1 Corinthians 14:34 says, “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”. This is a “take it or leave it” scripture for many. But to those who believe in the divine inspiration of Scripture (2 Tim.3:16) and earnestly give heed to Paul’s admonition in Galatians 1:8 which stated that “though we, or an angel from heaven, preach any other gospel unto you than that which we have preached unto you, let him be accursed”, it is a very important matter.
It is interesting to note that often when 1 Corinthians 14:34 is brought into discussion with many who wantonly disobey it, they quickly try to look for other scriptures to support their view. But if there is truly another scripture that supports women preaching in church, then either the Bible contradicts itself or it is carnal man who, wittingly or unwittingly, misinterprets the simple truth of Scripture. I hope at the end of my explanation you will see that the latter is the case.
I shall approach this subject by listing the different reasons used in support of women-preaching and examining each reason in the light of God’s Word. May I point out here that there are many Christians who are into the error of women preaching either due to plain ignorance of scriptures or because of having an indifferent attitude towards Bible doctrines. And there are many women who are sincerely involved in the preaching ministry; they have a sincere desire to serve God and do some work for Him. However, sincerity does not define truth because a person can be sincerely wrong. No matter how we claim to try to please God; if we have no regard to His Word, our fate has already been pronounced – “Because thou hast rejected the Word of the LORD, He hath also rejected thee” (1 Sam.15:23).
Common views & scriptures used to support women preachers
The following are the common reasons used to support the view that God can use women in preaching:
- “The verse of 1 Corinthians 14:34 was written by Paul to deal with a local problem which occurred at the church in Corinth and is thus not applicable to all Christian churches”
If this view is correct, why did Paul in 1 Corinthians 14:34 emphasise his admonition by using the words “as also saith the law”? These words clearly indicate that Paul was not introducing some new teaching or a special order suitable for that particular local church; “as also saith the law” is a reaffirmation of an already existing order from the Old Testament era. This can never be overemphasised as there is no record anywhere in the Old Testament of women priests or teachers in synagogues.
In verse 37 of the above scripture apostle Paul further warns that, “If any man thinks himself to be a prophet, or spiritual, let him acknowledge that the things that I write unto you are the commandments of the Lord”. So, what we read in 1 Corinthians 14:34 was not Paul’s opinion but a commandment of the Lord for the church.
Here is another important thing to consider: If Paul forbade women to preach in the Corinthian church because of an alleged local problem of the church at Corinth, why was the same instruction given to Brother Timothy, the pastor of the church in Ephesus (1 Timothy 2:11-14)? Here are the words of the instruction: “Let the woman learn in silence with all subjection. But I suffer not a woman to teach, nor to usurp 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 was in the transgression”. Please note that in this instruction a reason was given for why women cannot be in authority of preaching or teaching God’s Word: FOR Adam was first formed, then Eve. And Adam was not deceived, but the woman being deceived was in the transgression”. The word “for” is a conjunction which means “because”.
One day during a discussion on radio, two clergymen (one a lecturer at a Bible College and another, a female reverend) challenged my belief in 1 Corinthians 14:34 by stating the following: When reading scriptures like 1 Corinthians 14:34 we should consider cultural contexts. Furthermore the issue of ‘women preaching in church’ should be considered as a relative doctrine, not an absolute one. Relative issues are subject to change with times and people’s cultures. During the radio interview the Bible lecturer posed this question with emphasis: Is there anything really wrong in a woman for us to be able to think that they cannot preach?
With all due respect to the reverend I must say that his question would have made sense if it had either come from an atheist or a person of another religion who doubts the inspiration or infallibility of Scripture. If the reverend feels he knows women better than God, he should go on and ask the author of Scriptures this question: “Is there anything really wrong with a woman that she still has to bear birth-pangs pronounced on her in Genesis 3:16” Any sincere person knows the fact that women are weaker vessels and easily fall for deception, sensationalism and fanaticism. That is one simple reason why God established an order forbidding them to hold the authority of the preaching or teaching ministry in the church – “Likewise, ye husbands, dwell with them according to knowledge, giving honour unto the wife, as unto the weaker vessel, and as being heirs together of the grace of life; that your prayers be not hindered” (1 Pet. 3:7).
