Alexander R. Hay

To the women of our congregations to whose faithful ministry so much is owed.


There are two passages of Scripture that have been interpreted as contradicting all this evidence – 1 Cor. 14:34-35 and 1 Tim. 2:11-15 – and it will be necessary to examine them, keeping in mind carefully the rules governing the interpretation of Scripture given in chapter 1. As we do so we shall find that the difficulty is not so great as it may have seemed.

Before dealing with the interpretation of these passages it will be helpful to consider the meaning and Scriptural usage of the principal terms that are employed. The definitions, where not otherwise stated, are those given in the Concordances of Young and Strong.

Old Testament

Prophet – nabiy – “inspired man”; “a public expounder”. This word is very frequently used.

Prophetess – nebiyah – “inspired woman;” Ex. 15:20; Judges 4:4; 2 Kings 22:14; 2 Ch. 34:22; Neh. 6:14; Isa. 8:3.

Prophesy – naba – “to speak (or sing) by inspiration (in prediction or simple discourse);” “public exposition”. This term means inspired speaking. The prophets were preachers inspired by the Spirit of God. They were inspired to give God’s message to the people. Sometimes prediction entered into it but often their messages were just Spirit guided sermons or teaching.

Preach – basar – “to announce (glad news); messenger; preach, publish… tidings;” Isa. 61:1; Ps. 40:9;
gara – “… preach, proclaim, pronounce, publish, read, say;” Neh. 6:7; Jonah 3:2.

New Testament – a variety of words are used for preaching according to the circumstances:

propheteuo – prophesy: “inspired speaking”. Paul defines the word thus, “But he who prophesies speaks edification and exhortation and comfort to men” (1 Cor. 14:3). The meaning of prophesy in the N.T. as stated by Paul, is the same as in the O.T. It is inspired preaching. There is this difference, however: whereas in the O.T. revelation of God’s future plan for man sometimes entered into it, it docs not do so in the N.T. It cannot because God has spoken fully through his Son (Heb. 1:1-3; Rev. 22:18-19).

Examples of the use of this term: Matt. 11:13; Lk. 1:67; 1 Pet. 1:10; Acts 2:17-18; 21:9; Rom. 12:6; 1 Cor. 11:4-5; 13:9; 14:1, 5, 24, 31, 39; Rev. 10:11; 11:3.

To say that this word was used of preaching to believers, not to unbelievers, has no support in Scripture. It is used of preaching to the unsaved on the day of Pentecost when many unconverted were saved (Acts 2 : 17-18).

In the O.T. this inspired preaching was the result of God’s Spirit coming upon one whom God would so use. In the N.T. it is a “gift” or “manifestation” of the indwelling Spirit (1 Cor. 12 & 13; Rom. 12:3-8; cf. 1 Pet. 4:11). No preaching is true preaching unless it is inspired preaching and then it is prophesy, whether the preaching is to believers or unbelievers, by men or women. In this Dispensation the Holy Spirit dwells in every true believer and manifests his “gifts” through all.

Several terms are used in a general sense for preaching and speaking –

keruss  – “to herald (as a public crier), especially divine truth (the gospel), preach, proclaim, publish; Matt. 4:17; 10:7; 11:1; Mk. 16:15; Lk. 4:44; Acts 15:21; Rom. 10:15; Phil. 1:15.

euaggelizo – “to announce good news (‘evangelize’)… preach (the gospel)”.

diaggelo – “to herald thoroughly: – declare, preach, signify.”

kataggello – “to proclaim, promulgate: – declare, preach, show, speak of, teach.”

laleo – “to talk, i.e., utter words.” This term is used practically in the same way as talk or speak in English. It is used of speaking of all kinds, good and bad. While propheteuo means inspired preaching, laleo, when used of preaching, sometimes refers to false preaching. Whether it does or not is made known by the context. The following passages give examples of its use in the New Testament: Matt. 12 :34, 46; Mk. 2:2; Lk. 1:20, 22, 55, 64; 5:21; 24:6, 36, 44; Jn. 3:31; 8:44; 9:21, 29; 14:30; Acts 4:31; 7:38; 8:26; 9:29; 10:7, 44; 11:19; 20:30; 1 Cor. 13:11; 14:5; 2 Pet. 1:21; Jude 16.

