed and encouraged.” (1 Cor 14:31; see also 14:23, 26, 39-40; 11:5; 1:1-2) (NIV)
Women commanded to speak, teach, speak scripture, and sing to men:
(4) Paul said, to women and men, “… be filled with the Spirit, speaking to one another with psalms, hymns, and songs from the Spirit. Sing and make music from your heart to the Lord ….” (Eph 5:18-20)
(5) Paul said, to women and men, “… teach and admonish one another with all wisdom through psalms, hymns, and songs from the Spirit, singing to God ….” (Col 3:16)
Women (and men) commanded to teach everyone, everywhere (not just their own sex and not just outside a worship assembly) with a necessary inference of reading scripture and speaking about Christ:
(6) Jesus said “Go ye therefore, and teach all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father, and of the Son, and of the Holy Ghost ….” (Matt 28:19 (KJV))
Women commanded to serve all with speaking and other gifts with a command or necessary inference of no blanket exclusion as to time, place, or audience as they are commanded to do so “as one who speaks the very words of God”:
(7) The Apostle Peter said, to women and men, “Each of you should use whatever gift you have received to serve others,”—not just other women—“as faithful stewards of God’s grace in its various forms. If anyone speaks, they should do so as one who speaks the very words of God. If anyone serves, they should do so with the strength God provides, so that in all things God may be praised through Jesus Christ. ….” (1 Peter 4:10-11) (NIV)
Approved example of a woman praying and prophesying before a mixed group:
(8) Joseph and Mary “marveled at what was said about [Jesus]. Then Simeon blessed them and said to Mary, his mother: ‘This child is destined to cause the falling and rising of many in Israel ….’ There was also a prophet, Anna …. She never left the temple but worshiped night and day, fasting and praying. Coming up to them at that very moment, she gave thanks to God and spoke about the child to all who were looking forward to the redemption of Jerusalem.” (Luke 2:33-38; see also 1 Cor 11:5, 16)
Women commanded, as part of “every one,” to speak, including prophesying and praying, in a mixed assembly:
(9) The Apostle Paul said, to women and men, “I would like every one of you to speak in tongues, but I would rather have you prophesy … so that the church may be edified.” (1 Cor 14:5; see also 1 Cor 1:1-2; 11:5; 14:23, 26, 39-40) Speaking in tongues included prayer. (e.g., 1 Cor 14:14 (“For if I pray in a tongue ….”))
Women commanded to pray out loud in a mixed assembly with an approved example and necessary inference from Paul wanting all to pray with “understanding” (out loud, regular way, not in tongues):
(10) The Apostle Paul, after telling women and men, “I would like every one of you to speak in tongues, but I would rather have you prophesy,” describes “build[ing] up the church,” including telling them “if I pray in a tongue, my spirit prays, but my mind is unfruitful. So what shall I do? I will pray with my spirit, but I will also pray with my understanding; I will sing with my spirit, but I will also sing with my understanding. Otherwise when you are praising God in the Spirit, how can someone else, who is now put in the position of an inquirer, say “Amen” to your thanksgiving, since they do not know what you are saying? You are giving thanks well enough, but no one else is edified.” (1 Cor 14:5, 12-17; see also 1:1-2; 14:6, 23, 26)
Approved example of a woman having authority over men and teaching assembled men about scripture and God’s message:
(11) “When the king heard the words of the Book of the Law, he tore his robes. He gave these orders to Hilkiah the priest [and others of his men]: ‘Go and inquire of the Lord … about what is written in this book that has been found. ….’ [They] went to speak to the prophet Huldah, …. She said to them, ‘This is what the Lord, the God of Israel, says: Tell the man who sent you to me … [teaching of prophecy given].” (2 Kings 22:11-20)
Approved example of women speaking, praying, and prophesying in the churches:
(12) The Apostle Paul said, “I praise you …. Every man who prays or prophesies with his head covered dishonors his head. But every woman who prays or prophesies with her head uncovered dishonors her head …. Judge for yourselves: Is it proper for a woman to pray to God with her head uncovered? … For long hair is given to her as a covering. If anyone wants to be contentious about this, we have no other practice—nor do the churches of God.” (1 Cor 11:2, 4-5, 13-16) “In the following … I have no praise for you, for your meetings do more harm than good. … I hear that when you come together as a church, … [discussing challenges then with their practice of the Lord’s Supper in the assembly].” (1 Cor 11:17-34)
Command and approved example for women to speak to and teach assembled men about Christ and having authority over them (e.g., telling them what Christ wants them to do):
(13) Mary Magdalene and “the other Mary” were the first to see the resurrected Jesus, who said: “’Go … to my brothers and tell them, “I am ascending to my Father and your Father, to my God and your God.”‘ Mary Magdalene went to the disciples with the news: ‘I have seen the Lord!’ … she told them that he had said these things to her.” (John 20:17-18) “Go and tell my brothers to go to Galilee ….” (Matt 28:8-10)
CENI Reveals Women Should Actively Serve in the Worship Assembly …
Thus, the Bible tells women via CENI to …
- prophesy (passages 1-3, 8, 9, 11, and 12 above = pr),
- have “a hymn, or a word of instruction, a revelation, a tongue or an interpretation” (2),
- speak “with psalms, hymns, and songs” (4, 5),
- lead singing (2, 4, 5, 7),
- “go … and teach all” the Gospel (6),
- speak to serve men and women “as one who speaks the very words of God” (7, pr),
- preach (1-3, 6-9, 11-13),
- lead prayer (8-10, 12),
- speak in tongues (2, 9),
- teach (1-3, 8, 11, 13, pr),
- read scripture (2, 4-5, 7, 11, pr), and
- have authority (7, 11, 13, all) …
… to and for men and women in the assembly.
