This article describes and quotes 20 scripture passages telling women to speak, teach, lead, and have authority over men, in the assembly and elsewhere. These are particularly important when evaluating the practice of prohibiting women from reading scripture, leading singing, leading prayer, and preaching in the worship assembly.
This article also notes an increasing number of Church of Christ congregations and most Church of Christ colleges no longer exclude women from speaking in the assembly and provides cites.
This article briefly explains the meaning of the 3 verses used to exclude women and how virtually no congregation follows their “plain meaning” (“women should remain silent in the churches” they say, but hardly anyone does), how virtually no Biblical scholar—conservative or liberal—says they have their “plain meaning,” and how their “plain meaning” conflicts with lots of other scripture, but people often simply assert their “plain meaning” and make no further effort.
Finally, the article asks how people can support prohibiting and blocking women from fully serving in the assembly and elsewhere when God asks women to so serve.
20 Bible Passages
Here are 20 scripture passages that tell women to speak, teach, lead, and have authority over men, in the assembly and elsewhere:
Women—part of “the whole church,” “everyone,” “brothers and sisters,” and “all”—are to speak, prophesy, sing a hymn, teach, read scripture, preach, and have 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)
(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)
(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)
Women are to speak, teach, speak scripture, teach with 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 are to teach everyone, everywhere (not just their own sex and not just outside a worship assembly):
(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)
Women are to serve all, including men, with their speaking and other gifts (no exclusion as to time, place, or audience) and they are to speak “as one who speaks the very words of God” (who of course would not be excluded from anywhere, including the worship assembly):
(7) The Apostle Peter said, to women and men, “Each of you should use whatever gift you have received to serve others, 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)
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 2:25-38; see also 1 Cor 11:5, 16)
Women, as part of “every one,” are 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 are to pray out loud in a mixed assembly as part of Paul wanting everyone to pray with “understanding” (out loud, regular way, not in tongues):
(10) The Apostle Paul, telling women and men, “I would like every one of you to speak in tongues,” explains “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; …. 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)
Example of a woman having authority over men and teaching assembled men about scripture and God’s message:
(11) The King’s men came to Huldah for prophecy and instruction about scripture: “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)
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]. So then, my brothers and sisters, when you gather to eat, you should all eat together. ” (1 Cor 11:17-34)
Women told by Christ 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 to them: “’Go … to my brothers and tell them, “I am ascending to my Father and your Father, to my God and your God.”‘ “Go and tell my brothers to go to Galilee ….” (Matt 28:8-10) 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; see also Luke 24:9, 33; John 20:19))
Example of a woman teaching a knowledgable man about the way of God:
(14) “Meanwhile a Jew named Apollos, a native of Alexandria, came to Ephesus. He was a learned man, with a thorough knowledge of the Scriptures. He had been instructed in the way of the Lord, and he spoke with great fervor and taught about Jesus accurately, though he knew only the baptism of John. He began to speak boldly in the synagogue. When Priscilla and Aquila heard him, they invited him to their home and explained to him the way of God more adequately.” (Acts 18:24-26)
Older women encouraged to teach what is good to all, both men and women (Titus 2:3), and especially to younger women (2:4-5):
(15) “3 Likewise, teach the older women to be reverent in the way they live, not to be slanderers or addicted to much wine, but to teach what is good. 4 Then they can urge the younger women to love their husbands and children, 5 to be self-controlled and pure, to be busy at home, to be kind, and to be subject to their husbands, so that no one will malign the word of God.” (Titus 2:3-5)
Example of a woman, Deborah, who was the ruler of Israel and a prophet, “having authority” over men:
(16) “Deborah, a prophet, the wife of Lappidoth, was leading Israel at that time. … She sent for Barak … and said to him, “The Lord, the God of Israel, commands you: ‘Go, take with you ten thousand men of Naphtali and Zebulun and lead them up to Mount Tabor. I will lead Sisera, the commander of Jabin’s army, with his chariots and his troops to the Kishon River and give him into your hands.’” Barak said to her, “If you go with me, I will go; but if you don’t go with me, I won’t go.” “Certainly I will go with you,” said Deborah. “But because of the course you are taking, the honor will not be yours, for the Lord will deliver Sisera into the hands of a woman.” So Deborah went with Barak to Kedesh. There Barak summoned Zebulun and Naphtali, and ten thousand men went up under his command. Deborah also went up with him. … Then Deborah said to Barak, “Go! This is the day the Lord has given Sisera into your hands. Has not the Lord gone ahead of you?” So Barak went down Mount Tabor, with ten thousand men following him. At Barak’s advance, the Lord routed Sisera and all his chariots and army by the sword, and Sisera got down from his chariot and fled on foot.” (Judges 4-5)
Prophets speak for God, thereby of course “having authority” over men, and there were lots of female prophets:
(17) Female prophets included Anna, who prophesied in the Temple to men (Luke 2:36-38), Deborah, Philips’ daughters (Acts 21:8-9), Miriam (Exodus 15:20), Noadiah (Neh 6:14), and many others (Acts 2:17-18).
