This article describes and quotes 20 Bible passages telling women to speak, teach, lead, and have authority over men, in an assembly and elsewhere.
Many, if not all, of these contradict the view, urged by some, that women and girls are prohibited from speaking to, teaching, leading, or having authority over men in a worship service when men are present.
This article also briefly explains the meaning of the approximately 3 sentences 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, for example, as women sing there), how virtually no Biblical scholar—conservative or liberal—says they have their “plain meaning,” and how their supposed “plain meaning” conflicts with scripture.
But people often reflexively simply assert their “plain meaning” by just quoting them or asserting “it is plain” and make no further effort of care for women and young girls.
Finally, the article addresses why women were generally excluded for centuries and some reasons why that means very little now and asks some questions.
20 Bible Passages
Here are 20 scripture passages in which God asks women to speak to, teach, lead, and have authority over men, in an assembly and elsewhere.
Each passage or set of passages is introduced by a red-lettered introduction pointing out its relevance to women speaking, etc.:
Women—part of “the whole church,” “everyone,” “brothers and sisters,” “each of you,” and “all”—are to prophesy, have a hymn, lead, teach, preach, and speak 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 Corinthians 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) (see first question in the comment section for Q&A on why some form translations say “brothers” or “brethren” in v. 26, and it is still generally recognized as meaning men and women)
(3) Paul said “you can all prophesy in turn so that everyone may be instructed and encouraged.” (1 Cor 14:31; see also 14:23-25, 26, 39-40; 11:5; 1:1-2)
Women (and men) (“one another”) told to speak to, teach to, and admonish men (and women) — preach — with scripture, hymns, and songs in an assembly, given authority over 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 ….” (Ephesians 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 ….” (Colossians 3:16; see also Luke 24:44)
Women told by Christ to go and preach to assembled men — to go and tell assembled men what the Word reveals to them (e.g., the good news of Christ’s resurrection and more) and what the Word wants the men to know and do (e.g., about the resurrection, that God is their God, where to go, and more); women having authority over men (e.g., telling them what the Word wants them to do):
(6) The first people to which Jesus, the Word (John 1), revealed the good news of Jesus’s resurrection were women, Mary Magdalene and “the other Mary.” (John 20:16-17; Matt 28:9) He revealed his resurrection to them, spoke Mary’s name, said “Do not hold on to me, for I have not yet ascended to the Father,” and told them “Do not be afraid.” (John 20:16-17; Matthew 28:10). Jesus 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.”‘ (John 20:17) “Go and tell my brothers to go to Galilee ….” (Matt 28:10) Mary Magdalene went to the assembled disciples with the good news and proclaimed to them: “‘I have seen the Lord!’ … she told them that he had said these things to her.” (John 20:16-18; Matt 28:9-10; see also Luke 24:9, 33; John 20:10, 19)) (the Biblical meaning of preacher is herald (messenger bringing news), messenger, announcer, proclaimer, or the like).
