The Bible on Women's Public Speaking
By Thomas Treadwell Eaton, 1895
"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 saith 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. What? came the word of God out from you? or came it unto you only? If any man think himself to be a prophet, or spiritual, let him acknowledge that the things that I write unto you are the commandments of the Lord." I. Corinthians xiv. 34-37.
"I will therefore that men pray everywhere, lifting up holy hands, without wrath and doubting . . . Let the women learn in silence with all subjection. For Adam was first formed, then Eve. And Adam was not deceived, but the woman being deceived was in the transgression." I. Timothy ii. 8, 11-14.
Thus reads King James' Version.
The REVISED VERSION is as follows:
"Let the women keep silence in the churches: for it is not permitted unto them to speak; but let them be in subjection, also says. And if they
wish to learn anything, let them ask their own husbands at home: for it is a shame for a woman to speak in the church. What? did the word of God come for them from you? or came it unto you alone? If anyone thinks himself a prophet, or spiritual, let him acknowledge the things which I write unto you are the Lord's commandments."
"I desire therefore that the men pray in every place, lifting up holy hands, without wrath and disputing . . . . Let the women learn in silence with all subjection. But I permit not the woman to teach, nor to have authority over the man, but to be in silence. For Adam was first formed, then Eve; and Adam was not deceived, but the woman being deceived is fallen in to transgression."
Here is the AMERICAN BIBLE UNION VERSION:
"Let your women keep silence in the churches; for it is not permitted to them to speak, but they are to be in subjection, as the law also says. And if they wish to learn anything, let them ask their own husbands at home j for it is a shame for a woman to speak in the church. Did the word of God come for them from you? or came it unto you alone?
If anyone thinks himself a prophet, or spiritual, let him acknowledge the things I write unto you are the Lord's commandments."
"I desire, therefore, that the men pray in every place, lifting up holy hands, without wrath and disputing . . . . Let the women learn in silence, with all subjection. But I permit not the woman to teach,
nor to have authority over the man, but to be in silence. For Adam was first formed, then Eve. And Adam was not deceived; but the woman being deceived, is fallen in to transgression."
John Wesley's Version is as follows:
"Let your women be silent in the churches; for it is not permitted them to speak, hut to be in subjection, as the law also saith. And if they desire to learn anything, let them ask their own husbands at home; for it is indecent for a woman to speak in the assembly. Did the word of God come out from you? Dr did it come out to you alone? If anyone think himself to be a prophet, or spiritual, let him take knowledge that the things which I write to you are the commandments of the Lord."
"I will therefore that men pray in every place, lifting up holy hands without wrath and doubting . . . . Let a woman learn in silence with all subjection. For I suffer not a woman to teach, nor to usurp authority over the man, but to be in silence."
Conybeare and Howson's Version reads thus:
"In your congregation, as in all the congregations of the saints, the women must keep silence; for they are not permitted to speak in public, but to show submission, as saith also the law. And if they wish to ask any question, let them ask it of their own husbands at home; for it is disgraceful to women to speak in the congregation. Was it from you that the word of God went forth? or are you the only church which it has reached? Nay, if any think that he has
the gift of prophecy, or that he is a spiritual man, let him acknowledge the words which 1 write for commands of the Lord."
"I desire, then, that in every place the men should offer up prayers, lifting up their hands in holiness, putting away anger and disputation . . . . Let women learn in silence, with entire submission. But I permit not a woman to teach, nor to claim authority over the man, but to keep silence. For Adam was first formed, then Eve. And Adam was not deceived; but the woman was deceived and became a transgressor."
The Douay Version (Roman Catholic, from the Latin Vulgate) says:
"Let women keep silence in the churches: for it is not permitted them to speak, but to be subject, as also the law saith. But if they would learn anything, let them ask their husbands at home. For it is a shame for a woman to speak in the church."
"I will therefore that men pray in every place, lifting up pure hands without anger and contention . . . . Let the woman learn in silence, with all subjection. But I suffer not a woman to teach, nor to use authority over the man: but to be in silence. For Adam was first formed, then Eve. And Adam was not seduced; but the woman being seduced was in the transgression. "
Wicliffe's Version (from the Vulgate) says:
"Women in churches be still, for it is not suffered them to speak, but to be subject as the law saith, but if they would anything learn, at home ask their husbands,
for it is a foul thing for a woman to speak in the church." - 1. Corinthians xiv. 34, 35.
