“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. What? came the word of God out from you? or came it unto you only? If any man think himself to be a prophet, or spiritual, let him acknowledge that the things that I write unto you are the commandments of the Lord. But if any man be ignorant, let him be ignorant.” —I Cor. 14:34-38.
“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.” — I Tim. 2:11-14.
In the providence of God I have been placed in the position of spiritual adviser and teacher to this congregation of Christian men and women. I am called by the spirit of God and the suffrages of this people to expound to them the teachings of the sacred Scriptures. My commission requires me to instruct, to exhort, to comfort, and rebuke. This is what God demands, and what yon have a right to expect of me. Occupying this responsible and sacred position, I claim your respectful and devout attention this morning, while I attempt to set before you the teachings of the divine Word upon a subject of vital importance to the order, peace, and welfare of the churches of Jesus Christ.
The question which you have requested me to discuss is, “Do the Scriptures Forbid Women to Speak in Mixed Assemblies?” By mixed assemblies is meant public gatherings composed of men and women.
I feel that I owe to this congregation and community an explanation of my conduct in reference to this important matter. No man is more indebted to Christian women than I. No man in the gospel ministry has been more helped by them. They have understood me better than men, They have never misinterpreted my motives. They have always appreciated the difficulties and embarrassments connected with my work, and have given me their profoundest sympathy in every conflict with error and ungodliness. When the whisky rings and their hirelings sought to destroy me, the Christian women of this land stood by me with dauntless devotion.
Remembering these things, my sympathies have been with the women whenever they have met the opposition of men in any of their undertakings. I have almost assumed that in any conflict between men and women, the women were right.
If through God’s infinite mercy I am ever permitted to see the face of the apostle Paul, I shall feel that I owe him an humble apology for having many times tried to believe, that in some unaccountable way he had made a prodigious mistake, and inflicted upon woman a cruel injustice in forbidding her to speak in the church. My sympathies, my prejudices, and three-fourths of my reading and thinking have been on the woman’s side of this question. But the conflict is over. After a long and painful struggle I have made an unconditional surrender to conscience, and Paul, and the Holy Ghost.
While my convictions of truth compel me to oppose the good women who differ with me on this subject, such is my regard and affection for them that I am utterly incapable of doing them intentional injustice or of wilfully wounding their feelings. I trust that enough of the old spirit of chivalry lingers in my heart to enable me to accord to them all that integrity of purpose which I claim for myself.
What do the Scriptures teach upon this subject? The discussion must be limited to this single question. Your feelings, the opinions of men, and the spirit of the nineteenth century cannot be admitted into this controversy. It is a subject upon which God has spoken, and we cannot array human opinion or human feeling against his truth without aligning ourselves with Robert Ingersoll and his followers.
A distinguished Methodist minister said to me a few days ago: “The Baptists have less government than any denomination of Christians in the world, and yet they are more united than any other Christian people.” After thanking him for the compliment, I told him that the secret of this unity was that no Baptist, on any question, would ever appeal from the Bible. When he finds a “thus saith the Lord” he will stand like Athenasius against the world.
On the question now before us we find in this “Book by inspiration given” a thus saith the Lord. “Let the women keep silence in the churches, for it is not permitted unto them to speak.” By these words Baptists have stood through all the centuries of their existence, and by them they will continue to stand “till time’s last thunder shakes the world.”
It gratifies me to be able to say that Episcopalians, Presbyterians, Methodists and Lutherans, are in the main just as loyal to this command as Baptists.
I will state briefly some of the objections which are urged against the most obvious meaning of Paul’s command.
Objection #1 Against The Obvious Meaning
It is claimed by some, not many, that the apostle did not intend to forbid women to take part in any serious discussion, but to prohibit them from indulging in idle chatter. It was the habit of women then, and it is in some places now, when they got together in a public meeting, to indulge in a great deal of chit chat or small talk. It is claimed by a few hard-pressed champions of a feeble cause, that it was this that Paul meant to forbid.
In answering this view, Dr. Broadus, one of the greatest teachers of New Testament Greek, says: “The word which commonly means to talk, to speak, is sometimes used in classical Greek for chattering, and is sometimes applied to animals. But there are no clear examples of any such use in Biblical Greek, and the word is applied to apostles, Saviour, God.”
If there is any authority for translating the Greek so as to make the passage read, “It is not permitted unto them to chatter,” there is the same authority for saying that Paul chattered to the Athenians or that Christ chattered to the multitudes.