Women and men told to teach everyone, everywhere (not just their own sex and not just outside a worship assembly — the Great Commission):
(7) 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 (and men)—“each of you” and “anyone”—told to serve all, including men, with their speaking and other gifts (no exclusion as to time, place, manner, or audience) and to speak “as one who speaks the very words of God” (who of course would not be excluded from anywhere, including a worship assembly) and to serve “with the strength God provides” (which would include their strength to stand, speak, preach, lead singing, lead prayer, teach, etc.):
(8) 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, prophesying, preaching, and teaching before a mixed group including men in the temple:
(9) 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, part of “every one of you” and “you,” told to speak, including prophesying and praying, in a mixed assembly:
(10) 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) Speaking in tongues included prayer. (e.g., 1 Cor 14:14 (“For if I pray in a tongue ….”)) (see also 1 Cor 1:1-2; 11:5; 14:23, 26, 39-40)
Women, part of “you,” told to lead prayer out loud in a mixed assembly as part of Paul wanting everyone to pray with “understanding” (note that praying out loud “with my understanding” is praying the regular way, not in tongues):
(11) Paul, explaining women and men, when the whole church comes together, “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:
(12) The King’s men came to prophet Huldah for instruction and prophecy 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, speaking for God].” (2 Kings 22:11-20)
Example of women speaking, praying, and prophesying in the churches:
(13) 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)
Example of a woman teaching a knowledgeable 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)
Female elders encouraged to teach all, both men and women, what is good (Titus 2:3). One of the things those female elders can do is urge the younger women to do certain things, including loving their husbands and children (2:4-5):
(15) “3 Likewise, teach the older women (presbytidas) 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) (presbytidas is the feminine version of the Greek word that is translated male elders in Titus 1:4)
Example of a woman, Deborah, who was the ruler of Israel and a prophet, leading and “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 proclaim God’s word, declare departures from God’s word and will, explain scripture, teach, tell others what they should do, etc., thereby speaking to, teaching, leading, and having authority over men, and there were lots of female prophets:
(17) Female prophets include Anna, who prophesied in the Temple to men (Luke 2:36-38), Deborah (Judges 4-5), Philips’ daughters (Acts 21:8-9), Miriam (Exodus 15:20), Noadiah (Neh 6:14), and many others (e.g., Acts 2:17-18; 1 Cor 11:5).
Husbands are to submit to wives and wives are to submit to husbands (it is a two-way street), and husband’s submission includes loving his wife as himself, becoming united and being one flesh, and giving himself up for her:
(18) “Submit to one another out of reverence for Christ.” (Ephesians 5:21) This includes meaningful acts of submission by husbands to their wife, for example: “Husbands, love your wives, just as Christ loved the church and gave himself up for her … as their own bodies. … [Being] “united to his wife, and the two will become one flesh.” … [E]ach one of you also must love his wife as he loves himself ….” (Ephesians 5:25-33)
A wife has authority over her husband:
(19) As to sexual relations, a husband ‘does not have authority’ over his body—his wife has authority over him. (1 Cor 7:4)
Women are to prophesy (and thus are to have authority over, teach, and speak to men):
(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.”
(Acts 2:17-18 (see Joel 2:28-29))
“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 savior, chose to proclaim that he was the Messiah. She proclaimed to men and women, exhorting them to take action towards Jesus, to consider Jesus, to consider the Word, pointing them to the Word, and told them her own experience. She went to her village (men and women) “and said to the people, ‘Come, see a man who told me everything I ever did. Could this be the Messiah?’ They came out of the town and made their way toward him.” In response many “believed in him because of the woman’s testimony, ‘He told me everything I ever did.'” And many believed, not “just because of what [she] said,” but also because of what the Word said.
“Therefore, my brothers and sisters, be eager to prophesy, and do not forbid speaking in tongues.”
(1 Corinthians 14:39)
Abigal spoke to and taught David about needless bloodshed and God’s will for David, and, having been sent by God to David, having authority over him.
(1 Samuel 25:14-35)
“I commend to you our sister Phoebe, a deacon of the church in Cenchreae. I ask you to receive her in the Lord in a way worthy of his people and to give her any help she may need from you, for she has been the benefactor of many people, including me.”
(Romans 16:1-2; see also 1 Tim 3:11)
God orders Abraham to “listen to” — harken, do — “whatever Sarah tells you, because it is through Isaac that your offspring will be reckoned.”
Women praying in a mixed assembly: “When they arrived, they went upstairs to the room where they were staying. Those present were Peter, John, James and Andrew; Philip and Thomas, Bartholomew and Matthew; James son of Alphaeus and Simon the Zealot, and Judas son of James. They all joined together constantly in prayer, along with the women and Mary the mother of Jesus, and with his brothers. In those days Peter stood up among the believers (a group numbering about a hundred and twenty) and said, “Brothers and sisters, the Scripture had to be fulfilled in which the Holy Spirit spoke long ago through David concerning Judas, who served as guide for those who arrested Jesus. …”
For even more passages showing women leading and having authority over men and speaking in a mixed assembly, see the Sources & Notes section below.
