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Particulars of Christianity:
312 The Church Ethic


1 Timothy 2:12, Conclusions on
Women in Church Gatherings


Introduction & 3 Models of Church Gatherings and Leadership
Examining the Models
Examining the Models Conclusions and Study Expectations
Examining Church Gatherings in the Gospels
The First Supper, Jesus' Specific Instructions, Conclusions
Survey of Post-Ascension Church Gatherings
Apostolic and Eldership Functions in Acts and the Epistles
1 Corinthians 1-10 & Introduction to 1 Corinthians 11-14
1 Corinthians 11-13
1 Corinthians 14
1 Timothy 2:12, Conclusions on Women in Church Gatherings
Conclusions: 1 Corinthians 14, Church Gatherings & Leadership




1 Timothy 2:12 – Special Case or Universal Teaching?

 

Viola’s next argument is an attempt to explain 1 Timothy 2:12 as anything but a reference to a universal prohibition against women speaking and teaching in church.

 

In the same way, 1st and 2nd Timothy are very difficult letters to interpret because they are literally dripping with “low-context” statements—statements that have a context that only Paul and Timothy were privy to. Therefore, the best we can do is try to piece together the exact situation that Timothy faced in Ephesus. Linguistic and historical scholars have uncovered several facts that throw light on the passage we are considering. – Frank Viola, Reimagining A Woman’s Role in the Church, An Open Letter, page 14-17

 

According to Viola’s quote above it is very difficult to understand Paul’s comments in 1 Timothy because we lack the context that only Paul and Timothy were aware of. If this is true, then we are indeed in trouble. After all, if we are unable to understand 1 Timothy correctly without this missing context, who then can provide that context for us except Paul or Timothy? Thankfully, Frank Viola can.

 

Obviously, there is something wrong with Viola’s argument here. If someone says that we can’t properly understand the bible because we are missing critical information that isn’t provided in the scripture itself, then they can’t then go on to claim to supply that missing information and provide and accurate picture. If the bible is inadequate for providing a correct understanding on its own then we are out of luck. If we try to make up for biblical inadequacies of this nature with our own perspective we are making ourselves the authority instead of God’s Word.

 

What Viola really means is that if we read 1 Timothy by itself without first assuming his conclusion that there absolutely is not a universal prohibition against women teaching in church, then we will never arrive at his conclusion just by reading Paul’s letter. Or in other words, to reach Viola’s conclusion requires ideas not presented in the text. Because of his prior commitment to avoid any such prohibition, Viola needs to find a way around statements made in 1 Timothy (and 1 Corinthians 14), which by themselves indicate that such a universal prohibition was a New Testament norm.

 

As we continue to examine Viola’s argument concerning 1 Timothy 2, we return to a similar tactic. In order to support his denial of a universal prohibition on women speaking and teaching in church, Viola must explain that 1 Timothy 2 and 1 Corinthians 14 are not dealing with a universal teaching, but instead are responses to specific issues in only a few particular church communities. Along these lines, one of Viola’s proofs that 1 Timothy 2 is not a reference to a universal teaching against women speaking in church is to point to the verb tense used in verse 12.

 

The original Greek is illuminating. It’s in the present active voice. For that reason, it can be translated as: “I am not now permitting a woman to teach.” – Frank Viola, Reimagining A Woman’s Role in the Church, An Open Letter, page 14-17

 

Because the Greek verb translated as “permit” is in the present tense, Viola asserts that it may be better understood by adding the word “now” between “not” and “permitting.” The added word “now” is used to emphasize the present tense of the verb. For reference the King James translation is “I suffer not a woman to teach.” The New King James translates the same portion of verse 12 as “I do not permit a woman to teach.” A comparison of these versions with Viola’s version makes the difference between them clear.

 

1 Timothy 2:12:

“I suffer not a woman to teach.” – KJV

“I do not permit a woman to teach.” – NKJV

“I am not now permitting a woman to teach.” – Viola

 

Each of these phrasings is rendered in the present active tense. Without the word “now” the verse indicates that Paul didn’t allow women to teach. Inserting the word “now,” however, strongly conveys that Paul had not previously prohibited women from teaching, but that this prohibition was only a recent, novel development in response to a unique situation in Ephesus.