"A woman learn in silence with all subjection. But I suffer not a woman to teach, neither to have lordship on the husband, but to be in silence, for Adam was first formed, afterward Eve, and Adam was not deceived; but the woman was deceived in breaking the law." - 1. Timothy i. 11-14.
Tyndale's Version, on these passages, reads thus:
"Let your wives keep silence in the congregations. For it is not permitted unto them to speak, but let them be under obedience as saith the law. If they will learn anything let them ask their husbands at home. For it is a shame for women to speak in the congregation. "
"Let the woman learn in silence with all subjection. I suffer not a woman to teach, neither to have authority over a man: but for to be in silence. For Adam was first formed, and then Eve. Also Adam was not deceived, but the woman was deceived and was in transgression."
Cranmer's Version is as follows:
"Let your women keep silence in the congregations. For it is not permitted unto them to speak: but to be under obedience, as saith the law. If they will learn anything, let them ask their husbands at home. For it is a shame for women to speak in the congregation."
"I will therefore that the men pray everywhere. Let the woman learn in silence with all subjection. I suffer not a woman to teach, neither to usurp authority over the man: but to be in silence. For Adam was first formed, and then Eve. Adam also was not deceived, but the woman was deceived, and was subdued to the transgression."
The Geneva Version thus renders these passages:
"Let your women keep silence in the congregations: for it is not permitted unto them to speak: but they are commanded to be under obedience, is also the law saith. If they will learn anything let them ask their husbands at home, for it is a shame for women to speak in the congregation."
"I will therefore, that the men pray everywhere . . . Let the women learn in silence with all subjection. I suffer not a woman to teach, neither to usurp authority over the man, but for to be in silence. For Adam was first formed, and then Eve. And Adam was not deceived, but the woman was deceived, and was made guilty of the transgression."
The Rheim's Version has it:
"Let women hold their peace in the churches: for it is not permitted them to speak, but to be subject, as also the law saith. But if they learn anything, let them ask their own husbands at home. For it is a foul thing for a woman to speak in the church."
"Let a woman learn in silence with all subjection. But to teach I permit not unto a woman, nor to have
dominion over the man: but to be in silence. For Adam was formed first; then Eve, and Adam was not seduced: but the woman being seduced, was in prevarication . . .
Here we have enough versions to let the English speaking reader see what is the plain meaning of the inspired text. There can be no trouble about the translation. Indeed the original is stronger, than our common version, against women's speaking in the churches. What do these plain Scriptures mean? If they mean what they say - and there is no reason to think they do not - that settles the question, with all who believe the Bible to be inspired. But since there are good people who favor women's making public addresses before mixed assemblies, it may be well to examine more carefully and see whether what these Scriptures seem to mean is what they really do mean. It is purely a question of scholarship. It is conveying the meaning of sentences in one language into another language. The best we can do, therefore, is to make an appeal to the scholars who have given their lives to the study of this subject. Here are the statements of the leading commentators. I might give more; but these are probably enough, since the rest are in line with them. I have exhausted my
own library, and the library of Dr. Broadus, and also the library of the Theological Seminary, and I have failed to find a single commentator who claims that the New Testament favors women's speaking in the churches. Notice, then, what these commentators say.
Olshausen says, in commenting on 1. Corinthians xiv. 34, 35: "The deviation of the Corinthians from the right exercise of the charismata was further shown in permitting women who were possessed of the gifts (for such alone can be intended) to speak in public. This is reproved by the apostle, appealing likewise to the word of God (Genesis iii. 16). Women were to be submissive to their husbands in all things, and to learn, but not to teach. To what purpose, we may then ask, were they endowed by God with the gifts, if they were prohibited the exercise of them? Thus we read in Acts xxi. 9, that the four daughters of Philip had the gift of prophecy. To this we answer, they might apply these gifts to their own private edification (xiv. 4), or employ them in an unostentatious manner for others, but not in public assemblies." Commentary on New Testament, Vol. IV, p. 373.
