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Q. Are Paul’s instructions about Woman not teaching contextual to that time or specific situation?


Dear ******,

Let’s begin with Paul’s own words regarding how broadly his instructions should be applied:

16 I encourage you, then, be imitators of me. 17 For this reason, I have sent Timothy to you, who is my dear and faithful son in the Lord. He will remind you of my ways in Christ, as I teach them everywhere in every church. (1 Corinthians 4:16-17 NET)

Nevertheless, as the Lord has assigned to each one, as God has called each person, so must he live. I give this sort of direction in all the churches. (1 Corinthians 7:17 NET)

13 Judge for yourselves: Is it proper for a woman to pray to God with her head uncovered? 14 Does not nature itself teach you that if a man has long hair, it is a disgrace for him, 15 but if a woman has long hair, it is her glory? For her hair is given to her for a covering. 16 If anyone intends to quarrel about this, we have no other practice, nor do the churches of God. (1 Corinthians 11:13-16 NET)

As in all the churches of the saints, 34 the women should be silent in the churches, for they are not permitted to speak. Rather, let them be in submission, as in fact the law says. 35 If they want to find out about something, they should ask their husbands at home, because it is disgraceful for a woman to speak in church. 36 Did the word of God begin with you, or did it come to you alone? 37 If anyone considers himself a prophet or spiritual person, he should acknowledge that what I write to you is the Lord’s command. 38 If someone does not recognize this, he is not recognized. (1 Corinthians 14:33-38 NET)

I believe God’s Word is fully true, reliable, authoritative and applicable at any point in time, in any culture (2 Timothy 3:16-17).

I find no hint that Paul expects his teaching in church to differ from that which he gives another church. I see no suggestion that what is taught by Paul in his day can somehow be set aside as irrelevant or inapplicable today. If indeed it can be set aside, who determines what should be disregarded? On what basis could this be done? Why can’t any part of God’s Word (including John 3:16) be set aside as not for us today?

The second thing to take into account is that this world (our culture) is opposed to God’s Word and God’s ways. We should expect unbelievers in our day to reject much of what God’s Word teaches and instructs us to do:

14 The unbeliever does not receive the things of the Spirit of God, for they are foolishness to him. And he cannot understand them, because they are spiritually discerned. 15 The one who is spiritual discerns all things, yet he himself is understood by no one. 16 For who has known the mind of the Lord, so as to advise him? But we have the mind of Christ. (1 Corinthians 2:14-16 NET)

1 Therefore I exhort you, brothers and sisters, by the mercies of God, to present your bodies as a sacrifice– alive, holy, and pleasing to God– which is your reasonable service. 2 Do not be conformed to this present world, but be transformed by the renewing of your mind, so that you may test and approve what is the will of God– what is good and well-pleasing and perfect. (Romans 12:1-2 NET)

17 So I say this, and insist in the Lord, that you no longer live as the Gentiles do, in the futility of their thinking. 18 They are darkened in their understanding, being alienated from the life of God because of the ignorance that is in them due to the hardness of their hearts. 19 Because they are callous, they have given themselves over to indecency for the practice of every kind of impurity with greediness. 20 But you did not learn about Christ like this, 21 if indeed you heard about him and were taught in him, just as the truth is in Jesus. (Ephesians 4:17-21 NET)

God’s Word and His instructions to Christians will be unacceptable to those outside faith in Jesus.

I would encourage you to consider why Paul gives these instructions regarding women leading men in the church.

To the woman he said, “I will greatly increase your labor pains; with pain you will give birth to children. You will want to control your husband, but he will dominate you.” (Genesis 3:16 NET)

3 But I want you to know that Christ is the head of every man, and the man is the head of a woman, and God is the head of Christ. 4 Any man who prays or prophesies with his head covered disgraces his head. 5 But any woman who prays or prophesies with her head uncovered disgraces her head, for it is one and the same thing as having a shaved head. 6 For if a woman will not cover her head, she should cut off her hair. But if it is disgraceful for a woman to have her hair cut off or her head shaved, she should cover her head. 7 For a man should not have his head covered, since he is the image and glory of God. But the woman is the glory of the man. 8 For man did not come from woman, but woman from man. 9 Neither was man created for the sake of woman, but woman for man. 10 For this reason a woman should have a symbol of authority on her head, because of the angels. (1 Corinthians 11:3-10 NET)

But I do not allow a woman to teach or exercise authority over a man. She must remain quiet. 13 For Adam was formed first and then Eve. 14 And Adam was not deceived, but the woman, because she was fully deceived, fell into transgression. 15 But she will be delivered through childbearing, if she continues in faith and love and holiness with self-control. (1 Tim. 2:12-15 NET; emphasis mine)

I believe that Paul says his teaching is the command of Christ (1 Corinthians 14:37) and he bases his teaching (which he says the law also teaches – 1 Corinthians 14:34) on the fall of man in Genesis 3, and its consequences. In short, at the fall, Adam let his wife lead, and he followed. As a consequence, a man must lead his (perhaps reluctant) wife, and the wife is to submit to her husband (Ephesians 5:22ff.). The woman has pain in child-bearing (still does today) and the man must earn a living by the sweat of his brow. When a woman wears a symbol of her submission on her head, and when she follows her husband’s leadership (especially in the church gathering) she gives testimony to the fall of man in the garden of Eden and its aftermath. What a lead into the gospel!

I would emphasize that Paul does not call upon women to be silent (not to exercise authority and leadership over men in the church) because they are less capable than men. A wife may well be a better teacher or leader than her husband. But her giftedness, while inappropriate in church leadership (over men), can still be used in the context of children and other women.

One last thing. Some men abuse Paul’s teaching, as a pretext and excuse for domineering their wives, and some women rebel against Paul’s teaching because they refuse to submit, not only to their husband, but to God’s Word (sort of like the way the fall of man happened). The abuse of God’s instructions does not justify casting them aside.

I hope this helps,

Bob Deffinbaugh

Related Topics: Issues in Church Leadership/Ministry, Leadership, Pastors, Spiritual Gifts, Women

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