Archive for the ‘Gender roles’ Category


United But With Disagreements

March 28, 2019

This humble blog can’t settle the issue of gender roles in the church.  If only it were that simple!

Neither will your blog, nor your church, nor your favorite preacher or scholar.

Local leadership has to settle the question of how they will respond to the issues in their own congregation. I would love to make other congregations see it my way, but I must leave that in God’s hands.  If some leader wants to discuss this topic with me I’d be happy to supply them with the principles and rationale that bring me to my conclusions.  But that’s as far as I can go.

What’s far more important in today’s environment is finding a way for our congregations to cooperate and interoperate given our differences on this issue.  Romans 14 gives us valuable instructions for this kind of situation.

1.  We must stop passing judgment on each other.

Rom 14:3 The man who eats everything must not look down on him who does not, and the man who does not eat everything must not condemn the man who does, for God has accepted him.
Rom 14:4 Who are you to judge someone else’s servant? To his own master he stands or falls. And he will stand, for the Lord is able to make him stand.

God is able to make the other person stand. Don’t take it upon yourself to make him stand where you want him to stand. And don’t reject those whom the Lord has accepted.

2.  We must respect and protect the consciences of those who cannot follow our view.

Rom 14:13 Therefore let us stop passing judgment on one another. Instead, make up your mind not to put any stumbling block or obstacle in your brother’s way.

Rom 14:15 If your brother is distressed because of what you eat, you are no longer acting in love. Do not by your eating destroy your brother for whom Christ died.

Rom 14:19 Let us therefore make every effort to do what leads to peace and to mutual edification.
Rom 14:20 Do not destroy the work of God for the sake of food. All food is clean, but it is wrong for a man to eat anything that causes someone else to stumble.
Rom 14:21 It is better not to eat meat or drink wine or to do anything else that will cause your brother to fall.

Do we want to be able to continue working together, having joint worship services, conferences and the like? Unless we find a way to do so without forcing the other side to do what is sin for them, then we cannot. Jesus wants us to be united. Before you decide to force your position on the others, ask yourself this: “Is this issue really worth dividing over?”  Let’s make every effort to do what leads to peace and mutual edification.

3.  We must not quarrel about these things (especially in public)

Rom 14:22 So whatever you believe about these things keep between yourself and God. Blessed is the man who does not condemn himself by what he approves.

Quarreling about this in public is divisive.  People who hear will take sides and will come to disrespect those who see the issue differently.  Factions will form and people will be drawn away from one congregation to another. Actually, we already see this happening. Instead, we should let God sort out the matter. Have faith in God!  It’s those who wait upon the Lord who will renew their strength.

4.  People on each side must not violate their own consciences

Rom 14:23 But the man who has doubts is condemned if he eats, because his eating is not from faith; and everything that does not come from faith is sin.

Individuals must not yield to pressure to do what in their consciences they believe to be wrong.  And leaders must not apply that kind of pressure to anyone.


There is a way for us to move forward with united hearts despite disagreements.  Our flesh wants to win the argument and get our way.  The way of the Gospel is different.  Let’s choose the way of peace and mutual edification.

See also:

Romans Part 14: Accept One Another



Addressing Gender Roles in the Church

March 15, 2019

Controversy over gender roles is an unavoidable danger to churches today.  Opinions across the spectrum are flying across social media, and church members are being influenced.  People are gathering online into factions around whichever pundit says what they want to hear.  The resulting factions are forming inside congregations as well as between congregations.

Forming factions in the church is sin (Gal 5:19-21).  Those who promote division are self-condemned. (Titus 3:11) Christians are instructed to avoid such people. (Rom 16:17).  But still, the factions grow larger and the divisions deeper, as each person finds teachers who say what they want to hear. (2 Tim 4:3)

As an elder in the Lord’s church, what am I supposed to do about it?

  1. Focus on my own congregation (Acts 20:28)
  2. Teach the scriptures.  (2 Timothy 4:2, Titus 1:9)
  3. Silence false teachers (1 Timothy 1:3, Titus 1:11, Titus 3:10)

In large part, churches are in this situation because their membership has not been taught what the scriptures say on the subject of gender roles.  In the absence of a biblical foundation, the church is being influenced by the loud voices of the surrounding culture. As the apostle Paul warned the Ephesian elders,  even from our own number men are arising to draw people after themselves, using the controversy over gender roles to build their own following.  The flock is vulnerable to the wolves because they were not taught the scriptures.

The responsibility for addressing this falls upon elders.  Paul set the example of teaching the whole counsel of God to the church in Ephesus (Acts 20:27) and he called the Ephesian elders to follow his example. He reminds elders in every era that it was the Holy Spirit who appointed us as overseers of the church which Christ purchased with his blood.  He charges us with protecting the flock against the savage wolves that would be coming.