 

At first glance perhaps some might think Viola has presented a compelling argument from the Greek itself that the prohibition stated in 1 Timothy 2:12 is only a recent development rather than something universally taught by Paul. However, there is a flaw in Viola’s reasoning and analysis of the Greek.

 

Let’s examine Viola’s logic regarding the translation of the present tense using an example. Suppose we were to construct the sentence: “Frank Viola writes books.” The verb of this sentence is in the present active voice just like the phrase “I do not suffer a woman to teach.” The sentence “Frank Viola writes books” quite accurately conveys the idea that Frank Viola has written several books in the past decade. It can also include the idea that Viola is currently working on another book and that future books may be written later.

 

However, because the sentence is written in the present tense, what if we decided to couple the word “now” with the present tense verb as Viola has done with 1 Timothy 2:12? The sentence would then read “Now Frank Viola writes books.” By adding “now” to this sentence the meaning of the sentence has changed dramatically. Instead of referring accurately to the fact that Frank Viola has written several books over the course of the last ten years, now the sentence must be understood to indicate that writing is only a very recent development for Frank Viola. The new rendition of the sentence would now exclude the idea that Viola has written several books over the course of the last decade. In other words, the writing of books is something that is occurring now, but has not occurred before now.

 

To see Viola’s error more clearly let’s apply his translation to other present tense, active voice verbs in the New Testament.

 

1 Timothy 2:1 I exhort therefore, that, first of all, supplications, prayers, intercessions, and giving of thanks, be made for all men;

 

1 Corinthians 7:10 And unto the married I command, yet not I, but the Lord, Let not the wife depart from her husband: 11 But and if she depart, let her remain unmarried, or be reconciled to her husband: and let not the husband put away his wife.

 

Romans 9:1 I say the truth in Christ, I lie not, my conscience also bearing me witness in the Holy Ghost,

 

Romans 15:8 For I say that Jesus Christ was a minister of the circumcision for the truth of God, to confirm the promises made unto the fathers:

 

1 Corinthians 15:50 I say, brethren, that flesh and blood cannot inherit the kingdom of God; neither doth corruption inherit incorruption.

 

Galatians 5:16 This I say then, Walk in the Spirit, and ye shall not fulfil the lust of the flesh.

 

In each of the above verses the bolded verbs are in the present active tense, just like the verb for “permit not” in 1 Timothy 2:12. If we follow Viola’s translation of the Greek each of these verses would be better interpreted as follows.

 

1 Timothy 2:1 I now exhort therefore, that, first of all, supplications, prayers, intercessions, and giving of thanks, be made for all men;

 

Was 1 Timothy 2 the first time Paul had exhorted that prayers be made for all men? Should we conclude that prior to 1 Timothy, Paul had never exhorted that prayers be made for all men? Prior to this did Paul advocate that prayers not be made for all men?

 

1 Corinthians 7:10 And unto the married I now command, yet not I, but the Lord, Let not the wife depart from her husband: 11 But and if she depart, let her remain unmarried, or be reconciled to her husband: and let not the husband put away his wife.

 

Had Paul never before commanded that the wife should not be separated from her husband prior to writing this portion of 1 Corinthians? Should we conclude that prior to 1 Corinthians, Paul prescribed a policy allowing a wife and a husband to be separated?

 

Romans 9:1 I now say the truth in Christ, I lie not, my conscience also bearing me witness in the Holy Ghost,

 

Was Romans 9:1 the first time Paul had said the truth in Christ? Prior to writing Romans did Paul lie?

 

Romans 15:8 For I now say that Jesus Christ was a minister of the circumcision for the truth of God, to confirm the promises made unto the fathers:

 

Was Romans 15:8 the first time Paul had said that Jesus confirmed the promises made to the fathers of the Jewish nation? Did Paul previously deny that Jesus confirmed the promises to the patriarchs? Did Paul previously teach that Jesus had discarded those promises?

 

1 Corinthians 15:50 I now say, brethren, that flesh and blood cannot inherit the kingdom of God; neither doth corruption inherit incorruption.

 

Is 1 Corinthians 15:50 the first time Paul taught that flesh and blood could not inherit the kingdom of God? Should we conclude that prior to writing 1 Corinthians, Paul had thought and taught that flesh and blood could inherit the kingdom of God?