There are passages beyond these 13 with CENIs in a similar vein.
Some will say that the setting of passages 6-8 and 11-13 is not in “the” assembly in the sense of “the church.” Some argue passage 12 is not in a mixed assembly but evidence strongly points to it being in the full church (see commentary on the various passages in Sources & Notes below). There is little disputing that passages 8, 11, and 13 depict mixed groups who are praising or striving to serve God, so the distinction seems strained. The remaining two (6 and 7, the Great Commission and serving “as one who speaks the very words of God”) on their face apply to all reasonable—and maybe unreasonable—times and places. A few will argue passages 4-5 do not refer to in the assembly, but even very conservative Church of Christ scholars say they do (see Sources & Notes below).
“Plainly” Diverted …
Oddly, many of the same people who ostensibly apply CENI—which emphasizes an analytical view of interpretation—take an extremely non-analytical view of the two passages used to exclude women from speaking in the assembly, 1 Cor 14:34-35 and 1 Tim 2:11-15.
Instead, they often simply quote parts of certain English translations of the two and declare them to “plainly” or “clearly” state God’s will even though:
(a) the briefest study of those verses reveals they do not have the “plain” meaning (for instance, women, while in the churches, both sing and ask to be prayed for and baptized even though the verses say “Women should remain silent in the churches. They are not allowed to speak, …. If they want to inquire about something, they should ask their own husbands at home.”)—instead, those verses have a “technical,” “special,” or “highly contextual” meaning, one requiring interpretative study (one such study is here);
(b) even very conservative scholars—e.g., Wayne Jackson, Everett Ferguson, John Piper, Wayne Grudem, D.A. Carson, …—do not advocate that they have their “plain” meaning (see endnote  in Sources & Notes); and
(c) other scripture, including the 13 passages above, and Church-of-Christ practice directly contradict a “plain meaning” interpretation of those two passages, suggesting the “plain meaning” interpretation is incorrect (see an introduction here).
The Plain-Meaning Approach is Not a CENI approach
Such people are not truly applying the CENI approach because, among other things, they are
(a) not determining what commands, examples, and inferences are actually contained in 1 Cor 14:34-35 and 1 Tim 2:11-15 in the first place, choosing instead to hew to “plain meaning,” knowing that the verses do not have their plain meaning (one conservative Church of Christ scholar explains that use of CENI is valid “after we have used other principles of hermeneutics to understand its meaning” and that the first step is “determining what the passage meant to those who first received it”);
(b) favoring the Church of Christ tradition of excluding women over and above scripture like the 13 discussed above when a CENI approach is supposed to reject man-made doctrine for the Bible’s instructions; and
(c) rejecting using scriptural analysis to determine what 1 Cor 14:34-35 and 1 Tim 2:11-15 mean when CENI requires an analytical approach (e.g., to determine inferences, to determine if an example is authorized, to determine if an inference is “necessary,” etc.).
Scriptural analysis reveals it is highly likely the verses in these passages said to exclude women mean:
- 1 Cor 14:34-35: Married women are asked not to speak disruptive questions (maybe questions about prophecy and judging it); instead they are supposed to ask their husbands at home. To do otherwise causes a disgrace. (analysis here and here)
- 1 Tim 2:12: I do not permit a woman to teach uninformed, false doctrine that disturbs the peace and that involves an exercise of seized power in a domineering way that creates conflict with a man; instead, any teaching, etc., must be peaceful. (analysis here)
Multiple Churches of Christ and other churches, colleges, and Biblical scholars, through careful study of the Bible, have concluded that 1 Cor 14:34-35 and 1 Tim 2:12 have such meanings or similar meanings (and not the plain meaning of what is reflected in many common English translations). Such meanings do not call for the exclusion of women from actively serving in the worship assembly.
Thus a CENI approach shows it is God’s will that women actively serve—what some call lead—in a mixed worship assembly by leading prayer, reading scripture, preaching, leading singing, etc. Since a CENI approach is one of the—if not the—strictest hermeunetic approaches to scripture, it stands to reason that if a CENI approach shows women ought to actively serve in the worship assembly, then women ought to actively serve in the worship assembly.
Simply citing plain meaning and relying on tradition regarding scripture might be easy but it does not constitute a yearning for and truly seeking God’s will in scripture, under a CENI approach or any other.
And it does not constitute loving “the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your mind,” nor does asserting restrictions using scripture in such a manner constitute loving “your neighbor as yourself.” Commands, no doubt! (The Greatest Commandment, Matthew 22:37-40.)
Moreover, prohibiting a woman from fully serving in the assembly blocks her from loving—worshiping—the Lord her God with all her heart and with all her soul and with all her mind, as Christ asked her to do. And it blocks her from loving her neighbor as herself, from serving her neighbor in the assembly, as Christ asked her to do. Commands, no doubt!
The main question is that now that you know the Bible—and even CENIs—shows it is God’s will that women actively serve in the worship assembly by leading prayer, reading scripture, preaching, leading singing, etc., what are you going to do?