Take note that Paul, when dealing with the subject of women preaching in church (1 Timothy 2:11-14), gave reference to the events of Genesis chapter 3 in which God had established the law to put a woman under the headship of a man, after her deception by the serpent. In Genesis 3:16, God said to the woman: “In sorrow thou shalt bring forth children and thy desire shall be to thy husband, and he shall rule over thee”.
Two things are note-worthy in this verse:
FIRST: If God has now forgotten about the headship of man over a woman and that she now can hold the authority of preaching the Word, then WHY does the curse of great pain in child bearing still occur on women? Were not both the cursing and the giving of headship to a man consequences of her succumbing to the Serpent’s deception? Therefore if any person claims that the grace of God has now annulled the forbiddance of women preaching in church let him explain why that Grace hasn’t taken away birth pangs which were part of the judgement God pronounced on a woman. And are not the verses forbidding women to preach found in the New Testament of Grace? So, women preaching in church can never be a fruit of grace but disgrace!
[NOTE: Some theologians foolishly claim that a woman can be a preacher in church and still submit to the headship of her husband at home. This claim is a serious disregard and bypass of 1 Cor.14:34 which clearly connects (and does not in anyway separate) the issue of preaching in church and submission at home. How can a woman be a preacher without usurping authority over men in her congregation? A person can never be a preacher without possessing the authority of His master to feed His flock. The ascension ministry of Ephesians 4:11 are positions of authority – not carnal authority of proud men, but the authority to teach, expound doctrine and be a wise guide, judge and steward in the household of God (cf. Matt.24:45-46, Heb.13:17, 2 Cor.5:20).]
SECOND: In addition to pronouncing birth-pangs on a woman, God said to the woman that “thy desire shall be to thy husband, and he shall rule over thee” (Gen.3:16). Thus, God established the headship of man over a woman right from that point. The question is: TO WHOM WAS THE LAW ESTABLISHED – Hebrews, Arabs, Africans or Americans? Is it hard to see that Adam and Eve were the first parents of all mankind? If a theologian wants to dismiss the headship of man over a woman as a mere cultural, racial, or relative issue, he or she must first establish what race, tribe or culture Adam was! It takes simple common sense to understand that even nature testifies that women folk should be under the headship of a man. By nature they are weak and require the strength and protection of a man. The trouble is we are living in a world in which common sense is no longer common; truth sounds bizarre, and nonsense is rational. Give this world another 100 years and the whole world will discard distinguishing genders of male and female altogether! If we will live up to that time, public toilets will no more have captions of “Gents” and “Ladies”.
- “Galatians 3:28 says that ‘there is neither Jew nor Greek, there is neither male nor female: for ye are all one in Christ Jesus’ so women can preach just like men.
Is it not surprising that all processes of nature – the formation of starch in the green vegetables, the process of respiring by all living things, the formation of minerals in the earth – occurs by following prescribed processes (laws). Imagine what chaos would be there if the chemical elements that make water, Hydrogen and Oxygen, also demanded for ‘water rights’ to be allowed to divorce or to have a feel of becoming paraffin. What ‘chaos’ would be there to the fish in the rivers, the water we drink in our homes, the rain that waters our fields and forests? God has created everything in the state it is in for a purpose. Try to challenge the purpose and things will fall out of place.
Now, if Galatians 3:28 means there is literally no difference between a man or woman, then why can’t men also start becoming pregnant to share the burden of women? If this sounds ridiculous, then the verse should be understood in its proper context. Paul, in Galatians 3:28 is explaining of how through Grace salvation no longer belongs to the Jews only and neither is it based on the preference of men to women. In other words, anyone who sincerely repents and accepts the Lord Jesus as his or her Saviour will be accepted before God. Here is what is contained in the scripture beginning from verse 27: “For as many of you as have been baptized into Christ have put on Christ. There is neither Jew nor Greek, there is neither bond nor free, there is neither male nor female: for ye are all one in Christ Jesus”. Is it really difficult to see that the subject of this scripture is salvation AND NOT the ministry of preaching or teaching.