The First New Testament Preachers: Women
Indeed, the first proclaimers — preachers — of the good news of Christ in the New Testament are women.
At multiple points for Jesus, women are the first preachers—Elizabeth and Mary for Christ’s pending arrival (e.g., Luke 1:39-56), Anna for Christ’s coming redemption of Jerusalem (e.g., Luke 2:25-38), the Samaritan woman at the well for his status as Messiah (e.g., John 4:1-42), Mary and others for his resurrection (e.g., John 20:16-17; Matthew 28:9-10)), …..
Elizabeth proclaims that Jesus is Lord: “… Mary … entered Zechariah’s home and greeted Elizabeth. When Elizabeth heard Mary’s greeting, the baby leaped in her womb, and Elizabeth was filled with the Holy Spirit. In a loud voice she exclaimed: “Blessed are you among women, and blessed is the child you will bear! But why am I so favored, that the mother of my Lord should come to me? As soon as the sound of your greeting reached my ears, the baby in my womb leaped for joy. Blessed is she who has believed that the Lord would fulfill his promises to her!” (Luke 1:39-56)
Mary proclaims the glory of God, the coming of the Lord by her: “And Mary said:
“My soul glorifies the Lord
and my spirit rejoices in God my Savior,
for he has been mindful
of the humble state of his servant.
From now on all generations will call me blessed,
for the Mighty One has done great things for me—
holy is his name.
His mercy extends to those who fear him,
from generation to generation.
He has performed mighty deeds with his arm;
he has scattered those who are proud in their inmost thoughts. …”
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 are instead Paul saying to the church at Corinth and to Timothy about his trip to the church at Ephesus, respectively:
- 1 Cor 14:34-35: Married women are not to speak disruptive (non-submissive) questions in the assembly; instead they should ask those to their husbands at home. To do otherwise causes a disgrace.
- 1 Tim 2:12: I do not permit an uninformed woman to teach false, authoritative doctrine in a way that domineers over a man; instead, any teaching, etc., must be peaceful.
In other words, these verses highly address specific types of speaking, teaching, and authority, not all types. And the speaking, teaching, and authority addressed is a disruptive, non-peaceful type. That is the type Paul is asking the women of Corinth and Ephesus not to carry out. That is not the type involved with the usual type of preaching and speaking. It does not prohibit preaching, teaching, speaking, or having authority in a normal manner.
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 says 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?
A sure sign of acting negligently towards girls and women is to just quote 1 Cor 14:34-35 or 1 Tim 2:12 or both and say little or nothing more or assert it is plain.
Plainly Wrong to Rely on “Plain Meaning” to Exclude Girls and Women
So, stop relying on “plain meaning” to justify excluding girls and women. When your mind goes to “plain meaning,” remind yourself “plain meaning” is one essentially everyone who has studied the matter agrees is wrong. And then ask yourself what it really means.
Thus, regardless of whether you consider the passages to be Paul giving instructions for a particular time period, he was only addressing “speaking out” with disruptive questions and teaching in a domineering, non-peaceful way, not the normal speaking and teaching in the worship service and classrooms.
Indeed, as seen in the 20+ passages, God asks all to speak and teach. And as seen in the Greatest Commandment, Jesus asks for all to love (worship) God with our all and to love (serve) others will our all. To block women from speaking and teaching men is to block them from doing what God asks and to block them from worshiping and serving with their all.
Cultural, For That Time and Place
As explained above, 1 Cor 14:34-35 and 1 Tim 2:12 do not mean that women and girls are not to speak, preach, lead, and have authority over men in the church today. They essentially ask married women not to speak out with disruptive questions during the assembly and a woman not to seize authority and domineer over a man by engaging in false teaching of authoritative doctrine while she does not know what she is talking about.