Objection #2 Against The Obvious Meaning
Others claim that Paul’s prohibition is limited to speaking in the church, and that while it would be unlawful for a woman to speak in a church, it is permissible in a prayer-meeting. In answer to this it is sufficient to say, that a meeting of this congregation for prayer is just as much a meeting of the church as a meeting to hear the preaching of the gospel. The word church was applied by the New Testament writers to meetings in private houses. It is not necessary for us to come into this building to have a meeting of the First Baptist Church of Atlanta. The same persons gathered together in any private house of this city for religious worship would be the First Baptist Church.
Objection #3 Against The Obvious Meaning
There are some who contend that Paul could not have forbidden women to speak upon religious subjects in meetings of the church, because there were prophetesses in those days, and such were allowed to speak.
That there were females among the early Christian churches who corresponded to those known among the Jews as prophetesses is admitted; but there is no conclusive evidence to show that either Christian or Jewish prophetesses delivered their prophecies before public assemblies.
In [First] Corinthians, 11th chapter, Paul says: “Every man praying or prophesying, having his head covered, dishonoreth his head. But every woman that prayeth or prophesieth, having her head uncovered, dishonoreth her head.”
Dr. Gill says there is nothing in this passage which shows that women spoke in the meetings of the Corinthian church either in prayer or by way of instruction or exhortation, and that it means nothing more than that they joined the minister in prayer, and sung the praises of God with the congregation. Singing the prophetic psalms was sometimes called prophesying.
But, if we admit that the passage does imply that women prayed and spoke publicly in the Corinthian church, we know that it does not imply that the apostle approved of the custom. His immediate object here is not to consider whether the practice is itself right, but to condemn the manner of the performance as a violation of all the rules of propriety and subordination.
On another occasion, in this very epistle, he fully condemns the practice in any form, and enjoins silence on the female members of the church in public meetings.
That Corinthian church was a very disorderly body. It was a disgrace to the cause of Christ. It was full of heresy and wrangling and vice. Its observance of the Lord’s Supper had degenerated into a scene of gluttony and drunkenness. Its worship was characterized by confusion, immodesty, and irreverence.
The apostle is trying to correct these disorders. He is showing them how to be descent and modest and devout in their public meetings. He gives special attention to the women, who seem to have been the greatest offenders, and concludes by saying: “Let your women keep silence in the churches. * * * It is a shame for women to speak in the church.”
Let us suppose that Paul did permit women to deliver their prophecies before mixed assemblies. We know that he did not permit them to teach on such occasions. He wrote to Timothy: “Let the women learn in silence in all modesty. But I suffer not a woman to teach, nor to usurp authority over the man, but to be in silence.” If he permitted them to prophesy, but not to teach, there must have been some radical difference between the office of the prophet and that of the teacher. What was that difference? The prophet was a revelator. He revealed things concerning the past, the present, or the future, which were hidden from the world. He was simply a mouth-piece for God. He said nothing on his own responsibility. He simply uttered what God had spoken to him.
The function of the teacher was to expound what had been revealed, to explain, to make clear to the church the meaning of God’s revealed will.
Now, sometimes the two offices were performed by the same person; but if women were forbidden to teach, it follows that the function of the prophetess was limited to revealing mysteries.
We cannot fail to see the conclusion to which this brings us. If Paul permitted women to speak in the churches of his day, the privilege was limited to those who had the gift of prophecy—those to whom God made known secrets that hitherto were hid in the great deep of His own mind. And if the speaking of women in meetings of the church was confined to those who had the gift of prophecy, then women of this day are not scripturally qualified to speak to the church because they have not the gift of prophecy.
Do the women of this day who go into mixed assemblies and speak claim to be prophets? Do they claim that what they say is a revelation from God? If they do, and their claim be true, their utterances should be written down and incorporated with the other Sacred Scriptures. If they are indeed prophets, inspired and accredited as Isaiah, Jeremiah, Daniel, Peter, Paul and John were, then we have abundant material to make a new Bible every week.
But are they prophets? They cannot be if Paul has spoken the mind of God. What does he say? In immediate connection with these words forbidding women to speak in the church, he says: “If any man think himself to be a prophet or spiritual let him acknowledge that the things which I write unto you are the commandments of the Lord.”
But that is just what the women- preachers will not acknowledge. They stubbornly declare that what Paul wrote upon this subject is not “the commandment of the Lord.” Some of them say that he was a dissatisfied and crabbed old bachelor who was prejudiced against women, and imposed this restriction upon them only to show his dislike of them.