Additional commentary on each of the 13 passages can be found in the (lengthy!) Sources & Notes section.
Sources & Notes
I quote the most relevant part of the scripture associated with each of the 13 CENIs to be efficient in light of space and attempt to capture its meaning in context in the headers and with what I quote. Additional context is discussed with reference to each of the 13 below in the Commentary section.
I primarily think of speaking in the assembly as “serving” rather than “having authority” or “leading.” For example, I think of “leading prayer” as serving the congregation. By “actively serving” or the like, I am referring to what many refer to as a “leadership” role—preaching, leading singing, leading prayer, serving at the communion table, making announcements, etc. By “actively serving,” I am not referring to singing with the congregation, participating in communion when passed, giving money when the plate is passed, or similar things, which might be thought of as “passively serving” (even though, of course, when one sings or passes the plate, etc., one is not really being wholly passive.). “Leading worship” and “actively serving” and the like are all imperfect and unsatisfactory descriptors, but some short-hand is necessary for efficiency.
There are variations on the CENI approach, and I have tried to capture, in summary, the type reflected in my interface with those who employ it now and in my readings and observations.
For sources for CENI Introduction, CENI Use, and CENI’s Use Today and on CENI generally: see, e.g.,
Discussion of some underlying principles used in the CENI approach:
John Mark Hicks, Stone-Campbell Hermeneutics IV — Regulative Principle and Churches of Christ, JohnMarkHicks.com (May 30, 2008).
Generally positive regarding CENI:
Mike Willis, “Four Ways to Establish Bible Authority,” Truth Magazine Vol. XLIV: 18 page 2 (September 21, 2000).
“Sermon: The Case for CENI” (July 6, 2014), Sunset Church of Christ (Hillsboro, OR), accessed June 2, 2018 (CENI “hermeneutic is the only one applicable to the law of God”); see also video and slides here.
“Biblical Authority,” The Gospel Defender (February 2, 2007), accessed June 2, 2018.
Stafford North, “Command, Example, and Necessary Inference,” OC.edu (Oklahoma Christian) (Undated), accessed June 2, 2018.
Generally negative regarding CENI:
Jay F. Guin, “CENI: Introduction,” OneinJesus.info (May 2, 2009), accessed June 2, 2018.
Tim Archer, “Direct commands, approved examples and necessary inferences,” The Kitchen of Half Baked Thoughts (March 13, 2012), accessed June 2, 2018.
(It is much easier to find articles criticizing CENI than it is to fine ones extolling its benefits. I tried to include mostly the ones touting CENI here, as the others are easy to find.)
See also Gary D. Collier, “Bringing the Word to Life: An Assessment of the Hermeneutical Impasse in Churches of Christ,” GaryDCollier.com (June 1990) (includes several interesting quotes and cites regarding “necessary inference” from the Churches of Christ’s history)
I identified a scholarly thesis on CENI, but could not locate a copy before publication: Michael Wilson Casey, The Development of Necessary Inference in the Hermeneutics of the Disciples of Christ / Churches of Christ (01/01/1986) (Abstract: “… The Disciples made naive assumptions about how scripture was to be interpreted; believing that the Bible could be approached inductively and by simply quoting the appropriate verses of scripture and avoiding syllogistic or “human” reasoning all people could interpret the Bible alike….”).
“Some assert that CENI is the only …” See, e.g., “The Case for CENI,” supra (“Jesus made it clear to keep his commandments (John 14:15), follow His examples (John 13:15), and draw logical conclusions of obedience from His doctrines (Matthew 25:26-27). Paul made it clear that we were to observe his commands in Christ (2 Thessalonians 3:14), his examples in Christ (2 Thessalonians 3:9), and to draw logical conclusions of obedience (1 Corinthians 6:7; II Timothy 2:15).”)
Endnote : “Instead, an inference is necessary only if “the conclusion drawn from the facts is irresistible” or “the implication in the premises is so strong that the conclusion is sure.'”: Wayne Jackson, “What is a ‘Necessary Inference’?” ChristianCourier.com, Access Date: June 2, 2018 (“Necessary” inference is to be differentiated from “reasonable” inference. “’Reasonable’ inferences suggest a likely possibility. … On the other hand, if an ‘inference’ is characterized as ‘necessary,’ this means that the conclusion drawn from the facts is irresistible.“); Stafford North, “Command, Example, and Necessary Inference,” OC.edu (Oklahoma Christian) (Undated), Last Accessed June 2, 2018 (“A “necessary” inference is one where the implication in the premises is so strong that the conclusion is considered sure. For example, “Only American-born persons may become president of the United States.” Tony Blair is not American-born. Therefore, Tony Blair may not become president of the United States. Since the premises are certain, this conclusion is also certain. Again, someone might propose that “Only those who have held previous political office can be elected president.” John has not held previous political office. Therefore, John cannot become president. While there is strong evidence to suggest that a previous political office is certainly the common way of rising to the presidency, this statement does not have the same certainty as the first.”). “Necessary inference” is probably the most controversial of the three categories of CENI.
