God's Limitations Upon Women
by Arthur M. Ogden

1 Cor. 14:34-35 & 1 Tim. 2:11-12

Every biblical discussion of contemporary woman and her role in God's service must take into account the restrictive passages of the New Testament. A lack of faith in God's Word is demonstrated when we ignore these passages, call for a new hermeneutical rule, or rule them out upon the basis of this being a new age. Man made rules, designed to eradicate the binding force of these scriptures, also destroy everything else God has ordained. We must accept all God has said or we destroy the basis upon which we accept anything He has spoken. This is how faith in God is determined (Rom. 10:17).

1 Timothy 2:11-12

"Let the women 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." We discuss this text first because it is broader in application.

Through the years most of our efforts were directed toward answering those who would deny godly women the right to do the teaching God accepts and requires (Acts 18:26; 2 Tim. 1:5; 2:2; Tit. 2:3-5). Today, we must deal with those who wish to ignore these texts.

The Anti-Women Teacher Position

1 Timothy 2:11-12 is used by those opposed to women teaching. They forbid women purposely teaching anyone at any time. They have insisted that Paul was saying, "I suffer not a woman to teach," period. This could not be what Paul was saying, however, because that would mean Christian women could not do the teaching God requires of them. They could not teach by singing (Col. 3:16), be teachers of good things (Tit. 2:3), or teach the younger women (Tit. 2:4) as directed, if forbidden to teach, period.

The Passage Must Be Qualified

Everyone who studies this passage knows that it must be qualified. Even the Anti-Women Teacher advocates realize this. One proponent's position on the passage, once he finished qualifying it, went something like this: "I suffer not a woman to teach the Bible, (that is: to be a teacher, deliver didactic discourses), in the church, in any class the church may arrange, in public, or in worship, nor to usurp authority over the man, the woman, or the child, but to be in silence." His qualifications were found in his writings. He could not and did not deny them.

We do not argue with one's attempt to qualify the passage, but we do question one's right to qualify what he contends must be, "I suffer not a woman to teach" period. Such is blatantly inconsistent.

All of us must qualify the passage. Do we qualify it by our own arbitrary rules designed to suit our theories, or do we qualify it by God's own established rules?

The Scripture's Qualification

The context of 1 Timothy 2 shows how Paul qualified these statements. Verse 1-7 discuss the universal nature of salvation. Of this salvation, Paul was ordained a preacher, teacher and an apostle. The varying roles of men and women in respect to this work are addressed in verses 8-15. Men (males) could pray everywhere (v. 8). The exclusive nature of this statement means women cannot pray everywhere. Why not? The context will reveal the reason.

The conduct of women is examined in verses 9-15. First, they are to dress modestly and conduct themselves as "women professing godliness." Second, women are to "learn in silence with all subjection" and are not "to teach, nor to usurp authority over the man." To whom are they to be in subjection? Obviously, the one over whom they cannot exercise authority, man. The reasons given were: (1) the creation, "Adam was first formed," and (2) the curse, "the woman being deceived was in the transgression" (cf. Gen. 2:23-24; 3:16). From the beginning, God recognized man as the head of the woman. For this reason, female Christians cannot teach in any capacity that violates their place of submission to man. On the other hand, they can teach in any capacity required by the scriptures that does not violate that position. Godly women do not violate this principle when they teach their children (1 Tim. 2:15), other women (Tit. 2:3-5), or even when they teach men submissively (cf. Acts 18:26).

1 Corinthians 14:34-35

"Let your women keep silence in the churches: for it is not permitted unto them to speak; but they are commanded to be under obedience, as also smith the law. And if they will learn anything, let them ask their husbands at home: for it is a shame for women to speak in the church." This text deals with one specific place where the rule of submission applies, the assembly of the saints. Women must not address this assembly. They must remain silent. It is a shame for them to speak in the assembly.

Inconsistent Positions

The Anti-Bible Class people have used this passage to condemn the Bible Class arrangement, insisting that it only authorizes an assembly where the whole church is together in one place (cf. v. 23). Their position is inconsistent because it permits the teaching of the Bible only in an assembly where the whole church is together in one place. Bible examples of the word of God being taught in places and at times other than when the whole church is together in one place prove this position to be in error.

The Anti-Women Teacher advocates who believe classes are scriptural apply this text to the Bible Class arrangement. To them, "Let your women keep silence in the churches" also means "in any class the church may arrange." However, consistency would demand that all the principles of this text likewise be applied to Bible Classes. This would mean conducting only one class at a time because two or more would violate the principle of only one speaking at a time (cf. v 29-32).

Some brethren have argued through the years that 1 Corinthians 14 is not binding today. There are two theories: (1) The passage is regulating the conduct of "inspired persons." Since divine inspiration ceased (13:8-13), they contend the restriction no longer applies. (2) The passage controlled the conduct of "the prophets' wives" (deduced from the expression "your women" in KJV) and, since the prophets no longer exist, it is no longer binding.

Few have questioned these positions through the years. I question them. Were only the "inspired women" or "the prophets' wives" to be under obedience? If these positions contain validity, all other women (except the categories mentioned above) could speak in those assemblies. If not, why not? If all other women could speak, then God penalized these women, not because they were to be under obedience but, because of who they were. Who can believe it? On the other hand, if the other women could not speak, what is the point of the argument? Negating the force of this text upon the strength of these arguments would actually negate the teaching of the entire New Testament.

The reason our sisters at Corinth were forbidden to speak was that "they are commanded to be under obedience." To whom were they obedient? They were subject to the general headship of man (cf. 1 Cor. 11:1-16).

Nothing Has Changed

Man has been the head of the woman since creation (Gen. 2:23-24; 3:16; 1 Tim. 2:13-14). While the Old Testament does not argue the point as powerfully as the New Testament, it is evident that man was the head of the woman (cf. Num. 30:3-8, 13). The New Testament thoroughly establishes the point. First, "the head of every man is Christ; and the head of the woman is the man; and the head of Christ is God" (1 Cor. 11:3). For this reason godly women must recognize and keep the customary rules that distinguish her as a woman (1 Cor. 11:4-16). Second, godly women must not violate their place of submission to man when teaching others (1 Tim. 2:11-12). Though they can teach other women and children, and even men submissively (Acts 18:26), they cannot teach in any capacity that violates this rule. Third, godly women must not address the assemblies of the saints (1 Cor. 14:34-35). Finally, godly women submit to their own husbands (Eph. 5:22-33; Col. 3:18; Tit. 2:5; 1 Pet. 3:1-6).

Has God changed His law? If so, where? Since God established His order with the creation, and He has not changed it, what right do we have to change it for Him? The law of Christ emphasizes this principle and we are still under law to Christ. Women who profess godliness have never had a problem with the rule. They praise God by remaining in subjection to man.


Seeking to nullify the binding force of 1 Corinthians 14:34-35 and 1 Timothy 2:11-12 is a serious matter. Those who do so are "perverting the gospel of Christ" (Gal. 1:6-8), are not abiding "in the doctrine of Christ" (2 Jno. 9), and they are inviting the wrath of God upon them (Rom. 2:8-9). It is far better that female Christians adorn themselves with the beauty ordained of God as a daughter of Sarah (1 Pet. 3:1-6) than to enjoy all the glory this world has to offer.

This page is Copyright 1998 by Alex Ogden, All Rights Reserved.
This page was last updated on Tuesday, September 15, 1998.

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