Paul sent Titus to appoint elders in each congregation in Crete in order to teach sound doctrine and to refute those who oppose it. (Titus 1:9) Today’s elders have that same charge.  We must not stand by on the sidelines while the wolves ravage the flock.  Elders cannot pass the buck on the issue of  gender roles.  The buck stops here.

One of the qualifications for eldership is that the we must hold to the trustworthy message as it has been taught (Titus 1:9).  As elders, we are not free to teach according to our own preferences, nor the preferences of the flock. We must not deviate from what the apostles taught in the first century.

In my congregation, we have recently completed a month-long series on the subject.  Previously it had been about ten years since we had addressed the subject directly to the church.  That was too long, especially given the pressures coming from the culture around us.

Elders are the overseers who must watch over the church as men who must give an account (Heb 13:17).  Elders must be men of courage.  It’s time for elders everywhere to speak up and defend the trustworthy message that was taught by the apostles on the subject of gender roles.










First Corinthians: Women in the Assembly

January 28, 2008

Just as in the case of head coverings, I am about to explain an unpopular position on the subject of women being silent in the church. I have studied these two topics at length and have discussed them with many people. I have read papers on both sides of the issue. The bottom line for me is that the following is what I believe the scriptures teach.

Paul had another contentious issue to address in the Corinthian church. At the beginning of these instructions, Paul made it clear that the teaching he was giving was the common practice of all the churches. It was not a special case for the Corinthian church:

1Co 14:33b-35 As in all the congregations of the saints, 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.

In verse 34, Paul used the word σιγατωσαν which is translated “keep silent”, “be silent” “remain silent” and similarly in the various translations. From Thayer’s Greek Definitions:

1) to keep silence, hold one’s peace
2) to be kept in silence, be concealed

This is the same word used a few verses earlier teaching that, if an interpreter is not present, the tongue-speaker should keep quiet. The general idea is that they may have something to say, but they should keep it to themselves. Just as in the case of the tongue-speakers, it did not imply that they were prohibited from singing or speaking to individuals in fellowship. It only prohibited their publicly addressing the congregation.

So that there would not be any confusion, Paul elaborated, saying that women are not allowed to speak (λαλειν).

1) to utter a voice or emit a sound
2) to speak
2a) to use the tongue or the faculty of speech
2b) to utter articulate sounds
3) to talk
4) to utter, tell
5) to use words in order to declare one’s mind and disclose one’s thoughts
5a) to speak

And to further deter any argument, Paul said that the women were not even permitted to ask a question in the assembly. If they had a question, they should ask their husbands at home.

This was the same teaching Paul gave to Timothy in Ephesus:

1Ti 2:11-14 A woman should learn in quietness and full submission. I do not permit a woman to teach or to have authority over a man; she must be silent. 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.

Paul provided Timothy with the justification for the teaching. It was based on the order of creation, and the facts surrounding the fall from Eden. Neither reason was specific to the culture of a particular church. Neither reason has ceased to be valid today.

Paul rebuked the Corinthians for deviating from the teaching he had left with them, through two rhetorical questions.

1Co 14:36 Did the word of God originate with you? Or are you the only people it has reached?

Of course the answer to both questions was “No!” Yet the Corinthians were so presumptuous that they took upon themselves the right to ignore this teaching in their assemblies. They were introducing customs that were foreign to the other churches, and contrary to what they had been taught. They were violating the order Paul had set in place only few years earlier when he had established the church in Corinth.

Having stated the requirement emphatically and in no uncertain terms, he emphasized the instruction by challenging their prophets to confirm that this was the command of God, not merely Paul’s opinion. And he concluded with a warning:

1Co 14:38 If he ignores this, he himself will be ignored.

Paul clearly recognized that this teaching would face opposition. Some people would not like what he was saying. But despite the unpopularity of the teaching, Paul insisted on the silence of women in the assembly. And he left no doubt: this command was not Paul’s idea. It came from God himself.

So, why is there a trend in churches today to have women speaking publicly in the assembly? The justification I usually hear is that they want to relate more effectively to the modern culture. Instead, it seems to me that they are changing the teachings of God to be more like the philosophy of the world.

This issue is related to the previously discussed issue of head coverings. As far as I have seen, biblical scholars generally concede that Paul was instructing the women in Corinth not speak in the assembly. But many creative theories have been advanced in an effort to reconcile this passage with the desire to permit women to speak publicly in the assembly. The arguments typically run along the following lines:

1) Some people hold that Paul was just wrong in saying these things. In effect they are saying that Paul’s first letter to the Corinthians is not inspired scripture. One variant on this is advanced by Gordon Fee in his commentary. He holds that 1 Cor 14:34-35 are not inspired scripture, but were added later. We have absolutely no evidence that this is the case. The verses appear in every existing manuscript. The fact that Fee found it necessary to exclude these verses to support his position speaks volumes. A scholar like Fee could not find a way to reconcile these verses with the practice of permitting women to speak in the church. For more on the disputed verses, see the excellent translation notes on the subject in the NET Bible.