Thayer’s Greek English Dictionary gives:

laleo – To utter a sound, to emit a voice, make one’s self heard, hence to utter or form words with the mouth, to speak. Used not only of men when chatting or prattling, but also of animals. (1) To utter a voice, emit a sound; (2) To speak, to use the tongue, to utter articulate sounds; (3) To talk; (4) To utter, tell; (5) To use words in order to declare one’s mind and disclose one’s thoughts, to speak.

lalïa (noun) – (1) loquacity, talkativeness, talk, conversation, speech, story; (2) dialect, mode of speech, pronunciation, speech which discloses the speaker’s native country.

The Diccionario Escuelas Pías (Roman Catholic) gives:

laleo – 1. Balbucear (speak indistinctly, stutter, stammer); charlar (prattle, chatter, gossip, chat); 2. Hablar (speak, talk); decir (say); gritar (shout); piar (cheep, whine) ; emitir sonidos (emit sounds).

All May Preach

We shall consider first 1 Cor. 14:33-35: “For God is not the author of confusion, but of peace, as in all the churches of the saints. Let your women keep silent in the churches; for they are not permitted to speak; but they are to be submissive, as the law also says. And if they want to learn something, let them ask their own husbands at home; for it is shameful for women to speak in church.”

To the superficial reader, the clause: “Let your women keep silent in the churches,” quoted in English out of its context, may be taken for granted as referring to preaching in the congregation. But that is an error.

When we have to interpret a passage that presents some difficulty, one of the most important rules, as we have seen already, is to keep clearly before us the general teaching of Scripture on the subject dealt with in the passage. No interpretation can be entertained that would make the passage contradict in any way what is clearly taught elsewhere. Otherwise we would make Scripture contradict itself, in which case it would lose all authority.

What does the passage mean? In the first place, it is well to see what it cannot mean.

(1) It cannot mean that women are not to preach in the church, because that would make it flatly contradict the teaching of other passages in both the Old and New Testaments where it is made clear that they did and should preach.

(2) It would make Paul contradict what he had previously said in the same letter to the Corinthians with reference to the women praying and preaching in the church (1 Cor. 11:5).

(3) It cannot mean preaching for it refers to something that the Law forbids. Preaching by women was never forbidden or even restricted by the Law, but was always permitted.

(4) It cannot mean that women must always maintain silence in the church. If it did, no woman could take part in prayer, singing, or the reading of the Scriptures in a meeting. A little girl could not join in the singing in Sunday School. We have known of meetings in which this was actually put in force. Although absurd and completely contrary to Scriptural example, it was perfectly logical if the passage means what it was thought to mean. Let us note that the same word is used twice previously in the same chapter (vv. 28, 30). There it is men as well as women who are commanded to be silent. But it is not absolute silence during the whole meeting that is meant but only in regard to certain things and in certain conditions.

(5) It cannot refer to preaching because it was something that was shameful.

Paul does not say that a woman is not to preach but that she is not to speak. In v. 31 he says: “For you can all prophesy one by one.” That that includes women as well as men cannot be questioned because in 11:5 he refers to women prophesying. Also, as we have seen, in Acts 2:18-19, it is stated twice that women would prophesy in this Dispensation.

In 1 Cor. 14:3 Paul defines the meaning of the term prophesy as used in the New Testament: “But he who prophesies speaks to men, and builds them up, with exhortation and with comfort” (Conybeare). The New Testament prophet, therefore, is a preacher. Prophesy means, “speaking by inspiration” (see definitions at outset of chapter). It does not necessarily contain prediction. The writings of the Old Testament prophets are mostly inspired sermons. The sermon today should be no less inspired. To claim that because prediction or revelations concerning the future are no longer given, all prophesy has ceased, is to limit the term to prediction, which is a mistake. Paul definitely does not do so.

It is this term, that Paul has precisely defined in its New Testament sense, that he used in the passages which state that women can preach. It can have no other meaning. But in vv. 34-35 he changes to another term – laleo (to talk; see previous definitions). Paul has said that women can preach in the church; here he is saying that it is forbidden as a shameful thing that they talk – converse – during the congregation’s meeting time.