 

Galatians 5:16 This I now say then, Walk in the Spirit, and ye shall not fulfil the lust of the flesh.

 

Was Galatians 5:16 the first time Paul instructed Christians to walk in the Spirit?

 

Obviously, the Greek use of the present active voice does not necessitate the inclusion of the word “now” with the verb as Viola suggests. And just as obviously, the Greek present tense is not necessarily best understood as indicating actions, commands, teachings, or sayings were only being said for the first time as Paul wrote these letters. And lastly, the use of the present active voice absolutely does not convey a recent change or reversal in policy, such as Viola suggests concerning women’s silence, which he says was not previously required but was now recently instituted. The Greek present tense does not itself exclude that the action occurred in the past and on previous or other occasions. As such, Viola is in error for asserting that the use of the Greek present tense in 1 Timothy 2:12 itself implies that Paul’s forbidding women to speak was a new development, which Paul had not previously taught.

 

This examination of the Greek present tense was not difficult to perform. The fact that Viola offers this argument, which is so easily proven unsound, only demonstrates his negligence in rushing to support his preferred conclusion through whatever means he could regardless of their validity.

 

Another of Viola’s proofs that 1 Timothy 2 is only a local issue is his claim that the Ephesian cult of Diana was to blame for Ephesian women needing to be silenced by Paul.

 

Add to that, the main religion in Ephesus was a female-only cult. The priests who served the temple of Artemis (Diana) were all female. They ruled the religion and kept their men under their subjection. This mindset and influence appears to have crept into the Ephesian church. As a result, some of the women were acting bossy and seizing control over the men. They adopted the heresy and the attitude that goes along with it. And they began to peddle it in the church meetings. In short, the women were trying to take over the church with a false doctrine. This, I believe, is what provoked Paul to write the following passage: Let a woman learn in silence with full submission. I permit no woman to teach or to have authority over a man; she is to keep silent. For Adam was formed first, then Eve; and Adam was not deceived, but the woman was deceived and become a transgressor (1 Timothy 2:11-14, NRSV). – Frank Viola, Reimagining A Woman’s Role in the Church, An Open Letter, page 17-18

 

The first point to make is that in Acts 19:24-41, we find an instance demonstrating exactly what this Ephesian cult of Diana was capable of. In this entire account there is not one reference to the women followers of Diana. Instead, it is a man, Demetrius, who instigates the riot. It is the male craftsmen who erupt in an uproar in response to Demetrius’ accusations against the Christians. If the women lead this cult and were so controlling and domineering then why aren’t they leading the charge? Why aren’t they the chief antagonists?

 

Viola’s own comments on the situation bear out that it was the men who were responsible for teaching the false doctrine in Ephesus, not the women.

While male teachers were spreading this doctrine (1 Tim. 1:20; 2 Tim. 2:17), it found fertile ground among the women in the church (2 Tim. 3:6-9). Worst still, their homes provided a network by which the false teaching spread rapidly (1 Tim. 5:13-15; 3:11). – Frank Viola, Reimagining A Woman’s Role in the Church, An Open Letter, page 14-17

 

Here, Viola acknowledges that it was the men, and not the women who were spreading and teaching the false doctrine. So, how does it make sense for Paul to prevent the women from speaking and teaching in church? If it was the men, and not the women, who were spreading this false doctrine, wouldn’t Paul prohibit the men from teaching? Viola’s view makes Paul either inept or exceedingly unfair in his solution to this problem.

 

The fact is that throughout the Roman Empire female deities were worshipped. It’s also true that some of these goddess cults had female priestesses or oracles. And it’s true that in Ephesus, Diana was the patron deity. But it’s also true that despite these facts, Roman society was a male dominated and patriarchal society. It is for this reason that Viola himself proclaims that women were not educated and were socially inferior to men.