Regardless of what one thinks the passages mean, there are plenty of indicators that 1 Cor 14:34-35 and 1 Tim 2:12 are addressed specifically to the situations in Corinth and Ephesus for the particular situation for the particular time. For example, 1 Cor 14:34-35 is accompanied by directions for women to have head coverings when they pray and prophesy (1 Cor 11:5) and 1 Tim 2:12 is surrounded by instructions that are clearly not meant to apply for all time or to all people, etc., such as:
- “I want the men everywhere to pray, lifting up holy hands ….” (1 Tim 2:8)
- “I also want the women to dress … not with … gold or pearls …” (1 Tim 2:9)
- “No widow may be put on the list of widows unless she is over sixty, has been faithful to her husband, and is well known for her good deeds, such as bringing up children, … [and] washing the feet of the Lord’s people ….” (1 Tim 5:9-10)
- “All who are under the yoke of slavery should consider their masters worthy of full respect, so that God’s name and our teaching may not be slandered.” (1 Tim 6:1) (also see, e.g., Colossians 3:22 (“Slaves, obey your earthly masters in everything ….”); Ephesians 6:5 (“Slaves, obey your earthly masters with respect and fear, and with sincerity of heart, just as you would obey Christ.”)).
Why insist that whatever 1 Cor 14:34-35 and 1 Tim 2:12 mean must be adhered to today by women and girls, all the while refraining from a mandate of men must lift up holy hands, allowing women to wear gold and pearls, aiding widows who did not do good deeds or wash feet, and opposing slavery? It is highly inconsistent. Comfort with the tradition of discriminating against women, sexism, and pride are among the likely explanations.
Even More Signals 1 Cor 14:34-35 and 1 Tim 2:12, Whatever They Mean, Are Cultural, For That Time and Place
Both mention things to which some point to argue to bind the commands for all time for all people. One is “let them acknowledge that what I am writing to you is the Lord’s command” (1 Cor 14:37). But acknowledging that something is the Lord’s command does not, of course, tell you to whom the command is directed or for how long, much less what that command means.
Another is “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 Tim 2:13-15).
Note that a binding command for all time that little girls cannot read scripture in a worship service because Eve was created after Adam does not make sense. Nor does a binding command for all time that little girls cannot pray out loud in the worship service because Adam sinned knowingly while Eve was deceived by the most cunning and evil creature, Satan himself. And since everyone is saved by belief in Christ, the plain reading that women will be saved through childbearing likewise does not make sense.
And God would have highly likely have discussed binding half of those made in God’s image with silence in more than one or two sentences towards the end of the good book.
1 Tim 2:13-15: Telling Timothy Reasons for Women of Ephesus Not to Rely on the Artemis Cult to Feel Like They Can Domineer Over Men
Absent sexism and the tradition of silencing women and girls, seeing that 1 Tim 2:13-15 does not make sense as reasons for silencing women in such a manner would be easy. But folks look for ways to defend — defend — what they are doing.
There is a reason 1 Tim 2:13-15 does not make sense as reasons for silencing women for all time: That is not what it is.
It is relatively straightforward to see, for example, that Paul was likely in 1 Tim 2:13-15 simply asking the women of Ephesus not to use one of their normal reference points of pride to domineer over men.
He was explaining that their normal, non-Biblical reference point of pride is not correct.
Ephesus was the home to the Temple of Artemis, a dominant goddess.
A normal reference point of pride for women then was Artemis (aka Aphrodite), this dominant female goddess.
Legend had it that she had been born before her male twin, Apollo, and helped deliver him, showing her power over males. Artemis was the goddess of the hunt and young girls and was considered their protector. She was also the goddess of childbirth, protecting women in childbirth.
Women of Ephesus might think they could domineer over men because they had Artemis, who came first and helped birth Apollo, on their side and Apollo was the one who was thus weaker and Artemis was dominant and powerful. And they were going to be resistant to abandoning Artemis because Artemis had been their protector, through childbirth and otherwise.
But Paul said in 2:13-15 that such thinking is not right. Instead, “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.” That, Paul said, is why women should not domineer over men, etc.
Notice Paul did not say Adam or Man is Better or Greater
Notice that Paul did not say that Adam or man is better or greater than woman—indeed Adam sinned without being deceived and brought sin into the world (see Romans 5:12).
