Project Wittenberg

Women in the Church
Scriptural Principles and Ecclesial Practice

Part II

A Report of the
Commission on Theology and Church Relations
of the Lutheran Church--Missouri Synod

September 1985

To: Contents - This File/ Plain Text - LCMS Documents - Project Wittenberg



The foregoing overview of women in the Bible has shown the New Testament is replete with affirmations of the personhood of women and of their valuable contributions to the work of the church. Women and men are equally members of the priesthood of believers by faith in Jesus Christ. They are both called to "declare the wonderful deeds of Him who called you out of darkness into His marvelous light." (1 Peter 2:9)

Mindful of these positive declarations, we must now take in account specific directives in the Scriptures concerning the status women in the church, as well as their theological foundation. The theological foundation-which dare not be distorted or ignored attitude or action- is that both men and women have been created in the image of God (Genesis 1-2). The specific Scriptural directives regarding the service of women issue from the three texts most prominent in the contemporary discussions of women in the church: 1 Cor. 11:2-16, which speaks of the covering of the head; 1 Cor. 14:34-35, where silence on the part of women in the church enjoined; and 1 Tim. 2:8-15, which restricts teaching and the exercise of authority by women in the church. These passages, in turn, entail four broader principles fundamental for providing counsel regard what women may and may not do in the church today: 1) the proper appreciation of humankind as male and female equally created in image of God; 2) the proper relationship between man and woman which God established at creation and how that relationship is specifically maintained in the church; 3) the proper understanding "headship" and "submitting oneself' for defining male-female relationships in the church; and 4) the proper relationship between distinctive functions of the pastoral office and the exercise of authority in the church.

A. Male and Female

The book of Genesis teaches that woman is a special creation of God (Gen. 1:26-27; 2:18-24). Like Adam, so Eve, "the mother living" (Gen. 3:20), was created in the image and likeness of the Creator. Although in Genesis 1 and 2 there are two accounts of the creation of humankind, they both express this truth.

    1. Genesis 1. The emphasis of Genesis 1 is somewhat different from that of Genesis 2. A chronological schema is utilized to report the creative events which occur (day one, day two, etc.). Mankind is first in the account of the sixth day: "So God created man (Adam) in his own image, in the image of God he created him; male and female he created them" (Gen. 1:27). This passage refers to man in the generic sense, in two sexes. Adam is here used corporately and generically of the human pair or species.

    According to the Genesis 1 account of creation, male and female were both made in the image and likeness of God. That is, mankind's unique status among all other creatures derives from the relationship to the Creator. Mankind is not a physical replica of God nor an emanation of God; the image has to do with spiritual qualities-features that correspond and relate to the Creator. The Lutheran theological tradition has identified the imago Dei in the narrow sense with the original righteousness that mankind-male and female-enjoyed. [17] Luther writes, "...the image of God is this: that Adam had it in his being and that he not only knew God and believed that He was good, but that he also lived in a life that was wholly godly; that is, he was without the fear of death or of any other danger, and was content with God's favor." [18]

    Gen. 1:26-27 clearly shows that the woman, like the man, has been created in the image of God. Some scholars have argued that man was created in God's image and woman in man's image so that the image of God in woman is a reflected image. Others have suggested that since God reveals Himself as male (the Father and the Son), woman must be excluded from participation in the image. However, Genesis makes no such distinctions. There is no basis here for suggesting a superiority- inferiority relationship. [19] The New Testament continues to uphold this teaching of the equality of the image of God in both sexes (1 Cor. 11:7; Gal. 3:28; Col. 3:10; Eph. 4:24). This equality is a spiritual equality of man and woman before God (coram Deo). The apostle Peter indicates that a woman must be granted honor as a fellow-heir of the grace of life. (1 Peter 3:7) [20]

    It is also clear from Genesis 1 that male and female are equally distinct from all other creatures made by God. God gave to both command to "be fruitful and multiply, and fill the earth and subdue it; and have dominion" over the earth (Gen. 1:28). Male and female are given the same dominion. Both the blessing and commission verse 28 assume that the man and the woman are equal before God their relationships to the rest of creation.