This same commentary, continued after Olshausen's death by Drs. Erbrard and Wiesinger, says, on 1. Timothy ii. 11, 12: "There is here an
antithesis in every word. In silence, opposed to drawing attention to themselves by a public appearance. Even the putting of questions by the women in the public assembly is rebuked by the apostle, I. Corinthians xiv. 35. Let her learn, as opposed to teach. In all subjection. " in opposition to usurping authority over the man, 1. Corinthians xiv. 34. Being in subjection is in that passage represented as the proper position of the woman, which of itself excludes the teaching in public assemblies; but not of teaching in general, Acts xviii.26." Vol. VI, p. 59.
J. Comper Gray gives the following on I. Corinthians xiv. 34, 35: "Women . . . . church, this seems to be an absolute prohibition in so far as relates to meetings for public worship. Law, women were forbidden to speak in the synagogues. If . . . learn, a praiseworthy desire. Let. . . husbands, who themselves should learn in order to teach. Home, thus made a scene of religious converse. Shame . . . church, indecent, immodest, disorderly." Biblical Museum, N. T., Vol. IV, p. 88.
Again, on I.Timothy ii. 11, 12: "Let . . . woman, etc., see on 1. Corinthians. xiv. 34 and Ephesians iv. 24. Woman - I. Her sphere - is not in public but at home - not to teach but to learn - not to command but to obey. II. Her obligation to
keep within it - arises out of her natural position - is confirmed by the command of God should be dictated by modesty." Ibid, p. 329.
John Calvin, on 1. Corinthians xiv. 34, speaking of women's addressing mixed assemblies, says: "It is therefore an argument from things inconsistent. If the woman is under subjection, she is, consequently, prohibited from authority to teach in public." And, again: "Paul's reasoning, however, is simple - that authority to teach is not suitable to the station that a woman occupies, because if she teaches she presides over all the men, while it becomes her to be under subjection."
The Bible Commentary (by the bishops and clergy of the Church of England) says, on 1. Timothy ii. 11: "Let the m learn in silence, etc. In public worship the men only are to teach as well as to pray. The Apostle had given the same injunction to the Corinthians, and had intimated that it was the universal regulation 'in all the churches of the saints,' 1. Corinthians xiv. 33-36." This is from Prof. Wall.
The Popular Commentary (edited by Dr. Philip Schaff) says, on I. Corinthians xiv. 33-36: "And that further question comes in most suitably where we find it (chapter xiv), under the head of how those extraordinary spiritual gifts, which were
so abundantly possessed at Corinth, should be exercised so as most to promote spiritual edification. And the decision here given (mark the words, E.) is so explicit and so peremptory, that the only wonder is how any candid reader should question it. To Timothy the prohibition to females of the right to exercise their gifts in the public assemblies is even more explicit: 'I desire therefore that the men (Greek, the males) pray in every place . . . . In like manner, that women (the other sex) adorn themselves in modest apparel . . . . Let a woman learn in quietness, with all subjection. But I permit not a woman to teach, nor to have dominion over a man.''' This was written by Dr. David Brown, of Aberdeen, Scotland.
The Popular Commentary (edited by Dr. Philip Schaff, I. Timothy being commented on by Prof. Plumptre, of King's College, London,) says, on 1. Timothy ii. 5: "THAT MEN: Better as in the Greek the men, as distinguished from the women. The praying spoken of is not a mental act, but part of the public worship of the church, and is therefore limited to the men . IN EVERY PLACE. The words do not appear to have been written with any intention of proclaiming, as our Lord did in John iv. 23, the acceptableness of true worship independently
of local sanctity, but rather to emphasize the fact that the rule laid down was binding in the more private meetings of disciples as well as in the public gathering of the Ecclesia."
On I. Corinthians xiv. 34-36, and I. Timothy ii. 8-12, Dr. John A. Broadus, who is the peer of any of them, says: "Now it does not need to be urged that these two passages from the Apostle Paul do definitely and strongly forbid that women shall speak in mixed public assemblies. No one can afford to question that such is the most obvious meaning of the apostle's commands." Ought Women to Speak, etc., p. 4.