The typical assertion going along with 1 Tim 2:13-15 — that women are told not to lead because of what Eve did — makes no sense when realizing scripture points to Adam’s sin and that telling men to lead because Adam sinned intentionally and knowingly.
But if one realizes the context of the Temple of Artemis, 1 Tim 2:13-15 makes sense for reminding Timothy to be particularly careful not to let women who have not yet been educated about Christ (who do not know what they are talking about) in that scenario domineer over men and disturb the peace.
Thus, it is relatively straightforward to see that 1 Tim 2:13-15 does not bind a command for all time for all people.
Once the passages are studied, it is clear they do not exclude women from speaking in the assembly.
The Crutch of Plain Meaning
At this point, people who have engaged in, supported, or gone along with discrimination against girls and women often revert to justifying their action based on the plain meaning of 1 Cor 14:34-35 and 1 Tim 2:12 — women must remain silent in the churches and are not to teach or have authority over men.
But, of course, plain meaning is one of the meanings that essentially no one with credibility says is correct.
Actual Practice Suggests 1 Cor 14:34-35 and 1 Tim 2:12 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 something, they should ask their own husbands at home.”
Women teach men in the assembly when women sing. Men are taught in the assembly by women most Sundays when the congregation sings hymns written by women. 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. They teach men with their very presence. Women teach men as teachers in high schools. They teach men during church projects. They teach men things in the workplace and in society regularly. Women teach men in online Facebook groups, with books women write, and in a variety of ways.
Notice that 2:12 says nothing about it being only for “in the churches.” Indeed, for centuries and centuries and centuries, the church interpreted it as applying nearly everywhere, not just in the church.
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. Women teach and admonish men with hymns sung in church. Moms have authority over their sons. Women are supervisors over men at work. Women are police officers. Women are governors and military officers. Women have authority over men in the church and elsewhere in a variety of ways.
Scriptural Analysis of 1 Cor 14:34-35 and 1 Tim 2:12
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 —- to silence as to the particular thing referenced (tongues, prophecy, non-submissive questions). That is sigato (silence) is used to refer to the particular subject immediately referenced, not to all subjects. When Paul says sigato in 14:28 with reference to tongues, it does not mean that a person must not read scripture, teach, prophesy, sing, etc., if there is no interpreter around. It just means sigato as to the specific subject referenced, tongues. When Paul says sigato, in 14:30 with reference to prophecy, it does not mean that a person must not read scripture, teach, speak in tongues, sing, etc., after someone else prophesies. By the time the reader or hearer of Paul’s letter gets to 14:34-35, they know how he is using sigato —- to refer to the specific subject referenced. So, when Paul says sigato in 14:34 and gives the specific subject (disruptive (non-submissive) questions asked by married women), the reader and hearer know what he means, not silence for all subjects for all time, but silence as to that subject when they want to ask a disruptive question. It was probably one to their husband.
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)), and not just any uninformed, false teaching, but that kind of teaching that is done as “teachers of the law” (1:7) (i.e., authoritative, “final say”-type 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 in 2:12 is authority that is seized (aka usurped) and domineering (authentein), not to simply having authority, teaching, speaking, reading scripture, leading prayer, etc., in the normal fashion.
This article introduces analysis of 1 Cor 14:34-35 and 1 Tim 2:12. More detail —-
Why women can serve as elders / pastors is discussed here.
The Current Complementarian 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, a 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, for example, 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 Churches of Christ and hierarchical complementarian interpretation (excluding in the church only, as opposed to in general) 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.
Part 4 — Conclusion
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?
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 those girls and women to do. You have decided to support blocking them, despite what God asks? Please read Matthew 18:6-7.
It is way past time that any prohibitions on girls and women in the church come to an end.