    2. Genesis 2. While Genesis 1 speaks in summary fashion of creation of male and female, Genesis 2 gives a more detailed description of the creation of humankind. Gen. 2:7 describes the creation man as male. God created him from the dust and breathed into him the breath of life. He is commanded not to eat of the tree of knowledge of good and evil. Then God says that it is not good for man (male) to be alone and that a fitting helper (ezer kenegdo) must found for him. The "helper" is the woman God creates. She is suitable for him as a "helper." She is not under his domination, she stands alongside him in exercising that dominion which has given to both. She is in every way his equal before the Creator.

    When Adam saw the woman, he immediately recognized her oneness with himself. "This at last is bone of my bone and flesh of my flesh" (Gen. 2:23). As a creature of God, she is good. For man to seek some advantage over the woman would be defiance of the Creator whose very image she bears. Rather, man is to live under the Word of God which describes as good his relationship to the woman, his equal before the Creator.

    To be sure, this spiritual equality does not preclude a distinct in identities between man and woman. Genesis 2 takes up also matter, and its teaching is discussed later in this report under concept of "order of creation." However, any such differential does not impair the validity of the clear principle laid down in inspired record of creation: Man and woman are equal in having. same relationship to God and to nature.

B. Creation and Redemption

The concept of creation-God's work and will as revealed in the creation of humankind-is critical for dealing Scripturally with the issue of male-female identities. Also of great importance is the concept of "new" creation-God's work and will as revealed in redemption. Two more formal terms have come into general theological usage to indicate these realities:

    1. The Order of Creation. This refers to the particular position which, by the will of God, any created object occupies in relation to others. God has given to that which has been created a certain definite order which, because it has been created by Him, is the expression of His immutable will. These relationships belong to the very structure of created existence.

    2. The Order of Redemption. This refers to the relationship of the redeemed to God and to each other in the new creation established by Him in Jesus Christ (Gal. 6:15; 2 Cor. 5:17). This new creation constitutes participation in a new existence, in the new world that has come in Christ. It is a relationship determined by grace.

These two terms, "Order of Creation" and "Order of Redemption," were popularized by Emil Brunner in his work The Divine Imperative. [21] However, the concepts which these terms denote are of long-standing importance in the Lutheran theological tradition. Luther, for example, spoke of the social relationships (such as marriage and family, people, state, and economy) in which everyone finds himself, including the Christian, and in which he is subject to the commandments which God gave as Creator to all people. Husband and wife, parents and children have their own respective positions in relation to each other. The obligatory character of these orders of things derives from the Creator Himself. Luther employed such terms as Stand ("station") and Beruf ("calling") to refer to the relationships in the order of creation. [22] Francis Pieper employs the term Schoepferordnung ("order of creation") in his Christian Dogmatics. [23] The modern theologian Werner Elert uses this same term, together with the expression Seins-Gefuege ("structure of being"). [24]

How do these two orders relate to each other when applied to male- female identities? According to the order of creation, God assigned individual identities to each sex. He "from the beginning, made them male and female" (Matt. 19:4). The identities and functions of each are not interchangeable; they must remain distinct. This is the burden of the Pauline use of the opening chapter Genesis in those passages concerned with women in the church.

    1. 1 Corinthians 11:7-9. The apostle argues for male "headship" on the basis of Gen. 2:18-25, which teaches that the man did not come from the woman but the woman from the man and that the woman was created for the sake of the man.

    2. 1 Corinthians 14:34. Paul cites the Law (very likely Genesis 2 in this particular context) as the basis for the subordination of women.

    3. 1 Timothy 2:13-14. Paul appeals to the temporal priority of Adam's creation ("Adam was formed first"; cf. Gen. 2:20-22), as well as to Eve's having been deceived in the fall (Gen. 3:6), to show women should not teach or exercise authority over men in church. [25]

    Excursus on Genesis 2-3

    The basis for the instructions set forth here by the apostle, Paul is the relationship between man and woman presented in Genesis 2 and 3. Genesis 2, like Genesis 1, teaches that the woman is in every way equal, before God, to the man. [26] But these passages also reveal an order in their relationship to one another. Equality before God- spiritual equality-does not mean sameness. The word which Paul uses to describe this order-subordination-(The Greek word for subordination is hypotage, which is formed from the word tasso- to appoint, to order, to arrange, and hypo-under. [27])-does not carry with it any notion of inferior value or oppression. This term is used by Paul simply to refer to order in the relationship of man and woman to one another. St. Paul teaches in 1 Cor. 11:7-9, "For a man ought not to cover his head, since he is the image and glory of God; but woman is the glory of man. (For man was not made from woman, but woman from. man. Neither was man created for woman, but woman for man.)"

