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The role of women in the church

hillary-clinton

hillary-clintonFor the first time, a major political party has a woman, Hillary Clinton, as the front runner for President of the United States. Gains in educational achievement and advances in the economic and social standing of women have been noticeable over the past 50 years. Their changing roles and status has an impact on the family, the church and society.

This blogpost is a survey of what some key passages in the Bible teach about the role of women in the church. These passages are commonly used to determine whether there are any limits to this role. After looking at what they meant in the first century, we present the range of meanings taken to apply today. These notes relate to a church meeting when men are present. So they don’t apply to an activity where men are absent, such as women’s ministries or children’s ministries.

  1. Galatians 3:28 (written AD 50)

ESV: “There is neither Jew nor Greek, there is neither slave nor free, there is no male and female, for you are all one in Christ Jesus”.
HCSB: “There is no Jew or Greek, slave or free, male or female; for you are all one in Christ Jesus”.
NET: “There is neither Jew nor Greek, there is neither slave nor free, there is neither male nor female—for all of you are one in Christ Jesus”.
NIV: “There is neither Jew nor Gentile, neither slave nor free, nor is there male and female, for you are all one in Christ Jesus”.

Context

The letter to the Galatians is about the contrast between the law of Moses and faith in Christ and whether new Christians needed to follow Jewish practises such as male circumcision.

The paragraph (3:26-29) is about all Christians about being children (or “sons” in ESV, HCSB, NET) of God through faith in Christ. Paul describes how it happens (v.26), when it happens (v.27), what is changed from being under the law of Moses (v.28) and the resultant inheritance (v.29). Consequently, they share a kind of unity and the inheritance promised to Abraham which was fulfilled in Christ.

Meaning then

In Christianity there is a unity between people that was absent under the law of Moses. The diverse believers in Galatia were united in oneness in Christ. Regardless of race, social class or gender, now they all had the same spiritual status before God.

Note that as human role distinctions have nothing to do with our spiritual significance before God, these aren’t being addressed in this verse. However, because of belief in gender equality, today some people include gender roles in the scope of this verse.

Universal principle

Because they are united through their common relationship with Christ, God does not recognize human distinctions amongst true believers. All true Christians are equal with regard to salvation, our position before God and our inheritance. Every Christian, regardless of race, social class or gender, has the same spiritual status before God.

Those passionate about gender equality, extend the spiritual unity to equality in gender roles in the church.

Meaning now

The following options have been suggested as to how this verse applies in the church today.

  • Accept all fellow Christians without showing bias, discrimination or favoritism. “Accept one another, then, just as Christ accepted you, in order to bring praise to God” (Rom. 15:7NIV). In this case, the role of women in the church is outside the scope of this verse.
  • Or, a more recent application is that women can take the same roles in the church as men. This assumes that women and men are equal in all respects, including participation in all church meetings.

Link to more detailed article
https://georgesjournal.net/2016/03/02/what-does-galatians-328-mean/

  1. 1 Corinthians 11:5 (written AD 55)

ESV: “but every wife who prays or prophesies with her head uncovered dishonors her head, since it is the same as if her head were shaven”.
HCSB: “But every woman who prays or prophesies with her head uncovered dishonors her head, since that is one and the same as having her head shaved”.
NET: “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”.
NIV: “But every woman who prays or prophesies with her head uncovered dishonors her head—it is the same as having her head shaved.”

Context

The letter of 1 Corinthians addresses the problems in the church in Corinth and answers their questions. It addresses topics such as factions, sexual immorality, marital difficulties, lawsuits, abuse of the Lord’s Supper, and misuse of spiritual gifts.

The section (11:2-16) is about whether the head should be covered or not during prayer or prophesy (See Appendix). Paul describes their practice (v.2-5), and the reasons for it (v.6-16). He begins with a biblical principle (v.3) and then applies it to men (v.4) and women (v.5).

Many assume that the context is a church meeting, but this isn’t clear. Maybe “prayer and prophesy” imply a church meeting. The next section deals with the meeting of the Lord’s Supper (11:17-34). And a church meeting involving singing, teaching, prophesy, speaking in other languages and interpretation of these is addressed in 14:23-39.

Meaning then

When they pray or prophesy (see Appendix), women were to honor their man by having their head covered (11:5). In those days the man could be their husband or father or head of the household. To not do this would be to dishonor (disrespect or disgrace) him. It indicated that she respected the man’s authority over her.

The corollary for men was that when they pray or prophesy, they were to honor Christ by having their head uncovered (11:4).

Some say that the covering is long hair. But the covering in v.15 (Strongs #4018) is a different word to that in v.6-7 (#2619). If the covering was long hair, then v.6a wouldn’t make sense, “For if a woman does not cover her head, she might as well have her hair cut off”.

Universal principle

The principle behind the practice of head-coverings is said to be, “the head of every man is Christ, and the head of the woman is man, and the head of Christ is God” (11:3NIV). This means that a man is the head (in terms of leadership and authority) of a woman as God the Father is the head of Christ.

Verse 5 addresses the need to show respect to leaders and those with authority while engaged in spiritual activities.

The Greek words used in v.5 may mean man/husband or woman/wife, with the translation being chosen from the context. The ESV uses “wife” in verses that deal with wearing a veil, because they say it was a sign of being married in first-century culture. So their translation is “the head of a wife is her husband” (11:5).

Meaning now

The following options have been suggested as to how this verse applies in the church today with regard to prayer and prophesy.

  • Whether women can pray and preach and teach (modern equivalent of prophesy) in church meetings when men are present is determined by other passages such as 1 Corinthians 14:34-35 and 1 Timothy 2:12.
  • Or, assuming the context is a church meeting, women can pray and preach and teach (modern equivalent of prophesy) in all church meetings

The following options have been suggested as to how this verse applies in the church today with regard to head-coverings.

  • Because of the range of interpretations of this verse, whether a women wear head-coverings whenever they pray or preach or teach (or there is prayer or preaching or teaching) is best left up to each woman’s personal conscience/conviction.
  • Or, because head-coverings are no longer related to dishonor or shame, the application in the first century can’t be transferred to our modern world.
  • Or, the principle of respect and honor is essential when people are involved in spiritual activities such as praying, preaching or teaching but because the culture is different, the way this is shown can be different to the first century.
  • Or, women should wear head-coverings whenever they pray or preach or teach (or there is prayer or preaching or teaching) as the application is universal because some of the reasons are universal (v.7-9).
  • Or, some say that the covering is long hair. But the covering in v.15 (#4018) is a different word to that in v.6-7 (#2619). If the covering was long hair, then v.6a wouldn’t make sense, “For if a woman does not cover her head, she might as well have her hair cut off”.

Link to more detailed article
https://georgesjournal.net/2015/12/09/how-do-we-show-respect-for-authority/

  1. 1 Corinthians 14:34-35 (written AD 55)

ESV: “the women should keep silent in the churches. For they are not permitted to speak, but should be in submission, as the Law also says. If there is anything they desire to learn, let them ask their husbands at home. For it is shameful for a woman to speak in church”.
HCSB: “the women should be silent in the churches, for they are not permitted to speak, but should be submissive, as the law also says. And if they want to learn something, they should ask their own husbands at home, for it is disgraceful for a woman to speak in the church meeting”.
NET: “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. If they want to find out about something, they should ask their husbands”.
NIV: “Women should remain silent in the churches. They are not allowed to speak, but must be in submission, as the law says. If they want to inquire about something, they should ask their own husbands at home; for it is disgraceful for a woman to speak in the church.”

Context

The letter of 1 Corinthians addresses the problems in the church in Corinth and answers their questions. It addresses topics such as factions, sexual immorality, marital difficulties, lawsuits, abuse of the Lord’s Supper, and misuse of spiritual gifts.

The section (14:26-40) is about correcting disorder in their church meetings. In this case the meeting involved singing, teaching, prophesy (see Appendix), speaking in other languages and interpretation of these (14:23-39).

Paul addresses speaking in foreign languages (v.27-28, 39), prophesy (v.29-33, 39), and women (v.34-35). Then he emphasises that these were God’s commands (v.36-38).

Meaning then

As the “silence” in v.28 and v.30 is conditional and temporary, so the “silence” in v.34 is also conditional and temporary. What is prohibited? From the context, some say critiquing (judging) prophecies (v.29), or it could be the main topic of speaking in other languages (v.27-28, 39) and prophesy (v.29, 39). And not disrupting the meeting by asking questions (v.35).

As the speaking in v.27, 28, 29 and v.30 was public speaking, the speaking in v.34 was public speaking, not chatting (or conversation).

“The law” may mean Adam’s leadership over Eve (Gen. 2:18), which Paul quoted in 11:8-9.

Universal principle

The passage placed some conditional and temporary restrictions on women’s participation in church meetings so as to keep the meetings orderly. Several options have been suggested as to what was restricted.

Meaning now

The following options have been suggested as to how these verses apply to church meetings today when men are present.

  • Women shouldn’t preach and teach (modern equivalent of prophesy) in these church meetings. This is similar to the meaning of 1 Timothy 2:12, which was written at another time to another place.
  • Or, women shouldn’t speak during the evaluation of prophecies at these church meetings
  • Or, wives shouldn’t ask questions at these church meetings
  • Or women shouldn’t speak authoritatively at these church meetings.
  • Or, women shouldn’t speak publicly at these church meetings.
  • Or, women shouldn’t chatter in these church meetings.
  • Or, the passage had a particular meaning in Corinth that can’t be applied today. This interpretation relies on extra-biblical sources, such as the nature of pagan worship in Corinth.
  • Or, because 11:5 overrides 14:34-35, women can pray and preach and teach (modern equivalent of prophesy) in all church meetings.
  • Or, because Galatians 3:28 overrides 14:34-35, there should be no restrictions on women’s participation in church meetings.

Link to more detailed article
https://georgesjournal.net/2015/12/11/order-and-disorder-in-the-church/

  1. Acts 2:17-18

ESV: “And in the last days it shall be, God declares, that I will pour out my Spirit on all flesh, and your sons and your daughters shall prophesy, and your young men shall see visions, and your old men shall dream dreams; even on my male servants and female servants in those days I will pour out my Spirit, and they shall prophesy.”
HCSB: “And it will be in the last days, says God, that I will pour out My Spirit on all humanity; then your sons and your daughters will prophesy, your young men will see visions, and your old men will dream dreams. I will even pour out My Spirit on My male and female slaves in those days, and they will prophesy.”
NET: “‘And in the last days it will be,’ God says, ‘that I will pour out my Spirit on all people, and your sons and your daughters will prophesy, and your young men will see visions, and your old men will dream dreams. Even on my servants, both men and women, I will pour out my Spirit in those days, and they will prophesy.”
NIV: “In the last days, God says, I will pour out my Spirit on all people. Your sons and daughters will prophesy, your young men will see visions, your old men will dream dreams.  Even on my servants, both men and women, I will pour out my Spirit in those days, and they will prophesy”.

Date written 

AD 63. But reports an event that occurred on the day of Pentecost about AD 30.

Context

This is part of Peter’s sermon given on the day of Pentecost after the disciples were indwelt by the Holy Spirit. On this occasion they miraculously spoke in other languages. As he was speaking to Jews (2:22), he used Joel 2:28-32 to explain what had happened. Then he told them that Jesus was the Messiah promised by David and that they needed to repent of their sins and over 3,000 people did this.