A wife can have authority over her husband:
(18) As to sexual relations, a husband ‘does not have authority’ over his body—his wife has authority over him. (1 Cor 7:4)
Women can have authority over men — Men are to submit to women and women are to submit to men:
(19) “Submit to one another out of reverence for Christ.” (Eph 5:21)
Women are to prophesy:
(20) Peter said “‘In the last days, God says,
I will pour out my Spirit on all people.
Your sons and daughters will prophesy,
your young men will see visions,
your old men will dream dreams.
Even on my servants, both men and women,
I will pour out my Spirit in those days,
and they will prophesy.”
3 More Bonus Verses and Even More
“There is neither Jew nor Gentile, neither slave nor free, nor is there male and female, for you are all one in Christ Jesus.”
The first evangelist was a woman, the “woman at the well,” the first person Jesus, our saviour, chose to proclaim that he was the Messiah. She went to her village (men and women) and taught them about Jesus and in response many “believed in him because of the woman’s testimony.”
“Therefore, my brothers and sisters, be eager to prophesy, and do not forbid speaking in tongues.”
(1 Corinthians 14:39)
For even more passages showing women leading and having authority over men and speaking in a mixed assembly, see the Sources & Notes section below.
Churches of Christ
Why do some people think women should not teach and speak to men about Christ in the church when God tells us otherwise in the Bible?
These passages are at the forefront of change relative to excluding women from speaking in the assembly in the Churches of Christ.
When one actually studies the scripture for themselves, rather than relying on tradition, it is apparent that exluding women from teaching and speaking to men in the church is wrong.
An increasing number of Churches of Christ have concluded after study that their previous application of 1 Cor 14:34-35 and 1 Tim 2:12 to exclude women from actively serving in the worship assembly is following man-made tradition and not scripture and is wrong. An (incomplete) list of Churches of Christ in which women serve in the worship assembly is here. Some of those churches published studies explaining why scripture does not prohibit women from actively serving in the assembly, including the Oak Hills Church, the Glenwood Church, the Providence Road Church of Christ, the Sycamore View Church of Christ, the Springfield Church of Christ, the Fourth Avenue Church of Christ, Southern Hills Church of Christ, and Meadowbrook Church of Christ. Also note “The Inclusion of Women in Worship: The Highland Church of Christ, Abilene, Texas.”
Most Church of Christ colleges no longer exclude women from speaking and actively serving in the worship assembly.
The Meaning of 1 Cor 14:34-35 and 1 Tim 2:12
Scriptural analysis reveals it is highly likely the verses said to exclude women mean:
- 1 Cor 14:34-35: Married women are not to speak disruptive questions; instead they are supposed to ask those to their husbands at home. To do otherwise causes a disgrace.
- 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.
Consideration of those two main passages relied on to exclude women reveals the passages do not have the plain meaning of their typical English translation—including that they conflict with the above 20 passages and others.