    There are several factors in the creation account in Genesis 2 which provide the basis for Paul's teaching about the relationship of man and woman. [28] First, verse 7 stipulates that man was created first, before woman. He is the "firstborn" and hence would have a natural precedence by birth. The creation of man as the first in sequence is integral to the narrative structure of Genesis 2. Second, the man is designated as Adam (v. 20), which is also the term used to describe the race. That the man is given this name suggests that he occupies the position as head of the relationship. Third, Adam immediately begins to exercise his authority by naming the animals (v. 10). He also names his wife "woman" (v. 23). Fourth, woman is created to be a helper for man. She is created from him and brought to him. [29] While the word "subordination" is not actually used in Genesis 2, this account of the creation presents the foundation for 1 Corinthians 11. Clark summarizes its thrust well: is a very specific kind of subordination-the kind that makes one person (sic) out of two. According to Genesis 2, woman was created to be a help to man, not to be a servant or a slave. She was created to be a complement to him, making a household and children possible. He in turn protected her, provided, for her, and considered her part of himself, a partner in life. He was the head of' the relationship, head of a relationship that was "one, flesh." [30]

    When the New Testament talks about the origin of the subordination of woman to man, it does so on the basis on Genesis 2 and not on the basis of Genesis 3. The foundation for this teaching is not the "curse" of the fall but the origins purpose of God in creation. [31]

    Genesis 3 describes the disruption and distortion of the order of creation brought about by the fall into sin. The "curse" pronounced in Gen. 3:16 does not institute subordination as such, but it does make this relationship irksome for both parties. Man was woman's head from the first moment of her creation, but after the fall the will to self- assertion distorts this relationship into domination and/or independence. [32] The disruption caused by sin is remedied by Christ's redemption, of course (Rom. 5:12-21; 2 Cor. 5:17; Col. 3:10), and men and women who are in Christ should perform their respective functions without either oppression or defiance (Eph. 5:21-23). But their redemption is not yet fully manifest in them in this life. (Eph. 4:22-24; Rom. 8:18-25)

    But what are the implications of the order of redemption for relationship of male and female? Does not this new order which has come in Christ abrogate the old? Does not Paul say in Gal. 3:28 that in Christ there is "neither male nor female"? Much of the modern debate on the issue of women in the church revolves around these questions, questions which stem in large measure from a confusion of the order of creation and the order of redemption.

      1. Various interpretations are proposed by contemporary theologians for resolving an alleged contradiction between the Galatians passage and Paul's other references to the order of creation. One view candidly acknowledges that Paul directly bases his admonitions in 1 Corinthians and 1 Timothy on the order of creation, but he sees in the Galatians passage a "breakthrough" which transcends this understanding. This interpretation is set forth by Kristler Stendahl in his study on The Bible and the Role of Women. He writes:

        It is not difficult for us to recognize that we are not yet in the kingdom. But we need badly the reminder of that which is new. We are not in danger of overstating that. We need help to see the forces toward renewal and re-creation. A mere repetition of Paul's reminder of the order of creation is not our most crying need. When Paul fought those who defended the old-as in Galatia his bold vision of the new expressed itself most strongly, as in Galatians 3:28. [33]

      Stendahl's point is that in Christ the dichotomy of male and female is overcome. He does not allow for the "hiddenness" of the present eschatological age in which Christians live.

      Even more radical is the position of Roman Catholic theologian David Tracy. He sees the issue of the relationship between male and female in terms of social equality. Since, according to his view, Christianity must always be on the side of radical egalitarianism, he cannot allow the order of creation to determine the believer's view of the role of women in the church. He argues for a "Christian transvaluation of all values." According to his analysis, the Christian belief that God is love means first to "negate," and that is what the Christian faith does even in terms of male-female relationships. The new creation completely abolishes the old. [34]

    2. The Biblical view affirms that the New Testament discussion of male-female relationships is rooted in a divinely instituted order and that this order is not overthrown by the new creation. To be sure, the new creation begins to transform that which is sinful, but since the eschatological transformation in the resurrection from the dead has not yet taken place, the relationships between man and woman must bear the elements of the structure given in creation (Rom. 8:18-25; 1 Cor. 7:17-31). This interpretation is carefully articulated by Lutheran theologian Peter Brunner in his treatment of The Ministry and the Ministry of Women. [35]