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Sources & Notes
Note Jesus can be read as saying that we ought not exercise authority over one another within the body of Christians. He notes high officials “exercise authority over” Gentiles, but “Not so with you,” he tells his disciples—-indicating none of his disciples should exercise authority over others of his disciples. Instead, we must all serve, per Jesus. (See, e.g., Mark 10:24-25 — “42 Jesus called them together and said, “You know that those who are regarded as rulers of the Gentiles lord it over them, and their high officials exercise authority over them. 43 Not so with you. Instead, whoever wants to become great among you must be your servant, 44 and whoever wants to be first must be slave of all. 45 For even the Son of Man did not come to be served, but to serve, and to give his life as a ransom for many.”).
I mention Churches of Christ. It is 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. 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.
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 preaching, teaching, and speaking in the assembly in the Churches of Christ and other denominations.
When one actually studies the scripture for themselves, rather than relying on tradition, it is apparent that excluding women from teaching and speaking to men in the church is wrong. That is, it is contrary to God’s word to prohibit women from preaching, leading singing, reading scripture, leading prayer, making communion remarks, helping with communion, and otherwise teaching men and speaking to men in the church.
An increasing number of Churches of Christ congregations, for example, 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.
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 later article on 1 Tim 2:12, see Steve Gardner, “10 Churches of Christ Where Women Speak in the Assembly: 1 Timothy 2:12, “Teach or Usurp Authority” (Part 3),” AuthenticTheology.com (April 9, 2019).
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).
Also, the first proclaimers — preachers — of the good news of Christ are women. Elizabeth proclaims that Jesus is Lord. Mary proclaims the glory of God, the coming of the Lord by her. (Luke 1:39-56) This makes them have the first and last word, here and at the resurrection. Credit to Rev. Paul Justice Snyder for pointing this out.
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. I often refer to what other people refer to as “leading” in the worship service or as “having authority” as “actively serving” instead to try to make that point.
Elizabeth and Mary are preaching in Luke. Elizabeth is filled with the Holy Spirit. She is speaking with a loud voice. She is exclaiming / proclaiming. Her subject is Jesus, proclaiming Jesus Lord, declaring blessings, ….
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); Psalm 68:11 (“The Lord announces the word, and the women who proclaim it are a mighty throng:”); 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 ….”); Esther 9:29-32 (Queen Esther, having authority over men; “So Queen Esther, daughter of Abihail, along with Mordecai the Jew, wrote with full authority to confirm this second letter concerning Purim. And Mordecai sent letters to all the Jews in the 127 provinces of Xerxes’ kingdom—words of goodwill and assurance— to establish these days of Purim at their designated times, as Mordecai the Jew and Queen Esther had decreed for them, and as they had established for themselves and their descendants in regard to their times of fasting and lamentation. Esther’s decree confirmed these regulations about Purim, and it was written down in the records.”); 1 Corinthians 11:26 (Engaging is communion is preaching: “For whenever you eat this bread and drink this cup, you proclaim the Lord’s death until he comes.”).
This is not a “I am fine with either way” situation. God asks women over and over and over again to speak to, lead, teach, and have authority over men, in an assembly and elsewhere. It is straightforward to see that the small number of verses to which people point to block women and girls from speaking do not mean that they should be blocked.
It is a sin — contrary to the will of God — to support blocking women and girls in such a situation.
A sure sign that a person supports blocking girls and women without having given it much or any thought is when the person just quotes 1 Cor 14:34-35 or 1 Tim 2:12 and either says nothing more or says “it is clear.”
It is negligence and a failure to love others to support blocking girls and women — blocking other people — without having thoroughly studied the issue with resources that present all viewpoints and without being able to articulate in clear terms why the support, besides quoting those two passages and relying on a tradition of man.
All scripture quoted is from the NIV, except for (6) which is from the KJV. The KJV’s expression of (6) is much more memorable and melodic than the NIV’s expression. The translation used makes no difference to the substance. The NIV is easier to read than the KJV and some others. There are some ** form-leaning ** translations (as opposed to what some refer to as function or meaning) that use a form term for the Greek word adelphoi (brethren or brothers) and people who do not know any better argue that the NIV and other translations “feminize” the Bible by translating adelphoi as “brothers and sisters” or something similar. But it is Bible 101 that form translations translate for form and leave meaning to the reader to figure out. And it is Bible 101 the Greek language used adelphoi to *mean* either “brothers” or “brothers and sisters.” In other words, adelphoi was used to mean either a group of males or a group of both sexes.