The main challenge people have with understanding that 1 Cor 14:34-35 and 1 Tim 2:12 have the meanings described above is that their minds keep going back to “plain meaning.” As the scriptural analysis linked below indicates, we know with great confidence that these passages do not have their plain meaning.
Virtually no one with credibility who has studied these passages say they have their plain meaning. Otherwise, for example, you would have to prohibit women from singing in church and from asking about baptism for herself or asking for prayers (women must “remain silent in the churches” and “if they want to inquire about something, they should ask their own husbands at home”). Instead, everyone asks silence as to what? And what kind of teaching? And what kind of authority?
So, stop relying on “plain meaning” to justify excluding women. When your mind goes to “plain meaning,” remind yourself such meaning is one essentially everyone who has studied the matter agrees is wrong. And then ask yourself what it really means.
Once the passages are studied, it is clear they do not exclude women from speaking in the assembly. The Churches of Christ are almost alone among denominations that have most of their congregations excluding women from active service in the assembly to such an extreme and total extent.
Actual Practice Suggests They Don’t Have Their Plain Meaning, Too
And no congregation follows their plain meaning. They 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 Cor 14:34-35)
- “I do not permit a woman to teach or to assume authority over a man; she must be quiet.” (1 Tim 2:12)
Hardly a single woman remains silent in the churches. Women sing. They greet people. They say “good morning” and “Amen.” They give confession to the assembly before baptism. They respond to the invitation and speak to the preacher or an elder in the assembly. They talk to their kids and sometimes other people during preaching. They make comments in Sunday School.
Women inquire about things. Women go forward in the assembly to ask about being baptized or about prayers for themselves or others. They sometimes ask the person next to them (“what verse?” “what did he say?” “what is their name?”). They ask the preacher and their friends things after services. They ask questions in Sunday School or Wednesday night class. They don’t do as the verse says, “if they want to inquire about somethiing, they should ask their own husbands at home.”
Men are taught in the assembly by women most Sundays when the congregation sings hymns written by women. Women also teach men in the assembly when women sing. Women teach men through their words and actions in the assembly, at church, and in daily life, too. They teach men with their comments and questions in Sunday School. Women teach men as teachers in high schools. They teach men during church projects. Women teach men in online Facebook groups, with books women wrote, and in all manner of ways.
And women have authority over men all the time. Women are often in charge of Vacation Bible School, church activities (food drives for needy families, etc.), and most of the kids’ programs. Men work on those. Women tell men what to do in the church kitchen. Moms have authority over their sons. Women are supervisors over men at work and teach men things there regularly. Women are police officers. Women are governors and military officers.
Reading 1 Cor 14:34-35 in context makes it clear that (1) it is speaking to married women (“their own husbands”) and (2) like the scriptures that come immediately before it (1 Cor 14:26-33) the word silent (sigato) is used to refer not to complete silence for all purposes, but to silence as to the particular thing referenced (tongues, prophecy, questions that are not submissive).
Reading 1 Tim 2:12 in context makes it clear that (1) Paul tells us at the very beginning of 1 Tim what kind of “teaching” he is referring to— uninformed, false teaching that disturbs the peace (he tells Timothy to to “command certain people not to teach false doctrines any longer …” (1:3) because it disturbs the peace (1:4) and those folks “do not know what they are talking about …,” (1:8-11)), teaching that is done in a domineering way that breaches the peace, and not to normal teaching; and (2) the kind of authority referred to is authority that is seized (usurped) and domineering (authentein), not to simply having authority, teaching, speaking, reading scripture, etc., in the normal fashion.
An example of more detailed scriptural analysis of 1 Tim 2:12 is here.
The Current Church of Christ Interpretation Excluding Women is New
The Churches of Christ and some others as recently as the late 1800s and early 1900s interpreted scripture to exclude women from teaching men and from having authority over men virtually anywhere and everywhere and in any context—in public, in the workplace, in government, anywhere except in some home settings, in private. That interpretation was based on the idea that women were inferior and that they must not do anything except raise children. It was a patriarchical society for centuries.