Others say that they know that in this matter he did not write the commandment of God, because his prohibitory law is contradicted by their own spiritual impressions and illuminations. He makes the acknowledgment of his inspiration the test of their claim not only to the gift of prophecy, but to any spiritual gift. They may sincerely believe themselves to be spiritual, but if they refuse to acknowledge his authority, he says they are not spiritual.
Now where there is this conflict between Paul and the women what shall I do? What ought I to do? The Lord knows how distressful it is to me not to go with the women. Without their sympathy and friendship this world would be to me a solitude. But having Adam’s experience before me, how foolish it would be for me to follow these daughters of Eve in violating a law as simple and legible as God could make it?
Objection #4 Against The Obvious Meaning
The position on which the advocates of this new doctrine and practice rely more than any other, and to which they cling with the greatest persistence, is that the law which Paul lays down in his letter to the Corinthians was intended only for the Corinthian church—that it was purely a local regulation made necessary by a peculiar and exceptional state of things among the Christians of Corinth.
This position is utterly untenable. Any one can see at a single glance that Paul did not make this law for the Corinthian women only. He wrote the same thing to Timothy that he might apply it to the churches in the region about Ephesus.
In his letter to Timothy he assigns two reasons for not permitting women to teach and pray in a mixed assembly.
“For Adam was first formed, then Eve.” Now the Corinthians were not the only people in the world who had descended from Adam and Eve. All nations, kindreds, tongues and tribes have descended from Adam and Eve. I trust that the people of Atlanta, and especially the members of the First Baptist Church, have not ceased to believe that even they are descendants of Adam and Eve. I entreat these female apostles of the new Gospel and new dispensation to permit us to hold on to that much of the old Bible.
If we have descended from Adam and Eve, then Paul’s law forbidding women to speak before mixed assemblies was not local, and is binding on the women of the First Baptist Church of Atlanta.
“Adam was first formed.” The man was formed out of the dust of the earth. The woman was formed out of the man. She was formed for him, for his help and companionship. Here lies the strength of the reason which the apostle gives for the divine law that the woman shall be in subjection to the man. She is to be in subjection to the man not so much because she was made after the man, for she and the man were both created after the beasts of the field, but because she was made out of the man and for him.
So the woman’s subjection to the man is according to the laws of nature and creation.
Now, Paul says that when a woman goes into a church and teaches or preaches in the presence of men, she reverses God’s order and violates the laws of her own nature and creation. “I suffer not a woman to teach, nor usurp authority over the man.” Teaching implies authority over those who are taught, and as a woman has not, according to God’s economy, authority over man, she is not permitted to stand up in a public assembly and teach him. God knows that millions of women have the ability to teach men; but he does not permit them to do it, at least in a public way, because it has the appearance of authority.
The second reason which Paul had for prohibiting women from speaking in mixed assemblies was “That Adam was not deceived: but the woman being deceived was in the transgression.” If that was a sufficient reason for not permitting women to speak in the church in Corinth, it is a sufficient reason for the same regulation in the First Baptist Church of Atlanta. The women to whom I speak to-day are just as much involved in the consequences of Eve’s conduct as the women to whom Paul spoke and wrote.
“Our mother took the poisonous cup and tainted all our blood.”
“Adam was not deceived.” This positive assertion is to be taken without any limitations or qualifications. Adam was not deceived at all. He was not deceived by the serpent with whom he had not talked, nor was he deceived by his wife. He knew what he was doing. He knew what would be the consequences of eating the forbidden fruit. He understood God’s law. He knew that the violation of it would bring death to him, to Eve, and all their countless posterity. He ate because his wife had eaten it and become mortal, and he loved her so well that he would rather die with her than be left alone in the world.
Inasmuch as he sinned wilfully, and against light and knowledge, without any deception, his sin was greater than hers and his punishment more severe.
But the woman was deceived. She really thought the serpent spoke the truth, and that she and her husband should not die if they ate of the fruit.
“And the serpent said unto the woman, ye shall not die: for God doth know that in the day that ye eat thereof, then your eyes shall be opened and ye shall be as gods, knowing good and evil.” That was what caught the dear woman. She wanted to know as much as God, so that she might be independent of him. That was what caught her, and there she has shown her weakness ever since. She wants to know too much. She is restive under a sense of her inferiority to any one. Out of this natural weakness grows her insubordination to Paul.