The Greek word adelphoi is a bit like how ‘guys’ is used today, either a group of males or a group of both males and females. The form is “guys” but the meaning is not just you male folks.
Even conservative, evangelical Bible translations that provide original ** meaning ** (as opposed to just form), like the NIV, NLT, CSB, NET, etc., translate it to mean “brothers and sisters” in those verses I referenced.
10/3/18: Added Southern Hills Church of Christ link.
Updated: Edited for clarity; added passages in bonus and notes; added cultural section; rearranged order for better flow; edited descriptions to be clearer.
Christians met in homes in the 1st century and for centuries, so that Elizabeth spoke at home is not a factor on whether it was preaching, authoritative, teaching, etc. That just one person was present would also not be a factor, it would not make it any less or more preaching, authoritative, teaching, etc. either. If any male preacher today stood at the pulpit and preached with only one person in the audience, no one credible would then argue it was not preaching.
The basic Biblical terms of prohibition (translated into English) are forms of speak, teach, and authority. I considered them to have roughly the meanings as the scope of prohibition by most Churches of Christ in section 1, even though their Biblical definition is much narrower than the Churches of Christ generally apply (e.g. teach/authority is narrow in 1 Tim 2:12 but they interpret and apply it broadly).
The definitions of such terms are in part 2 above. The Biblical meaning of speak, teach/authority in the relevant verses (in part 2) is narrower than that the Churches of Christ generally use.
Added: When Miriam summons the assembly to sing to YHWH in Numbers 15:21, is the “them” in verse 21 masculine such that it indicates she is not just leading women but both men and women? Also note Micah 6 says Israel is led by Moses, Aaron, and Miriam — it doesn’t say women are led by Miriam but “you” are?
Look in to: https://margmowczko.com/preaching-words-new-testament-women-preached/ (re preaching)
For more on the scripture relating to this issue, see:
Start here for a discussion regarding scripture on this issue: Steve Gardner, “20 Passages Asking Women to Speak, Teach, Lead, and Have Authority Over Men, In the Assembly and Elsewhere,” AuthenticTheology.com (September 3, 2018).
For a discussion regarding 1 Corinthians 14:34-35, see Steve Gardner, “Most Church of Christ Colleges No Longer Exclude Women From Leading in Worship Services: … 1 Corinthians 14:34-35 …,” AuthenticTheology.com (May 22, 2018).
For a discussion regarding 1 Timothy 2:12, see Steve Gardner, “10 Churches of Christ Where Women Speak in the Assembly: 1 Timothy 2:12, “Teach or Usurp Authority” (Part 3),” AuthenticTheology.com (April 9, 2019).
For a discussion regarding 1 Timothy 2:11-15, see Steve Gardner, “Most Church of Christ Colleges No Longer Exclude Women From Leading in Worship Services: … 1 Timothy 2:12 …,” AuthenticTheology.com (May 30, 2018).
For a discussion regarding female elders, see Steve Gardner, “10 Churches of Christ Where Women Speak in the Assembly: Female Elders (Part 2),” AuthenticTheology.com (April 3, 2019).
For a discussion regarding Christ’s example, see Steve Gardner, “One of Largest Churches of Christ Opens Preaching Role to Women — And Some Questions,” AuthenticTheology.com (September 17, 2019).
For scriptural discussions from various Churches of Christ, see these three articles: Steve Gardner, “10 Churches of Christ Where Women Speak in the Assembly: List and Links (Part 1),” AuthenticTheology.com (March 26, 2019); Steve Gardner, “Another 10 Churches of Christ Where Women Speak in the Assembly: Their Reasons & a Quiz,” AuthenticTheology.com (April 24, 2019); and Steve Gardner, “4 More Churches of Christ Open Speaking Roles to Women,” AuthenticTheology.com (November 26, 2019).