- “Women can preach because Joel 2:28 says that ‘it shall come to pass afterward, that I will pour out my spirit upon all flesh; and your sons and your daughters shall prophesy’”.
Joel 2:28 is another scripture that is usually overstretched, exaggerated and quoted out of context. Some theologians take the word “prophesy” and generalise it to mean “proclaiming God’s Word as in teaching or preaching”. Such people have no reverence for God’s Word and would make it say anything they want it to say as long as it satisfies their theological or doctrinal appetites. If prophesying and preaching of God’s Word is the same thing then how could Paul forbid women to preach and then turn around and allow them to prophesy in church? Would he not be contradicting himself?
One does not require a degree in Theology to understand the usage of the word “prophesy” in the Bible. Its usage in the Bible – not according to Oxford or other modern dictionaries – refers to the act of God speaking using a person’s mouth or voice. The person being used does not plan what to speak. It is God speaking using a human vessel and that is why prophecy is often accompanied by the words, “THUS SAITH THE LORD”. However, today there are so many false prophets and prophetesses who mistake the anointing of God for their self-made sensationalism and hysteria. But that does not rule out genuine gifts which operate in some people.
Now, preaching on the other hand is different from prophesying; it may involve planning and studying what you will preach or teach about, using the wisdom God has given you. Of course one should spend time in prayer and seek God’s inspiration. But yet, even when God speaks to your heart about what to preach, you will use the wisdom God gave you to plan and select the words you will use to build up the sermon for the understanding of the people. Prophesying on the other hand is strictly “THUS SAITH THE LORD”!
Here is another important thing to note: if the prophecy of Joel 2:28 meant that women shall become preachers when the Holy Ghost comes on them, let us go to Acts chapter 2 and examine the events which transpired when this prophecy got fulfilled on the day of Pentecost and the years that followed recorded in the book of Acts.
When the Holy Ghost fell on the day of Pentecost, Peter stood up and proclaimed to the crowd that; “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…’” (Act.2:16-18).
If what happened on the day of Pentecost fulfilled Joel 2:28 and if the word “prophesy” has the same meaning as preaching or teaching the Word, can anyone mention one woman who stood up and began to preach as the result of the outpouring of the Holy Ghost on the day of Pentecost and in the years that followed recorded in the book of Acts? No woman preached following the outpouring of the Holy Ghost in the entire book of Acts. The only thing we read is that of women who prophesied as in the case of the daughters of Philip (Acts 21:8-9).
- “Phoebe, a woman, is referred to by Paul as a ‘servant of the church’ (Romans 16:1). Also Priscilla and Aquila are mentioned to be helpers of Paul.”
A carnal person knows no limits of extents to overstretch scriptures in order to satisfy an ego and ambition. Some theologians will read a statement like “Paul a servant of God” in one place of scripture, and another one like, “Phoebe a servant of the church”, and then equate the ministries of Paul and Phoebe. That is quite illogical. Here is an illustration.
Person X is described as B in a verse of scripture;
Person Y is also described as B in another verse of scripture.
Do the above statements make person X and Y the same in every aspect, capacity and role? If yes, try to make sense out of the following this:
The sky looks grey
That cat looks grey.
Is the sky and the cat the same thing. That would be ridiculous, isn’t it? But that is how some educated theologians read scripture. They can define a prophetess as “a female prophet”. I wonder if they would define a prophet as “a male prophetess”.