She was caught not only by what she heard, but by what she saw. “And when the woman saw that the tree was good, and that it was pleasant to the eyes, and a tree to be desired to make one wise, she took the fruit thereof and did eat.”
When a woman looks upon a thing and is pleased with it, charmed by it, she believes it to be right, no matter what the authorities say about it. Bear with me gentle sisters while I suggest some of the natural infirmities of your sex. The infirmities of your brothers are much more serious.
In these latter days, when, according to prophecy, all manner of strange things must occur, it has appeared unto some women that it would be pleasant and beautiful for them to step out of their divinely appointed sphere, and do some of the things which God has committed solely to the hands of men. Some invisible artist has set before their mind’s eye pictures of women in the pulpit, women on the rostrum, women at the ballot-box, women on the judge's bench, and women in the halls of congress.
These pictures have charmed them, bewitched them, and thus deceived, they have reached the conclusion that the Bible and God's order need amendment: and one of the amendments which they propose is, to strike out from the Divine Book Paul's words forbidding a woman to speak in the church.
Paul bases this law upon the fact that the man was not deceived but the woman was deceived. Well, what has that to do with a woman's preaching? It has a great deal to do with it. Basing his prohibitory law upon the fact that she was deceived, he means that a creature who can be made to believe that a law signifies something radically different from its obvious meaning, or that it is wise and good in some things to disobey the Almighty, cannot be safely intrusted with the office of the Christian ministry.
The danger is that she will misconstrue God’s revealed will, or set it aside altogether where it does not harmonize with her feelings and ambitions. It was one of the old Rabbinnical sayings, “Burn the Book of Law rather than put it into the hands of a woman.”
There were three parties concerned in the first transgression—the Serpent, Adam, and Eve. They were all punished, but not in the same way, nor in the same degree.
God said unto the serpent, “Because thou hast done this, thou art cursed. * * * Upon thy belly shalt thou go, and dust shalt thou eat all the days of thy life; and I will put enmity between thee and the woman, and between thy seed and her seed; it shall bruise thy head and thou shalt bruise his heel.”
The curse that God put upon the serpent in the garden of Eden is upon him to-day, and will continue with him to the end of time.
“Upon thy belly thou shalt go.” For six thousand years that has been his only method of locomotion, and he can never go in any other way.
The enmity which God put between the serpent and man in the garden lives to this day, and will live unto the end of the world. The serpent hates man, and it is a human instinct everywhere to hate and to war against the serpent.
The perpetuation of this curse upon the serpent is one of God's living witnesses to the fall of man.
God said to Adam, “Because thou hast hearkened unto the voice of thy wife, and hast eaten of the fruit of the tree of which I commanded thee saying, ‘Thou shalt not eat of it’; cursed is the ground for thy sake; in sorrow shalt thou eat of it all the days of thy life; thorns and thistles shall it bring forth to thee. * * * In the sweat of thy face shalt thou eat bread.” That was God's curse upon man. It has never been removed. It remains with him to remind him that his first parents fell from a state of innocence.
God said unto the woman, “I will greatly multiply thy sorrow, and thy conception; in sorrow thou shalt bring forth children; and thy desire shall be to thy husband, and he shall rule over thee.”
That was God’s punishment of woman for the part that she took in the first transgression. Has it been removed? Is it not just as real to-day as it was thousands of years ago? It remains, and will remain till the end of time, to remind woman how the devil beguiled her and robbed her of her innocence.
Now Paul says that his law forbidding women publicly to teach men, is based upon the sentence which God pronounced against woman in the garden. Has that sentence been revoked? I understand that some of our female evangelists and apostles say that it has been revoked. If it has been annulled, who did it, and when and where was it done?
The curse upon the serpent remains. The curse upon man continues. Why should woman’s curse be removed?
What evidence have we that the disabilities imposed upon her in Eden have been cancelled? The Bible contains no such doctrine. Jesus Christ and his apostles did not teach it. Woman's sorrow has not been removed, and the law putting her in subjection to man has never been repealed.
Under the old Jewish dispensation there were no female priests, and women were not allowed to speak in the synagogue in any capacity. Christ did not interfere with this regulation. In organizing his own dispensation he said nothing, and he did nothing to warrant a departure from the Jewish doctrines and practices in reference to women. He chose twelve apostles. There was not a woman among them. Among the seventy whom he commissioned to preach there was not a woman.
Brethren, do you appeal from the authority of this divine book? If you do not the question is settled, and the uniform practice of the churches from the apostles till now must stand.