The book of Joel is about the restoration and blessing of Israel after judgement and repentance. God promises to judge their enemies (Joel 2:20) and bring prosperity (2:21-27) and pour out His Holy Spirit (2:28-29). Then the signs of the day of the Lord are given, when God intervenes in history (2:30-32).

Meaning then

Peter was applying a prediction in Joel to what happened on the day of Pentecost. The point of similarity was an outpouring of the Holy Spirit, resulting in unusual manifestations. This was only a partial fulfilment of Joel’s prophecy because there were no signs in the heavens and on the earth (Joel 2:30-31; Acts 2:18-19). The change concerned the Holy Spirit. In the Old Testament the Holy Spirit only came on particular people on a temporary basis. For example, the Holy Spirit came on prophets to enable them to bring messages from God (2 Chr. 15:1; Neh. 9:30; Joel 2:28; Mic. 3:8). But now the Holy Spirit came to permanently live in those who trusted in Christ to pay the penalty for their sinfulness. The main point is that the Holy Spirit indwells “all people” who trust in Christ, regardless of gender (“sons and daughters”), age (old and young), or social class (includes slaves) and maybe race (includes Gentile slaves).

Universal principle

The Holy Spirit indwells anyone who trusts in Christ.

Meaning now

The following options have been suggested as to how these verses apply in the church today.

  • The role of women in the church is outside the scope of this verse.
  • Or, women can preach or teach (modern equivalent of prophesy) in all church meetings like men.
  • Or, women can participate in all church meetings like men.

Link to more detailed article
https://georgesjournal.net/2016/03/24/what-does-acts-217-18-mean/

  1. 1 Timothy 2:11-12 (written AD 64)

ESV: “Let a woman learn quietly with all submissiveness. I do not permit a woman to teach or to exercise authority over a man; rather, she is to remain quiet”.
HCSB: “A woman should learn in silence with full submission. I do not allow a woman to teach or to have authority over a man; instead, she is to be silent”.
NET: “A woman must learn quietly with all submissiveness.  But I do not allow a woman to teach or exercise authority over a man. She must remain quiet”.
NIV: “A woman should learn in quietness and full submission. I do not permit a woman to teach or to assume authority over a man; she must be quiet”.

Context

The letter of 1 Timothy was written to Timothy who was in Ephesus on a temporary mission to help correct problems in the church (1:3). The main topics addressed in the letter are false teachers (1:3-1; 4:1-16; 6:3-10) and Christian behavior. After urging evangelistic prayer (2:1-7), Paul looks at problems at Ephesus related to men (2:8) and women (2:9-10). Then he addresses women teaching and exercising authority over men (2:11-15). This is followed by instruction on church leadership by elders (3:1-7) and deacons (3:8-13).

Meaning then

A woman can learn Scripture (such learning is not restricted to the man) and when they do, they should be quiet and submissive. In this context it meant not teaching men and not leading men as an elder in the local church (v.12). Instead she was to be submissive/obedient to the teacher (and to the Scripture being taught) and to the elders in the same way she submits herself in marriage.

So, a woman was not to teach Scripture to a man or exercise authority over a man. From the context it’s clear that the authority mentioned here is that of an elder in the local church (eldership is the next topic in the letter). An elder is a male who can teach, and who exercises authority (3:1-7).

Universal principle

Christian women shouldn’t preach/teach men or lead the church, but respect the men that do this preaching/teaching and leading.

Women may be highly gifted teachers and leaders, but those gifts are not to be exercised over men in the context of the church. The reason isn’t because women are spiritually inferior to men, but because the Bible commands it.

Meaning now

The following options have been suggested as to how these verses apply in the church today.

  • Women shouldn’t teach men or be elders of the church. This interpretation assumes that 1 Timothy 2:12 is addressing two activities (teaching and authority), not one activity (teaching). This is consistent with the meaning of 1 Corinthians 14:34-35, which was written at another time to another place.
  • Or, women shouldn’t teach men or be elders of the church or take other leadership roles (including praying) in a church meeting.
  • Or, the passage had a particular meaning in Ephesus that can’t be applied today. This interpretation relies on extra-biblical sources, such as the nature of pagan worship in Ephesus.
  • Or, the passage had a particular meaning in Ephesus because the women had been deceived (v.14) by false teachers and were teaching heresy (1:3-7). However, this is speculative and the women were the victims and not the propagators of heresy (2 Tim. 3:6-7).
  • Or, because “authentein” (authority) refers to abusive or destructive authority (but most Bible translations don’t accept this interpretation), women can preach and teach men, as long as they aren’t abusive or destructive. This interpretation assumes that 1 Timothy 2:12 is addressing one activity (teaching), not two (teaching and authority). But the insistence on being quiet seems to rule out this option.
  • Or, because “authentein” (authority) has a sense of usurping authority, as long as a woman operates under a man’s (or elders’) authority, she can preach and teach men. This interpretation assumes that 1 Timothy 2:12 is addressing one activity (teaching), not two (teaching and authority). But the insistence on being quiet seems to rule out this option.
  • Or, because 1 Corinthians 11:5 overrides 1 Timothy 2:11-12, women can pray and preach and teach (modern equivalent of prophesy) in all church meetings.
  • Or, because Galatians 3:28 overrides 1 Timothy 2:11-12, there should be no restrictions on women’s preaching, teaching in the church or leading the church as an elder.

Link to more detailed article
https://georgesjournal.net/2015/12/13/respect-and-disrespect-in-the-church/

  1. Male leadership

Jesus selected and trained 12 disciples who were all male. He sent them out to preach to the Jews and heal the sick. Did Jesus only choose men to do this because He was following the cultural practices of that era? No! In fact, during His ministry He broke many social customs by mixing with tax collectors and prostitutes, speaking to women in public, eating without ceremonial hand washing, condemning Pharisees, and condemning merchandise at the temple. He also corrected teachings of the religious leaders on divorce and the Sabbath. So, Jesus was willing to break social customs.

The 12 apostles were the leaders of the early church in Jerusalem (Acts 6:2; 9:27). When churches were established in other places, elders were appointed to lead them (Acts 14:23). As the church grew in Jerusalem, elders were added to the leadership team (Acts 15:4, 6, 23). The qualifications of such an elder include being “a husband”, so women are excluded from this role (1 Tim. 3:2; Ti. 1:6)   So, the leaders of New Testament churches (called elders or overseers) were all men. This means that although Hillary Clinton is the front running Democratic candidate for the US presidency, as a woman she couldn’t be on the eldership team of a church that functioned according to biblical teaching.

  1. Discussion

From the above summary it is evident that, according to various interpretations, some of these biblical passages seem to imply no restrictions on women in the church (Acts 2:17-18; Gal. 3:28), while others seem to imply some restrictions (1 Cor. 14:34-35; 1 Tim. 1:12). These two viewpoints are called “egalitarian” and “complementarian”, respectively.

Of course some people also use extra-biblical sources to develop their viewpoint on this topic. For example, feminists tend to reject bible passages that they claim are based on a patriarchal system. In this case, the biblical meaning can be modified and over-ruled according to tradition, reason, experience or post-biblical revelation. I don’t use this approach because of the dominant impact of the extra-biblical factors.

Because of the clear biblical instructions on male leadership in the church (1 Tim. 3:2; Ti. 1:6) and male leadership in the family/marriage (Eph. 5:22-24), I take a complementarian viewpoint. Here’s a link to more detailed article on this topic:
https://georgesjournal.net/2016/01/25/gender-roles-in-the-family-and-the-church/

But there are a range of options within the complementarian viewpoint. For example, in a church meeting where men are present, should a women be allowed to:

  • Chair/Compere/Lead the meeting?
  • Lead the singing?
  • Preach and teach the sermon?
  • Pray?
  • Read Scripture?

The only one of these that is clearly prohibited in Scripture is preaching and teaching the sermon (1 Tim. 1:12). So there are plenty of other opportunities for women’s participation. What do you think?

  1. Appendix – What about “prophesy”?

Prophesy is mentioned in the book of Acts up to AD 57 (Acts 21:9-10). Paul mentions prophesy in his books written in AD 55-60 but not his last six books (written AD 60-66). The only biblical record of prophesy after this time is the apostle John (Rev. 1:3; 10:7, 11; 19:10; 22:6, 9, 10, 18-19). He also mentions false prophets (1 Jn. 4:1). Therefore, it seems as though the prevalence of prophesy decreased significantly after AD 60. We now have the record of God’s revelation to the prophets in the early church in the New Testament. These truths are now communicated to us by preachers and teachers who also build up (strengthen), encourage and comfort believers and convict unbelievers. Therefore, today we apply the biblical principles for prophesy to preaching and teaching.

The revelation given to the writers of the New Testament finished in the first century AD (Jude 3, Rev. 22:18-19). Just as the close of the Old Testament canon was followed by a 400-year silence (no prophecies from God), so the close of the New Testament has been followed by a 1,900-year silence. Since the book of Revelation was completed, no new written or verbal prophecy has ever been universally recognized by Christians as divine truth from God. The Scriptures are final and complete. According to Scripture, God will speak again with new prophecies, visions and revelations after the rapture, during the tribulation and Christ’s millennial kingdom (Acts 2:16-21; Rev. 11:1-13).

Written, May 2016

Also see: What does Galatians 3:28 mean?
What does Acts 2:17-18 mean?
How do we show respect for authority?
Order and disorder in the church
Respect and disrespect in the church
Gender roles in the family and the church


Gender roles in the family and the church

Emperor penguin 2 400px

Emperor penguin 2 400pxGender was invented by God. In the beginning He created male and female people, male and female animals, and some plants are male or female (Gen. 1:27). Gender is involved in the reproduction and propagation of a species.

Males and females are generally similar, but they have some differences. In the animal word, males and females can have different roles. Usually females spend more time caring for offspring than males. But in a minority of species these traditional roles are reversed. For example, male sea horses get pregnant and some male birds, fish and frogs take care of the eggs and newborns. What about humanity? In this article we look at what the Bible teaches about gender roles in the family and the church.

Similarities and differences

According to the Bible, men and women have equal value in God’s sight. They were both created in the image of God (Gen. 1:27; 5:1-2). Children were commanded to honor both their father and their mother (Ex. 20:12). And Jesus died for the sins of both men and women.

Gender makes no difference in terms of salvation (one’s standing before God) and its blessings (Gal. 3:28; 1 Pt. 3:7). In the promised inheritance there is no distinction between male and female.

But men and women are different genetically. They have different sex chromosomes in the nucleus of each cell of their bodies (XX for females and XY for males). And it’s the mother who carries the child from conception to birth, and not the father. Mothers have a unique role in bringing children into the family.

In the family

Paul describes the relationship between husband and wife as, “For the husband is the head of the wife as Christ is the head of the church, His body, of which He is the Savior” (Eph. 5:23NIV). Consequently, the husband is to love his wife “just as Christ loved the church and gave himself up for her” (v.25) and the wife is to submit to her husband “as the church submits to Christ” (v.24). This is repeated “In this same way, husbands ought to love their wives as their own bodies” (v.28) and “wives, submit yourselves to your own husbands as you do to the Lord” (v.22). And it is summarized, “each one of you also must love his wife as he loves himself, and the wife must respect her husband” (v.33). Another example of this respect was Sarah’s respect for Abraham (1 Pt. 3:5-6).