 

It must be noted that women in the first century—whether Jew or Gentile—tended to be uneducated. Any exceptions was rare. Women were essentially trained to be home-keepers. Thus for a woman to query or challenge a man in public was an embarrassing thing in the Greco-Roman world. When women interrupted the men with questions, the men were being interrogated by their social inferiors. – Frank Viola, Reimagining A Woman’s Role in the Church, An Open Letter, page 10-12

 

The case was no different in Ephesus. Despite the popularity of the Diana cult, women were still not the dominating force in this religion. Viola’s assertion that the Diana cult was to blame for a unique ban on women teaching in Ephesus isn’t consistent with the biblical or historical facts. The Ephesian worship of Diana did not involve female dominance in their society and neither was the heresy, which Paul wrote about to Timothy, taught by women. It was taught by the men. All of the major heretical teachers mentioned in the New Testament were men. (Likewise, all of the major Gnostic heretic cult leaders were men.) Viola is desperately trying to avoid the obvious conclusions that are demanded if we let the text of 1 Timothy 2 speak for itself without adding our own presuppositions, which aren’t supported by either the bible or history.

 

In another attempt to refute that 1 Timothy 2 entails a universal ban on women speaking in church, Viola claims that if such a ban was universally taught in all the New Testament churches Paul wouldn’t have had to teach it to Timothy because Timothy would already have known it. Therefore, Viola concludes, what Paul instructed Timothy must be novel instruction for a new and unique situation in Ephesus that Timothy had never heard Paul teach before.

 

Here is something else to consider. Timothy had known Paul for around fifteen years. Timothy had traveled with the aged apostle on two church planting trips. 58 He had also visited all the churches Paul founded. If Paul had universally banned women from teaching and speaking in the church meetings, why on earth would he have to explain this to Timothy in this letter? Timothy would have already known it. – Frank Viola, Reimagining A Woman’s Role in the Church, An Open Letter, page 14-17

 

It is certainly true that Timothy had known and travelled with Paul for fifteen years and visited all of the churches Paul had planted. But Viola’s line of reasoning here is completely unsound. If Viola’s argument was valid, we would not expect to see Paul writing instructions to Timothy about anything that we might suppose Timothy would already have known from his experience with Paul. But is this the case? Is there nothing that Paul writes in his letters to Timothy that Timothy should have already known? Of course not. There are many things Paul writes to Timothy that Timothy would already have known.

 

In 1 Timothy 1:3-4, Paul tells Timothy not to allow anyone to teach anything other than that which he himself had taught. And he instructs Timothy not to give heed to “fables and endless genealogies.”

 

1 Timothy 1:3 As I besought thee to abide still at Ephesus, when I went into Macedonia, that thou mightest charge some that they teach no other doctrine, 4 Neither give heed to fables and endless genealogies, which minister questions, rather than godly edifying which is in faith: so do.

 

Did Timothy not know that he shouldn’t allow people to teach things other than what Paul had taught? Did Timothy not already know that he shouldn’t give heed to “fables and endless genealogies?”

 

Similarly, in 1 Timothy 1, Paul remarks that before he came to Christ he was a blasphemer.

 

1 Timothy 1:12 And I thank Christ Jesus our Lord, who hath enabled me, for that he counted me faithful, putting me into the ministry; 13 Who was before a blasphemer, and a persecutor, and injurious: but I obtained mercy, because I did it ignorantly in unbelief.

 

Did Timothy not know of Paul’s history, conversion, and appointment unto ministry? Did Timothy not know that Paul had blasphemed Christ prior to his conversion?

 

Again, consider 1 Timothy 1:18-19.

 

1 Timothy 1:18 This charge I commit unto thee, son Timothy, according to the prophecies which went before on thee, that thou by them mightest war a good warfare; 19 Holding faith, and a good conscience; which some having put away concerning faith have made shipwreck:

 

Was Timothy unaware of the prophecies that had been made about him earlier? Did Timothy not know that he should continue to hold to the faith?

 

Consider the opening verses of chapter 2.

 

1 Timothy 2:1 I exhort therefore, that, first of all, supplications, prayers, intercessions, and giving of thanks, be made for all men; 2 For kings, and for all that are in authority; that we may lead a quiet and peaceable life in all godliness and honesty. 3 For this is good and acceptable in the sight of God our Saviour; 4 Who will have all men to be saved, and to come unto the knowledge of the truth. 5 For there is one God, and one mediator between God and men, the man Christ Jesus; 6 Who gave himself a ransom for all, to be testified in due time.