In vv. 34-35, after referring in v. 33 to the “confusion” in the church in Corinth, which carnal members, both men and women, were causing, he writes of some married women who had been talking and interrupting with questions in a shameful way in the gatherings and rebukes them, stating that they must keep silent.

It should be noted that he is writing of married women. The words, “Let your women keep silent”, should be, “let your wives keep silent. Weymouth (3rd Ed.) gives the passage as follows: “Let married women be silent in the churches, as the law also says; and if they wish to ask questions, they should ask their own husbands at home. For it is disgraceful for a married woman to speak…” (So also the Welsh Bible, the Twentieth Century New Testament, etc.).

The Greek word translated women is gune which Strong gives as “a woman; spec. a wife: – wife, woman.” It is the word generally used for wife. In English the word woman is never used for a wife, but in Greek as in many other languages, such as Spanish, Portuguese, Italian, German, Dutch, etc., it is commonly so used. In English one cannot say “my woman” or “your woman” meaning my wife or your wife, but in Greek and many other languages it is correct. This can cause confusion to the English-speaking reader.

The context of the verses in question makes any other translation impossible for the following reasons:

(1) Only married women can “ask their husbands at home.”

(2) Single women are not commanded to be in submission to a husband as the law says.

What is it that Paul was rebuking?

(1) It was something that involved a wife’s submission to her husband.

(2) It was something that could be described as shameful.

(3) It was something wives should have talked over with their own husbands at home and not taken up, as they were doing, in the meeting of the congregation.

(4) It was something that “the law” regulated. The law states that the wife is subject to her husband (Gen. 3:16). But nowhere, as we have seen, does it say that she must not preach in the gathering of God’s people, or anywhere else.

(5) The law does not make women subject to men; it only makes the wife subject to her own husband.

Preaching, clearly, is not the answer. It can in no way fit the case. The preaching of the simple truth of the Gospel in sincerity, even if out of place, could never be condemned as shameful and it has nothing to do with a married woman’s subjection to her husband. It was not forbidden by the law. It was not something only to be talked over with the husband at home. Nor is there ever any suggestion in Scripture that the spiritual authority of a married woman is more restricted than that of an unmarried woman. If preaching were meant here it would mean that married women are forbidden to preach in the congregation, but that single women may do so. That has no basis whatever in Scripture.

Here also it is helpful to know the relation of what is said to the customs of that time. In the Synagogues the women sat separate from the men. Sometimes they got to talking, conversing or discussing matters among themselves during the service. This occurred not infrequently in the Synagogues at that time, and even in Synagogues today, where men and women are separate, it is sometimes a problem.

It is evident that in Corinth, along with other practices that were wrong, the Jewish custom of separating the sexes had been introduced into the meeting of the church. It is contrary to the principle of the church that maintains that before God there is neither Jew nor Greek, bond nor free, male nor female. In 1 Cor. 11:11, Paul writes to them: “Nevertheless, in their fellowship with the Lord men and women may not be separated the one from the other” (Conybeare). This separation of the sexes contributed to that which Paul denounces in the behavior of the women – talking and arguing during the meeting, which was, he says, “a shame”. He tells them that they must not converse during the meeting but be silent. What Paul writes fits perfectly such a situation and becomes both clearly understandable and fully consistent with the general teaching of Scripture.

Our experience through many years of planting churches and caring for them makes such a situation as prevailed in Corinth perfectly understandable and easy to picture. It is just what could be expected in a church that had become so carnal and where so much confusion and disorder had entered. The Corinthian congregation was split into several factions. A case of gross immorality was tolerated. There were disgraceful abuses at the Lord’s Table. Men were engaged in contention and strife. Is it surprising that the wives of some of the men were taking part in the general battle between parties and pressing their views and questions in an unseemly manner? It is just what would be expected. We have seen such situations and had to deal with them. We have had to remind such carnal wives of the place that a Christian wife should give to her husband, and that it was a shame for her to seek to impose her arguments and will upon the congregation.

Thus the difficulty regarding this passage vanishes and we find that what Paul wrote is entirely in keeping with what he taught elsewhere and with the principle governing women’s ministry taught and practiced throughout all Scripture.

The fact is that to use this passage to prohibit women from preaching in the church is inexcusable. It is a serious error, introducing false doctrine and practice. It sets aside Scriptural teaching and example, places unscriptural limits to the Holy Spirit in his use of every member of the Body of Christ as He wills and causes harm and loss to the individual believer and to the Church as a whole.