Phoebe was not a servant of the church in the role of preaching the Word. Reading the whole passage explains what Paul meant when he called her “servant”. Here it is: “I commend unto you Phoebe our sister, which is a servant of the church which is at Cenchrea: That ye receive her in the Lord, as becometh saints, and that ye assist her in whatsoever business she hath need of you: for she hath been a succourer of many, and of myself also” (Rom.16:1-2). Is it not clear to see that Phoebe was described as a servant of the church because of her charity works. There are other examples of women who fall in this category – Dorcas who was full of good works and alms deeds (Acts 9:36) and the women who accompanied Jesus and his disciples as they went about preaching the gospel. These women, the Bible says, “ministered unto him (Jesus) of their substance” (Luke 8:1-3). These women were probably engaged in businesses and honoured God by trying to support the ministry of Jesus through their substance. Such women can be called co-workers in ministry but that does not make them preachers!
- “Deborah was a prophetess and judge in Israel (Judges 4:4); this shows that God allows women to be preachers and teachers of the Word.”
Women preachers and those who support them should ask themselves this question: “Was it God’s perfect will for a woman, Deborah, to lead Israel? In what spiritual state was Israel in at a time when God raised a woman to lead the nation? Was it an ideal state to take for an example in our spiritual matters? We will let Deborah speak for herself. When it was time for Israel to go for war she said these words to Barak: “And she said, I will surely go with thee: notwithstanding the journey that thou takest shall not be for thine honour; for the LORD shall sell Sisera into the hand of a woman. And Deborah arose, and went with Barak to Kedesh” (Judges 4:9). Why did Deborah emphasise her reply with these words “for the LORD shall sell Sisera into the hand of a woman”? Can you not see that it was a shame? If you still can’t see that it was not God’s perfect will for Israel to be ruled by a woman here is what He said in Isaiah 3:12 when Israel was again in a backslidden state, “As for my people, children are their oppressors, and women rule over them. O my people, they which lead thee cause thee to err, and destroy the way of thy paths.”
The above scripture clearly points out the fact that when a woman ruled Israel it was a shameful thing and only indicated that the nation of Israel was backslidden! And this is exactly so for Deborah became a Judge in Israel when Israel was backslidden and left the ways of God. So, how can any spiritual person point to the permissive will of God in letting Deborah rule Israel when Christ has come to restore us to the perfect will. To use Deborah as justification for women preachers would be the same as justifying polygamy simply because men like David or Solomon had many wives in the Old Testament. Old Testament people were living in the permissive will of God because of the fallen nature of man. But in the New Testament of Grace the Lord Jesus Christ came to restore the perfect will of God. The Pharisees in trying to justify divorce, simply because Moses permitted it, had the Lord Jesus tell them this: “Moses because of the hardness of your hearts suffered you to put away your wives: but from the beginning it was not so. And I say unto you, Whosoever shall put away his wife, except it be for fornication, and shall marry another, committeth adultery: and whoso marrieth her which is put away doth commit adultery” (Matt.19:8-9).
- “God used women as evangelists; for example, the women who announced the resurrection of Jesus Christ and the woman at the well who went about testifying of what Jesus had done to her (Matt.28:5-7, John 4:1-39)”
How can any sincere person equate giving a testimony to preaching and teaching the Word? When the Samaritan woman at the well (John 4) was discerned by the Lord Jesus and He revealed her troubles, she went about testifying of what the Lord Jesus did for her. As stated in the foregoing, every child of God (whether man or woman, boy or girl) is free to testify of what God has done for them. When the people heard of the Samaritan woman’s testimony, many came to Jesus. Did that make her an evangelist? If a person has been sick of cancer and gets healed of God and then testifies to her family of how true God’s power of healing is, by which they get converted and become Christians, will that make her an evangelist or pastor. Was she preaching or simply narrating what God has done for her? Similarly did the announcement of Jesus’ resurrection by the women to the disciples make them preachers? What were they preaching and teaching about? To suggest that the Samaritan woman became a preacher when she testified portrays, not only an extreme case of trying to twist scripture to suit one’s views but also, a lack of simple and intelligent reasoning. If giving a testimony of what God has done makes a person a pastor or evangelist then there is no meaning to the words “pastor” or “evangelist” for every child of God has something to testify about the goodness of God in his or her life!