Endnote , In the “CENI Reveals …” Section: Of course, there is a lot of overlap among the actions shown in the bullet points. I attempted to designate at least the most relevant scripture passages from among the 13. Some of the passages apply to other categories, too. Prophesying and prophecy is not just foretelling possible futures. Prophesying includes, for example, speaking to people for “their strengthening, encouraging and comfort[ing]” (1 Cor 14:2-4, 31), edifying them (14:5), instructing them (14:19), convicting them of sin (14:24), and/or revealing God’s will (14:26, 30). Thus, the prophesy referred to includes, in large measure, what we refer to as preaching today. “Teach” and “teaching” in this context is likewise a function preachers carry out. There is overlap among the categories of actions listed. Prophesying, for example, includes, at times, teaching, reading and analyzing scripture, foretelling the future, giving the word of God, and similar things. Preaching often involves such things.
p = all the numbered passages associated with prophesy (passages 1-3, 8, 9, 11, and 12 above)
Endnote : “even very conservative scholars … who have studied the matter do not advocate that they have their plain and ordinary’ meaning”: They discuss the “type” of speaking prohibited, the “kind” of teaching prohibited, limiting the direction’s application to a worship assembly, etc., for example. See, e.g., Everett Ferguson, Women in the Church, 2nd ed., Abilene, Texas: Desert Willow Publishing (2015), pages 21, 28-29, 118 (not all “speaking” is prohibited for women by 1 Cor 14:34-35, only certain “kinds of speaking” are prohibited; women can speak “Amen” along with the rest of the congregation, they can translate, they can speak by interpreting or translating for another, and they can speak their confession of faith at baptism); Ferguson, supra, page 46 (setting of 1 Timothy 2 as the assembly “is not so obvious” but limiting based on other scripture); Wayne Jackson, “1 Corinthians 14:34–‘Silence’ in the Church,” Christian Courier, Accessed May 15, 2018 (“The first two prohibitions demand silence only in the matters being discussed. They do not forbid these men to otherwise speak consistent with their divine obligations. … This does not demand that a woman be absolutely silent at church. Rather, in harmony with what the apostle taught elsewhere (1 Tim. 2:12), the woman is not to speak or teach in any way that violates her gender role. She is not to occupy the position of a public teacher, in such a capacity as to stand before the church and function as the teacher (or co-teacher) of a group containing adult men. In assuming this official capacity, she has stepped beyond her authorized sphere, and she violates scripture. … Thus, mark “silence” in verse 34. Draw arrows back to verses 28, 30, and note: Silence not absolute, but qualified by context.); Wayne Jackson, “May a Woman Ever Teach a Man?,” Christian Courier, Accessed May 15, 2018 (“In 1 Timothy 2:12, the grammatical construction of Paul’s prohibition clearly indicates that the term “teach” (didasko) in this setting is the type associated with exercising “authority.” The woman is not to teach in a situation wherein she exerts “authority” as “the teacher.””); Wayne Jackson, “The Role of Woman,” ChristianCourier.com. Access date: June 4, 2018 (“Certainly women may teach … ; they may, in certain ways, teach men. … But a woman may not assume the formal position of teacher, with the man subordinated to the role of student, without violating a New Testament command.”); John Piper & Wayne Grudem, 50 Crucial Questions, Wheaton, Illinois: Crossway (2016), pages 38-39, 41 (“The reason we believe Paul does not mean for women to be totally silent in the church is that in 1 Corinthians 11:5 he permits women to pray and prophesy in church: “Every wife who prays or prophesies with her head uncovered dishonors her head.” But someone may ask, “Why do you choose to let 1 Corinthians 11:5 limit the meaning of 1 Corinthians 14:34 rather than the other way around?””; “This dynamic is significantly different from the public, authoritative teaching of Scripture to a congregation that Paul prohibits for women in 1 Timothy 2:12.”; “When Paul says in 1 Timothy 2:12, “I do not permit a woman to teach or to exercise authority over a man; rather, she is to remain quiet,” we do not understand him to mean an absolute prohibition of all teaching by women.”; “It is arbitrary to think that Paul had every form of teaching in mind in 1 Timothy 2:12. Teaching and learning are such broad terms that it is impossible that women not teach men and that men not learn from women in some sense.”); D.A. Carson, “Silent in the Churches: On the Role of Women in 1 Corinthians 14:33b-36,” Chapter 6 in Recovering Biblical Manhood and Womanhood, ed. by Wayne Grudem, John Piper, Wheaton, Illinois: Crossway Books (1991), pages 133, 142 (“The interpretation of 1 Corinthians 14:33b-36 is by no means easy. The nub of the difficulty is that in 1 Corinthians 11:2-16, Paul is quite prepared for women to pray and prophesy, albeit with certain restrictions; but here, a first reading of the text seems to make the silence he enjoins absolute. The solutions that have been advanced are, like devils in certain instances of demon possession, legion. I can do no more than list a few and mention one or two of my hesitations about them before turning to the interpretation I find most contextually and exegetically secure. … Paul’s point here, however, is that they may not participate in the oral weighing of such prophecies.”).
Endnote  — “conservative Church of Christ scholar …”: Stafford North, “Command, Example, and Necessary Inference,” OC.edu (Oklahoma Christian) (Undated), accessed June 2, 2018.
