Women Teachers #3
1 Corinthians 14:
Truth, the Roadblock to Error

by Arthur M. Ogden

Many have concluded, that if 1 Corinthians 14 is binding today, Christian women could not scripturally teach a class of other women or children when the church is arranged in various Bible Classes to study God's Word. This they conclude because Paul said, "Let your women keep silence in the churches" (v. 34). They assume that "in the churches" means any assembly or class the church may arrange, and upon the basis of this assumption either (1) forbid Christian women to teach Bible Classes, or (2) deny the binding force of the chapter, depending upon which way their reasoning takes them.

The conviction of this scribe is that both conclusions are wrong, and have been reached without proper contextual considerations. To extend a passage beyond its legitimate boundaries is error indeed, but to fail to recognize the right to extend a passage to its lawful limits is likewise error. We must "rightly divide the word of truth" (2 Tim. 2:15). 1 Corinthians 14 defines for us the proper realm of its application in such a way as to show that the Bible Class arrangement is not and can not be considered as the realm of its specific application, and that those who would so apply it must take it out of its context and apply it contrary to its context. In this article, I shall show its proper place of application, and why it cannot be applied to the Bible Class arrangement.

The Context

In our last article, we pointed out that Paul was regulating order "in the churches" (1 Cor. 14:26, 31, 33, 40). But what does Paul mean by "in the churches?" Common sense tells us that Paul is not talking about the church in either the universal or local sense, because if he were, any woman obeying the gospel, being added to the church and identified with a local congregation, would have to shut up and never open her mouth again as long as she lived, and he is not talking about the church building because the word church is never used in the Bible to identify a church building or meeting place. The only other sense in which the word ekkiesia (church) is used in the New Testament is to identify an assembly that has been called together, and that is the meaning of the expression "in the churches" in this text. It means in the assemblies that God has called together.

Look now at the context of 1 Corinthians 14. In verses 4, 5, and 12, Paul discusses the "edifying of the church." When we come to verses 18-19, we find the expression "in the church" first used. "I thank my God, I speak with tongues more than ye all: yet in the church I had rather speak five words with my understanding, that by my voice I might teach others also, than ten thousand words in an unknown tongue." In verse 23, "If therefore the whole church be come together into one place, and all speak with tongues, and there come in those unlearned, or unbelievers, will they not say that ye are mad?" This is where Paul defines "in the church." It is the whole church come together into one place. It is further identified and regulated in verses 26-35.

According to this chapter, three acts of worship are identified as practiced in this assembly: (1) edifying (v. 26), (2) praying, and (3) singing (v. 15). Paul's language in 1 Corinthians 11, "when ye come together in the church" (v. 18), and "when ye come together therefore into one place" (v. 20), indicates that this is the same kind of assembly in which the Lord's Supper was observed; that is, an assembly of the whole church together in one place. We also conclude that it is in this same assembly that we contribute on the first day of the week (1 Cor. 16:1-2). Other passages use the same kind of language to describe an assembly of the whole church (Acts 20:7-8). We have always concluded, and rightly so, that in the absence of other Bible authority, the Lord's Supper and the contribution are to be observed on the first day of the week when the whole church is together. We understand that by Bible authority, edification, prayer, and singing may be engaged in at other times other than the first day of the week, and at times other than when the whole church is together, but we do not understand that this is true of the Lord's supper and giving. They are to be done upon the first day of the week in an assembly of the whole church. We defy any man to change it.

This is the place where Paul said he would not speak in tongues (v. 19), and in which he tells all tongue speakers to "keep silence in the church" if no interpreter is present (v. 27-28). This is the same assembly in which Paul instructs certain prophets to hold their peace (v. 29-30), and the same assembly in which the women were to "keep silence" (v. 34-35). The place where Paul said for them to "keep silence" is the place where the whole church is together in one place.

