Should women be permitted to preach?

by Joel Ramshaw (2022)

Lets look at the “hard” verses, both of which are given by the apostle Paul:

1 Timothy 2:12, “And I do not permit a woman to teach or to have authority over a man, but to be in silence.”

1 Corinthians 14:34-35 “Let your women keep silent in the churches, for they are not permitted to speak; but they are to be submissive, as the law also says. And if they want to learn something, let them ask their own husbands at home; for it is shameful for women to speak in church.”

The context of the 1 Corinthians verse is that Paul was addressing some major confusion and chaos in the gatherings. While verse 33 is often quoted against women preaching, many omit the verse 32, “For God is not the author of confusion but of peace, as in all the churches of the saints.” Paul’s real goal was to restore order to the Corinthian church. The whole chapter is about removing disorder and chaos from the gathering, not to delineate the role of women. It seems likely then, that the Corinthian church may have had some rather loudmouthed women who were causing distraction and trouble throughout the service, chattering and constantly asking questions, making it hard for the preacher to keep everyone focused.

It’s interesting that in 1 Cor 11 Paul taught that a woman can pray or prophesy as long as she wears a head covering as a sign of authority. If Paul intended woman never to speak in church, he would not have included this passage. Do people really think that Paul changed his mind only three chapters later?

Notice that although Paul did not permit a woman to teach or lead his congregations, this was only his personal practice and he never claimed it to be of God. Notice the “I.” “I do not permit,” it does not say “God does not permit.” Although usually Paul is the direct mouth of God in his epistles, there are also certain times where he gives his human opinion and warns that that section is not from God. On example is 1 Cor 7:12, “But to the rest I, not the Lord, say: If any brother has a wife who does not believe, and she is willing to live with him, let him not divorce her.” Later on in verse 40 Paul mentions, “But she is happier if she remains as she is, according to my judgment—and I think I also have the Spirit of God.” Paul in this passage thinks he is probably lined up with God’s Spirit but is unsure. He says according to “my judgement” not according to God’s judgement. So going back to the passage in Timothy, when Paul said “I do not permit a woman” this should not be seen as an authoritative decree from God, but rather as his own personal ministry practice. Most of us consider Paul to be the greatest apostle (besides Christ), and he provided a record of faithfulness and endurance in ministry which is unmatched. As a human being however, we have to remember he still had to battle weaknesses and flaws and could have the occasional stumble. Paul may have been wounded emotionally from a young age due to rejection by females. His appearance was noted as being somewhat ugly and his speech described as “contemptable.” Paul was a bachelor and there is no indication of any prior relationship with a woman. It is possible that his woundedness in this area was coming out in his view of women.

Also for the passage in Timothy, the original biblical Greek word for “woman” can also mean “wife” and it is often translated this way in other passages. Same goes for the word “man,” which can mean “husband.” Paul could easily have been saying “I do not allow a wife to teach or have authority over her husband.” He may not have been prohibiting women teachers at all.

Women of that day were not given education, and Paul was likely concerned that false teaching would begin to spread if they began teaching without the proper foundation of education. There were many false teachers in the early church who began teaching due to ego, yet without a firm foundation of knowledge in God and scripture. This led to the many destructive heresies, such as Docetism; the teaching that Jesus never actually had a physical body and only “appeared” to be in the flesh. Allowing the uneducated women of that time to take on teaching roles would have risked the spread of even more false teachings.

Acts 21:8-9, “[we] entered the house of Philip the evangelist, who was one of the seven, and stayed with him. Now this man had four virgin daughters who prophesied.”

It may have been less common for women to preach and prophecy, but if God meant scripture to prohibit it then He likely would not have inspired this verse to be included, nor would He have allowed these four women to become His mouth.

The Holy Spirit and common sense

When the Bible is clear on a topic we cannot go and contradict it or make up our own rules. Scripture is not always clear however. There are plenty of places in which certain Bible passages seem to contradict each other at first glace and it can be hard to hash out the true meaning. In these cases we need to rely on the Holy Spirit and common sense for guidance.

John 16:13, “However, when He, the Spirit of truth, has come, He will guide you into all truth;”

The Holy Spirit shows that women can prophecy due to the simple fact that He speaks through them today just as through men. Women don’t tend to enjoy carrying authority as much as men, but that doesn’t invalidate them from sharing God’s word and carrying a message for the people. Women are often more receptive and less egotistical than men and this can give them a greater strength when prophesying. Some positions such as apostle or head pastor are more suited for men, due to the emphasis on ‘authority.’ The man was created to represent the authority of God. Even so however, Paul does credit a female apostle, Junia.

Although the man is head of a household, this does not invalidate the wife as also having a sphere of authority over the house.

Lets look at the model of a household. The children can be thought of as the “ministry field,” or those being taught. Saying the man is the only one allowed to preach or teach is like saying the husband is the only one in the house who is allowed to train the children. Naturally that is a silly concept and it’s too high of a load for the husband to bear alone. Likewise, the load of ministry is too much for men to bear alone. As Christ said:

Luke 10:2, “The harvest truly is great, but the laborers are few; therefore pray the Lord of the harvest to send out laborers into His harvest.”

The Holy Spirit is God! The third person of the Trinity! When the anointing is clearly on a woman to prophecy and minister accurately, to deny her is to deny God! We have to be flexible to the idea that we can make mistakes in our interpretation of scripture. The Pharisees were so confident they had the law and Sabbath all figured out, but when God came down in the person of Christ, all of their fine scriptural interpretations had to go out the window. We too cannot fall into the Pharisees’ trap, thinking we have scripture mastered and leaving no room for the Holy Spirit to adjust our thinking. Fact is, God uses women to prophecy and teach! There may be some hard passages, but when we investigate further, reconciliations are possible. It’s time we left the hardened religious spirit behind and allow women with anointing to operate in their God-given gifts and ministries.

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