A similar message is given to the church at Colossae, “Wives, submit yourselves to your husbands, as is fitting in the Lord. Husbands, love your wives and do not be harsh with them” (Col. 3:18-19). And to the church at Corinth, “But I want you to realize that the head of every man is Christ, and the head of the woman is (the) man, and the head of Christ is God” (1 Cor. 11:3). When we look at these three relationships we see that male leadership is to be like Christ’s leadership of mankind; sacrificial and servant-like (Phil. 2:1-8). And female submission is to be like Christ’s submission to God; joyful and willing (Mt. 4:34; 5:30; 6:38; 26:39, 42; Mk. 14:36; Lk. 22:42; Heb. 12:2). It is evident that the ordered relationship in the trinity is to be mirrored in an ordered relationship in humanity. Also see Titus 2:5 and 1 Peter 3:1.

God’s design is that the husband be the leader of the marriage and family. In particular, the husband is to love and protect his wife and the wife is to respect and support her husband. This enables order and unity in the marriage and the family.

In the days of large families (before birth control), the care of infant children would have taken a major portion of a mother’s life. This is consistent with the biblical instruction for young wives to “manage their homes” and “to be busy at home” (1 Tim. 5:14; Tit. 2:5). So it is understandable that she spent most of her time at home. Now that we have birth control and labor saving devices at home, she is able to spend more time away from home.

So the biblical pattern for marriage and the family is loving leadership by the husband and respectful submission by the wife and children.

Paul also describes gender roles within the local church.

In the church

He says that the church should be led by a team of men (elders or overseers) – (Acts 20:17; 1 Tim. 3:2; Tit. 1:6). Each elder is to be “faithful to his wife”. Also, Paul prohibits women teaching men (1 Tim. 2:12). Of course they can teach women and children.

In the church, particular men are leaders and teachers. The rest of the congregation (men, women and children) are to respect these men because of their role in the local church. Note, all men aren’t leaders or teachers in the local church.

In the church a woman is to respect her husband and the church elders and teachers. In particular, Christian women are to be characterized by good deeds such as bringing up children well, kindness to strangers, serving other believers humbly, and helping those in trouble (1 Tim. 5:89-10). On the other hand, a man is to love his wife and respect the church elders and teachers.

So the biblical pattern for the church is male leadership by the elders, male teaching at combined meetings and respectful submission by the rest of the congregation. This enables order and unity in the church.

This pattern is consistent with the pattern of gender roles in the family. The male leadership role is indicated by the use of the Greek verb proistemi (Strongs #4291) to describe how a father is to lead his family (1 Tim. 3:4, 12) and how an elder is to lead the church (1 Th. 5:12; 1 Tim. 5:17).

Order of creation

Another difference between the first couple, Adam and Eve, was that Adam was created before Eve (instead of at the same time) and Eve was to be Adam’s helper (Gen. 2:18, 20). According to the Brown-Driver-Briggs Hebrew and English Lexion, the Hebrew noun translated “helper”, ezer (Strongs #5828) means “one who helps”. This word is used elsewhere in the Pentateuch to describe how God saved Moses from the sword of Pharaoh (Ex. 18:4) and saved the Israelites from their enemies (Dt. 33:7, 26, 29). God acts like a servant when He helps people like this. In these instances, He undertook a humble role despite His supreme status. So Eve was created to help Adam; and not Adam to help Eve. She supported him. This doesn’t mean that she was inferior (like a servant) or superior (like God). Adam and Eve were marriage partners; together they were complete. But since the fall into sin, the marriage relationship is distorted whenever there is male dominance or female independence (Gen. 3:16).

So the ordered relationship in humanity, which mirrors the ordered relationship in the trinity, was established when Adam and Eve were created. That’s why the husband is to have a leadership role in marriage and the family (1 Cor. 11:8-9). The same reason is given for the pattern of male leadership in the church and male teaching in church meetings when women are also present (1 Tim. 2:13). So the order and reason for the creation of the first male and female are the principles that are behind these practices.

Just as Adam was the leader amongst equals in the first marriage, a husband is to be the leader amongst equals in marriage, and each elder is to be a leader amongst equals in the church. It’s a pattern of loving and protective male leadership.

In this way, men and women are like the pieces of a jig-saw puzzle. They fit together. One is incomplete without the other. They enhance and complete each other. They are like instruments combining harmoniously in a band or orchestra.

Summary

We have seen that the Bible’s teachings about gender roles in the family and the church are based on the fact that Adam was created first and Eve was to be his helper. Because of this, in marriage and the family the wife and children are to respect and submit to the husband’s loving leadership. And in the church, the congregation are to respect and submit to the godly leadership of the male elders and the godly teaching of male teachers at combined meetings. These relationships enable order and unity in the family and in the church.

Husbands, do you have a godly vision for your families? Do you serve your wife sacrificially? Wives, do you support your husbands?

Men, if you are qualified, are you willing to take leadership and teaching responsibilities at church? Men and women, do we respect those who lead and teach at church?

Let’s promote harmony, order and unity in the family and in the church.

Written, January 2016

Also see: Order and disorder in the church
How do we show respect for authority?
Respect and disrespect in the church 


Respect and disrespect in the church

Correcting disrespect at Ephesus

FFA 400pxThe Football Federation of Australia’s Code of Conduct aims to promote and strengthen the reputation of football in Australia by establishing a standard of performance, behavior and professionalism for its participants and stakeholders. It also seeks to deter conduct that could impair public confidence in the honest and professional conduct of matches and good character of its participants. The code includes topics such as betting, match-fixing and corruption.
Today we are looking at God’s Code of Conduct for Christians at Ephesus. In particular, what is the good behavior for Christian women given in 1 Timothy 2:9-15 and how does this relate to us today? This article is based on an assessment of the text and context of this passage.

Context

In about 64 AD, Paul wrote the letter of 1 Timothy to Timothy who was in Ephesus on a temporary mission to help correct problems in the church (1:3). Paul had established the church in Ephesus about eight years earlier when he spent two years preaching and teaching there (Acts 19:1-41). Now he is telling them how to behave as Christians. (3:14-15). It’s like a Code of Conduct. These principles of conduct applied to people at Ephesus “in God’s household, which is the church of the living God”. In this sense the church is not a building, or a meeting in a building, but a group of people who follow Jesus Christ. So the letter of 1 Timothy addresses Christian behavior in many situations, not just church meetings. In fact there is no textural evidence that any section of the letter only applies to a church meeting. Note that the section headings in our bibles aren’t inspired. The heading of “Instructions on worship” (2:1-15) in the NIV implies a church meeting. But where is the evidence to support this restriction? For this chapter, I prefer the HCSB headings which are “Instructions on prayer” (v.1-7), followed by “Instructions for men and women” (v.8-15).

Ephesus was a wealthy city in a central location along the coast of Asia Minor (modern day Turkey). It was an important trading, political and intellectual centre and a port that was on three main highways. Greeks and Jews lived in the region and there was a Jewish synagogue at Ephesus (Acts 18:19; 19:8, 10). Many Ephesians worshipped the goddess Artemis. The temple of Artemis was one of the seven wonders of the ancient world, being four times as large as the Parthenon.

At that time, women generally had a low position in Jewish and Roman society. They were suppressed. But in Ephesus some reacted against this and dressed to impress (1 Tim. 2:9) and dominated their husbands and perhaps aspired to be leaders in the church (1 Tim. 2:12). But Paul saw that this was wrong for those who professed to follow Christ and he implemented corrective action.

The main topics addressed in the letter are false teachers (1:3-1; 4:1-16; 6:3-10) and Christian behavior. After urging evangelistic prayer (2:1-7), Paul looks at problems at Ephesus related to men (2:8) and women (2:9-10). Then he addresses women teaching and exercising authority over men (2:11-15). This is followed by instruction on church leadership by elders (3:1-7) and deacons (3:8-13).

Their attitude (1 Tim. 2:9NIV)

I also want the women to dress modestly, with decency and propriety, adorning themselves, not with elaborate hairstyles or gold or pearls or expensive clothes

This verse is linked with v.8 because it begins with the Greek word for “likewise” hósautós (Strongs #5615). Verse 8 says that whenever they pray (in the family and in the church), men should have holy lives (not unholy lives) and calmness (not anger) and make peace (not disputing). They were prone to unholy lives, anger and disputing, which hindered their prayers. These ungodly attitudes and behavior may have been aggravated by the false teachers in Ephesus who stirred up quarrels and strife (1 Tim. 6:4-5).

Verses 8-9 may imply that men have the primary responsibility for leading in prayer in the family and the church. But they don’t exclude wives/women from praying in the family and the church. Some believe that they imply that only men (and not women) should pray publicly in church, but there is no textural evidence that the context is a church meeting and it says nothing about the topic of woman and prayer. Meanwhile, it seems that both women and men prayed together after Christ’s ascension (Acts 1:14).

The word “likewise” (or “also”) at the beginning could indicate that v.9 applies to when there is prayer or when wives/women pray, or it could just indicate what ungodly attitudes and behavior women were prone to. I prefer the latter interpretation.

The standard is that Christian wives/women dress themselves in a manner that doesn’t draw attention to themselves and doesn’t distract others. In particular they should have modesty (not sexuality), decency and respectability (not dishonor or shamefulness) and propriety and self-control (not self-indulgence). The examples given concern women’s hairstyles, jewellery and clothing, which were being used in Ephesus to display one’s wealth and attractiveness (beauty) and to enhance the status and honor of their husbands. This could lead to others having admiration and jealousy. Also, gold, pearls and extravagant clothing could indicate a sexually lax lifestyle. Such an emphasis on appearance suggests a desire to attract attention to oneself, perhaps to seduce.

As girls married at a very young age at this time and childbearing is mentioned in v.15, Paul is mainly addressing married women in this passage.

Peter gave a similar instruction to wives, “Your beauty should not come from outward adornment, such as elaborate hairstyles and the wearing of gold jewellery or fine clothes. Rather, it should be that of your inner self, the unfading beauty of a gentle and quiet spirit, which is of great worth in God’s sight” (1 Pt. 3:3-4).

The principle behind Paul’s instruction is that Christian women show an attitude of modesty and self-control by dressing modestly and respectably, not extravagantly. They shouldn’t draw attention to themselves by their appearance. Our appearance matters because it shows our inner attitude and it affects others. This topic is continued in v.10.

Their testimony (1 Tim. 2:10)

but with good deeds, appropriate for women who profess to worship God

As the Greek text in v.10 refers to women who profess “the fear of God”, I prefer “women who profess reverence for God” (NET) or “women who profess godliness” (ESV). The use of the word “worship” could add the idea of a church meeting, which is absent in the original text.

Rather than being distinguished by what they wear, Paul says that godly women should be distinguished by their good deeds. These include, “bringing up children, showing hospitality, washing the feet of the Lord’s people, helping those in trouble”, managing their homes and caring for widows (1 Tim. 5:10, 14, 16). What they do should be more noticeable than their apparel. How they live is more important than how they look. Christian character is what counts.