David Lipscomb, Churches of Christ foundational leader, said in the late 1800s and early 1900s, for example:
- “It is wrong for a woman to become a leader or public teacher of men in any place or on any occasion.”
- “[A]ll public teaching and speaking on any subject at any place puts woman out of place, out of her God-given work.”
- 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.”
It became clear at some point that the concepts that women are inferior and must be limited to raising children are wrong and could not support the continued interpretation of scripture to exclude women. But Churches of Christ kept excluding women at church while eventually mostly stopping using scripture to exclude them in the workplace and government. The basis for the interpretation disappeared and most of its application (to workplace, government, public, etc.) disappeared, but its application to one place (church) held on.
The current Church of Christ interpretation (excluding in the assembly and Sunday School only) is thus not the same as the way scripture has been interpreted for 2000 years. Or even 100 years ago.
Little Room for Change for Centuries, but Shortly After There Was …
And it was almost all the Catholic Church until after Martin Luther kicked off the Reformation about 500 years ago, in 1517. The interpretation was what the elite in the Catholic Church said until then and literacy rates were low. The printing press was invented not that long before and scripture became accessible to the masses.
Then, not long after, there were female preachers ordained beginning at least in the 1600s.
In the U.S. (est. 1776), Quakers, the Restoration Movement from which the Church of Christ springs (look up Clara Celestia Hale Babcock, for example), and others ordained women at least by the 1800s.
Today we have much better insight into Biblical languages, manuscripts, history, and context than they did over those centuries. If we interpreted the same way as those centuries now, folks would insist that slavery is Biblical, the world is flat, and the sun revolves around the Earth.
A Duty: Time, Close Consideration, and Discussion With Others
That the passages traditionally cited to exclude women from speaking in the assembly are much narrower in meaning becomes clear when time is spent studying them, rather than just reading them quickly and relying on “plain meaning,” a meaning that is plainly wrong.
Any care at all for women requires spending substantial time considering the issue yourself.
And not just trying to justify your past view—it includes closely reading and honestly evaluating arguments on the other side. It involves talking with people who hold a different view and specifically identifying to them anything that gives you pause regarding the conclusion that scripture does exclude women from speaking in the assembly.
Time spent studying while remembering that those two passages do not have their plain meaning reveals that they do not exclude women from speaking in the assembly.
And there are lots and lots of passages that ask women to speak in the assembly (see above).
Jesus said “Love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your mind and with all your strength.’ … ‘Love your neighbor as yourself.’ There is no commandment greater than these.” (Mark 12:30-31; see also Matt 22:36-40; Luke 6:31; John 13:34-35)
Prohibiting a woman from fully serving in the assembly and elsewhere 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 asks her to do. And it blocks her from loving her neighbor as herself, from actively serving her neighbor in the assembly as herself. And it blocks her serving others in the assembly as she would have done as to her and from loving others in the assembly as Christ has loved others.
All of these things God asks her to do.
And you support prohibiting her from doing them? Please read Matthew 18:6-7.
Such a prohibition blocks teenage girls — your daughters, grand-daughters, and great-grand-daughters — from loving the Lord her God with all her heart and with all her soul and with all her might. It blocks her from serving her neighbor in the assembly. And it blocks their moms from doing so, too.
Again, from things that God asks them to do.
It is way past time that the prohibition come to an end.
Sources & Notes
For sources and notes on this subject, see the Sources & Notes for my prior posts, including, for notes on many of the 20 scripture passages quoted, Steve Gardner, “13 Church of Christ CENIS Authorizing Women to Speak in the Worship Assembly (Commands, Examples, Necessary Inferences),” AuthenticTheology.com (June 6, 2018). For notes and sources on interpretation of 1 Cor 14:34-35 and 1 Tim 2:12, the historical interpretation of those scriptures, and similar matters, see parts 2, 3, and 4 of the series beginning here: 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).