Endnote  — “Multiple Churches of Christ and others in which women actively serve (lead) in mixed worship services, through careful study of the Bible, have concluded that these verses having such meaning or a similar meaning (and not the plain meaning reflected in many common English translations).”: There is an (incomplete) list of some of the Churches of Christ in which women serve in the worship assembly here. Some of these churches have published their studies. See, for example, the study of the Oak Hills Church, the Glenwood Church, the Providence Road Church of Christ, the Sycamore View Church of Christ, the Springfield Church of Christ, and the Meadowbrook Church of Christ. Also note the article by John T. Willis, “The Inclusion of Women in Worship: The Highland Church of Christ, Abilene, Texas”. Church of Christ university professors have published books addressing those verses, including Carroll D. Osburn, Women in the Church, Abilene: ACU Press (2001) (see pages 264-267 for summary of conclusions). There are links to some denominations’ analysis of this scripture in the Sources and Notes portion of Steve Gardner, “David Lipscomb, Church of Christ Foundational Leader: ‘All the Teaching of the Bible is Against Women Speaking in Public’ (It Gets Worse),” AuthenticTheology.com (April 12, 2018). See also Bill Grasham (Center for Christian Education), “The Role of Women in the American Restoration Movement,” ; Billie Silvey, ed., Trusting Women: The Way of Women in Churches of Christ, Orange, California: New Leaf Books (2002) (moving faith stories of women in the Churches of Christ; Katie Hays’ chapter, “Opening Doors: The Journal of a Minister,” is particularly striking); Thomas Robinson, “A Community Without Barriers: Women in the New Testament and the Church Today,” New York: Manhattan Church of Christ (2002); http://www.communitywithoutbarriers.com/ (resources, including sermons). Most of the colleges affiliated with the Churches of Christ have chapel worship-assemblies in which women fully serve (preach, read scripture, etc.). See Steve Gardner, “Most Church-of-Christ Colleges No Longer Exclude Women From Leading in Worship Services: A List of Schools and Their Approach to Chapel,” AuthenticTheology.com (May 9, 2019). Also see Two Views on Women in Ministry (Revised Edition), ed. by Stanley N. Gundry (series editor) Grand Rapids: Zondervan (2005); How I Changed My Mind About Women in Leadership: Compelling Stories from Prominent Evangelicals, ed. by Alan F. Johnson, Grand Rapids: Zondervan (2010). An in-depth look at both of those verses from a Church of Christ perspective, engaged through a dialog involving a young woman considering colleges, can be found in these three articles: Steve Gardner, “(Part 2) Most Church-of-Christ Colleges No Longer Exclude Women From Leading in Worship Services: Scriptural? and a College Visit,” AuthenticTheology.com (May 16, 2018) (some reasons why it is wrong to assert that 1 Corinthians 14:34-35 or 1 Timothy 2:12 has its “plain meaning” or to simply quote either as “plain” or “clear” teaching that women are not to serve actively in the worship assembly); Steve Gardner, “(Part 3) Most Church-of-Christ Colleges No Longer Exclude Women From Leading in Worship Services: Does It Contradict 1 Cor 14:34-35, “Women Should Remain Silent …?” AuthenticTheology.com (May 22, 2018) (1 Cor 14:34-35 does not exclude women from actively serving in the worship assembly and ample scripture encourages women to speak and teach in the assembly); Steve Gardner, “Most Church-of-Christ Colleges No Longer Exclude Women From Leading in Worship Services: Violates 1 Timothy 2:12 “do not permit a woman to teach or to assume authority over a man”? (Part 4, Conclusion),” AuthenticTheology.com (May 30, 2018) (1 Timothy 2:11-15 does not exclude women from actively serving in the worship assembly and ample scripture encourages it).
Commentary on the 13 Passages Quoted in the Main Text
In the labels / categories given in red in the main text, I speculate on how a person who applies CENI would categorize each passage (as direct command, binding (or approved) example, or necessary inference, etc.). Below, I do so as well and speculate a bit more on what they might say about the passage if they treated it like other CENI-analyzed scripture is treated. I also add or cite some commentary or notes related to some of the passages.
(1) Here is an example of women speaking in a mixed assembly that receives the Apostle Paul’s enthusiastic approval. Hard to deny this describes everyone, women and men, speaking in the assembly here, with a good result. “The whole church” and “everyone” includes, of course, women and men. Thus, Paul was telling women to speak in the church when men are present. Prophesying and prophecy is not just foretelling possible futures. Prophesying includes speaking to people for “their strengthening, encouraging and comfort[ing]” (1 Cor 14:2-4, 31), edifying them (14:5), instructing them (14:19), convicting them of sin (14:24), and/or revealing God’s will (14:26, 30). Thus, it includes preaching, teaching, reading scripture, and the like.
Preaching involves doing one or more of things like speaking about Christ, the Father, or the Holy Spirit, strengthening, encouraging, edifying, instructing, teaching, convicting people of sin, speaking about the good news, speaking about scripture, and revealing God’s will. Prophesying involves doing one or more of things like “strengthening, encouraging and comfort[ing]” (1 Cor 14:2-4, 31), edifying (14:5), instructing (14:19), convicting them of sin (14:24), and revealing God’s will (14:26, 30). Prophecy correlates to preaching. Speaking or teaching about such things correlates to preaching, too. Examples of specifically called out women addressing an assembly by prophesying, speaking, and teaching about such things include: example of Anna, a prophet, speaking about Christ to an assembly of men and women; example of women prophesying in the church(es) at Corinth; example of Huldah prophesying and speaking about scripture to an assembly of men; and example of Mary M speaking to and teaching an assembly of men about Christ’s resurrection, the good news, and what Christ would like for them to do. There are also commandments and necessary inferences, too, in relation to what we refer to as preaching today.