When a woman claims to be a Christian then she should live so her good works support that claim. About four years earlier Paul told them, “we are God’s handiwork, created in Christ Jesus to do good works, which God prepared in advance for us to do” (Eph. 2:10). Good works should characterise both Christian men and women. The good works confirm the testimony of one’s faith in Christ.

The principle here is that Christian women be distinguished by good deeds rather than by their appearance.

Next Paul continues his corrective action for the women in Ephesus.

Their role (1 Tim. 2:11-12)

A woman should learn in quietness and full submission. I do not permit a woman to teach or to assume authority over a man; she must be quiet

Paul now changes from the plural to the singular. The reason for this isn’t clear, but it may be related to the fact that he introduces Adam and Eve in v.13-14. The word for “woman” and “wife” is the same in Greek and the word for “man” and “husband” is also the same. Because of this and because the word “submission” is mentioned elsewhere in the context of husband/wife, some think that the context is husband/wife. But the text and the context favor man/woman. The text says “a man”, not “her man” and the prayer and dress in v.8-9 refers to Christian men/women and not just to husbands/wives. Clearly the passage governs conduct in the Christian community and not just the home.

What do the Greek words translated “learn”, “quietness” and “submission” mean in v.11? The Greek verb for “learn” manthanó (Strongs #3129) means “to increase one’s knowledge”. Paul also uses “learn” in 1 Timothy 5:4, 13 where people are said to learn by use and practice – it becomes habitual. The verse says that a woman can learn Scripture (such learning is not restricted to the man) and when they do, they should be quiet and submissive. So women have the right to learn – “to come to a knowledge of the truth” of the gospel (v.4). This was a radical and liberating departure from the Jewish view that women were not to learn the law. For example, Mary of Bethany learnt from Jesus (Lk. 10:39). Now women need to learn Scripture for their roles in society, in the church and in the family.

The Greek noun for “quietness” hésuchia (#2271) means quietness or silence. It occurs twice in v.11-12. The only other occasion when Paul used this word is 2 Thessalonians. 3:12 where busybodies are told to “work quietly” and earn their keep, which means not meddling in another’s affairs. Paul used the verb form of this Greek word (#2270) in 1 Thessalonians. 4:11 where it means to mind your own business.

Paul used the adjectival version of this Greek word (#2272) in 1 Timothy 2:2 (the same chapter as our passage) where he said that believers should pray for kings and those in authority so they may have “peaceful and quiet lives in all godliness and holiness”. This means not having the turmoil and upheaval of anarchy, revolutions and civil wars. This is the most probable meaning of the word in v.11-12 as well. So it doesn’t mean “silence”, but in this context it means not being disruptive, aggressive, or challenging. The implication is that the women in Ephesus were being disruptive when they were learning. They didn’t have a “gentle and quiet spirit” (1 Pt. 3:4, the other instance of this word in Scripture). In this context it meant not teaching men and not leading men as an elder in the local church (v.12).

The Greek noun for “submissiveness” hupotagé (#5292) means subjection or obedience. In 1 Timothy 3:4 this word is used to describe how children are to obey their father. The word also describes how Paul didn’t give in (subject himself) to the legalists (Gal. 2:5).

The verb form of this Greek word (#5293) means to submit, to place under, or to obey. It is used to describe how a wife is subject to her husband, a slave to their master, and a person to the rulers and authorities (Ti. 2:5, 9; 3:1). Paul used it in a letter written to them a few years beforehand to describe how a wife is subject to her husband (Eph. 5:21-22, 24).

There are four passages where a wife/woman is to be submissive (#5293) to a husband/man (Eph. 5:22-24; Col. 3:18; Tit. 2:3-5; 1 Pt. 3:1, 5). In all these cases it states that a wife is to be submissive to her own husband. I think the “submission” in v.11 should be consistent with this, but it needn’t be identical.

So in 1 Timothy 2:11-12, the female learner is to be submissive/obedient to the teacher and to the Scripture being taught in the way she submits herself in marriage. Women weren’t to be teaching, dominating, ruling or interrupting men in the family and in the church. Instead they were to be quiet.

What do the Greek words translated “teach” and “assume authority” mean in v.12? The Greek verb for “teach” didaskó (#1321) means to instruct; or to impart knowledge. It nearly always refers to teaching the Scriptures. The word is also used in 1 Timothy 4:11; 6:2 to describe what Timothy was to teach.

The adjectives of this Greek word (#1317, #1318) respectively mean “able to teach” and “taught, instructed” (1 Cor. 2:13). A few verses after our passage, Paul says that an elder must be able to teach (1Tim. 3:2).

The nouns of this Greek word (#1319, 1320, 1322) respectively mean “instruction, or teaching” (1 Tim. 1:10; 4:1, 6, 13, 16, 17); “teacher” (1 Tim. 2:7); and “teaching, or doctrine” (2 Tim. 4:2).

Consequently, in 1 Timothy 2:12, the Greek word “teach” applies to a woman explaining the Scripture to a man. So this verse means that a woman is not to teach the Scripture to a man. What about Priscilla and her husband teaching Apollos in Ephesus (Acts 18:24-26)? In this case it was with her husband and privately in their home with the purpose of educating a preacher with a deficient understanding of Scripture. So the command in 1 Tim. 2:12 doesn’t apply to a husband and wife privately teaching another person. Of course, women can always teach children (2 Tim. 1:5; 3:14-15) and other women (Ti. 2:3-5). So they are allowed to teach, but not teach men.

Some say that this passage is addressed to women who were teaching heresy, but there is no textural evidence that any of the false teachers mentioned in 1 Timothy were women. Instead, when Paul addresses false teachers, it is obvious what he means (1 Tim. 1:3-4, 6-7, 19-20; 6:3-10).

The Greek verb for “assume authority” authenteó (#831) means to govern, to exercise authority, or to exercise dominion. It has also been defined to mean, “to assume a stance of independent authority, give orders to, dictate to”. Other translations say “have authority” (ESV, NLT) and “exercise authority” (HCSB, NET). According to the English dictionary, to “have authority” means to have the right to rule, govern, command, control or determine. As this is the only occasion that this Greek word is used in the Bible, it’s better to use the surrounding context to determine the meaning instead of consulting extra-biblical usage. In this case it’s an authority associated with teaching fellow believers in a local church (1 Tim. 2:12; 3:15). Those with such authority in the local church are the elders who comprise the leadership team. In fact the next topic in this letter is the qualifications of church elders (or overseers) (1 Tim. 3:1-7). So after saying who shouldn’t be elders, Paul specifies who can be elders. As elders need to be able to teach (1 Tim. 3:2), if someone was prohibited from teaching, they would also be prohibited from eldership. Besides this, one of the qualifications for leadership in the church is “faithful to his wife”, which rules out women (1 Tim. 3:2). Also, elders govern and teach, which are the two roles that aren’t appropriate for women to exercise in the church over men (1 Tim. 5:17).

So in 1 Timothy 2:12, the Greek word “assume authority” means to exercise the authority of an elder in the local church. Women can have authority, but not the authority of a church elder/overseer.

Some say that v.12 refers to one activity (teaching with authority) and not two (teaching and authority). This depends on the interpretation of the Greek conjunction oude (#3761). Paul uses this word three times in this letter.
• “For we brought nothing into the world, and (#3761) we can take nothing out of it” (1 Tim. 6:7). Here oude links two different ideas “we brought nothing into the world” and “we can take nothing out of it”.
• “who alone is immortal and who lives in unapproachable light, whom no one has seen or (#3761) can see” (1 Tim. 6:16). Here oude links two different but related ideas “no one has seen” and “no one can see”.
• “I do not permit a woman to teach or (#3761) to assume authority over a man” (1 Tim. 2:12). Therefore, the best interpretation (to be consistent with the other two instances of this word) is that here oude also links two different (but maybe related) ideas: “a woman to teach a man” and “a woman to assume authority (exercise the authority of an elder) over a man”.
So there is no textural support in this letter for the idea that there is only one activity described in v.12 and not two.

Putting this all together, we see that Paul’s instruction is that a woman can be taught from Scripture provided she respects (is submissive/obedient to) the teacher and the Scripture being taught. In the family she is to respect her husband and not teach or dominate/rule him. In the church she is to respect the preachers/teachers and the elders and not teach men or lead the church. The husband is to lead the family and men are to be responsible for the teaching and overall leadership (eldership) in the church.

What about when Paul wrote “every woman who prays or prophesies with her head uncovered dishonors her head” (11:5)? Doesn’t this mean that women prophesied in church meetings at Corinth? The subheading of 11:2-16 is “On covering the heads in worship” (NIV). But there is no reference to a church meeting until v.17, which is outside the passage! The focus of this passage is on the need for a head-covering when they prophesised, not on “worship”. And there is no definite reference to a meeting. So from 11:2-16 it is debateable as to whether women prophesised in meetings at Corinth or not. In this case, the best exegesis is to use the clearer example of 14:34 which definitely implies that women didn’t prophesy in meetings when men were present at Corinth.

The principle here is that Christian women not preach/teach to men or lead the church, but respect the men that do this preaching/teaching and leading. They were to be respectful instead of being disruptive. Next Paul gives the reason for this instruction.

Their design (1 Tim. 2:13-14)

For Adam was formed first, then Eve. And Adam was not the one deceived; it was the woman who was deceived and became a sinner

God’s design for men and women was given in the original creation. He created differences between them. Adam was made first and then Eve. Eve was created for Adam and not vice-versa (1 Cor. 11:9). She was made to be his helper and to be submissive as his wife (Gen. 2:18, 20). She was to live under his provision and protection. As Eve was to follow Adam’s leadership, wives are to follow their husband’s leadership (1 Cor. 11:3). Also, the husband is to provide for and protect his wife, and the wife is to live under this provision and protection. But since the fall into sin, there has been conflict when wives seek to turn this around and rule their husbands.

When Eve acted independently of Adam she was deceived by Satan. The Greek verb exapataó (#1818) means “thoroughly deceived”. The same verb occurs in “Eve was deceived (thoroughly) by the serpent’s cunning (2 Cor. 11:3). She was the first person to fall into sin. Adam also sinned by submitting to Eve instead of leading her. This shows she needs a leader. Paul is saying that wives were designed to have husbands as their leaders. Likewise, women in the church are designed to have male overseers/elders as their leaders. So the overseers/elders need to lead the church and the women and other men need to follow them.

This design for men and women isn’t cultural because it is based on Genesis chapters 2-3 and not on the Jewish culture or Roman culture of that time. The pattern of male leadership and female submission was to be the pattern for the church in Ephesus. And it was consistent with the biblical pattern of male leadership and female submission in marriage.

Furthermore, these roles are not based on any alleged local shortcomings of the women at Ephesus such as a lack of education or the existence of heretical female teachers.

But we may think that this gives women a minor role in the church. Next Paul shows how they can have a great influence in the church and in society.

Their contribution (1 Tim. 2:15)

But women will be saved through childbearing—if they continue in faith, love and holiness with propriety

This verse is difficult to interpret, but it is agreed that that it is intended to lessen the impact of v.13-14.

The Greek noun for “childbearing” teknogonia (#5042) means child bearing or the rearing of a family (by synecdoche – a figure of speech in which a term that denotes one thing is used to refer to a related thing). As childbirth doesn’t fit the context, the latter meaning is preferred. Wives have babies and rear them through childhood to adolescence and maturity.