    Gal. 3:28 in particular speaks about the new life in Christ. When the apostle says in 3:27 that those who have been baptized into Christ have put on Christ, he uses the verb enduomai-to clothe oneself in. The baptized individual has become completely united with Christ and one with Him. But in this act those who have been baptized all become united with one another. In baptism there can be no question about the differences which are important in the present age such as between Jew and Greek, slave and free. Neither is there in baptism any distinction between man and woman. The division in male and female established in the order of creation is not relevant reference to baptism into Christ. [36] No one is baptized to be either man or woman. Rather, baptism is a baptism into Christ. The objective is union with Him which can be experienced in this life through faith, as Luther stressed, but which in its finality belongs to the age to come. Through faith both men and women become children of God. Thereby a unity is created between Jew and Gentile, slave and free, man and woman. [37]

    In this passage, then, one sees the vision of that one body is which Christians have been incorporated as living members together with all baptized believers-that Body of Christ in which He is head and where racial, social, and sexual distinctions have validity. All share in the blessings of Christ's redemption. As Luther observed, "But we are all priests before God if we are Christians. ...For priests, the baptized, and Christians are all one and the same." [38]

    However, the oneness of male and female in Christ does not obviate the distinction given in creation. Gal. 3:28 does not mean that the identity of man or woman can be exchanged any more than that Greeks can become Jews or vice versa. The individual characteristics of believers are not abolished by the order of redemption. [39] The things ordained by God in His creation and the divisions in this world which reflect in some measure the creation of God are not annulled. This text reveals how believers appear before God, but it does not speak to issues pertaining to order in the church or the specific functions of women in the congregation. To be sure, all the redeemed are equal before our gracious God, but equality does not suggest the interchangeability of male and female identities.

    This analysis of the orders of creation and redemption leads to the formulation of a second principle, derived from the Holy Scriptures, for clarifying the function of women in the church today: Distinctive identities for man and woman in the relation to each other were assigned by God at creation. These identities are not nullified by Christ's redemption, and they should be reflected in the church.

C. Headship and Subordination

The idea that God desires man to be the head of woman and .woman to be subordinate to man is rooted deeply in the Old and New Testaments. While this Biblical truth may offend the sensibilities of some because it is so easily subject to misunderstanding and abuse, (even within the church itself), it is the Creator's intention that we gratefully recognize and receive the ordered relationship of headship/subordination as an arrangement whereby the welfare of others may be served. [40] We have not properly understood the interrelated concepts of headship (1 Cor. 11:3) and subordination (1 Cor. 14:34) if we take them to be equivalent to superiority or domination. [41]

    1. Headship. In Eph. 5:23 St. Paul writes, "For the husband is the head of the wife...." Having first enjoined mutual submission of husband and wife to one another (5:21), the apostle then speaks of the submission of the wife to her husband and of the church to Christ as a consequence of headship. However, headship does not imply superiority. The man is not the "head" of the woman because he is intrinsically better in any respect than the woman. This is made clear in 1 Cor. 11:3, where the apostle asserts that "the head of Christ is God." Indeed, the Scripture makes it abundantly clear that the second person of the Holy Trinity is co-equal with the Father in such attributes as majesty, deity, omnipresence, and omniscience.

    The Scriptural concept of subordination, rather than implying superiority/inferiority structure, presents this headship structure as an "ordering into." Peter Brunner states it well:

      The man is the head of the woman; Christ is the head of the man; God is the head of Christ. The "head" is that which is prior, that which determines, that which leads. The head is the power that begins, it is principium, arche. [42]

    Similarly, Zerbst notes that Paul believed "that for man, woman and Christ there is something which has been ordinated over them something which either has been established in creation or which has its foundation in the work of redemption, but which in either case expresses the will of God." [43] Every individual has his/her "head"; everyone has the obligation of rendering obedience in that position to which God has assigned him/her.

    The headship of Ephesians 5 stands also as the backdrop for 1 Corinthians 11. Paul states that the appointive headship of the man applies in worship as well as in the home. The problem in Corinth was that women there had stepped out of the relationship assigned to them by the Creator. They were asserting their "freedom" by praying and prophesying with uncovered heads like the men (11:4). But, says Paul, the "newness of the kingdom" does not do away with the creational pattern. There is an order of headship which endures.