 

Are we to believe that in all his time in the churches Paul founded and in all his travels with Paul that Timothy did not already know that God is our Savior, that God wills all men to be saved, that there is only one God, that Jesus Christ is our only mediator, and that Jesus gave himself as a ransom for all men? Of course not.

 

We could go on and on and we haven’t even made it out of the first chapter of this epistle. The point is that there are many, many times that Paul writes to Timothy about things that Timothy already knew. There are many, many times when Paul reminds Timothy and provides instructions about things that surely Timothy already understood and which he had heard Paul teach before. How then can Frank Viola claim that 1 Timothy 2:12 can’t be a universal teaching of the New Testament simply because if it was Timothy would already have known it? These verses show that Viola’s argument here is either due to serious lack of forethought and incompetence or outright dishonesty in the goal of asserting his position.

 

Moreover, if we apply Viola’s logic to Paul’s writing in general, we arrive at even more substantial problems for Viola’s model. Viola’s basic argument here is that if something appears in an epistle, then it could not have been universal teaching in the early churches because if it was universal, then it would have already been known and there would be no need to write about it in an epistle. What happens if we apply this to Viola’s favorite proof passage for his own “every member functioning” model? As we have already seen, Viola argues that I Corinthians 11-14 both teaches his “every member functioning” model and that these passages reflect universal practice established by Paul in all the churches he planted. But if Viola’s argument concerning 1 Timothy is correct, then the fact that Paul had to write these chapters to the Corinthians demonstrates that the content of those chapters was absolutely not universal otherwise the Corinthians would have already known it. Consequently, even if 1 Corinthians 11-14 did support Viola’s model, Viola would have to conclude that such a model was uniquely put in place in Corinth and was not universal to the entire early church.

 

 

 

Teaching and Leadership Roles are Gender Distinct in the New Testament

 

While we are discussing Paul’s instructions to Timothy, we might also remember that our study of church gatherings and leadership lead us to the conclusion that local church leaders (called elders, overseers, or bishops) were to fulfill the apostolic role of leading the church community through the teaching of the word in church gatherings. This conclusion fits very well with universal prohibition against women teaching in the church gatherings. After all, in 1 Timothy 3, right after prohibiting women to teach, Paul gives instructions for the appointment of elders.

 

1 Timothy 2:11 Let the woman learn in silence with all subjection. 12 But I suffer not a woman to teach, nor to usurp authority over the man, but to be in silence. 13 For Adam was first formed, then Eve. 14 And Adam was not deceived, but the woman being deceived was in the transgression. 15 Notwithstanding she shall be saved in childbearing, if they continue in faith and charity and holiness with sobriety. 3:1 This is a true saying, If a man desire the office of a bishop, he desireth a good work. 2 A bishop then must be blameless, the husband of one wife, vigilant, sober, of good behaviour, given to hospitality, apt to teach; 3 Not given to wine, no striker, not greedy of filthy lucre; but patient, not a brawler, not covetous; 4 One that ruleth (4291) well his own house, having his children in subjection with all gravity; 5 (For if a man know not how to rule (4291) his own house, how shall he take care of the church of God?)

 

Paul provides similar instructions in his letter to Titus.

 

Titus 1:5 For this cause left I thee in Crete, that thou shouldest set in order the things that are wanting, and ordain elders in every city, as I had appointed thee: 6 If any be blameless, the husband of one wife, having faithful children not accused of riot or unruly. 7 For a bishop must be blameless, as the steward of God; not selfwilled, not soon angry, not given to wine, no striker, not given to filthy lucre; 8 But a lover of hospitality, a lover of good men, sober, just, holy, temperate; 9 Holding fast the faithful word as he hath been taught, that he may be able by sound doctrine both to exhort and to convince the gainsayers.

 

Both of these letters are written to different locations. Timothy was in Ephesus and Titus was in Crete. Yet, in both of these passages we see that elders (bishops) must be men. This is indicated clearly in the texts. Since, therefore, elders were responsible for teaching the word in the church meetings and only men could be elders, it necessarily follows that women could not teach in the church meeting. Therefore, unless Frank Viola supposes that these instructions do not reflect universal instructions for the appointment of elders in every church, but only deal with specific and unique circumstances for appointing elders in Ephesus and Crete, we must conclude that 1 Timothy 3 and Titus confirm the idea that women could not teach in the church meetings.