What are they saved from by raising their children? The Greek verb for “saved” sózó (#4982) means save, rescue or deliver. We have seen that Eve was thoroughly deceived and the first person to sin (v.14). By raising godly offspring, mothers are delivered from the shame of Eve leading the fall into sin. In this way they are leading the development of godly men and women. Although this work is done in the home, the fruits impact society and the church. Behind every godly man and woman there is probably a godly woman. For example, Timothy was taught the Scriptures by his mother and grandmother (2 Tim. 1:5; 3:14-15).

This is consistent with young widows being advised to marry, to have children and to manage their homes as the best protection against self-indulgent ungodly living (1 Tim. 5:6, 11-15).

This is a conditional promise. It depends on women having the attitude and testimony described in v.9-10. This means that their appearance indicates godly attitudes and their testimony is vindicated by good works.

Through godly motherhood, women have a great impact on the next generation. This is a major contribution that women can make to society and the church. So their primary role in Ephesus was caring for their children, not leading or teaching the congregation (1 Tim. 5:14-15; Ti. 2:4-5).

A similar explanation (also using synecdoche) is that the faith of Christian women will be preserved if they embrace their God-given female roles and responsibilities (indicated by “childbearing”, which is one of their roles). This is similar to the faith of Timothy’s hearers being preserved if he persisted in godly living and true teaching (1 Tim. 4:16).

The principle here is that Christian women will be rewarded if they obey Paul’s instruction and carry out their God-given female roles and responsibilities, including caring for their children.

What about Galatians 3:28?

There is neither Jew nor Gentile, neither slave nor free, nor is there male and female, for you are all one in Christ Jesus

Some use this verse to claim that as the gospel eradicates the differences between men and women, there should be no restrictions on women’s ministry in the church. But this verse doesn’t address the roles of men and women in church. It has a different context which is the unity that salvation in Christ brings to a diverse group of people. Race, social status and gender make no difference in terms of salvation (one’s standing before God) and its blessings. In the promised inheritance there is no distinction between male and female. There is now no division in Christ Jesus (also see: 1 Cor. 12:13; Col. 3:11).

But does Galatians 3:28 abolish all sexual distinctions? Can Christians now approve same-sex marriages? No! It doesn’t address these topics and others like husband-wife roles or male-female roles in the local church.

Lessons for us

As 1 Timothy was probably written about AD 64, which is well after the early days of the church, we can generally apply the principles in it to us today without needing much consideration of the changes since then. Also, this is Paul’s final passage on this topic (1 Corinthians was written nine years earlier).

1 Corinthians 14:34

Nine years earlier Paul corrected disorderly meetings at Corinth. The main principle we deduced from this was that women are not to preach or teach if men are present as this is a male role (1 Cor. 14:34). This is a conditional silence as other verbal activities are acceptable. And it is consistent with our findings in 1 Timothy 2:11-12.

Application

These principles for Christian women are:
• To be distinguished by good deeds rather than by their appearance.
• Not drawing attention to themselves by their appearance. Showing an attitude of modesty and self-control by dressing modestly and respectably, not extravagantly.
• Carrying out their God-given female roles and responsibilities, including caring for their children.
• Not preaching/teaching men or leading the church (as elders), and respecting the men that do such preaching/teaching and leading.

These can be difficult to accept because they go against our culture today where: women often draw attention to themselves by what they wear, these principles are deemed to be sexist, contraception reduces the number of children in a family, and child-care and home-duties have low status.

Graham arnold 400pxThe Head Coach of the Sydney Football Club has been fined $5,000 for breaching the Football Federation of Australia’s Code of Conduct. The coach made comments about refereeing that brought the game into disrepute in the post-match interview after a football match in January 2015. Likewise, breaching God’s code of conduct has an adverse impact on our families and churches.

Do we encourage girls and women to learn God’s truths in Scripture in church, in small groups, or by reading, or studying through Bible College (which can be done online)? Are they using this knowledge to live godly lives and teach children and other women?

Do husbands support their wives’ spiritual roles and responsibilities in the family, church and society? Are women being recognized and praised for their good deeds?

How do we influence women to have an attitude of modesty and self-control? Can this be modelled by godly women?

Do we help girls and women (together with the men who aren’t preachers/teachers) to respect those who preach/teach from the Scriptures? Are those with the gift of preaching/teaching encouraged to teach Scripture to children and women?

Do we help girls and women (together with the men who aren’t elders) to respect the elders who lead our churches? Are those with the gift of leadership encouraged to lead children’s and women’s ministries? Are wives encouraged to respect their husbands?

Conclusion

From an assessment of the text and context of 1 Timothy 2:9-15 we have seen that God had a Code of Conduct for Christian women at Ephesus. Families, the local church, and society would have benefitted when this was followed and suffered when it wasn’t followed. As the principles behind these practices at Ephesus also apply to us today, let’s encourage Christian women to be known by good deeds rather than by their appearance and by their valuable female roles and responsibilities, including respecting their church teachers and leaders.

Written, December 2015

Also see: Order and disorder in the church
How do we show respect for authority?
Gender roles in the family and the church


Order and disorder in the church

Cape Town council chaos 2 400px

Correcting disorder at Corinth

Cape Town council chaos 2 400pxIn December 2014 a Santa Cruz City Council meeting was shut down because of disorder. After council approved a bulletproof vehicle for the police department the discussion got out of hand when people spoke up during the public comment portion, several of them speaking over the mayor. After everyone was asked to leave, some people continued to knock on the windows in protest.
Let’s look at God’s commands for orderly church meetings at Corinth. In particular, what is the good behavior for Christian women given in 1 Corinthians 14:26-40 and how does this relate to us today? This article is based on an assessment of the text and context of this passage.

Context

In 55 AD Paul (who was in Ephesus) wrote the letter of 1 Corinthians to the church in Corinth. Paul established a church at Corinth in 52 AD during his second missionary journey (Acts 18:1-17) and he stayed there for about 18 months (Acts 18:11).

At that time Corinth was the chief city in Greece. It was in southern Greece on the trade route between western Europe and places further east such as Asia Minor, Phoenicia, and Egypt. Its people worshipped at pagan temples and there was a Jewish synagogue.

The church at Corinth was plagued by factions and spiritual immaturity. When he was in Ephesus, Paul received a letter from Corinth informing him of their difficulties and asking questions about Christian behavior. So Paul wrote this letter to address the problems in the church and to answer their questions. It addresses topics such as factions, sexual immorality, marital difficulties, lawsuits, abuse of the Lord’s Supper, and misuse of spiritual gifts.

The section on spiritual gifts deals with: testing the spirits (12:1-3); unity of the spiritual gifts (12:4-11); diversity of the spiritual gifts (12:12-31a); the necessity of exercising the gifts in love (12:31b – 13:13); the superiority of prophecy over tongues (speaking in foreign languages) (14:1-25); and participation in meetings (14:26-40). It’s preceded by correcting abuse at the Lord’s Super (11:17-34) and followed by instruction on the resurrection (15:1-58).

The Christians in Corinth had overemphasised the gift of tongues (speaking in foreign languages) (Ch. 12). Apparently this caused strife in the local church. There was also jealousy, confusion and argument. Paul corrected this by insisting that all spiritual gifts be exercised in a spirit of love (Ch. 13). He also showed that prophecy was superior to speaking in other languages, particularly when there was no interpretation (translation) of the latter (14:1-25). After 25 verses of doctrine, Paul begins to explain what this means in practice.

The context of 1 Corinthians 14:26-40 is a meeting of Christians. It says “When you come together” (v.26NIV). The subheading in the HCSB is “Order in church meetings”. Paul uses the same Greek verb sunerchomai (Strongs #4905) to describe when the church came together to celebrate the Lord’s Supper (1 Cor. 11:17-18, 20, 33-34) and when the “whole church” comes together to hear messages interpreted from other languages and prophesy (messages from God) (1 Cor. 14:23). Men (husbands) and women (wives) are present (v.35).

Christian meetings (1 Cor. 14:26, 40)

What then shall we say, brothers and sisters? When you come together, each of you has a hymn, or a word of instruction, a revelation, a tongue or an interpretation. Everything must be done so that the church may be built up.
… But everything should be done in a fitting and orderly way”.

Paul describes a meeting where there was singing, teaching (teachers instruct and teach) prophecy (prophets receive revelations) and other languages with interpretation. Anyone in the congregation could participate (”each of you”). But because it was disorderly, Paul puts some regulations in place. If these are followed the meeting will be carried out in a peaceful (v.33) and “in a fitting and orderly way” (v.40).

What does “fitting” and “orderly” mean (v.40)? The Greek adverbeuschémonós (#2156) means properly, or decently (Rom. 13:13). It’s something that is presentable (1 Cor. 12:24) and respectable (1 Th. 4:12) and harmonious. The Greek noun taxis (#5010) means due or right order. For example, Paul said that the church in Colossae was “in good order” (ESV) or “disciplined” (NIV).

The first regulation for their meetings at Corinth is that “Everything must be done so that the church may be built up”. Paul has already used the Greek noun translated “built up” oikodomé (#3619) three times in this chapter (14:3, 5, 12). So it’s a major theme of the chapter. This means that everything they do in their meetings must promote spiritual growth. The NET translation says the objective is “the strengthening of the church”. Of course, this means the people of the church.

Foreign languages (1 Cor. 14:27-28, 39)

If anyone speaks in a tongue, two—or at the most three—should speak, one at a time, and someone must interpret. If there is no interpreter, the speaker should keep quiet in the church and speak to himself and to God.
… Therefore, my brothers and sisters, be eager to prophesy, and do not forbid speaking in tongues.

The gift of tongues is the ability given by the Holy Spirit to speak a foreign language without ever having learned it. “Tongue” glóssa (Strongs #1100) means tongue, language or nation. In this case it means miraculously speaking in other languages. The word is used many times in this way in 1 Corinthians chapters 12-14. It is also used in this sense in Acts 2:4; 10:46; 19:6.

Obviously the meetings at Corinth were disorderly with more than one person speaking at once and using words that no one could understand. So Paul gives them three regulations for the use of other languages in a Christian meeting at Corinth:
• No more than three people (men, see below) should speak in other languages.
• They should speak in turn (“one at a time”) and not at the same time. This makes the message clear and not confusing.
• No one should speak in another language unless the message is interpreted (translated). The interpretation enables those in the congregation who don’t know the language to understand the message. If there is no interpretation, they must be silent with regard to speaking in the other language (because most of the congregation wouldn’t understand the message). This is a conditional temporary silence.
As long as these regulations are followed, Paul didn’t prohibit speaking in other languages in the early church (v.39).

Prophecy (1 Cor. 14:29-33, 39)

Two or three prophets should speak, and the others should weigh carefully what is said. And if a revelation comes to someone who is sitting down, the first speaker should stop. For you can all prophesy in turn so that everyone may be instructed and encouraged. The spirits of prophets are subject to the control of prophets. For God is not a God of disorder but of peace—as in all the congregations of the Lord’s people.
… Therefore, my brothers and sisters, be eager to prophesy, and do not forbid speaking in tongues.