Conybeare and Howson, in their Life and Epistles of St. Paul, on I. Corinthians xvi. 33-36: "The women must not officiate publicly in the congregation." On I. Timothy ii.9-IS, they say: "The Apostle's meaning is that women are to be kept in the path of safety, not by taking upon themselves the office of the man (by taking a public part in the assemblies of the church, etc.), but by the performance of the peculiar functions which God has assigned to their sex."
Lange's Commentary, on I. Timothy ii.9-IS, this part being written by Dr. Van Oosterzee, says: "As the apostle thus reverts to public prayers just commended, he now states more exactly when, how and through whom these should be
conducted, and with this he adds his special counsel to the women as well as the men. The latter, in express distinction from the women, are alone to direct public prayers. It thus appears that, in the assembly of believers, this duty was not given exclusively to the presiding officer, but was performed without limitation by the members of the church. The apostle does not object to this, but only orders that the women shall abstain entirely from it, which, perhaps, in more recent times, they had not always done."
On the expression of the Apostle, "I will therefore," etc., Dr. Van Oosterzee says: "[Greek word] is stronger than [Greek word]: it is to ordain by the power of his apostolic authority."
Commenting on the expression "everywhere," of which the Greek is "in every place," this commentator shows that it does not apply to the main house of worship merely, but to other places of meeting as well, and says: "In view of this, the Apostle gives a precept which is to be remembered by all wherever they may be."
Dr. Van Oosterzee goes on to say, on v. 11 : "The Apostle therefore imposes silence upon them; and in the Jewish synagogues likewise, whose order was followed by the Christian
assemblies, it was the rule that woman should hear, but not speak . . . . In silence the women, without uttering a word, are humbly and believingly to hear the instruction, which is given solely by men, in the holy place."
Lange's Commentary, on 1. Corinthians xiv. 34-36 (this part written by Dr. Christian Friederich Kling), says: "Paul does not intend to say that their women, in distinction from all others, were to keep silence in the churches; but the point made is in reference to women in general. . . . The prohibition is confirmed by a reference to the established order in this respect."
Dr. Hodge says: "In the Old Testament it had been predicted that 'your sons and your daughters shall prophesy;' a prediction which the Apostle Peter quotes as verified on the day of Pentecost, Acts ii. 17; and in Acts xxi. 9, mention is made of four daug4ters of Philip who prophesied. The Apostle himself seems to take for granted, in xi. 5, that women might receive and exercise the gift of prophecy. It is therefore only the public exercise of the gift that is prohibited."
John Wesley, in his Notes on the New Testament, says on 1. Corinthians xiv. 34, 35: "Let your Women be silent in the churches. Unless they are under an extraordinary impulse of the
Spirit. For in other cases it is not permitted them to speak. By way of teaching in. public assemblies: but to be in subjection. To the man whose proper office it is to lead and to instruct the congregation. And even if they desire to learn anything, still they are not to speak in public, but to ask their owl1 husbands at home. That is the place, and those the persons to inquire of."
The Patrick, Lowth, etc., Commentary says: "Let your women keep silence in the churches, for it is not permitted unto them to speak (by way of teaching or prophesying, but only by joining with the church in prayer and psalmody), but they are commanded to be under obedience, as also saith the law . . . . In Corinth the women not only prophesied in the church, but they did it with the head uncovered, 1. Corinthians xi. 5; the latter indecency he corrects there, and the first here, see I. Timothy ii. 12." Commentary on I. Corinthians xiv. 34.
"I suffer not a woman to teach, i.e., publicly, I. Corinthians xiv. 34, 35 (see note there). They may privately instruct, as Priscilla did Apollos, Acts xviii. 26, and as a believing wife may instruct her unbelieving husband, when he requires a reason for her faith; but then she must not challenge any authority to do this, this being to usurp an authority not due unto her." Commentary on I. Timothy ii. 12.
Meyer, on 1. Corinthians xiv.34: "V. 34. Appendix to the section relative to the gifts of the Spirit (vv. 26-33): directed against the public speaking of women. . . . As in all church assemblies of the saints, your women ought to be silent in the church assemblies." Italics his. He continues:
"Paul is decided against all undue exaltation and assumption on the part of women in religious things, and it has been the occasion of much evil in the church."