All Should Pray

The other passage of Scripture that has been misinterpreted is 1 Tim. 2:8-12: “I desire therefore that the men pray everywhere, lifting up holy hands, without wrath and doubting. In like manner also, that the women adorn themselves in modest apparel, with propriety and moderation; not with braided hair, or gold, or pearls, or costly clothing, but, which is proper for women professing godliness, with good works. Let a woman learn in silence with all submission. And I do not permit a woman to teach or to have authority over a man, but to be in silence.”

The explanation of this passage is similar to that of the previous one because it is dealing with the same principles. First it is stated that the men should pray everywhere. Then that which could hinder their prayers is mentioned: They must lift up holy hands – hands unsoiled by sin. In their hearts there must be no wrath or bitterness against anyone. In their minds there must be faith, not doubting.

Then it is said: “In like manner also… the women…” That is, what has been said of men is true of women also – they also should pray in such a manner everywhere. The meaning here is perfectly clear. Conybeare in a note on this verse writes: “After ‘women’ we must apply ‘pray’ (as Chrysostom does), or something equivalent (to take part in worship, etc.) from the preceding context.” Prof. Ramsay says: “The necessary sense of the word ‘likewise’ (in 1 Tim. 2:9) is that women are affected by what is said about men. Paul wishes that women too should pray everywhere.” Paul is teaching here just what he wrote in Ephesians 6:18-19; Col. 4:2-4 and 1 Thess. 5:17.

The attempt to make this passage say that men should pray everywhere but that women should not pray in the congregation in the presence of men has no foundation. It is an example of biased and specious reasoning, wresting the meaning and adding what is not there. Again it would make Paul contradict himself, for not only does he continually urge all Christians to pray always but he refers specifically to women doing so in the congregation (Eph. 6:18; Col. 4:2; 1 Thess. 5:17-18; 1 Cor. 11:5).

In 1 Cor. 11:5, Paul writes of the manner in which women should be dressed when praying in public in view of a custom that prevailed in Corinth. Here also, in 1 Tim. 2:9, he refers to her attire. “Likewise” means that women, just as men, should pray everywhere, free from sin, from any hate in their hearts and from doubting. But there is an additional matter regarding which the Christian woman needs to be watchful – she must not be dressed and adorned in a manner unbecoming to a godly woman, for that also would hinder her fellowship with God in prayer. Conybeare renders this passage: “Likewise, also, that the women should come in seemly apparel, and adorn themselves with modesty and self-restraint, not in braided hair, or gold, or pearls, or costly garments, but (as befits women professing godliness) with the ornament of good works” (cf. 1 Pet. 3:1-5).

Another argument that has been used against women praying where men are present, is that the one who prays in a meeting exercises authority, leading the congregation into the presence of God and speaking for them, and that it is wrong for a woman to take such a position of authority before men. This argument is based upon a false premise. The one who prays in the congregation does not and cannot exercise authority over others. Nor can he lead others into God’s presence. Each one must go personally into God’s presence in the Name of Christ, trusting in the shed blood. Moreover, we know that the Lord is always present “in the midst” in every true gathering of his people. All are in his presence.

The one who prays does not have the authority to go to God as a representative to speak for the congregation. He can intercede for it, in which case he is an intercessor, but that he does personally. What one asks in prayer is a personal, individual responsibility. The one who prays publicly speaks to God as he feels led by the Spirit. Those who listen say “amen” to it in their hearts if they also believe it is of God’s will (cf. 1 Cor. 14:29). It becomes their prayer only if they personally unite with it in faith in Christ’s Name. To say that a man cannot unite in faith before God with what a woman is led of the Spirit to pray is surely strange doctrine! It not only has no basis in Scripture but assumes that which is contrary to Scripture.

The following verses, 11-12, deal with the wife’s relation to her husband. The use of the word “woman” here is exactly the same as in 1 Cor. 14:34-35, which has already been explained. The Greek word used for the man here, is the only Greek word for husband. In Young’s Literal Translation, vv. 11-12 are rendered: “Let a woman in quietness learn in all subjection, and a woman I do not suffer to teach nor to rule a husband but to be in quietness.” It is so translated in other versions including that of D’Almeida in Portuguese and the Roman Catholic Spanish Version of Torres Amat.

