Question: What is the biblical explanation of I Timothy 2:11, and I Corinthians 14:35?
Answer: I Timothy 2:11 says, “Let the woman learn in silence with all subjection.” Verses 12-15 need to be included here to establish the context and complete the thought. These verses read thus: “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. Notwithstanding she shall be saved in childbearing, if they continue in faith and charity and holiness with sobriety.”
In his book What the Bible Teaches, F. G. Smith observes on this passage that it refers to a woman’s proper relationship with her own husband, and is not related to the other texts concerning the official position of women in the Church. Adam Clarke sets forth the same thing in his commentary at this place. F. G. Smith further says that this is evidenced by the example given Adam and Eve and its connection with childbearing. Adam Clarke inserts a quote from Dr. Macknight which reads thus: “However, though Eve was first in the transgression, and brought death on herself, her husband, and all her posterity, the female sex shall be saved (equally with the male) through childbearing through bringing forth the Saviour”, etc.
Hence it is evident that this entire passage has reference to a woman with her husband and not to any public relationship. In the proper domestic relationship the wife is to recognize her own husband as her head and be subject to him (Ephesians 5:23 and numerous other texts). However, in spiritual things, the woman’s husband is not her head. She is a separate, distinct individual before God and is personally responsible to Him the same as is her husband. To make the wife subject to her husband and him her head in spiritual things would fix it so a woman with an unsaved husband could not live a saved life. The answer of Peter to the magistrates who had commanded them to teach no more in the name of Jesus (Acts. 5:29, “…We ought to obey God rather than men”) is applicable to any case where one is required to be subject to and obedient to another. Consequently, we conclude that a married woman is to obey God rather than man even if that man is her husband. It is therefore evident that a husband is not given to be the head of his wife in spiritual things but only in domestic and temporal things.
The reference to the woman learning in silence in verse 11 I would not interpret as meaning that the woman has no voice at all in the affairs of the home, business affairs, and plans for the future and welfare of the family. I feel there should be a generous and free exchange of views between a husband and wife on all important matters, but in the final analysis the decision is in the hands of the husband, and the wife is to accept it without contention, argument, or back talk.
I Corinthians 14:35 says, “And if they will learn any thing, let them ask their husbands at home: for it is a shame for women to speak in church.”
The position of women in the church is an age-old issue and has never been settled to the complete satisfaction of all. I have no idea at all that what I say here will satisfy the minds of all who read it. But the question is a persistent one and keeps popping up, so we have to keep dealing with it.
First, I would say that any scripture on any subject must be interpreted according to the rule of the unanimity of faith. What this means is that any scripture on any subject must be interpreted to harmonize with every other text in the entire New Testament on the same subject. Therefore, if this were the only scripture in the New Testament we would just have to accept it as the norm. Then we could allow women to attend church services but require them to be silent and say nothing while there. But it is not the only scripture on the subject, and I say we would surely lose a lot of fine talent to enforce it that way.
In What the Bible Teaches, F. G. Smith says that the idea of male superiority and female inferiority in the human race has its roots in paganism. Christianity is the only religion in the world that recognizes the equality of men and women. Paganism regards women as greatly inferior to men, and they have very little part in religion. Among the Jews, even under the law, special provisions were made for women and they were honored and respected. Some of them even rose to positions of prominence. Deborah was a prophetess and a judge in Israel (Judges 4:4). In her position as judge she would have been her husband’s judge, too, if she were a married woman. Barak refused to go to battle with Sisera unless Deborah went with him (Judges 4:8). She went with him, and God gave them a great victory.
In John 4, Jesus delivered one of His greatest sermons to a lone woman of Samaria. Then the woman took the message to the men in the town and many of them became believers. Paul recognized the equality of men and women in Christ in Galatians 3:28 “There is…neither male nor female: for ye are all one in Christ Jesus.” In Acts 21:9, it is recorded that Philip had four daughters which did prophesy. In the second chapter of Acts where the initial outpouring of the Holy Spirit upon the Church is recorded, Peter said in verses 14-18 that this was what was prophesied by Joel (Joel 2:28-29). And he said in verses 17-18, “…I will pour out of my Spirit upon all flesh: and your sons and your daughters shall prophesy,… And on my servants and on my handmaidens I will pour out in those days of my Spirit; and they shall prophesy.”
Prophecy or to prophesy primarily means to speak forth, to tell out the mysteries of God. It is to proclaim the mysteries and knowledge of God. Paul declares that redemption itself is a mystery (I Corinthians 2:7-14). To preach the gospel of Christ, under the inspiration of the Holy Spirit, is to proclaim the mysteries, the hidden wisdom of God to prophesy. Both men and women participated in this according to the above scriptures.
This is the general teaching of the New Testament scriptures; other cases could be cited if space permitted. But there were necessary exceptions to this because of the different customs of the Gentile people among whom Paul labored, and I Corinthians 14:35 is such a case.
The following quote is from F. G. Smith in What the Bible Teaches. “Paul was the Apostle to the Gentiles and, as such, was engaged in planting the gospel among various nations and peoples with different customs and social conditions. He found it necessary to identify with them in many of these respects in order to gain them. This is shown in his own writing in I Corinthians 9:20-23. Paul said in some of his instructions to this Corinthian Church in I Corinthians 7:26, ‘I suppose therefore that this is good for the present distress.’ In such cases, those instructions would not be a standard for all people and for all time. This would be true concerning women’s silence in the Church because to interpret it otherwise would create a contradiction in the Scriptures which cannot be. The Corinthian Church was in a heathen environment so all he could do was accommodate himself to their custom.”