This passage is a binding or approved example and necessary inference at least. See, e.g., North, supra (pointing to 1 Cor 14 as containing commands and examples).
(2) In this verse, Paul commands each woman (and man) who comes to a mixed assembly to sing a hymn, teach, read scripture, tell a revelation given to them by God, speak in tongues, or explain an interpretation. The verse is a command. See, e.g., North, supra (pointing to 1 Cor 14 as containing commands and examples). Note “have a hymn” suggests an individual with a song for everyone, indicating what some refer to as “leading singing.” Paul knows women are prophets (e.g., 1 Cor 11:5, 16) and just told women to prophesy (see item (1)).
Note some form-equivalence translations say “brethren” or “brothers” come together. They are reporting the Greek form and not the meaning expressed in language understood today. (see article discussing form-equivalent and functional-equivalent translation differences (in small part of main text, but primarily in the extended section when click “**** Click here if you …” in that article.)) It is basic Bible that the Greek word used in 1 Cor 14:6, 20, 26 — adelphoi — is literally translated “brothers” in its form, but the Greek language used the word adelphoi / brothers to mean either “brothers” or “brothers and sisters.” In other words, adelphoi was used to mean either a group of people of the male sex or a group of people of both sexes. It seems odd to us in the 21st century, but it is the way the Greek language worked then, and the word adelphoi or “brothers” was used roughly like a lot of people use “guys” today, referring to either a group of males or a group of males and females (some use guys to refer to a group of females, too). As far as I know, the only people who claim 14:6,20,26 refers to only an all-male group of people are fundamentalists working to justify a tradition of excluding women. Even conservative / evangelical translations that translate to provide original meaning expressed in today’s language, like the NIV, NLT, CSB, NET, etc., translate it as “brothers and sisters” in 14:6,20,26, and the Middle-Ages-based translations use the word “brethren” to signal the dual nature of the word (KJV does this). Some of the translations that lean “word-for-word” or literal translation there will use the form “brothers,” expecting you to know it is required when using such translations that you have to know and analyze more about the Bible to figure out the meaning of the word or phrase.
(3) Paul knows women are prophets (1 Cor 11:5). Talking to “brothers and sisters” coming together in the assembly (14:26), Paul tells them “all” to prophesy. He commands and gives an approved example that women and men can prophesy, but it must be in turn. See note above regarding what prophesying entails. See generally, North, supra (pointing to 1 Cor 14 as containing commands and examples).
Some will argue that all of 1 Cor was written just to men. The Apostle Paul, the author of the letter embodied in 1 Cor, however, wrote 1 Cor to women and men, addressing it “To the church of God in Corinth, to those sanctified in Christ Jesus and called to be his holy people, together with all those everywhere who call on the name of our Lord Jesus Christ—their Lord and ours: ….” (1 Cor 1:2). He also addresses women directly throughout 1 Cor, including “Do not deprive each other except perhaps by mutual consent and for a time, so that you may devote yourselves to prayer,” (1 Cor 7:5), and “How do you know, wife, whether you will save your husband?” (1 Cor 7:16). See also, e.g., 1 Cor 7:8 (widows); 7:10 (wives); 7:13 (a woman married to an unbeliever); 7:34-36 (unmarried women); 7:39-40 (married women, widows); 11:5-6 (women praying and prophesying).
(4) and (5): In these two passages, women (and men) are commanded to speak and teach in the worship assembly. Conservative Church of Christ scholars tell us these verses are commands from God to women and men that apply to the worship assembly. See, e.g., Everett Ferguson, Women in the Church, 2nd ed., Abilene, Texas: Desert Willow Publishing (2015), pages 20-21 (“In the assembly women do things commanded of each Christian. These activities would include singing. … These instructions apply to everyone (men are not the only ones to avoid drunkenness) and ‘at all times,’ so including the times of assembly.”) (citing Eph 5:18-20); Wayne Jackson, “Ephesians 5:19 — Making Melody,” ChristianCourier.com, Access date: June 3, 2018 (“command”; “church worship”); Wayne Jackson, “The Authorized Elements of Church Music.” ChristianCourier.com. Access date: June 3, 2018 (Col 3:16 address “church music”; “Psalms” may refer to those compositions in the Hebrew Bible); North, supra (“In the same way, we are told to sing as an offering of music in our worship to God (Colossians 3:16; Ephesians 5:19; I Corinthians 14:15).”). Note they are commands to women to speak to and teach men in a mixed worship assembly, contradicting the “plain meaning” interpretation some ascribe to 1 Cor 14:34-35 (“Women should remain silent in the churches. They are not allowed to speak …”) and 1 Tim 2:12 (“I do not permit a woman to teach …”). These two passages address speaking, both hymns and psalms, thus constituting a command relative to both singing and scripture. Some say these refer only to singing psalms; it seems like a command, example, or necessary inference that if one is authorized to sing a psalm then one is authorized to speak it otherwise.
(6) Here, Jesus directly commands all Christians—women and men—to “go … and teach” everyone (all nations). The command does not express exceptions (e.g., “go, except stop when in the worship assembly” or ” teach everyone, except men when in public”). Note this is a command to women to teach men, contradicting the “plain meaning” interpretation some ascribe to 1 Tim 2:12 (“I do not permit a woman to teach …”). This is a commandment. See, e.g., North, supra (commandment).