It should be noted also that the Greek word translated “silence” in these two verses is hesuchis, meaning quietness, tranquility, stillness (cf. 2 Thess. 3:12). It has reference to attitude, not particularly to speech. It is not the same word that is used in 1 Cor. 14:28, 30, 34. It could not mean that a woman must maintain silence in the home!

The instruction has to do with the home. There is no reference to the gathering of the church in this chapter. The Christian wife should have a quiet spirit, not seeking to teach her husband what he should do (that is, to direct him) and to rule him. In plain English, she should not be a domineering or bossy wife. To make this verse mean that a woman cannot teach in the church or cannot teach the Gospel to men is to put into it something that is not there. It is false exegesis.

It is perfectly clear that women, as priests unto God, have a duty definitely and frequently stated to preach the Gospel, to teach (as Priscilla and her husband taught Apollos), and to pray everywhere, and that they are nowhere prohibited from doing so in the church or in the presence of men.

Resulting Errors

The error in the interpretation of these passages (1 Cor. 14:34-35; 1 Tim. 2:8-12) has brought in its train two other errors that likewise have no foundation whatever in Scripture, but are contrary to it. They are inferences drawn from the initial error and used to sustain it:

(i) That woman is subject to man. It is affirmed that the law teaches this and Gen. 3:16 is appealed to in proof. Both the passage in 1 Cor. 14, and that in 1 Tim. 2, are interpreted in this sense. When Paul says, “they are to be submissive, as the law also says”, it is understood that he includes all women, making women in general subject to men. But the law says no such thing, nor does Scripture teach it anywhere. It is stated only that a wife is subject to “her own” husband. In Gen. 3:16, God does not say that Eve was subject to man but to her husband only. He did not say that man would rule over her but that her husband would do so. A wife cannot be subject to any other man. God was speaking only of a woman’s relation to her husband; so was Paul. The woman is to be subject to her husband and to no other man. It could not be otherwise for very evident reasons.

To interpret Paul’s statement as having reference to women in general and not just to married women, and as stating that woman is subject to man, would make him unscriptural and seriously so. Also, the conclusions would be serious in the extreme. It would make the woman inferior to the man, which she is not. The woman, because she is a woman, is not more subject to Christ, to the Church, to the Elders – or to man – than a man is. The daughter is not more subject to her father than the son is.

The confusion here has come from reasoning back from a wrong interpretation of Paul’s statements, instead of reasoning forward from God’s statement to Eve. When we reason forward from God’s statement, all the difficulties disappear, the confusion ceases and woman’s position becomes logical, just and clear. She is left free, according to her peculiar gifts and nature, to fulfill her ministry as a priest unto God.

(2) That a woman may not preach or pray in a gathering when a man is present. That is pure conjecture, an effort to dispose of the difficulties created by the contradictions produced by the incorrect interpretation of Paul’s statements. It is said that Paul forbids women to preach or pray. And yet other Scriptures, and Paul himself, permit her to do so. So the gulf is bridged by saying that she can preach and pray only in the presence of women. Yet there is not a word of evidence to support t this in all Scripture. It is never stated or implied. There is no record of any such meeting. But the evidence to the contrary is ample.

What God Blesses

What helped the writer much when approaching the question of women’s ministry amid all the arguments and counter-arguments was to look out upon the Church today and through the two thousand years of its history to see what God’s manner of working through women has been, how the Holy Spirit has used them and what have been the results. The evidence is abundant and unmistakable. Women have been greatly used, many of them in an outstanding way. In using them the Holy Spirit has not restricted their ministry to women but has used them freely in witness to both sexes. He has shown no preference to women who have believed that a woman should not preach or teach in the presence of men or that it was necessary to wear a veil in the gathering of the church. On the contrary, in many cases, he used women who had freed themselves from such restrictions. The evidence is so ample and clear that it cannot be set aside. We see how God has worked; we see what the Holy Spirit has continued to do. If that does not fit into any theory or interpretation we must revise our theory or interpretation. But it does fit into the Word. The Word is God’s Word; the Holy Spirit understands it and will never act contrary to it. He has made no mistake in what He has been doing from the day of Pentecost until now.