Gender 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.
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
Correcting disorder at Corinth
In 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.
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 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).
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.
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?
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
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.
Where 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’s the main theme?
The Bible is all about God’s solution to the problem of people’s sinfulness. This is God’s promise or God’s rescue plan. It is fulfilled in the history of Israel, from Abraham, Isaac and Jacob to king David and to Jesus Christ, the promised Messiah. It is now fulfilled in the Christian church, which includes all nations. In the future it will be fulfilled in the resurrection of God’s people and the restoration of creation back to its original state.
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
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