    Excursus on Headcovering: Principle and Custom

    Paul's discussion of headship in 1 Corinthians 11 focuses on the issue of headcovering. In worship services men should leave their heads uncovered, the apostle says, while women should wear something which covers their heads. The question is sometimes posed as to why Christians who today accept the Biblical principle of headship in 1 Corinthians 11 do not also insist on the practice of headcoverings for women in contemporary worship settings.

    This issue is clarified by noting the distinction between a principle and its application in custom and practice. Although it is not possible to determine precisely which customs Paul had in mind (most probably Jewish customs of covering and veiling at worship is the source, though there seems to have been much variation in the synagogue practices of Paul's day), it is clear that the use of headcoverings in worship was a cultural expression which had particular meaning within the original context.

    1 Corinthians 11 addresses a situation where women had disregarded their subordinate position by praying and prophesying with uncovered head like the men. Paul opposes this behavior by declaring that a man who prays and prophesies having his head covered dishonors his head and that a woman who prays and prophesies with uncovered head dishonors her head. In other words, the laying aside of the, headcovering is regarded by the apostle as a repudiation of the relationship between man and woman established in creation. The ultimate significance of the headcovering consisted in its potential for expressing a particular differentiation between men and women. Paul's concern therefore is not simply with the maintenance of outward conduct. For order and unity in the family there must be leadership, and the primary responsibility for such leadership is that of the husband and father. The headcovering was a custom (v. 15), subservient to a principle ("the head of the woman is the man," v. 3). The custom of headcovering functioned as woman's acknowledgment of the principle of headship.

    Even in earliest times this practice was not universally followed by Christian congregations, and in modern Western society headcovering or veiling is generally devoid of the significance attached to it in Paul's time. [44] In fact, it. has commonly been understood from the very beginning that these passages of Scripture which pertain to custom are not binding and that the principle involved can be manifested in various ways. We have the affirmation, for example, of the Savior that we should wash one another's feet (John 13:14, a practice highly significant in its original setting. But Christians have not generally regarded this exhortation as instituting a perpetual ordinance. The Christian principles signified by it-humility and love, for others-can and should be manifested by other practices. The principle of humble love remains, but the custom has passed away. Leon Morris comments:

      The application of this principle (Paul's words on headship) to the situation at Corinth yields the direction? That women must have their heads covered when they worship. The principle is of permanent validity, but we may well feel that the application of it to the contemporary scene need not yield the same result. In other words, in. The light of totally different social customs, we may well hold that the fullest acceptance of the principle underlying this chapter does not require that in Westerns lands in the twentieth century women must always wear hats while they pray. [45]

    The concept of headship is not only misunderstood, but it is also frequently abused. It is a mistake, for example, to identify the Biblical model of headship with a chain of command. The Scriptures teach that headship exists, for the sake of serving others, of building up others. Christ taught that His followers are to be servants. Self-willed assertion over another, for one's own personal advantage violates and perverts the headship principle of which the apostle speaks.

    2. Subordination. The same present-day connotations of superiority and oppression that attach to the Biblical concept of headship also adhere to the concept of subordination. It is true that Scriptures use the word for subordination (hypotasso) in a dominative sense in some contexts (e.g., 1 Cor. 15:27, "For God has put all things in subjection under his feet"; 1 Peter 3:22, "angels, authorities, and powers in submission to him"). There is, in point of fact, a type of coercive subordination which results from force or domination. A slave or a prisoner experiences subordination in this sense.

    But there is a subordination which is freely recognized and accepted by the subordinate. The New Testament refers to this type of subordination whenever it speaks of the woman in home and church contexts. It is an attitude of looking to another, of putting first the desires of another, of seeking another's benefit. This is not a subordination imposed by the man on the woman from a position of superior authority or power. Rather, it is rooted in the order (taxis) instituted by God to which both are subject.