 

Likewise, the same is true for deacons. In this same letter to Timothy, Paul also provides instructions for deacons. As with his instructions for elders, Paul’s instructions for deacons only referred to men.

 

1 Timothy 3:8 Likewise must the deacons be grave, not doubletongued, not given to much wine, not greedy of filthy lucre; 9 Holding the mystery of the faith in a pure conscience. 10 And let these also first be proved; then let them use the office of a deacon, being found blameless. 11 Even so must their wives be grave, not slanderers, sober, faithful in all things. 12 Let the deacons be the husbands of one wife, ruling their children and their own houses well. 13 For they that have used the office of a deacon well purchase to themselves a good degree, and great boldness in the faith which is in Christ Jesus.

 

This is consistent with Acts 6, where the first deacons were appointed. All seven of the persons appointed as deacons in Acts 6 are men.

 

Acts 6: 1 And in those days, when the number of the disciples was multiplied, there arose a murmuring of the Grecians against the Hebrews, because their widows were neglected in the daily ministration. 2 Then the twelve called the multitude of the disciples unto them, and said, It is not reason that we should leave the word of God, and serve tables. 3 Wherefore, brethren, look ye out among you seven men of honest report, full of the Holy Ghost and wisdom, whom we may appoint over this business. 4 But we will give ourselves continually to prayer, and to the ministry of the word. 5 And the saying pleased the whole multitude: and they chose Stephen, a man full of faith and of the Holy Ghost, and Philip, and Prochorus, and Nicanor, and Timon, and Parmenas, and Nicolas a proselyte of Antioch:

 

An undeniable pattern emerges from our study of these texts. First, all of the twelve apostles were males. Second, all elders (pastors, bishops, overseers) were to be males. And third, all deacons were males. While some have argued that the education level afforded women in Greco-Roman society was the limiting factor, which prevented women from eldership in the early church era, what reason is there to prohibit them from serving as deacons, a role whose chief duty entailed helping to distribute food and finances to those in need in the church? Surely, a formal education would not have been needed for this type of work. The fact that all the apostles, all elders, and all deacons were men despite the existence of women believers itself decisively indicates that there was a real, gender-based restriction against women in leadership roles in New Testament teaching and practice throughout all early church communities.

 

Moreover, concerning the argument that such restrictions were based on a temporary lack of female education, why don’t any of the passages asserting the restriction mention education as a reason? Why do all of those passages explain that the restriction results from unchanging historical, creation, or redemptive facts such as Eve’s deception at the fall, man being created before woman, and Christ being the head of the church? The fact of the matter is that restrictive texts are not silent on the question of why there was a ban. They do not mention education and they do not leave us open to speculate. They give us clear reasons and those reasons are not transitive or incidental. Those reasons are permanent, unchanging historical, creation, and redemptive truths. And so long as those truths remain they continue to necessitate the restrictions, just as they did in Paul’s day.  

 

In his article on this subject, Viola claims that there was no such thing as a gender-specific spiritual gift.

 

God bestows all spiritual gifts with undistinguishing regard on men and women alike. There’s no such thing as a gender-specific spiritual gift. – Frank Viola, Reimagining A Woman’s Role in the Church, An Open Letter, page 14-17

 

Viola is right. There seem to be no gender restrictions regarding supernatural gifts. But there certainly were gender-specific leadership and teaching roles in the New Testament.

 

As we saw earlier, after his examination of both 1 Timothy 2 and 1 Corinthians 14, Frank Viola concludes that both passages are connected linguistically and contain very similar instructions.

 

It’s striking to discover that there are seven parallel words that appear in both this text and 1 Corinthians 14:34-35. Two of them are: learn and silent. In both passages, the word learn is translated from the same Greek word: 1 Timothy 2:11: “A woman should learn (manthano) in silence and full submission.” 1 Corinthians 14:35: “And if they desire to learn (manthano) anything, let them ask their own husbands at home.” In the Timothy passage, Paul says that the sisters in Ephesus should learn in silence and full submission….In effect, 1 Timothy 2:11 is the same instruction that Paul appears to give the sisters in Corinth. That is, the women ought not to disrupt the meeting with questions and challenges. In the church meeting, they should learn in quietness. So the first thing Paul says to Timothy is, “Let the sisters stop asking leading-questions to challenge the brothers. Instead, let them take on humility and learn with studious attention.” – Frank Viola, Reimagining A Woman’s Role in the Church, An Open Letter, page 14-17

 

He even recognizes the universal New Testament teaching of the headship of the man over the wife, which is referenced in several of these very passages that provide a prohibition against women speaking.