(7) In this passage, “each of you”—thus, women (and men)—are commanded to use any gift they have “to serve others.” Note the “others” women are commanded to serve are not just other women. “Others” are women and men. The gifts women are commanded to use to serve men in the verse include speaking. Women (and men) are commanded to speak in a particular manner: “as one who speaks the very words of God.” It is not difficult to necessarily infer that the “very words of God” should be spoken to men in the assembly. Church of Christ bulletins exhort this verse as a command of God. See, e.g., Gene Bench, “Principles from Paradise,” Curry Street Church of Christ Bulletin (April 12, 2015) (“We are commanded to “speak as the oracles of God” (1 Peter 4:11) ” ); (“We are commanded to “speak as the oracles of God” (1 Peter 4:11).”). Note singing is a form of speaking in Paul’s vernacular. See item (4) above, Eph 5:18-20. It seems like a necessary inference that if one speaks as if speaking the very words of God, then reading scripture is authorized. Thus this includes not just preaching and reading scripture, but also leading singing and other activities.
(8) Here is an approved example of a woman praying, prophesying, and teaching before a mixed audience. We know Anna and her audience were in the temple because “she never left.” We know she was a prophet and “praying” was one of the things she did to worship day and night. She came up to “them”–Joseph, Mary, and Simeon at least—“at that very moment,” indicating Simeon was still present and that it occurred during their assembling together for purposes of blessing and worshiping. Some argue Anna was only in the “women’s part” of the temple, but the text rejects that argument, saying she came up to the mixed group “at that very moment.” She prayed before the mixed audience (gave thanks) and then spoke about Jesus. She was a prophet, so presumably she prophesied and taught. Her speaking and teaching almost certainly had something to do with Jesus and “the redemption of Jerusalem.” Thus, this occurred in a mixed assembly of people.
Some would argue this was not “the assembly” even though it was in an assembly because it was before Jesus’s resurrection and before Pentecost. The CENI approach does not inherently declare all pre-Pentecost CENIs to be inapplicable, though, so arguing against their applicability to post-Pentecost assemblies seems contrary to CENI practice and result-driven. Thus, this example includes leading prayer, preaching, and the like.
As mentioned, some fundamentalists insist that only examples given by Apostles are sufficient under CENI, but it seems like an example of a prophet of God who worshiped day and day ought to satisfy them. As to the argument that this scene is not in “the assembly,” note also that the term “the church” or “the assembly” (ekklesia or ecclesia) had varying meanings, including Christ followers (a) everywhere (e.g., Matt 16:18; Eph 1:22); (b) in a particular city or geographic region (e.g., 1 Cor 1:2; 1 Cor 16:19a; 2 Thes 1:1); and (c) gathered in a particular location, such as a house (e.g., Romans 16:5; 1 Cor 16:19b; 1 Cor 14:23). Also, note that assemblies of early Christians–“the assembly”—met in the temple. See, e.g., Acts 2:46 (“Every day they continued to meet together in the temple courts. They broke bread in their homes and ate together with glad and sincere hearts,”).
(9) This is a command for women to speak in the assembly. The Apostle Paul wants “every one of you” to speak—Paul was writing to women (and men), see, e.g., 1 Cor 1:1-5; 1 Cor 14:6 (“brothers and sisters”); 1 Cor 14:1-5 (“the church”). It is a mixed assembly, as it refers to “the church”—both women and men, of course, are part of “the church”—and he desires “the church” to be “edified,” thus all were intended to be present. When he says he wants “every one”—including women—to speak in tongues, and thus commands women to speak in tongues; since tongues includes prayer (1 Cor 14:14), Paul is commanding women to speak prayers, too. Thus, this includes leading prayer, as well as prophecy (see above note of prophecy including preaching, reading scripture, etc.). This verse is a command. See, e.g., Mark Dunagan, “Dunagan’s Commentary on 1 Peter,” CCBibleStudy.net (undated) (Command — “God expects Christians to use their natural abilities to help their brethren and spread the gospel. It is not enough to use such abilities to make a living. They must also be used for others. The same rule applies to spiritual gifts (1 Corinthians 14:5 ‘….so that the church may receive edifying’… 12 ‘seek to abound for the edification of the church.’).”); North, supra.
(10) Here, women are commanded to pray out loud (what some now refer to as lead prayer) in a mixed assembly. These verses also serve as a binding (approved) example and necessary inference from the Apostle Paul. He wants all to pray with “understanding” (out loud, regular way, not in tongues). He says he wants “every one of you”—which is women and men, of course (see above)—“to speak in tongues …” and he wants this speaking in tongues by women to occur when the “whole church comes together,” which of course is when women and men come together, a mixed assembly. Paul says “what shall I do?,” referring to himself but in effect a rhetorical device of putting the reader in his shoes (“what shall I do?” getting the reader / hearer to think “what shall I do?”) in addressing the problem of the mind being “unfruitful” when praying in tongues. Paul then says “I” will do something about that —“pray with my understanding.” That is, Paul commands and/or gives an approved example of praying out loud in a normal voice to solve that problem. It is certainly a command, example, and necessary inference of women praying out loud in a mixed assembly. It is clear it is out loud, as Paul turns to referring to when “you” are “praising God” and to “your thanksgiving” (prayer) and what “you are saying” and whether the hearer / inquirer will say “Amen” as they can understand what they hear “you” saying. Paul concludes in v. 23 with a clear “You are giving thanks” and, referring to tongues again, “no one else is edified.” Paul has been referring to a mixed assembly throughout (e.g., vv. 1-26 (“brothers and sisters,” “whole church,” “everyone,” etc.)) Paul knew, too, that women were praying in the assembly already. (1 Cor 11:5, 16-17)
(11) This serves as an approved example of a woman teaching men about the word of God and of a woman having authority over men. A group of men came to Huldah. They met in an assembly of people, men and at least one woman. The woman was the authority in the group, speaking for God. It is a necessary inference that the person who is speaking for God has authority. They came to her for prophecy and instruction about scripture (the Book of the Law). Thus, this is a binding (or approved) example of a woman speaking in an assembly of men (instructing, reading scripture, prophesying, etc.), teaching men, and having authority over men. As discussed above, some fundamentalists argue only examples from an apostle suffice under CENI, but an example provided by a person who speaks the word of God ought to satisfy them, of course. As to the argument that this scene is not in “the assembly,” note also the commentary on that point in (8) above.