It is due to the Christian women of the nineteenth century to say that only a few of them comparatively, have joined this rebellion against God’s order. The great mass of them are content to remain in the sphere prescribed for them by the precepts of the Bible and the laws of their own nature.
In the field of Christian activity there are tasks for woman that are great enough to tax her utmost capacity, and high enough to satisfy every lawful aspiration of her soul. Within the great circle of her own sex she is permitted to teach, admonish and exhort to her heart’s content. More than half the members of our Sunday Schools are females. Here and in the homes of the people and in religious meetings composed of females, she may do her share of the work which God has committed to his church.
I have always had some sympathy with Adam, because I know the bewitching power of female eloquence. It requires a desperate struggle of the will to overcome it. Women are naturally so much better than men, so much gentler and kinder and sweeter, that men are apt to think it a virtue to yield to them even when they know them to be in error.
But he is woman’s best friend who dares to oppose her in a wrong course. He is most loyal to woman’s welfare, happiness and honor, who is most persistent and determined in his efforts to deter her from those undertakings that are incompatible with the laws of her being.
Woman, self-willed, contentious, arrogant, noisy, combative, is a hideous monstrosity. There is nothing on the earth or under the earth that has less attraction for a right-minded, true-hearted manly-man. But woman clothed with purity, modesty, humility, a gracious temper and a calm spirit; woman cultured in mind and heart, and lovingly and loyally moving in her divinely appointed orbit, is exalted to her highest estate, and in that estate is man’s angel, a wayside sacrament, a handwriting of God, a window opening towards a world of cherubim.
Whence comes this new craze? Whence comes this challenge of apostolic inspiration and authority? Whence comes this clamor for the transmutation of woman? Whence comes this new slogan, “Down with Paul and up with woman?” Whence comes the cry that calls woman to the pulpit, the rostrum, the political caucus, the ballot-box, and the legislative hall? It comes from the same region where every ism that has cursed the country for the last century had its birth. It comes from a section which applauded Theodore Parker for saying, “If Jesus Christ did teach the doctrine of eternal punishment I do not believe it.” It comes from a community so tolerant of heresy that a man can be elected to a chair of theology in a college once distinguished for its orthodoxy, who says there are three ways to God and heaven—the way of the church, the way of the Bible and the way of reason—and that a man is perfectly safe in choosing any one of them. It comes from the birthplace of the New Theology, whose liberality is only another name for infidelity. I confess that I would be less suspicious of it if it had first seen the light on a soil less prolific of evil.
From the birth of the Republic to the present day this sunny Southland has been singularly free from that latitudinarianism in religions belief, and that irreverent spirit towards God's word, which have been the blight and mildew of other sections. There has been nothing in our Southern soil and atmosphere to give nutriment to these noxious weeds. Let us abide in this spirit of loyalty to God and his truth. Let us present to these propagandists of a diluted and perverted Christianity an unbroken front, and looking calmly and trustfully to Him who giveth us the victory, stand with the deathless devotion of martyrs by the old flag of the old faith.
It has been my fear of the sources from which these mischievous innovations come, that has made me for five years a persistent advocate for the creation of a Southern Baptist literature for Southern Baptist Sunday Schools. Such a literature would do much to keep the South “solid” for all time to come. The South needs to be solid; solid, not for sectionalism but against it; solid for the Union our fathers framed; solid for good government; solid against class legislation; solid against laws that are golden girdles for the rich and galling shackles for the poor; solid for peace and fraternity on the basis of mutual respect and confidence, and equal protection and freedom; but above all solid against looseness of religious belief and practice; solid against every appeal from God’s book to the tribunal of human reason or human consciousness; solid for a living ministry of men whose lips and lives are pure, and who will “know nothing among men but Christ and him crucified”; solid for God’s order in the church and the whole social economy; solid against the folly and sin of robbing woman of her native modesty, humility, loveliness and dignity, by thrusting her out of her native sphere into unnatural relations, and clothing her with functions which she was not born to wear; in a word, solid for God and against everything that is false, and wrong and hurtful to man. Heaven grant that my life may be lengthened to see the time when not only the South, but the North, the East, and the West, all this bounteous birth-land of the free, shall have no creed but the Bible, and no Saviour but Christ, and when this great people shall consecrate their magnificent resources to the world’s redemption.
1 - Pastor, First Baptist Church, Atlanta, GA (ca. 1884-1896)