If women shouldn’t speak during the church service, is it okay for them to speak during an informal, mixed-gender Bible study? Is there some way of delineating where it is proper for a woman to express her opinion on theological matters, and where it is not? Join me as I think this through!
If you haven’t done so yet, please read the following passages from your Bible:
- 1 Corinthians 14:34-37
- 1 Timothy 2:11-15
- 1 Peter 3:1-6
You might also want to refer to my post Verses on Feminine Quietness for some background before we begin.
For the longest time, even though I thought that women shouldn’t speak during the church service–as in women shouldn’t be preaching to or teaching mixed groups of people–I still believed that it was okay for them to voice their opinions informally during Bible studies and door-step discussions. Lately, I’ve had the opportunity to scrutinize my thinking.
Apart from the pastor, nobody speaks during the church service. There may be some exceptions, such as the one who reads the announcements, leads in prayer, or directs the singing. However, none of the other men usually speak. All others remain silent, in order to help the service run along smoothly, and to give attention to the message. So, for a woman to remain silent during the church service is really not much of a sacrifice at all.
What would be the point of commanding women to “learn in silence” (1 Tim. 2:11) if everybody else was also silent? I think there were a couple of applications for that command: 1) It was to clarify that women should not be preaching or teaching like a pastor would do [one of the few who were not silent], 2) It was to clarify that women should not be participating vocally in the informal get-together.
I have never had a problem accepting point #1. Let’s take point #2. This has been the hardest point for me to consider. What? Not say what I think? What if I disagree? What if I could contribute to the discussion? What if I (think) I know the answer to what everyone else is trying to figure out? What if I would enjoy the conversation? So, do I just sit there like a mannequin? Like a dummy?
Before, I would have said, “Because it’s an informal discussion, it’s okay to voice your opinion respectfully. As long as you are not doing the teaching, you are on safe ground.” But, is that true?
To begin with, the church didn’t start out meeting in huge, steepled, auditorium-type buildings. They met in homes. So, when women were told to “keep silent in the churches” (1 Cor. 14:34) the context was the home church, and that would have typically been an informal gathering, right?
The churches of Asia greet you. Aquila and Priscilla greet you heartily in the Lord, with the church that is in their house.
1 Cor. 16:19
The Bible is referring then, not only to large, formal gatherings, but to small, informal gatherings as well, when it says for women to keep silent.
Also within the realm of “informal discussion,” is asking questions in order to learn. Where would we normally ask questions? In the formal church service, or in the informal Bible study-type gathering? In the more informal setting, normally. Yet, the Bible 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.
1 Cor. 14:35
Asking questions, even innocent “I just wanted to know” questions are not allowed. Why? The way I see it, asking questions can sometimes be a form of challenging someone else’s viewpoint. It raises contention. It can be disrespectful. It is also a way of taking leadership in the conversation.
One question leads to another’s answer. Then, that person asks you a question, which you answer. Now, you’ve started a debate. At that point, it’s very hard to just let it lie still. You feel the need to continue the discussion in order to reach a satisfying resolution. Now, you’re the one heading up the discussion. See what’s been started?
Either that, or (could it be possible?) the question you ask is an ignorant question, and just detracts from whatever it is that the male teacher is trying to accomplish. I know how very biased that sounds! I am not dumb! And neither are the Christian sisters that I am close to! But, it wouldn’t be good to interfere with the teaching, and we need to consider whether that might be what happens when we ask questions that could have waited to be asked until we got home.
Another thing that strikes me: we’re supposed to ask our husbands if we want to learn something. Hmm, now that’s interesting! Why our husbands? Surely our husbands don’t know as much as some man who has a Doctorate in Theology and has written many books. Maybe, God is telling us to respect our husband as our primary spiritual leader, and not other men. Perhaps God is telling us to depend upon our husband’s judgement more than on that of other men, no matter how learned they are. It could be a way of unifying the family.
These are a few of the thoughts that have been rattling around in my head, lately. What do you think?