The gift of prophecy is the ability given by the Holy Spirit to receive messages (revelations) directly from God and communicate these to others. They were God’s spokesmen before the Bible was available in written form. The objective of prophecy is that “everyone may be instructed (learn) and encouraged” (v.31).

The Greek noun translated “prophet” prophétés (#4396) means a person who brings a message from God. In the Old Testament, a prophet was a messenger of God. He delivered God’s messages. They wrote most of the Old Testament. Abraham was the first to be called a prophet and John the Baptist was the last one before Christ.

Like the apostles, the New Testament prophets were concerned with the foundation of the church (Eph. 2:20). An apostle was also a prophet because what they wrote are called “prophetic writings” (Rom. 16:26). Their message is preserved for us in the New Testament.

“The one who prophesies speaks to people for their strengthening, encouraging and comfort” (1 Cor. 14:3). Prophecy also builds up believers and convicts unbelievers of their sin (1 Cor. 14:4; 24-25).

The Greek verb translated “revelation” apokaluptó (#601, verb) means to uncover or reveal. For example, God used the Holy Spirit to reveal to the writers of the New Testament things previously unknown to humanity (1 Cor. 2:10). Also, the value of the work of preachers and teachers will be revealed at the Judgment Seat of Christ when their service for the Lord will be reviewed (1 Cor. 3:13; 2 Cor. 5:10). That is why the prophets were said to receive a revelation from God (v.30).

The noun form of this word apokalupsis (#602), which means uncovering or revealing, is used to describe Christ’s visible return at the second advent (1 Cor. 1:7) and the disclosure of truth concerning divine things that were previously unknown (1 Cor. 14:6, 26).

Another problem at Corinth was speakers saying things they shouldn’t and stopping others from speaking by going too long. So Paul gives them four regulations for prophecy in a Christian meeting at Corinth:
• No more than three people (men, see below) should prophesy
• The other prophets should “weigh carefully (evaluate) what is said” as they are responsible to ensure it is indeed a message from God. They were to detect false prophets. Maybe they had the gift of “distinguishing between spirits” (1 Cor. 12:10).
• They should speak “in turn” and not at the same time. This makes the message clear and not confusing.
• A prophecy should stop when another person receives a revelation from God. In this case, the first prophet must be silent with regard to prophecy (also the longer one speaks, the greater the chance of using one’s own words instead of God’s words). This is also a conditional temporary silence.

As long as these regulations are followed, Paul encouraged prophecy in the early church (v.39).

As Biblical Greek has no punctuation, the phrase “as in all the congregations of the Lord’s people” (v.33) may relate to what goes before or what comes after it. But because they are all God’s command (v.36-38), its location doesn’t affect the interpretation. So I think the phrase applies to both what goes before and what comes after it. All congregations were to obey these commands.

Women (1 Cor. 14:34-35)

Women should remain silent in the churches. They are not allowed to speak, but must be in submission, as the law says. If they want to inquire about something, they should ask their own husbands at home; for it is disgraceful for a woman to speak in the church.

The word for “woman” and “wife” is the same in Greek. Because of the reference to husbands in v.35, the word may be translated “wives” here. But in a passage governing conduct in church meetings the general meaning “women” is more likely.

Before we list the regulations for women in a Christian meeting at Corinth, we will look at the meaning of the Greek words for “silence”, “speak”, “submission” and “law”.

The Greek verb for “silence” sigao (#4601) means to keep silent or to keep secret. Paul uses it for the secret truth that through the gospel believing Gentiles and believing Jews would be fellow members of the church (the Body of Christ) and share together in the promise in Christ (Rom. 16:25; Eph. 3:6). He also uses the same word in v.28, 30 and 34. We have seen above that it is used for conditional temporary silence in the contexts of speaking in other languages and of prophecy (v.28, 30). Therefore is seems that the women are also to be conditionally temporarily silent (v.34). But in what context? As the passage (v.26-40) is devoted to speaking in other languages and prophecy in a general church meeting, this would be the context.

The Greek verb translated “speak” laleó (#2980) means “to speak or say”. It is mentioned 24 times in this chapter. The cases that are closest to v.34 mean speaking in another language (v. 27, 28, 39) and speaking a prophecy (v.29). They are in the context where one person is addressing the whole church. Therefore, the best interpretation of v.34 is that Paul is prohibiting women from speaking in another language and speaking a prophecy in a meeting of Christians when men and women are present. This is in the context where one woman is not to publicly address the whole church. It refers to public speaking, not private speaking (conversation).

The Greek verb translated “submission” hupotassó (#5293) means to submit, to place under, or to obey. Paul uses it in five verses in this letter. Everything will be subject to Christ (15:27) and Christ will be subject to God the Father in an administrative sense (15:28). Paul urged them to submit to those who were serving God’s people (16:16). In our passage, a prophet was subject to the control of the other prophets (14:32). Likewise, the women were to be in submission (v.34). Who or what are they to be submissive to? Their husbands? The church elders? Those speaking at the meeting (prophets and teachers)? Or to the Scripture being taught?

The Greek noun translated the “law” nomos (#3551) means the Pentateuch (the law of Moses, 1 Cor. 9:8-9) or the Old Testament. Paul used this word twice in chapter 14. It means the Old Testament when a quotation is from Isaiah (v.21). In v.34 the law may be referring to Adam’s leadership over Eve (Gen. 2:18), which Paul quoted in chapter 11 (11:8-9). As this is only three chapters before our passage, Paul doesn’t need to repeat the reference. Furthermore, the Old Testament teaches that wives were to be submissive to their husbands (1 Pt. 3:5-6). Also, men were the leaders in Israelite/Jewish society, religion and family.

What does v.35 mean? It seems that women were disrupting a meeting by asking questions. As it refers to learning, the context is probably prophecy or teaching. The situation seems to be when a woman wants to ask a question in order to help her understand the message. Rather than disrupting the meeting, they were advised to ask their husbands at home. In this scenario, the disgrace/shame would be to interrupt the meeting with a question. Also, this prohibition stops women making comments or teaching via questioning.

Is v.35 an explanation of v.34 or an additional requirement? It begins with the Greek words for “if moreover” ei de (#1487, #1161). These are two conjunctions that mean “if on the other hand” and imply that the restriction in v.35 is different to that in v.34. This idea is expressed as “And if” in the HCSB.

Some think that the restriction in v.34 is the same as in v.35 and that it stopped the women interrupting church meetings by making remarks or asking questions (or chattering). Because of the two conjunctions , I consider this is poor exegesis (interpretation of the text).

Some think that the prohibition in v.34-35 relates to evaluating the prophets (v.29, 32). In this case, female questioning during an evaluation would violate their submission to male leadership, but female prophecy and speaking in other languages in a general church meeting wouldn’t violate their submission to male leadership. Is this consistent? After all, those who evaluated the prophets were fellow prophets (v.29, 32). This would mean that male prophets could prophesy and evaluate, and female ones could prophesy, but not evaluate! Also, the women were asking questions, not making judgments (v.35) and the solution was to do this at home.

Some think that the restriction in v.34-35 is due to women being uneducated at that time. But if that is the reason, why does Paul ignore the men who were uneducated?

As it related to when they wanted to “inquire about something” and the solution was to “ask their husbands”, it seems as though the women were asking questions. And Paul says that this was “disgraceful”. He used the same word to describe a short hair cut for women (11:6). We don’t know why this was disgraceful. Were they interrupting the meeting? Were they disrespecting the speakers? Was this disrespectful in their society?

Therefore, the best explanation seems to be that there were three regulations for women in a Christian meeting at Corinth when men are present:
• Don’t speak in other languages. This is a conditional silence.
• Don’t prophesy. This is a conditional silence.
• Don’t disrupt the meeting by asking questions. Instead they should ask them at home (that’s the place for spiritual discussions). This is also a conditional limit on speaking in church.

What about when Paul wrote “every woman who prays or prophesies with her head uncovered dishonors her head” (11:5)? Doesn’t this mean that women prophesied in church meetings at Corinth? The subheading of 11:2-16 is “On covering the heads in worship” (NIV). But there is no reference to a church meeting until v.17, which is outside the passage! The focus of this passage is on the need for a head-covering when they prophesised, not on “worship”. And there is no definite reference to a meeting. So from 11:2-16 it is debateable as to whether women prophesised in meetings at Corinth or not. In this case, the best exegesis is to use the clearer example of 14:34 which definitely implies that women didn’t prophesy in meetings when men were present at Corinth.

Another possible interpretation is that the conditional silence applies to all instances when one woman would publicly address the whole church like speaking in other languages or prophesy. This would extend the restriction to all other such spiritual activities. However, this changes the meaning of the silence sigaó (#4601) from conditional to absolute, which is out of context (being inconsistent with the rest of the passage). Also, note that prayer (speaking to God, which is another verbal spiritual activity) isn’t mentioned in this case as it was in 11:4-5.

God’s command (1 Cor. 14:36-38)

Or did the word of God originate with you? Or are you the only people it has reached? If anyone thinks they are a prophet or otherwise gifted by the Spirit, let them acknowledge that what I am writing to you is the Lord’s command. But if anyone ignores this, they will themselves be ignored.”

Next Paul asks two rhetorical questions in an ironic, satirical and sarcastic manner. These absurd questions matched their absurd behavior. The Corinthians were acting as though they were the authority on this subject and that they wrote the Bible. They were also acting as though they were the only Christians on earth. So they were independent of Paul and the other churches. Paul says that any spiritually gifted person would recognize his God-given authority. He has been given the Lord’s command on this topic. He is the authority, not them. They are God’s commands for the church and not just Paul’s viewpoint.

Any who disobey this command will be ignored by Paul, by the churches and by God because they don’t have the spiritual gift they claim. They won’t be recognized as a godly prophet or as a spiritual person, but as false prophet.

What about Galatians 3:28?

There is neither Jew nor Gentile, neither slave nor free, nor is there male and female, for you are all one in Christ Jesus.

Some use this verse to claim that as the gospel eradicates the differences between men and women, there should be no restrictions on women’s ministry in church. But this verse doesn’t address the roles of men and women in church meetings. It has a different context which is the unity that salvation in Christ brings to a diverse group of people. Race, social status and gender make no difference in terms of salvation (one’s standing before God) and its blessings. In the promised inheritance there is no distinction between male and female. There is now no division in Christ Jesus (also see: 1 Cor. 12:13; Col. 3:11).

But does Galatians 3:28 abolish all sexual distinctions? Can Christians now approve same-sex marriages? No! It doesn’t address these topics and others like husband-wife roles at home or male-female roles in the local church.

But how do these commands apply to us today? Let’s look at what’s changed since then.

Lessons for us

As 1 Corinthians was probably written about AD 55, it describes the early days of the church. The only earlier books in the New Testament are James, Galatians, 1 and 2 Thessalonians and events described in the gospels and Acts chapters 1-19. When applying the principles in it to us today we need to consider the changes since then. There is Scriptural evidence that the frequency of speaking in other languages and prophecy changed later in the first century AD.

Speaking in tongues

Speaking in other languages is only mentioned in two books of the Bible (Acts and 1 Corinthians). Also, it isn’t mentioned in any Scripture written after 55 AD (or in the case of Acts, events that occurred after 55 AD). Therefore, it appears that this gift was primarily for the early church. So I will not apply the principles for speaking other languages to us today.