On 1. Timothy ii. I2, Meyer says: "The thought here expressed is to be filled up by what Paul says in 1. Corinthians xiv. 35 (which passage should be particularly compared with this)." Then he quotes approvingly from Neander: "Spiritual receptivity and activity in domestic life were recognized as the appropriate destiny of women, and therefore the female sex was excluded from the public discussion of religious subjects." He adds, on v. 15: "After the apostle has forbidden to the woman any activity in church assemblies as unbecoming to her, he now points to the destiny assigned her by God, the fulfillment of which brings salvation to her."
Ellicott, on 1. Timothy ii. 12: "Every form of public address or teaching is clearly forbidden as at variance with woman's proper duties and destination.
"A woman must learn and not teach" - i.e., in public assemblies - "for two reasons: she was second in respect of creation, and first in respect of transgression."
On 1. Timothy ii. 8: "I will therefore that men pray everywhere," Ellicott says, "[Greek word]: "must be limited to every place of customary devotional resort, everywhere where prayer is wont to be made."
On 1. Corinthians xiv. 34-36: "'Let the women keep silence in the churches': scil., in the larger and public assemblies of the church, which alone are under consideration in this chapter. . . . This rule was carefully maintained in the early church. Among the Jews for a woman to read publicly the law involved a dishonor to the synagogue . . . . 'For it is a shame for a woman to speak in (the) church': strongly-worded confirmation of the preceding direction, and preparing for the almost indignant question which follows."
Godet, on 1. Corinthians xiv. 34: "The saints, distributed in churches locally speaking, yet form only one great spiritual whole: the Corinthians should not isolate themselves from the community of saints by adopting customs rejected by all the rest of the body, such as the speaking of women in the assemblies.
"And as the attitude of authority over the man is contrary to that of obedience which was imposed on the woman during the present economy, he draws the conclusion that the speaking of the woman in public is in contradiction to the position assigned to her by the divine will expressed· in the law. It is easy to see why the apostle substitutes the general idea: to be subject, which relates to the whole life of women, for that of not speaking in the assemblies; it is because the silence of women in worship is 'only an application of the general subordination which is imposed on them in relation to man."
The Pulpit Commentary says, on 1. Corinthians xi v. 34 : "Women are debarred by tile apostle from speaking in church assemblies. On the ground of propriety. Does not accord with woman's true position. This position indicated in the law (Genesis iii. 16), and laid down in the eleventh chapter of this epistle. It had been foretold, 'Your sons and your daughters shall prophesy' (Joel ii. 28), and in Acts xxi. 9, we read of the four daughters of Philip, who prophesied, but in neither case is anything said of prophesying in public or mixed assemblies. The apostle does not prohibit women from prophesying, but only from prophesying in public.
This, according to his view, would conflict with modesty and with woman's rightful position, and would lead to many evils. It is an evasion to discriminate between women speaking in church meetings and women addressing general congregations. The apostle's objection was to the public character of the act, and when he is speaking of the 'meetings of the church' in this very chapter, he is referring to gatherings to which unbelievers had access." (v. 24).
On I. Timothy ii.12, the Pulpit Commentary is even stronger, the exposition being by Prof. T. Croskery, D. D.
Dean Stanley, on I. Corinthians xiv.34, says: "One particular instance of confusion growing out of the neglect of order in the control of the gifts, was the speaking of women in the assemblies. This custom, like that of appearing unveiled (xi.3-16), he condemns on the ground that he forbade it in all the assemblies of Christians. The speaking of women was also expressly forbidden in the synagogues."
Dr. A. C. Kendrick: "Paul speaks, I. Corinthians xi. 5, of a woman's speaking in public, without disapproving of anything but the manner, while subsequently, xiv. 34, he condemns the thing itself. So again, viii. 10, he condemns sitting at meat in an idol's temple, as if he regarded it as
objectionable merely because it gave offense to the weaker brethren, and not because it was intrinsically wrong; but in X.14-22, he denounces the thing itself as idolatry .... As a matter of fact, both these usages - women's speaking in public assemblies, and sitting at meat in idol's temples - he has mentioned twice in this epistle, and each time for a distinct purpose of censure." Moral Conflict of Humanity, p. 234.