 

As far as the marital relationship goes, the husband/wife relationship is an earthly picture of the heavenly reality of Christ and His Bride. So I take at face value Paul’s injunction for wives to be subject to their husbands (Eph. 5:22: Col. 3:18; see also 1 Pet. 3:1-7). – Frank Viola, Reimagining A Woman’s Role in the Church, An Open Letter, page 20

 

And yet somehow Viola contends that these passages are not presenting a universal prohibition that was taught in all churches. Instead, despite their inherent connection to the headship of the husband over the wife, their linguistic parallels, and the sameness of the instructions themselves, Viola claims that they are only specific instructions to two separate churches for completely different reasons due to special circumstances that pertained to those local communities only.

 

Consequently, Paul is not drafting a universal rule for women. Instead, he’s dealing with a highly specific situation in Ephesus. He’s speaking to those women in Ephesus who are peddling a false doctrine. – Frank Viola, Reimagining A Woman’s Role in the Church, An Open Letter, page 14-17

 

Why? Because in Corinth, they were interrupting the meetings due to their lack of spiritual maturity and education. In Ephesus, they were brazenly seizing authority over the men with a false doctrine. – Frank Viola, Reimagining A Woman’s Role in the Church, An Open Letter, page 17-18

 

Is Viola right to conclude that 1 Timothy 2 and 1 Corinthians 14 only pertain to specific issues in Ephesus and Corinth? Or should we instead conclude that these passages reference a universal rule that was taught in all the New Testament churches? Let’s consider the evidence that we have seen presented by both sides. As we do let’s keep in mind what we might expect to find in the New Testament if either position were true.

 

 

 

Conclusions on Women in Church Gatherings

 

If the New Testament provides a universal prohibition against women speaking or teaching in church meetings we would expect not to find any examples of women speaking or teaching in church meetings in the New Testament. Instead, we would expect speaking and teaching at church meetings to be solely attributed to men. We would expect that leadership and teaching roles would be limited to men only. And we would also expect to find instances where the New Testament prohibited women from teaching and speaking. We would also expect that there would be more than one of these instances. And we would expect that the text of scripture would attribute the rationale for such prohibitions to larger, unchanging theological truths and teachings and to the commands of Jesus Christ, rather than to isolated issues in a single Church community.

 

If however, the New Testament provided no universal prohibition against women speaking or teaching in church meetings we would expect that we would easily be able to identify many clear instances in which women taught and spoke in New Testament church meetings. We would expect that these instances would portray a balance between male and female participation and speaking at the meetings. We would expect to have equal information provided in the New Testament text about the contributions of Jesus’ male and female followers. We would expect that there wouldn’t be roles that are reserved for men only. We would expect that there would not be any passage in the New Testament which prohibited women from speaking and teaching in church meetings.
We would certainly not expect to find multiple passages directed to different churches which all indicated a similar prohibition. And we would expect that if by some chance there was a prohibition, it would not be connected to larger theological truths or biblical teaching, but it would be explicitly connected in the text to a specific problem in a singular, local church community.

 

So, which set of expectations do we find met by the information provided in the New Testament?

 

Do we see instances clearly portraying women speaking and teaching in church meetings? Frank Viola claims we do. But where are they? In his writings on the subject Viola only references four passages in support of his conclusion (1 Corinthians 14:26, 31; Colossians 3:16; Hebrews 5:14; and Hebrews 10:24-25.) We have looked at each of these passages and found that none of them specifically indicate that women spoke or taught in church gatherings and many of them were not even about church meetings at all.