About notable gifted women
Although we live in a time of much falsehood, fanaticism and fake prophets and prophetesses, I believe that there have been women who rose up in the early days of the American Pentecostal movement with genuine gifts of healings. Many times an anointing of prophecy could genuinely come upon a woman, but as pride and ego took a hold of that person she would begin to think of going further than just prophesying but also teaching the Word. Although the gift could operate, it does not mean God sanctioned it. Through time many women preachers have arisen especially in the Pentecostal movement. Strange as this may seem, the Lord Jesus already warned us about this in Matthew 7:21-23: “Not every one that saith unto me, Lord, Lord, shall enter into the kingdom of heaven; but he that doeth the will of my Father which is in heaven. Many will say to me in that day, Lord, Lord, have we not prophesied in thy name? and in thy name have cast out devils? and in thy name done many wonderful works? And then will I profess unto them, I never knew you: depart from me, ye that work iniquity.”
So, having a gift is one thing and using it in the proper way according to the will of God is another. Every man shall be judged according to what he or she has made of the gift of God – from the basic gift of life that we all have to the different spiritual gifts God has given us (Read 1 Cor.3:8-15).
The Place of a Woman in God’s Family
There is certainly a wonderful place that God has kept for women in his household. A woman in her rightful place is a great blessing.
- God can use elderly women to teach younger women the right way to conduct themselves – “The aged women… that they may teach the young women to be sober, to love their husbands, to love their children, to be discreet, chaste, keepers at home, good, obedient to their own husbands, that the word of God be not blasphemed” (Titus 2:3-5). Doesn’t this verse even make it more plain of what god expects women to be?
- A sober and virtuous woman takes pleasure and delight in raising up children in the noble and sober way. God has given a woman the blessing of the fruit of the womb, for a woman “shall be saved in childbearing, if they continue in faith and charity and holiness with sobriety” and “her children arise up, and call her blessed” (1 Tim.2:15, Prov.31:28). So as apostle Paul admonished, let the women “marry, bear children, guide the house, give none occasion to the adversary to speak reproachfully” (1 Tim.5:14).
- God can use a woman in a gift of prophecy as in the case of Anna, the daughters of Philip and other prophetesses (cf. Luke.2:36, Acts 21:8-9).
- God can use women in charitable works as in the case of the women who accompanied Jesus – Dorcas and Phoebe (cf. Luke 8:1-3, Acts 9:36-39).
- A woman, like any other child of God, can testify of what God has done for her and through that others may be edified and some can even come to Christ – “And many of the Samaritans of that city believed on him for the saying of the woman, which testified, He told me all that ever I did” (John 4:39).
A spiritual man doesn’t abuse his God-given headship over a woman but he loves and respects his wife and together they relate as a bond of intimate friends, raising their family in the happiness and joy of serving the Lord. Husbands should love their wives and wives should respect and submit to their husbands (Eph.5:25-29).
God is a God of order. He has made the sun to shine during the daytime and the moon during the night time, that in no way amounts to God loving the sun more than the moon. Everything is beautiful in God’s eyes when it abides in its place. The moon has a special role which the sun cannot perform, likewise the sun also has its work. Can you imagine how life would have been if everything else wanted to be anything else? Disorder and confusion would reign. It’s only among human species, of all the things that God created, that you find female species wanting to be males, and vice versa. May you keep yourself pure from falsehood, deception and fanaticism that is so rampant in this day we live in is my prayer.
“He that hath an ear, let him hear what the Spirit saith unto the churches” (Rev.2:7). And “if any man preach any other gospel unto you than that ye have received, let him be accursed.” (Gal.1:9).
Download a PDF Copy of this article here:
You can listen to the radio discussion Pastor Phiri had with two prominent Pentecostal reverends here