Such, then, is the opinion of the scholarly commentators. It is true they are men, and, therefore, fallible. It is possible that they are mistaken as to the meaning of the Holy Spirit in the Scriptures quoted. But when we remember that it is wholly a question of scholarship, and that they are unanimous, we may well ask, if any man denies their correctness, who he is; and what does he know about it; and why should we accept his statement on a pure question of scholarship, and reject this unanimous testimony? It is true that the opinion of a scholar on many matters is worth no more than the opinion of any other man of equal good sense; but when it comes to a question of scholarship the case is different. The shoemaker could correct the artist as to the shoes in the picture, but he made himself
ridiculous when he tried to teach the artist about coloring and perspective. Certainly a man knows his specialty better than other people know it, and professional scholars understand a point of scholarship better than other men do; and when on a simple question of scholarship the scholars are unanimous, if that doesn't settle it. I should like to know how we can settle anything.
But it is said that good people favor women's making public addresses, and good women do so. I answer, the more's the pity. When a good man does wrong it does not make the wrong any better, but makes it rather worse; since it is a worse example and more powerful for evil. When a bad plan does wrong, nobody expects anything else, but when a good man does wrong the effect is much worse. Again, it is said that according to the spirit of the times women are justified in making public addresses, that this command is out of date, that it did very well for the first century, but we must remember that this is the Nineteenth Century, and the condition of things is very different now from what existed then. I answer, that the Scriptures are given to us for all time, that so far from changing Scripture teaching to suit the Nineteenth Century, it is our business
to change the Nineteenth Century to suit Scripture teaching. We are distinctly commanded to be not conformed to the world (Romans xii. 2), and the word rendered world there is age. We are distinctly forbidden to be conformed to the age in which we live. And if we admit the principle that Scripture is intended only for the time in which it was written, we get rid of all Scripture, and none of it remains binding upon us. For example, I might argue that the command, "Thou shalt not steal," is out of date. It was given through Moses to the children of Israel, when they were in the wilderness. There they were escaped slaves, without educational advantages, without any settled government, with their things more or less mixed up together, and it was very necessary to tell them they should not steal; but in our day things are very different. We are not escaped slaves and we have general education; so now if Mr. Monopolist, or anybody else, can gobble up the people's money under the forms of law, it is all right. This is the Nineteenth Century, and we must not be bound up by teaching that did very well for ancient times. And thus I might dispose of every command in the Bible.
Lowell was right:
"In vain we call old notions fudge,
And trim our conscience to our dealing;
The Ten Commandments will not budge,
And stealing will continue stealing."
Beside this, the reason the Apostle gives for the prohibition can never get out of date. "Adam was first formed, then Eve. And Adam was not deceived, but the woman being deceived was in the transgression." These two points are as true now as they were when Paul wrote, and they will forevermore be true.
But it is asked - is not this command local? Were there not peculiar conditions in Corinth which made it necessary that women should keep silent in that church, whereas elsewhere they were allowed to speak? I answer, no. The Apostle says: "Let your women keep silence in the churches." There was but one church in Corinth, and therefore he must have intended to include other churches as well; and he had said just before "as in all the churches of the saints." And there is nothing about Corinth in the Epistle to Timothy. Therefore, we cannot believe that the command was local.
But it is asked - how about women's singing in churches? I answer that nothing is said
about singing at all; it is the public speaking, the public teaching, that is forbidden. But it is asked again-how about women's teaching in Sunday-school? I answer that if in anything their practice shall violate the Scripture, let the practice be changed. I would not have a woman, under the plea of teaching in Sunday school, make a public address to a mixed assembly. I would not have her usurp authority over men. Let it be remembered that the New Testament teaching is really binding on women, - binding on them in church, in Sunday-school, everywhere, - just as binding on them as on the men.
But it is said again that some of us are inconsistent. Well, suppose we admit it, what then? Does our inconsistency change the teaching or the authority of Scripture? Suppose we are inconsistent, does that authorize us to violate the divine command? If we are inconsistent, the proper thing to do is to remedy the inconsistency, - and not to make that inconsistency a plea for going contrary to Scripture.