This Assembly Further Identified

Careful examination of the context of 1 Corinthians 14 will reveal a number of things that must be remembered which identify this assembly from other arrangements the church might use to carry out its mission. (1) The arrangement of 1 Corinthians 14 is a Divine Arrangement regulated by commandments (14: 37) in which Christians are to do together the things commanded to be done together in an assembly of the church. (2) It was an arrangement where the whole church was together, with the unlearned and unbelievers welcome (v. 23). It was not restricted in attendance. (3) It was an arrangement where only one was to speak at a time (v. 27-31), and (4) all other were to keep silence (v. 28, 30). (5) The design of this arrangement was that all (the same as the whole of verse 23) learn and be comforted (v. 31). With only one speaking at a time, all learned the same lesson in this arrangement. (6) Here the women were to "keep silence" (v. 34-35). They were not permitted to speak; even ask a question. They were not to address this assembly, but rather to be under obedience.

The Bible Class Arrangement

Having considered the identifying features of the assemblies described in 1 Corinthians 14, and the governing principles of these assemblies, let us now seek to apply them to the Bible Class arrangement. We are told by some that the Bible Class arrangement is the same assembly as that of 1 Corinthians 14. If it is, we should be willing to treat them as the same in all points. If one of the commandments apply to Bible Classes, then all must apply. Let us see if we are willing to accept the consequences.

  1. Since it is claimed that both arrangements constitute the assembly of 1 Corinthians 14, then we ought to be able to observe the Lord's Supper and take up the contribution in the Bible Classes. Can we? Can the Adult Class observe the Lord's Supper and contribute when they see fit, and the Young Men's Class and the Young Women's Class do the same? If you answer that question "No", you have recognized and admitted that the Bible Class arrangement and the assemblies of 1 Corinthians 14 are not the same, and if you answer that question "Yes," you have admitted that we can take a human arrangement, for that is what Bible Classes are, and substitute them for the Divine Arrangement. The consequence is that you have done away with God's arrangement. If we can substitute one human arrangement for God's arrangement, we can substitute another arrangement and put all the requirements of worship in the home, and thus do away with any assembly. We have fought the Bible Class contribution all of our lives, and the reason for it is that there is no Bible authority for its practice. While the Bible Class arrangement may scripturally be used as an expedient in carrying out the mission of the local church, it may not be substituted for any God ordained arrangement, nor may the regulations given to govern commanded things be used to regulate the realm of expediency.
  2. If the Bible Class arrangement is the same as the assembly of 1 Corinthians 14, then all regulations placed upon that assembly must apply to the Bible Classes. Only one could speak at a time therefore, and all other teachers would have to remain silent while all learned from the one speaking. If not, why not? If Christian women must keep silent because Bible Classes are the assembly of 1 Corinthians 14, then likewise only one may speak at a time. We must keep the lamb's legs equal.

I suggest that the Assembly of 1 Corinthians 14 and the Bible Classes are not the same, and for the following reasons (1) One is a Divine Arrangement, while the other is a Human Arrangement. (2) Bible Classes are restricted in attendance, while the assembly (1 Cor. 14) is not. (3) Only one may speak at a time in the assembly, while many may speak at the same time in the various classes as each teacher teaches. (4) All other teachers except the one who has the floor must keep silence in the assembly, while no teacher remains silent during Bible Classes. (5) All learn the same lesson in the assembly, while each unit learns a different lesson in the classes. If the Bible Class arrangement is different in these five points, what makes one think it is the same when it comes to Christian women? I (you) have no right to so abuse the Word of God, and extend it beyond its legitimate boundaries.

One of the stoutest advocates of the "No Women Teacher" theory is on record as saying, "they did not have Bible Classes in the Corinthian church." I do not know how he knows that, but since he does, I wonder what it is that makes him think 1 Corinthians 14 regulates Bible Classes? How could Paul have regulated something that did not exist?

Conclusion

It is my conviction that the truth will destroy every false doctrine. Every false way will fall before the sharp edges of this two edged sword (Heb. 4:12), but you must handle the sword right (2 Tim. 2:15). You may cut the other fellow if you take hold of the wrong end of the sword, but you will also cut yourself. This is true of every passage, and especially true of 1 Corinthians 14. The truth on this passage supports my position that a woman may teach classes of other women and children, and it destroys the position of those who oppose it, and there is no way that I am going to turn loose of it.

Our next article: "1 Timothy 2:11-12, Its Truth And Its Power."


This article originally appeared in Truth Magazine, October 28, 1976.
This page is Copyright 1998 by Alex Ogden, All Rights Reserved.
This page was last updated on Monday, June 15, 1998.


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