    There are also differences in the way subordination and governance are conducted. Governance in a subordinate relationship can be oppressive- a relationship that works for the benefit of the ruler and to the detriment of the subordinate. This relationship is characterized by obedience to command, a "lording-it-over-the-other" attitude. But a person can be subordinate without ever having to obey a command. Nowhere in Scripture is it ever said that power or authority (exousia) or rule (arche) is given to the man over the woman. All of the passages which speak of the subordination of the woman to the man, or of wives to their husbands, are addressed to the woman. The verbs enjoining subordination in these texts are in the middle voice in the Greek (reflexive). The woman is reminded, always in the context of an appeal to the grace of God revealed in Jesus Christ, that she has been subordinated to man by the Creator and that it is for this reason that she should willingly accept this divine arrangement. The Scriptures never tell the man that he is to "keep his wife in subjection" (unlike the exhortation concerning children in 1 Tim. 3:4) by the issuance of commands. People can be subordinate by serving others, by cooperating with another's purposes, or by following another's teaching. The more love and commitment to the interest of others (Phil. 2:4) are present in the relationship of the man to the woman, the more this subordinate relationship conforms to the Scriptural ideal. [46]

    Significantly, subordination is not applied by the apostolic writers to secular society. In this sphere-in the absence of Scriptural guidance- one must resist attempts to identify certain stances as the Christian or Biblical ones. The fact that a woman may be "over" a man (such as a woman foreman on a construction crew or a woman judge in a legal proceeding) is not to be construed as a violation of the Scriptural concept of subordination.

    The Biblical material focuses on the areas of marriage and the church. However, whenever the subordination of women to men in marriage and in the church becomes a matter of domination and whenever anyone, man or woman, behaves in an autocratic, domineering way, such conduct stems not from the creation but from the fall. Men honor the rule of God by submitting themselves to His will concerning their attitude and conduct toward women. Attitudes and actions which suggest that women are insignificant or inferior, or that they have no valid existence apart from men, originate in the fall. Moreover, such a posture toward women is inconsistent with the example of Jesus' governance of those who live in a subordinate relationship to Him (Eph. 5:25). At the same time, the fact that Scripture speaks of woman being subordinate to man does not rob women of their purpose in life or make them only appendages of men. Both male and female are members of the Body of Christ. They both share in ruling God's creation and in the proclamation of the gospel. A third principle emerges, then, to guide us in determining the service of women in the church today: Subordination, when applied to the relationship of women and men in the church, expresses a divinely established relationship in which one looks to the other, but not in a domineering sense. Subordination is for the sake of orderliness and unity.

D. The Exercise of Authority

The three previous Scriptural principles concerning women in the church converge in St. Paul's specific directives regarding their speaking and teaching in the congregation at worship. (1 Cor. 14:33b- 35; 1 Tim. 2:11-15)

    1. Silence. At first glance the apostle's presumption that women will pray and prophesy (1 Cor. 11:5) appears to be in contradiction to his command for silence in 1 Corinthians 14. Commentators have offered a variety of solutions to the difficulties which arise when 1 Corinthians 11 is compared with 1 Corinthians 14. One solution proposed is that a distinction should be made between two kinds of church meetings in these chapters, the one a family, nonplenary meeting (chapter 11), the other an assembly of the entire congregation (chapter 14). Another solution emphasizes a distinction between two kinds of speaking. According to this proposal "to speak" in chapter 14 means "to ask questions," while chapter 11 refers to ecstatic speech. Full clarity perhaps is not possible. However, the following conclusions seem warranted.

    First, that Paul is not commanding absolute, [47] unqualified silence is evident from the fact that he permits praying and prophesying in 1 Corinthians 11. The silence mandated for women in 1 Corinthians 14 does not preclude their praying and prophesying [48] Accordingly, the apostle is not intimating that women may not participate in the public singing of the congregation or in the spoken prayers. It should be noted in this connection that Paul uses the Greek word laleo for "speak" in 1 Cor. 14:34, which frequently means to "preach" in the New Testament (See Mark 2:2; Luke 9:11; Acts 4:1; 8:25; 1 Cor. 2:7; 2 Cor 12:19; Phil. 1:4; et al.), and not lego, which is the more general term. (The claim that Paul has a different meaning in mind and that he uses it here to prohibit disturbing chatter is extremely improbable.) When laleo has a meaning other than religious speech and preaching in the New Testament, this is usually made clear by an object or an adverb (e.g., to speak like a child, 1 Cor. 13:11; to speak like a fool, 2 Cor. 11:23). Secondly, it must be underscored that Paul's prohibition that women remain silent and not speak is uttered with reference to the worship service of the congregation (1 Cor. 14:26-33). Any other interpretation is artificial and improbable. Thus, Paul is not here demanding that women should be silent at all times or that they cannot express their sentiments and opinions at church assemblies. The command that women keep silent is a command that they not take charge of the public worship service, specifically the teaching- learning aspects of the service.

