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.