Thus, 2 Kings 22:11-20, gives us an approved example of a woman having authority over men and teaching assembled men about scripture and God’s message. Authorization under CENI, to have authority over men and to teach assembled men about scripture and God’s message (classic what we refer to as preaching or the pulpit minister, etc.) would include authorization not only to preach and teach but to sing this message, pray (speaking to God), etc.
(12) Paul gives an approved example of women praying and prophesying in the assembly. It seems near certain that it refers to praying out loud, as it refers to praying in conjunction with prophesying (of course out loud) and how it reflects on others, for example. Paul describes women praying and prophesying in the assembly.
We know with near certainty that it is in the assembly because the passage refers to what is happening in “the churches of God” (v. 16), the assemblies of God. The churches / assemblies of God are, of course, mixed assemblies. We know that v. 5 is within context of an assembly also because the chapter discusses the Lord’s Supper (vv. 17-34), obviously something happening in the assembly. Also, the veil issue Paul discusses would not have raised an issue of a magnitude for addressing extensively as he did if it were in a setting with all women or in private. Additionally, Paul indicates that he is referring to the assembly in v. 5 by treating vv. 2-34 as a single, unified discussion-block, setting off one part with “I praise you …” (v. 2) and the second part with “I have no praise for you …” (v. 17), and expressing throughout that the discussion-block refers to activity in “the churches” (v. 16), “your meetings,” (v.17), and “when you come together as a church” (v.18), as well as noting throughout that the discussion-block is concerned with one’s relationship to others (e.g., not dishonoring one another, Christ, and God (vv. 3-5, 7-12) and avoiding “divisions among you” (v.18)). Thus, this refers to what some now call leading prayer, as well as prophecy (see note above regarding what prophecy entailed).
(13) Here, Jesus commands women to evangelize, teach, and direct men, the disciples (to “go … and tell”). Here we have Jesus telling women to “Go” and tell men of his resurrection and what Jesus said to do. This is what we today refer to as evangelism or being an evangelist. In the worship assembly, there is a role in which the person gos and tells men and women of Jesus’s resurrection and what Jesus said to do. That role is “preacher,” “pulpit minister,” “evangelist,” etc. Jesus commands the women to both teach them (‘I am ascending to my Father and your Father, to my God and your God’ and, impliedly at least, that he has risen) and to give them orders (go to Galilee).
The disciples were in fear and it is nearly certain that they were assembled together when she told them. The text indicates this, as it says “Mary Magdalene went to the disciples with the news: “I have seen the Lord!” And she told them that he had said these things to her,” (John 20:18.), indicating they were together (“to the disciples”) and she said it once.
Thus, this is a command by Jesus for a woman to teach, evangelize, and command an assembly made up of men.
Some will argue “the church” did not begin until Pentecost, rather than at Jesus’s resurrection or before. However, as discussed previously, the CENI approach does not inherently declare all pre-Pentecost CENIs to be inapplicable, so arguing against their applicability to post-Pentecost assemblies seems contrary to CENI practice and result-driven.
This verse is recognized as a command. See, e.g., Eric Lyons, “Meet Me in Galilee,” Apologetics Press (2005) (“Jesus commanded Mary Magdalene and the other women to tell the disciples to go meet the Lord in Galilee”). Some might argue this is not a command for all women today. If Jesus’s command to the women reported in Matthew 28:5-10 and John 20:17-18 is not a command for women today, then does that mean the Great Commission at Matthew 28:16-20 (command to the disciples) is not a command for us today?
The picture is from pixabay.com.
Several aspects of CENI are controversial, and it has been criticized for treating the Bible as a rule book, starting from the odd concept that those created in God’s image are not authorized to do anything, promoting the worship of the Bible (Biblicism), and ignoring other ways God’s will might be revealed (nature, reason, etc.). To be clear, I am not endorsing the CENI approach. I am pointing out that under a CENI approach, the Bible commands women to speak, teach, etc., in the worship assembly and indicates it is perfectly acceptable for women to have authority over men in the assembly. Thus, since women are commanded to actively serve under the *hardest possible standard* to meet within the Churches of Christ hermeneutical palate (CENI), women would be authorized to actively serve (preach, read scripture, etc.) in the mixed worship assembly under virtually any standard applied.
All scripture quoted is from the NIV translation unless otherwise specified.