Prophecy

Prophecy is mentioned in the book of Acts up to AD 57 (Acts 21:9-10). Paul mentions prophecy in his books written in AD 55-60 but not his last six books (written AD 60-66). The only biblical record of prophecy after this time is the apostle John (Rev. 1:3; 10:7, 11; 19:10; 22:6, 9, 10, 18-19). He also mentions false prophets (1 Jn. 4:1). Therefore, it seems as though the prevalence of prophecy decreased significantly after AD 60. We now have the record of God’s revelation to the prophets in the early church in the New Testament. These truths are now communicated to us by preachers and teachers who also build up (strengthen), encourage and comfort believers and convict unbelievers. Therefore, I will apply the principles for prophecy to preaching and teaching.

The church is founded on Christ’s completed work (1 Cor. 3:11) as taught by the apostles and New Testament prophets (Eph. 2:20; 3:5). This work was completed in the first century AD and we have a record of this foundation in the New Testament. So, in this sense, we no longer have apostles or prophets in the church today. As Paul links speaking in tongues with prophecy (1 Cor. 14), both of these gifts are no longer required now the church’s foundation has been laid.

The revelation given to the writers of the New Testament finished in the first century AD (Jude 3, Rev. 22:18-19). Just as the close of the Old Testament canon was followed by a 400 year silence (no prophecies from God), so the close of the NT has been followed by a 1,900 year silence. Since the book of Revelation was completed, no new written or verbal prophecy has ever been universally recognized by Christians as divine truth from God. The Scriptures are final and complete. According to Scripture, God will speak again with new prophecies, visions and revelations after the rapture, during the tribulation and Christ’s millennial kingdom (Acts 2:16-21; Rev. 11:1-13).

Asking questions

As we don’t know why it was disgraceful for women to ask questions during a church meeting at Corinth, we will look at what Paul says elsewhere on this topic.

1 Timothy 2:11-12

Nine years after correcting disorderly meetings at Corinth, Paul described appropriate behaviour for Christian women in Ephesus. We need to take this into account here as God’s will is revealed progressively in the Bible. The relevant passage is, “A woman should learn in quietness and full submission. I do not permit a woman to teach or to assume authority over a man; she must be quiet” (1 Timothy 2:11-12). This means that within the context of the Christian church, women are not to preach/teach men or to lead the church as a whole, and to respect the men that do this.

This instruction about preaching/teaching is consistent with the one reached above with regard to the principles for prophecy. Also, to “learn in quietness and full submission” may help explain why it was disgraceful for women to ask questions during a church meeting at Corinth. Maybe they weren’t submissive to the male teachers in the church.

Application

Therefore, from this passage we can deduce that the principles for women in a church meeting today when men are present are:
• Women are not to preach or teach as this is a male role.
• Women are to respect the male teachers in the church. If they have any questions, it’s best to ask them after a meeting instead of disrupting the meeting (that’s the best time for spiritual discussions).
These are conditional silences as other verbal activities are acceptable. It’s orderly (v.33, 40) and enables the church to be built up (v.26). They are God’s commands for all churches (v.33, 37).

The restriction in preaching and teaching men in a church meeting can be difficult to accept because it goes against our culture today where women are encouraged to do everything a man does.

In January 2014, there was a disorderly meeting of Auckland Council. After the applications to speak of five members of the public were refused the crowd erupted and the Mayor made an adjournment in an attempt to restore order. He said that the only people who should be speaking at the meeting are those sitting around the councillor’s table. Two campaigners tried to speak despite being denied. Likewise, breaching God’s regulations has an adverse impact on our church meetings.

The ability to do something doesn’t come with the right to do it. Do we encourage Christian women with the ability to preach or teach to use this with women and children? Do we train both men and women to preach and teach? Are our preachers and teachers prepared and willing to answer spiritual questions? Is a prime objective of our church meetings to build up (strengthen) believers? Do we explain what we say and do in our meetings so that everyone can understand? Do we evaluate the messages against Scripture?

Conclusion

From an assessment of the text and context of 1Corinthians 14:26-40 we have found God’s commands for orderly church meetings in AD 55. These involved restrictions on the participation of both men and women. After taking account of changes since then, we have developed equivalent commands for today. Because some of these are counter-cultural today, they can be difficult for us to accept. The main principle is that women are not to preach or teach in a church meeting when men are present as this is a role for males with this gift.

Written, December 2015

Also see: Respect and disrespect in the church
How do we show respect for authority?
Gender roles in the family and the church


How to start reading the Bible

Chinese bible 2 400px

The Bible is a big book that was written thousands of years ago. Where do I begin to read it? And, what does it mean for a reader today? Here’s a simple outline of the Bible’s structure. It can be divided into two sections. The portion written before the 400 years of silence is called the Old Testament and portion written afterwards the New Testament.

The books of Psalms to Song of Songs are Israelite wisdom and poetry. Most were written 1000 – 700 BC.

Chinese bible 2 400pxWhere do I begin?

A history book or a story book is usually read from the beginning to the end. Stories usually begin with an introduction and then suspense builds up to a climax. The climax is the turning point of the story when the main problem is addressed. After the climax there is relief and it ends with a conclusion.

It’s probably best to begin by reading the introduction and the climax of the Bible.

The introduction of the Bible is a foundation for the rest of the Bible. So start with Genesis chapters 1 to 11. It begins with God creating a perfect universe (Gen. 1-2). But then the first couple, Adam and Eve, disobey God (Gen. 3), which brings conflict and evil into the world. This sinful pattern of behavior and its impact is demonstrated by the events described in the rest of the Old Testament. It is a characteristic of humanity that doesn’t change.

Because of their disobedience and wickedness, God punished mankind with a global flood (Gen. 6-9) and by dispersing people across the earth into different languages and nations (Gen. 10-11).

The climax is when God solves the problem of people’s sinfulness. He does this by coming to the earth and taking the punishment that we all deserve. There are four separate accounts of the life of Jesus Christ: Matthew, Mark, Luke and John. It’s a good idea to read Mark first because it is the shortest.

The Bible’s climax has two plot twists. Firstly, Jesus’ followers believe He is the Messiah, but their hopes are dashed when instead of setting up His kingdom on earth, He is executed as a criminal. So their great expectations are replaced by grief and loss. Secondly, a few days after His burial Jesus miraculously resurrects back to life and the grief and loss is replaced with joy! What a dramatic fluctuation in emotions!

What does it mean?

In order to understand the original meaning of a passage of Scripture it’s good to know who it was written to. For example, the Old Testament was written to Jews living in Palestine, whereas Paul’s letters were written to Christians living around the Mediterranean Sea. It also helps to know where it occurs in the sequence of events shown in the table. For example, was it written before or after Jesus was on earth? The context is also important – what happens before and afterward the passage?

Other questions can be asked, such as – What does it say about God? What does it say about humanity?

What’s its conclusion?

Choose-your-own-path adventure story books and video games have multiple endings. At the end of each chapter/episode, there is a choice between various options, which determines the path taken and the eventual ending of the story.

The Bible has two conclusions. They are heaven (Rev. 21:9 – 22:5) or the lake of fire (hell) (Rev. 20:15). Which one will you choose as your destiny?

Written, January 2015

Also see: Understanding the Bible
Read the Bible in one year
How to read the Bible in chronological order


The church is like the temple

According to the dictionary, the word “church” is used to describe either a building used for public Christian worship, a church service, or a group of Christian believers. In practice, the meaning is given by the context in which the word is used. In this article we look into what the Bible says about buildings used for Christian worship.

The Jewish temple

Before the church came into existence in Acts 2, the Jews were God’s people on earth. Their main place of worship was the tabernacle or temple, which was also called the “house of the Lord” and the “house of God” (Ex. 23:19; Ps. 42:4; 122:1). This was a special building which was used for festivals, sacrifices, prayers and psalms. God gave detailed specifications for the building and its furniture. God was said to live in the inner room of this building that was only entered by the High Priest once a year. However, Solomon knew that God wasn’t confined to the building (1 Ki. 8:27; Acts 7:47-50). Some thought they were safe in Jerusalem because God would always protect the temple, but Jeremiah criticised this superstitious faith in a building rather than in God (Jer. 7:4-14).

Because of Jewish idolatry, the temple in Jerusalem was destroyed by the Babylonians in 586 BC. After the temple was rebuilt about 70 years later, Jewish sacrifices resumed and they continued until the temple was destroyed once more by the Romans in AD 70. So the physical house of God, which was associated with animal sacrifices, was destroyed and it doesn’t exist anywhere on earth today.

From about the third century BC, synagogues were also used by the Jews for worship and teaching their law. As this was the inter-testament period, they are not mentioned in the Old Testament. By the time Jesus was born, most Jewish communities had a synagogue. Jesus and Paul both taught in synagogues (Jn. 18:20; Acts 17:2).

The early church

For a brief period the early church met together in the outer court of the temple (a large open area), until persecution drove them out of Jerusalem (Acts 2:46; 5:12). Otherwise, the early church met in people’s homes. They were house churches. For example, there was a church in Priscilla and Aquila’s house in Rome and in Ephesus (Rom. 16:3-5; 1 Cor. 16:19) and in Philemon and Apphia’s house and in Nympha’s house in Colossae (Col. 4:15, 17; Phile. 2). It seems as though they may have also used public buildings such as the lecture hall of Tyrannus (Acts 19:8-10).

For the following reasons, church buildings are not mentioned in the New Testament and there are no specifications given for places of Christian worship:

  • There was no longer any need for animal sacrifices at a particular place – Jesus was the “once for all” or last sacrifice (Jn. 4:20-21; Heb. 7:27; 9:26-28; 10:8-18)
  • Buildings are not essential to the Christian faith – after all it is the people who are important not the building they meet in
  • Special buildings are not required for small congregations that can meet in homes
  • Special buildings can be expensive and can’t move and reproduce quickly
  • Buildings can be a hindrance when the church is being persecuted

How the Christian church is like the Jewish temple

In the New Testament we learn that the people of the church are like a building. Paul told Gentile believers: “Consequently, you are no longer foreigners and strangers, but fellow citizens with God’s people and also members of His household, built on the foundation of the apostles and prophets, with Christ Jesus Himself as the chief cornerstone. In Him the whole building is joined together and rises to become a holy temple in the Lord. And in Him you too are being built together to become a dwelling in which God lives by His Spirit” (Eph. 2:19-22NIV).

This metaphor or figure of speech reminds us of some important characteristics of the church. God owns it, the Holy Spirit lives in it and Jesus Christ is the foundation (1 Cor. 3:10-11; Heb. 3:5-6; 1 Pt. 2:4-6). Jesus is also the builder and the “cement” that holds it together (Mt. 16:18). Each believer is like a living stone.

In particular, the people of the Christian church are like the Jewish temple:

  • God lived in the temple, the Holy Spirit lives in the church (1 Cor. 3:16-17)
  • The temple was a place of worship, the church are a people of worship
  • The temple was a place of sacrifice, the church offers sacrifices of praise and worship to God and service to one another
  • The temple was a holy place, the church is a group of holy people
  • The temple had great wealth and beauty, the church has a great spiritual inheritance and is being transformed to be like Christ

So the Jewish temple (which was the physical house of God) has been replaced by the people of the church (which is the spiritual house of God). In a metaphorical sense, any group of Christians are the house of God.

