MAY WOMAN PREACH OR TEACH
BY DAVID F. GRAY
Let the woman learn in silence with all subjection. But I suffer not a woman to teach, nor to usurp authority over the man, but to be in silence.
Some Oneness friends of mine teach that women are not to teach or preach, and they use I Timothy 2:11-12. I know the United Pentecostal Church allows women to preach, and I believe they are right, but I don’t know how to properly explain this passage of Scripture. Can you help me concerning this?
Let us first of all look at the passage of Scripture to which you refer, and then examine it to see what it does not mean and what it does mean.
In order for us to interpret this Scripture properly and to find out what it means, let us first ascertain what it does not mean.
* 1. It does not mean that a woman cannot prophesy. One of the blessings of the pouring out of the Holy Ghost prophesied by Joel and fulfilled at Pentecost is that “your daughters shall prophesy” and “on my handmaidens I will pour out in those days of my Spirit; and they shall prophesy” (Acts 2:17-18).
Where was this to be done? Alone, or just among a few women on the side? Of course not! The purpose of prophesying was to edify others, particularly the church. “But he that prophesieth speaketh unto men to edification, and exhortation, and comfort. He that speaketh in an unknown tongue edifieth himself; but he that prophesieth edifieth the church” (I Corinthians 14:3-4).
The Holy Ghost in describing Philip the evangelist and the ministry God had given him concluded by saying that he “had four daughters, virgins, which did prophesy” (Acts 21:9). Therefore it is evident that women can have and should have the ministry of prophesying in the church.
Prophesying is speaking for God under the direct and holy anointing of the Spirit. It includes teaching and preaching that is anointed of God.
*2.It does not mean that a woman cannot pray. I Corinthians 11:4-5 says, “Every man praying or prophesying, having his head covered, dishonoureth his head. But every woman that prayeth or prophesieth with her head uncovered dishonoureth her head.” Matthew Henry says concerning these verses, “Whatever may be the meaning of praying and prophesying in respect to the man, they have precisely the same meaning in respect to the woman. So that some woman at least, as well as some men, might speak to others to edification, and exhortation, and comfort. This kind of prophesying or teaching was predicted by Joel, Joel 2:28, and referred to by Peter, Acts 2:17. Had there not been such gifts bestowed on women, the prophesy could not have had its fulfillment.”
Thus a woman can pray as well as prophesy in church, provided she wears long hair upon her head as a sign of her submission to the headship of the man. That this refers to public praying is self-evident, being linked to prophesying in the church.
*3.It does not mean that a woman cannot teach. According to Titus 2:3-4 the aged women are to be “teachers of good things, that they may teach the young women to be sober, to love their husbands, to love their children.” So there are scriptural circumstances in which women are to teach.
We are also given the example of a woman and her husband who “expounded unto him [Apollos] the way of God more perfectly” (Acts 18:26). It is evident the husband, Aquila, did not do the expounding by himself, for the Bible says that “they [Aquila and his wife, Priscilla] … expounded.” Expounding certainly involves teaching, opening the Word of the Lord, and revealing truths unto Apollos of which he was ignorant. Apollos, taught by Aquila and Priscilla, became one of the mightiest of the apostolic preachers, along with Paul and Peter (I Corinthians 1: 12). Therefore teaching within certain bounds is a ministry women may enter into.
In the light of these facts we see that the “silence” of I Timothy 2:11-12 does not bar the exercise of a God-anointed and scripturally endorsed ministry that a woman may have of prophesying, praying, or teaching in certain circumstances or areas. To what then does it refer or mean?
First, there is the obvious significance, namely of submission to authority. Paul said, “Let the women learn in silence with all subjection” (I Timothy 2: 1 1). Then he said, “I suffer not a woman to teach, nor to usurp authority over the man” (verse 12). So to be completely scriptural, a woman’s ministry must always be under the leadership of a man. In our fellowship, even though there are times and occasions where a woman may pastor a church, it is always under the leadership of the presbytery of the United Pentecostal Church International. It is unscriptural for a woman to serve completely independent of the leadership of men that God has placed in authority. To do so is to “usurp authority over the man.”
Second, this passage mainly deals with women learning. “Let the women learn in silence with all subjection” (verse 11). This thought is explained further in I Corinthians 14:35: “And if they will learn any thing, let them ask their husbands at home: for it is a shame for woman to speak in the church.”
It was in the learning process, while the Word of God was being taught, that Paul instructed women to be silent. In those days most women were unschooled and illiterate, especially in certain regions such as Corinth. After they were saved they were eager to learn but oftentimes could not fully understand the meaning of the rich teaching the minister was expouding. Since the women sat on one side of the church and took care of the children while their husbands sat on the other side, the wife, anxious to understand, would call across the church to her husband, “John, what did he say? What does he mean?” Or she might even interrupt the speaker, asking for clarification. These interruptions and distractions could not be permitted, so Paul said, “Let them ask their husbands at home: for it is a shame for women to speak [out] in the church” (I Corinthians 14:35). The injunction to silence was given to the women relative to their learning and not to the exercise of a God-given ministry under the authority of the men in the leadership.
In conclusion, modest, humble, and yet greatly anointed woman are an asset and adornment to the church. God has called woman to be Sunday school teachers, prayer warriors, speakers, preachers, evangelists, pastors, and missionaries, and He has marvelously used them in these fields. Some have sacrificed, labored, established churches, and accomplished victories that men have been unable or unwilling to do. This work is truly apostolic, and fulfillment of Joel’s prophecy, and eminently scriptural.
The above article was published in Forward, April-June, 1991, pp. 7-8
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