    2. Teaching and Authority. While the thrust of Paul's comments in 1 Tim. 2:11-15 is similar to that in 1 Corinthians 14, he makes a more explicit point in this passage. A woman is not to teach or to have authority over man.

    Here, too, the limits of what is forbidden to women by the apostle have been widely disputed. Some have understood Paul here to be excluding women from all forms of teaching and exercising authority, including teaching in a public school or serving in a vocation in which a woman has men under her direct supervision. This constitutes a serious misreading of Paul's words. His instructions are directed to the worship/church setting. No doubt the public prayer which is regulated in verse 8 would occur during a liturgical service. The expression "likewise" in verse 9 indicates that the women's activity occurs in the same domain. In 1 Tim. 3:14-15 the apostle explains the purpose of his letter to Timothy: "I am writing these instructions to you so that, if I am delayed, you may know how one ought to behave in the household of God...." The context of this passage is that of worship/church.

    Still, two alternatives remain: 1) women are absolutely prohibited from every form of teaching or public address; or 2) women are prohibited from certain types of teaching or public address, especially from that exercised by the "teaching office," that is, the pastoral office.

    The teaching that Paul forbids women to perform is the latter, namely, that of the formal, public proclamation of the Christian faith. The word for teach (didaskein) is used uniformly in this way throughout 1 Timothy. This term is used in this epistle to refer to "false teachers" (1:3, 7); "overseers" (i.e., pastors) who are "able to teach" (3:2); the pastor Timothy, who is to "teach" (4:11), to "attend to the public reading of Scripture, to exhortation, to teaching" (4:13), to "take heed ... to your teaching" (4:16), and to "teach and exhort these things" (6:2); the "elders ... who labor in preaching and teaching" (5:17); and especially the apostle Paul himself, who is a "teacher of the Gentiles." (2:7)

    Therefore, Paul is not contending that Christian women are to avoid teaching under any circumstances. Elsewhere the New Testament indicates that women did teach in a context other than the community worship service (e.g., Priscilla, Acts 18:26). The apostolic restriction in 1 Timothy 2 pertains to that teaching of God's Word which involves an essential function of the pastoral office. The word didaskein is inappropriately applied to the Sunday school teaches the Christian day school teacher, the home Bible study teacher. As Bishop Bo Giertz of Sweden suggests, "When in 1 Tim. 2:12 the word didaskein is used, it is a rather pregnant expression (the word means: to be a teacher in the church and to be charged by God with the proclamation of His Word)." Teaching which does not "coincide with that commission to which the New Testament refers when using the words didaskalos or didaskein" is not in view here. [49]

    3. Authority. The question now arises, what is the relationship between teaching, learning, and exercising "authority over man"? The verb Paul employs in 1 Tim. 2:12 (authentein) occurs only here in the New Testament and is never used in the Septuagint. Thus, there is no explicit Scriptural background for interpreting its meaning. Consequently, it is open to varying definitions, some of them quite incongruent with Paul's actual concern.

    One writer has observed that some interpreters separate the components of Paul's instructions in these verses, making them independent of one another: that women a) learn in silence; b) be in all submission; c) not teach; and d) not exercise authority over men. [50] However, when the apostle's phrases are separated in this way and used to formulate a code of rules concerning the role of women, both the text and women are abused. The damage is compounded if they are severed from the context. The result of this way of proceeding is that this passage is taken to mean that women should never, under any circumstances, teach in the church and that they must always, in every circumstance, submit to men by never making any decisions which may impact on them.

    In point of fact, however, a careful review of this passage indicates that the terms "teach" and "exercise authority" parallel each other. They are intentionally linked. The kind of teaching referred to in the passage is tied to exercising authority. The authority forbidden to women here is that of the pastoral office, that is, one "who labors in preaching and teaching." (1 Tim. 5:17; cf. 1 Thess. 5:12)

    A proper understanding of Paul here is of enormous significance for the discussion of the service of women in the church. One cannot divorce the phrase "nor have authority over man" from the pastoral office and then apply it in rather arbitrary ways. For example, if we are to be faithful to the apostle's instructions in this passage, we cannot simply take the dictionary meaning of "authority" as "the power to act or make decisions" and then proceed, solely on that basis, to eliminate women from all congregational meetings or committees which have the power to act or make decisions.