For a close look at the historical interpretation of 1 Timothy 2:12 and surrounding scripture, see Kevin Giles, “A Critique of the ‘Novel’ Contemporary Interpretation of 1 Timothy 2:9-15 Given in the Book, Women in the Church. Part I,”, Evangelical Quarterly 72:2 (2000), 151-167; Kevin Giles, “A Critique of the ‘Novel’ Contemporary Interpretation of 1 Timothy 2:9-15 Given in the Book, Women in the Church. Part II,” Evangelical Quarterly EQ 72:3 (2000), 195-215.
David Lipscomb quotes: 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). Alexander Campbell had similar views. See Steve Gardner, “Alexander Campbell, Church-of-Christ Denomination Progenitor: Women’s Domain “Rightfully Only House Wide,” AuthenticTheology.com (March 23, 2018).
Note also that Lipscomb allowed for women teaching Sunday School to men because he considered Sunday School not to be a “public” setting, considering it more like a private, home setting.
For examples of other scripture passages that do not have their “plain meaning,” see Steve Gardner, “15 Bible Passages That Don’t Mean What They Say, That Don’t Have Their ‘Plain Meaning,’” AuthenticTheology.com (September 3, 2018).
I use the term “having authority” and the like in this article in the way used by others to succinctly make my point and I do not mean to imply that I think that reading scripture or leading singing in the assembly, teaching Sunday School, etc., is “having authority.” I think of what a lot of people call “leading worship” and some argue is “having authority” as serving others instead. See 1 Cor 12:2.
For additional passages showing women as speaking in the assembly and leading and having authority over men, see, e.g., Romans 16:1-2 (“I commend to you our sister Phoebe, a deacon of the church at Cenchreae, so that you may welcome her in the Lord as is fitting for the saints, and help her in whatever she may require …”); 1 Tim 3:11 (now recognized as probably “women deacons”); Romans 16:7 (female apostle Junia); Micah 6:3-4 (God said to all of his people (men and women) “… I sent Moses to lead you, also Aaron and Miriam.”); Num 12:1-15 (same); Gen 1:26-31 (women and men equally charged and given equal authority, “God said, ‘Let us make humankind in our image …; and let them have dominion … over every creeping thing … upon the earth.’ So God created humankind in his image, in the image of God he created them; male and female he created them. God blessed them, and God said to them, ‘Be fruitful and multiply, and fill the earth and subdue it; and have dominion over … every living thing that moves upon the earth.’ … God saw everything … he … made, and indeed, it was very good.”); Isaiah 8:3 (female prophet, Isaiah’s wife); Nehemiah 6:14 (Noadiah, female prophet); Acts 9:36 (female disciple of Jesus); Mark 15:40-41 (same); Luke 8:1-3 (same); John 4:28-29 (first evangelist of Christ as the Messiah was a woman); Matthew 27:1-7 (women leading in courage after Christ’s death); Phil 4:2-3 (women co-workers with Paul); Acts 1:13-14 (women praying in a mixed assembly, including the 12); Acts 12:12 (women leading men and women and having authority over them by being responsible for them in their homes, Peter “went to the house of Mary … where many had gathered and were praying.”); Col 4:15 (same, “greetings to … Nympha and the church in her house”); Acts 17:1-9 (homeowners responsible for guests’ actions); Luke 8:2-3 (women leading, women supporters/patrons); Romans 16:2 (same); Acts 16:14-15 (same); Rom 16:7 (women risked their freedom for the kingdom of God, “Greet Andronicus and Junia, … who were in prison with me….”); Rom 16:3-4 (women risked their lives for the kingdom of God, “Greet Prisca and Aquila, who work with me in Christ Jesus, and who risked their necks for my life ….”).
All scripture quoted is from the NIV, except for (6) which is from the KJV.
10/3/18: Added Southern Hills Church of Christ link.