 

Contrast Viola’s support with our survey of church meetings in the gospels and Acts. Did we find a single instance in all four gospels or Acts in which women spoke or taught in a church meeting either before or after Pentecost? No, we do not. In our chapter by chapter survey of the four gospels and the Book of Acts, we encountered a number of church gatherings spanning from the time of Jesus’ ministry through the first few decades of Christian history after the day of Pentecost. In none of those gatherings did we find even a single instance of a woman teaching or speaking at a church gathering. But in every case we saw that the men spoke or taught or asked questions. What we definitely did not see in the New Testament’s description of church gatherings was a portrayal of women speaking and teaching in equal balance as the men. Likewise, the New Testament’s information and portrayal of the contributions of Jesus’ women followers was stark in comparison to the large bulk of New Testament material that covers the significance of Jesus’ male disciples in the spread of early Christianity.

 

Do we have any prohibitions against women speaking and teaching in the church meetings?

 

Yes, we have at least two passages from to two different church communities using similar language and providing nearly identical instructions for prohibiting women from speaking and teaching in church meetings (1 Corinthians 14:34-40 and 1 Timothy 2:12.) Are those specific prohibitions connected in the text to isolated, specific problems in a local church or are they connected to larger, unchanging New Testament theological truths and teachings? In neither passage was the prohibition stated to relate to specific issues that only pertained to that local church community. But both passages did connect the prohibition against women speaking to universal Christian teaching such as Christ’s own commands, Christ’s headship over the church, man being created before woman, the headship of the husband over the wife, the wife’s submission to the husband, and even to the general New Testament teaching that the church meetings were predominately for teaching and prevention of doctrinal error, which was compared to Eve’s being deceived by the serpent.

 

And lastly, we have noted that the apostolic, eldership, and deacon roles of leadership were all restricted to men only.

 

Given these scriptural facts, how can we accept Viola’s conclusion that there is no universal and unchanging prohibition against women speaking and teaching in church? Obviously, we cannot. If Viola was correct why are there no instances whatsoever of women teaching or speaking at any of the church gatherings recorded in the gospels or in Acts? Why does the New Testament contain such a disproportionate amount of information and emphasis on the contributions of Jesus’ male disciples? Why are apostles, elders, and deacons all men? Why do we have any prohibition against women speaking and teaching anywhere in the New Testament? Why are these prohibitions given to more than one church community? Why do the instructions given to different church communities use almost identical language if they pertain to different issues? Why are they connected with universal teachings held everywhere, to Jesus’ commands, and to large biblical truths including the headship of Christ over the church? Why don’t the texts of these prohibitions cite unique issues that only pertain to certain, specific, local churches as the reason behind the prohibitions?

 

What we find in the New Testament is completely the opposite of what we should find if Frank Viola were correct. But it is exactly what we would expect to find if there was a universal prohibition against women speaking and teaching in church. From this we must conclude that there was, in fact, a universal prohibition against women speaking and teaching during the church meetings. As such 1 Corinthians 14:34-40 clearly includes a further and final restriction on who can participate in church gatherings. This prohibition was a corollary to the universally taught New Testament doctrine of the husband’s headship over the wife and the woman’s submission to her husband as well as Christ’s headship over the church.

 

There is no way around this conclusion unless we want to rely upon proof-texting instead of properly exegeting the scripture in light of the total historical and biblical narrative, context, and themes. There is no way to avoid this conclusion unless, like the Corinthians or the Gnostics, we think that we have some higher spiritual truth than what was taught in all of the New Testament and its churches. There is no way around this unless we want to do what Viola himself calls “all sorts of exegetical gymnastics to make the clear passages fit our interpretation of a few obscure texts.”

 

Frank Viola may wish things to be otherwise, but what is his biblical basis for demanding we accept his position? We have surveyed all the relevant scriptural texts and left no biblical data out of our examination. On the contrary, most discussions that present the view that women can speak, teach, and pray in the church gatherings do not usually present the total New Testament picture on the topic or even sometimes the full context from the passage or book itself. Instead, they seem to require that we separate and isolate each statement from its immediate context, its overall context, and its linguistic connections and then interpret it in light of added information supplied from outside of scriptural text.

 

Our conclusion, on the other hand, fits well with what we can observe from the scripture itself. Women did not speak, teach, lead, or pray in church gatherings because they were prohibited from doing so. That being said it is clear that 1 Corinthians 14 presents a further blow to the Viola model’s idea that all persons at a church meeting should participate equally. Specifically we see that women will not participate equally or in the same way as men.