But it is asked again - are there not other passages in the Bible which authorize women to make public addresses? Let us see. If these passages we are considering mean what they plainly say, and what these scholarly
commentators unanimously declare they say, then if you hunt for any other passage to teach the contrary, you are trying to find a contradiction in the Bible. Let us be careful how we seek to array Scripture against Scripture. But did not women prophesy in New Testament times? Yes. Peter, preaching on the day of Pentecost, says: "But this is that which was spoken by the prophet Joel; and it shall come to pass in the last days, saith God, I will pour out of my Spirit upon all flesh: and your sons and your daughters shall prophesy, and your young men shall see visions, and your old men shall dream dreams ... and I will shew wonders in heaven above, and signs in the earth beneath; blood, and fire, and vapor of smoke: the sun shall be turned into darkness, and the moon into blood, before that great and notable day of the Lord come." (Acts ii.16-20.) Women's prophesying was to be part of the general upheaval - "wonders and signs," "the sun turned to darkness," "the moon to blood," etc. In Acts xxi. 9, we read that Philip had four daughters "which did prophesy," but there is no suggestion at all that in either of these cases the women addressed any public mixed assembly. Prophesying in the New Testament means, as all scholars agree, speaking by special inspiration.
If any woman in these days would urge this prophesying as an excuse for her making a public address, the least that she can do is to prove that she has special inspiration. But since the Holy Spirit positively forbids women's addressing public assemblies, I do not believe - that He gave special inspiration for women to do that thing, even in the most exceptional circumstances. As some of the commentators quoted very justly say, the women who prophesied were forbidden to exercise their gifts in the way of public oral teaching.
In the 11th chapter of I. Corinthians, we read of women's praying and prophesying with their heads uncovered, and the Apostle says: "But every woman that prayeth or prophesieth with her head uncovered dishonoreth her head: for it is even all one as if she were shaven." (1. Corinthians xi.5.) Here the Apostle mentions women's praying and prophesying in the church, simply condemning the uncovering. It is therefore argued that here he allowed the public praying and prophesying of women. But the argument is not valid. The mention of a thing without condemnation gives us no right to infer that it was favored. The Apostle speaks of the Olympic games and of the Greek races, and does not condemn them, and yet
who would argue that he favored them? He mentioned them simply for purposes of illustration, because they were familiar to those to whom he wrote. In the 8th chapter of I. Corinthians (9-13), the Apostle speaks of sitting at meat in an idol's temple, without saying that this was something wrong in itself, but he speaks of it simply as something liable to lead a weak brother astray, and the subject was - how we shall treat a weak brother? It cannot be argued from this that the Apostle saw no harm in a Christian's sitting at meat in an idol's temple, except the effect of the example on the weak brethren; because in the l0th chapter of this same epistle he distinctly condemns that very thing (14-21) in the strongest language. When he wrote the 8th chapter he knew what he was going to say in the l0th, and reserved his condemnation until then. If, however, what is written in the 8th chapter had occurred in another epistle, that of the Romans for example, there would have been some plausibility for the argument that the Apostle allowed in Rome what he forbade in Corinth; but since it is all in the same epistle, no such argument can be made. Similarly in 1. Corinthians xi. 5, the Apostle is talking about decorum, and showing that the women ought to have their heads covered.
He knew then what he was going to say in the 14th chapter of the same epistle, and reserved his condemnation accordingly. And in the 14th chapter prophesying had just been discussed, and the condemnation which follows for public addresses must be applied to the prophesying as well as to speaking in general.
Let it be remembered that there is certainly no command in Scripture for women to make public addresses. Even if in the face of the plain statement of Scripture, and the well nigh unanimous testimony of scholars as to its meaning, that women are forbidden to speak in the churches, there is still doubt as to its really forbidding such a thing; it is plain that the safe course to pursue is not to allow it. Where a thing seems to be forbidden in Scripture, and there is no command to do it, our obligation is to let it alone. I do not believe there is any doubt on the subject at all. It seems to me that if the Bible is not clear on this subject it is not clear on anything. Arguments which would set aside these passages would set aside any passage in any language that might be written. But even supposing it to be doubtful, we ought to let alone a practice that is doubtful, and give it no encouragement.
There is one alleged argument I have not
[From a Booklet @ E-Text Collection, SBTS Archives, Adam Winters, Archivist. Scanned and formatted by Jim Duvall.]
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