    The theological matrix for the apostle's inspired teaching on the silence of women in the church and the exercise of authority is, again, the order of creation. In 1 Tim. 2:13 Paul points to the order of creation as the basis for the instructions given in verses 11 and 12. God made Adam before Eve; that is, He created man and woman in a definite order. Turning from the creation to the fall, Paul adds that Adam was not deceived but that the woman was deceived and became a transgressor. [51] The conclusion drawn is that the leadership of the official, public teaching office belongs to men. Assumption of that office by a woman is out of place because it is a woman who assumes it, not because women do it in the wrong way or have inferior gifts and abilities.

    Of course, the church in all ages stands under the mandate of Christ to preach the gospel to all peoples. This commission is addressed to each member of the Body of Christ. All men and women in the church have a share in the proclamation of the Word and the administration of the sacraments. However, God has decreed that the church carry out this mandate not only in the context of private, individual actions but by formally selecting individual members for the office of the public ministry. The nomenclature used in the New Testament to refer to this office varies ("bishops," 1 Tim. 3:1; "elder," 1 Tim. 5:17; "leaders," Heb. 13:17), but that the holders of this office are to be engaged specifically in preaching and teaching is consistently enunciated. The oversight and supervision exercised in the office of the public ministry is that of teaching the Word and administering the sacraments. [52] Paul's directives relating to women in the church in 1 Corinthians 14 and 1 Timothy 2 provide instructions concerning this position of leadership. [53]

    A fourth principle of benefit in providing guidance for the service of woman in the church today can be formulated as follows: The creational pattern of male headship requires that women not hold the formal position of the authoritative public teaching office in the church, that is, in the office of pastor.

E. Summary

Although only four major principles regarding women in the church have been discussed above, it may be helpful to summarize more extensively several key points made in this treatment of the pertinent Biblical texts.

    1. In sharp contrast to the deprecation and suppression of women in ancient cultures, and especially in Rabbinic Judaism, the Gospel record affirms their value and dignity. Jesus clearly shows His regard for women, created equally with men in the image and likeness of God.

    2. In the order of creation, God has placed woman in a position subordinate to man. This relationship of subordination, however, is radically different from "secular" interpretations of it. The Scriptural concept of subordination is a matter of function between two persons of equal worth and not a matter of inferiority/superiority. The subordination of woman to man is not a dominative subordination. The subordination of wife to husband is analogous to the relationship which exists between Christ and the church.

    3. The relationship between man and woman can also be defined as a headship structure of God-Christ-man-woman, each member of the order superordinated to the succeeding member. This is a theological and not merely a sociological relationship.

    4. The order of redemption, while affirming that men and women are one in Christ and joint heirs of the grace of life, does not abolish the order established at the time of creation. The distortion of the order of creation brought about by the fall has been remedied by Christ's redemption, but it has not yet become fully manifest in the redeemed. This will happen only in heaven. Therefore, far from annulling the order of creation, the order of redemption sanctifies it. The two orders are held together coordinately within God's purposes. The Lordship of Christ spans both creation and redemption.

    5. 1 Cor. 14:33b-35 and 1 Tim. 2:11-15 speak of women's roles in the public worship service. The main application of these passages in the contemporary church is that women are not to exercise those functions in the local congregation which would involve them in the exercise of authority inherent in the authoritative public teaching office (i.e., the office of pastor).

    6. Men who find themselves in positions of leadership and authority must assume the attitude which Jesus Himself requires: "...rather let the greatest among you become as the youngest, and the leader as the one who serves" (Luke 22:26). Christian leadership and service must model Him.

    7. Women have all of the God-given rights, privileges, and responsibilities of the priesthood of all believers that men do. God's people are called priests not to confer status but to commission all of them to declare His deeds of salvation. All Christians have been given the responsibility to live their Christian faith in their several callings, including the responsibility to profess and share the Christian faith and to judge all doctrine.

    8. The inspired writers of Scripture do not discuss the implications of the order of creation for life in the civil estate. In Lutheran theology there is general agreement on the necessity of distinguishing carefully between that which happens in the civil sphere and that which takes place in the spiritual sphere.


This text was converted to ASCII text for Project Wittenberg by Mark A. French and is in the public domain. You may freely distribute, copy or print this text. Please direct any comments or suggestions to:

Rev. Robert E. Smith
Walther Library
Concordia Theological Seminary.

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