Written, October 2011


God’s plans for the church

A praising, unified and serving church

The word “church” is the collective name for all true Christians and for those that meet together regularly. It is the theme of the letter of Ephesians. In this article we look at what Ephesians says about God’s plans for the church.

Plans For The Future Era

In Ephesians 1:3-14 Paul describes the spiritual blessings we have through God the Father, the Lord Jesus and the Holy Spirit. The phrase “In Christ Jesus” (or a similar one) occurs at least ten times in this passage. Clearly, Christ is the centre of all God’s plans for the church. “In Christ” refers to the spiritual union of Christ with believers, which is symbolised by the metaphor “body of Christ” (Eph. 1:23; 2:26; 4:4,12,16; 5:23, 30). It also describes the believer’s position, but not necessarily their practice.

As God plans to bring unity to all things in heaven and on earth under Christ, the goal toward which all history is moving is to unite all things in the physical world and the spiritual world under Christ (Eph. 1:10). The Greek word used here means “to sum up”. In a world were things don’t always make sense we can look forward to a time when everything will be brought into a meaningful relationship under the leadership of Christ.

This will happen during the Millennium (“when the times will have reached their fulfilment”), which will be when God’s kingdom will come to earth and when His will “will be done on earth as it is in heaven” (Mt. 6:10). It will be a time of universal dominion: Christ will reign as King of kings and Lord of lords. The one who is now despised by many will be the Lord of all, the object of universal worship; “Therefore God exalted Him to the highest place and gave Him the name that is above every name, that at the name of Jesus every knee should bow, in heaven and on earth and under the earth, and every tongue confess that Jesus Christ is Lord, to the glory of God the Father” (Phil. 2:9-11NIV).

In this coming era, the church will reign with Christ over the whole universe (Eph. 1:18-23; 2:6-7). Although He is far above the rest of creation, because the church is closely related to Him, like the body is joined to the head, and it is seated with Him, it will share His rule over the universe. What a great prospect to look forward to! It’s part of our hope and inheritance.

Three times in this passage Paul praises God for His grand plan for the future (Eph. 1:6, 12, 14). likewise, praise should also be our response to God’s great plan for the Lord and for His church

Plans For The Present Era

God’s plan is that people will hear the gospel and believe it to be sealed by the Holy Spirit as a deposit of the inheritance that awaits them (Eph. 1:11-14). Such people are part of His global church and should be a part of a local church. The church is God’s people of all nations (Rev. 5:9) who lived between the day of Pentecost in about 30 AD and the rapture, when all believers are resurrected and transformed to enter heaven. Unless we have accepted God’s gift of salvation through Jesus Christ, we will not share in these plans for the church.

The church is God’s plan for the present era. It was a new category of people, a new humanity, that was made known to Paul by direct revelation from God (Eph. 2:15). God used the Holy Spirit to reveal this new truth about Christ and the church to the New Testament apostles and prophets, such as Paul (Col. 1:26).

The animosity between the Gentiles and the Jews was replaced with loving relationships when they became fellow members of the church with equal access to God (Eph. 2:11-22). This was because, “through the gospel the Gentiles are heirs together with Israel, members together of one body, and sharers together in the promise in Christ Jesus” (Eph. 3:6). So, in the church, all believers share three things in common. First, they are heirs together (“joint-heirs” in Greek), sharing the same inheritance, being “heirs of God and co-heirs with Christ” (Rom. 8:17). Second, they are members together (“joint-body”), being fellow members of the same body, having equal positions before God in the church. Third, they are sharers together (“joint-sharers”), having the same promises that are the result of Christ’s work of salvation. For example, they share the Holy Spirit and all that is promised in the gospel message.

This is a radical idea. There is no basis for discrimination in the church. What a change from the Old Testament era when the Gentiles were pagans outside the promises that were made to the Jews. Now, all believers of all races and cultures and standings in life share equally in the privileges.

One of God’s purposes is to use the church to teach the angels about His manifold wisdom (Eph. 3:10-11). Although Adam and Eve sinned, God had a plan of salvation. He sent His Son to die, rise from the dead and ascend back to heaven so that sinners from all nations can confess their sin and trust in the saving work of Christ and become members of the church who will be honoured as the bride of Christ throughout eternity. Those who had been rebels were now part of God’s people. Those who were enemies were now partners. What an amazing drama!

Unity In The Church

Paul now shows how God made provisions for those in the church to live and work together in unity (Eph. 4:1-6). Christians are urged to live in accordance with their calling, which is as members of the body of Christ. In the rest of the letter Paul teaches that this means working for unity in the church, purity in our personal lives, harmony in our homes and vigilance against the powers of evil.

He lists four important attitudes and behaviors for the church (Eph. 4:2): be humble, not conceited or arrogant or dictatorial; be gentle, not judgemental or critical; be patient; don’t retaliate when provoked; and bear with one another in love, by accepting those with different convictions. These are Christlike and believers are to follow His example (1 Cor. 11:1).

Then he writes: “Make every effort to keep the unity of the Spirit through the bond of peace” (Eph. 4:3). When God created the church He destroyed the rift between the Jews and the Gentiles. All such distinctions were abolished in the church. All Christians are indwelt by the Holy Spirit. Nothing can destroy this fact. Nothing can destroy this unity that has been made by God. We can’t create this unity of the shared spiritual life, but we can disturb it. So, we are told to work to keep it by living at peace with one another. We all have different convictions over debatable matters, but these should be overlooked so we can work together in peace for our common good. Of course we should have unity on the essentials of our faith. For the non-essentials there is liberty and we should be able to agree to disagree in a humble, gentle, patient and loving way.

We are to concentrate on the basis of our Christian unity instead of being occupied by our differences (Eph. 4:4-6). Seven reasons are given for this: there is one body, which is comprised of all true believers from Pentecost to the rapture and as a physical body grows from a single cell and every cell shares that original life, every believer shares the spiritual life associated with the Holy Spirit and they share an eternal destiny; there is one Spirit, who indwells all true believers; there is one hope, which is to be with the Lord for eternity and to be like Him (1 Jn. 3:2); there is one Lord, who is the ultimate authority (Phil. 2:9-11); there is one faith to be believed, which is the body of truth in the New Testament (Jude 3); there is one baptism, which could be the baptism of the Spirit (1 Cor. 12:13) or the water baptism by which believers express their allegiance to Christ; and there is one God, who is the supreme ruler of the universe.

The Lord’s prayer was that believers may be unified in showing the character of God and of Christ (Jn. 17:20-23). This unity is important for the salvation of sinners. Can they see Christ in believers as the Father was seen in Christ? When they see this unity, they have a reason to believe that Jesus was the Son of God and not just a gifted man. The unity of believers can convince unbelievers of the mission of Christ.

Maturity In The Church

Although there is a unity in the church as the body of Christ, there is also diversity. We are all different in some ways and have different gifts and roles to play, like the different parts in a body. The purpose of these gifts is (Eph. 4:12-13): to equip believers for works of service, which means that everyone in the congregation should be trained in some aspects of Christian service; then by serving one another, the church will be built up (spiritual gifts are for the “the common good” and are not to be exercised individualistically, 1 Cor. 12:7); to help maintain our unity; and to produce maturity as God wants us to be grown up, responsible and well-adjusted people. Our standard for maturity is, “How much am I like Jesus Christ?” (Eph. 4:13, 15).

This growth process is to continue until the rapture when (Eph. 4:13): we will reach unity in the faith and in our knowledge of the Lord (our unity is not based on attitudes or feelings but on the truths of scripture which involves the doctrines about Christ and a common understand about God’s Son); and we grow to maturity in our spiritual development (as the perfectly balanced character of Christ).

When these spiritual gifts are operating and the congregation are actively serving the Lord, three dangers are avoided (Eph. 4:14):

  • Immaturity – as children need exercise to grow into maturity, believers need to be involved in active service to become mature. Otherwise, they will be as the writer to the Hebrews says, “by this time you ought to be teachers, you need someone to teach you the elementary truths of God’s word all over again. You need milk, not solid food!” (Heb. 5:12). Such people don’t know what they believe and are reliant on others.
  • Instability – immature believers tend to be spiritually fickle, they keep moving around to follow the latest novelties.
  • Gullibility – immature believers can be deceived by false teachers who use religious words and appear zealous and sincere. Unfortunately they have not studied the Bible well enough to discern good from evil. As Hebrews says, “solid food is for the mature, who by constant use have trained themselves to distinguish good from evil” (Heb. 5:14).

If these characteristics are present, then we are still childish and immature.

Then Paul describes the proper process of growth in the congregation (Eph. 4:15-16). As right doctrine is essential (“speaking the truth”), we need to learn the fundamentals of the Christian faith. As the right attitude is also essential (“speaking the truth in love”), our conversation must always be accompanied with love. This is consistent with the requirement to bear with one another in love (Eph. 4:2). In fact love is another important theme of Ephesians where it is mentioned 15 times; more than in any other of Paul’s letters.

As believers are equipped to use their gifts in active service they “will in all things grow up into Him who is the head, that is, Christ”. In every area of their life they will become more like Christ. They will more accurately represent Him before the watching world.

Next we are told that the body grows and builds itself up in love as each part does its work (Eph. 4:16). The Lord is the source of this growth; it is “from Him”. After all He said to Peter, “I will build my church” (Mt. 16:18) and Paul wrote that it’s only God who brings spiritual growth (1 Cor. 3:5-9). Then the body is said to be “joined and held together by every supporting ligament”. In our human bodies the bones are held together by joints and ligaments and the organs are also attached by ligaments. Each part of our bodies needs to play its particular role, otherwise we are sick or injured. Likewise for the spiritual body of the church. Each member has a particular function to carry out and the church body grows as they carry their role. Otherwise the church is not healthy. God puts believers together in the church so that their different spiritual gifts work together in harmony (1 Cor. 12:18-24). He creates unity from our diversity.

The church grows as the congregation feed on the Bible, pray, worship, serve and witness for Christ. This is accompanied by a growth in love. As believers are equipped to use their gifts in active service and they serve and carry out their role in the church, they grow closer to one another in love and unity. In fact, maturity and unity in the church are impossible without love, which brackets these passages (Eph. 4:2, 16).

Lessons For Us

God has definite plans for His church, which we need to take into account when developing the vision and goals for our local church. Christ is the centre of these plans. With respect to the grand plan for the future to bring unity to all things in heaven and on earth under Christ, we should be a praising church. With respect to His plan for the present, we should be a unified church. Are we working hard to maintain the unity of the Spirit by living in peace with each other, praying for one another, forgiving one another and not holding grudges?

Are we equipping believers for works of service? Are we in active service for the Lord? Are we becoming more like Christ? Are we doing our work in the local church? Are we helping the congregation grow and be built up towards maturity? Are we God’s co-workers; His agents, His subcontractors (1 Cor. 3:9)? Are we honest and loving? Let’s not hinder God’s plans, but work together with Him.

Remember God has put us in the body of Christ where He wants us to be, among the Christians He wants us to be with, because we need them and they need us. As each part of the body accepts this and serves one another, each part is doing what it was designed to do. We need to accept one another and let each carry out their function to ensure a healthy church.

Written, September 2008


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