Let the Women Keep Silent
Our objecting friends would point us to what Paul says in another place: “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 any thing, let them ask their husbands at home: for it is a shame for women to speak in the church” (1 Cor. 14:34-35).
Now let it be borne in mind that this is the same apostle, writing to the same church, as in the above instance. Will anyone maintain that Paul here refers to the same kind of speaking as before? If so, we insist on his supplying us with some rule of interpretation which will harmonize this unparalleled contradiction and absurdity. Taking the simple and commonsense view of the two passages—that one refers to the devotional and religious exercises in the church and the other to the inconvenient asking of questions and imprudent or ignorant talking—there is no contradiction or discrepancy.
If on the other hand we assume that the apostle refers in both instances to the same thing, we make him in one page give the most explicit directions how a thing shall be performed and in a page or two further on, and writing to the same church, expressly forbid its being performed at all. We admit “it is a shame for women to speak in the church” in the sense here intended by the apostle; but before the argument based on these words can be deemed of any worth, objectors must prove that the “speaking” here is synonymous with that to which the apostle refers in 1 Corinthians 11.
Dr. Clarke says on this passage: “According to the prediction of Joel, the Spirit of God was to be poured out on the women as well as the men, that they might prophesy, that is, teach. And that they did prophesy or teach is evident from what the Apostle says (1 Corinthians 11) where he lays down rules to regulate this part of their conduct while ministering in the church.
“All that the Apostle opposes here is their questioning, finding fault, disputing, etc., in the Christian church, as the Jewish men were permitted to do in their synagogues (see Luke 2:46); together with attempts to usurp authority over men by setting up their judgment in opposition to them; for the Apostle has reference to acts of disobedience and arrogance of which no woman would be guilty who was under the influence of the Spirit of God.”
If anyone still insists on a literal application of this text, I ask how he disposes of the preceding part of the chapter where it occurs. Surely, if one verse is so authoritative and binding, the whole chapter (1 Cor. 14) is equally so. Therefore those who insist on a literal application of the words of Paul, under all circumstances and through all time, will be careful to observe the Apostle’s order of worship in their own congregation.
But where is the minister who lets his whole church prophesy one by one while he sits still and listens, so that all things may be done decently and in order (see 1 Cor. 14:31,40)? Paul as expressly lays down this order as he does the rule for women, and he adds, “The things that I write unto you are the commandments of the Lord” (v. 37).
Why then don’t ministers abide by these directives? We anticipate their reply: “Because these directives were given to the Corinthians as temporary arrangements, and though they were the commandments of the Lord to them at that time they do not apply to all Christians in all times.”
If ministers believe that, then their argument for the prohibition of women’s speaking is null and void, since it is among the same directives as the one on allowing the whole church to prophesy and was also given to the Corinthians only. So until learned divines make a personal application of the rest of the chapter they must excuse us for declining to do so of the 24th verse.
I Suffer Not a Woman to Teach
Another passage frequently cited as prohibitory of female labor in the church is 1 Timothy 2:12-13: “I suffer not a woman to teach, nor to usurp authority over the man, but to be in silence. Though we have never met with the slightest proof that this text has any reference to the public exercises of women, nevertheless, as it is often quoted, I will give it fair examination.
“It is primarily an injunction respecting her personal behavior at home,” the Rev. J. H. Robinson says. “It stands in connection with precepts respecting her apparel and her domestic position; especially her relation to her husband. No one will suppose that the Apostle forbids a women to ‘teach’ absolutely and universally. Even objectors would allow her to teach her servants and children and, perhaps, her husband too.
“If he were ignorant of the Saviour, might she not teach him the way of Christ? If she were acquainted with languages, arts or sciences, which he did not know, might she not teach him these things? Certainly she might!
“The ‘teaching,’ therefore, which is forbidden by the Apostle is not every kind of teaching any more than, in the previous instance, his prohibition of speaking applied to every kind of speaking in the church; but it is such teaching as is domineering, and as involves the usurpation of authority over the man. This is the only teaching forbidden by St. Paul in the passage under consideration.”
A lawyer writing on the same subject says: “This prohibition refers exclusively to the private life and domestic character of woman and simply means that an ignorant or unruly woman is not to force her opinions on the man whether he will or no. It has no reference whatever to good women living in obedience to God and their husbands, or to women sent out to preach the gospel by the call of the Holy Spirit.”
If the context is allowed to fix the meaning of this text, as it would be in any other, there can be no doubt that the above is the only consistent interpretation; and if it is, then this prohibition has no bearing whatever on the religious exercises of women led and taught by the Spirit of God.
Whether the church will allow women to speak in her assemblies can be only a question of time. Then, when the true light shines and God’s works take the place of man’s traditions, the doctor of divinity who teaches that Paul commands woman to be silent when God’s Spirit urges her to speak will be regarded much the same as we would regard an astronomer who taught that the sun is the earth’s satellite. And his false claims would be overridden by the truth: the undeniable scriptural evidence for a woman’s right to preach.
Catherine Booth (1829-1890) was co-founder with her husband, William,of the Salvation Army, as well as the mother of nine children and a much-sought-after, powerful preacher.
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