If we were to accept that some of the scriptures we have are not inspired, we would be opening Pandora’s Box. We would then be in a position where mortal men would have to decide which scriptures are from God and which are not.

2) Some people hold that Paul’s teachings applied only to Corinth, due to specific things that were going on in that church. But Paul clearly stated that this was the practice in all the churches. And in 1 Tim 2:11-14 he provided the reasons for the teaching–reasons that were equally true in every church in that day, and in every church today. Those reasons have not changed in nearly 2000 years, and will not change if Jesus delays another 2000 years.

3) Some people attempt to refute the teaching using Gal 3:28

Gal 3:28 There is neither Jew nor Greek, slave nor free, male nor female, for you are all one in Christ Jesus.

Of course that scripture is not addressing the role of women in the worship service. It is addressing our oneness in Christ. Men and women are one in Christ — parts of the same body, but with different roles. Just as Paul had specific instructions for slaves, and different instructions for their masters, Paul also had different instructions for men and women. Gal 3:28 does not refute the New Testament teachings in many places about the roles of men and women. It must be understood in the context of those other teachings, which are also the inspired word of God.

4) Some people point to the teaching on head coverings in 1 Cor 11 as evidence that women were allowed to speak in the assembly in Corinth. However, as previously mentioned, that passage was not addressing the assembly. Paul did not open up the discussion of the assembly until 1 Cor 11:17, which is the first mention of the assembly in the entire letter. The discussion of head coverings precedes the discussion of the assembly. So, it is true that Christian women in Corinth prayed and even prophesied. But they were prohibited from doing so in the assembly, based on 1 Cor 14:34-35.

It is interesting to note the inconsistency of those who teach, based on 1 Cor 11, that women can speak in the assembly–since (in my experience) they universally do not require the woman to wear a head covering when she speaks.

Is there any command of scripture given to the church in more emphatic terms than those on head coverings and silence of women? The Corinthian church must have been much like the church today. Many in the church did not want to comply with this teaching. The Holy Spirit anticipated that resistance, and supplied some of the clearest and strongest language in scripture to emphasize the point. Whether we like it or not, this is the command of God.

I recognize that many Christians disagree with this position, often very strongly. I was once among their number. Since studying this in more depth, and coming to this conviction, I have yet to hear a convincing argument for permitting women to speak. The plain meaning of Paul’s teaching is that women should be silent in the assembly. The very plainness of the language forces those who would ignore the teaching to go to great lengths — even removing verses from the Bible — in order to get around that teaching. I think we should have more respect for the scriptures than that.

I do not judge those who disagree with me on this topic. It is before the Lord that they stand or fall, and the Lord is able to make them stand. But God said these things for a reason. I trust that God will enable us all to understand His will better.


First Corinthians: Head Coverings

January 25, 2008

What I am about to say here is not the most popular view of the passage. I was persuaded to this view by my two daughters after they studied the subject in some depth. I am well aware of contrary views, having read many of them. I have been unable to get around the plain meaning that I think I see in this chapter. I invite you to consider a perspective which you will not hear in many places these days.

How we got here

Paul began the letter addressing divisions in the church. Then he admonished the church to expel an adulterer. Next he challenged them about lawsuits among believers, and about sexual immorality. Then he turned his attention to a list of questions he had received from the church.

The first of those questions was on the subject of marriage, divorce, and remarriage. Next was a question on the subject of meat sacrificed to idols.

Moving on

As Paul transitioned to the next topic, he wrote:

1Co 11:2 I praise you for remembering me in everything and for holding to the teachings, just as I passed them on to you.

Apparently this was in response to some comments accompanying the list of questions. Amidst all the problems, there were some areas in which they were worthy of praise. They remembered some things Paul had taught and were remaining faithful to those teachings. It is easy to miss the good when focusing on problems.

Paul then turns to their next inquiry. It seems that there was a controversy about the practice of head coverings (1 Cor 11:16). Just as in Paul’s day, this teaching is controversial today. Let’s take a methodical approach to understanding what Paul said. As we go along, try to answer these questions:

  • What did Paul expect the members of the Corinthian church to do regarding head coverings?
  • What were his reasons?
  • Were his reasons valid when he wrote them?
  • Do his reasons still apply?

The basic instruction was not complicated. Women should wear a head covering (Gk κατακαλυπτεται, cover by hanging down from the head) whenever praying or prophesying. Nothing is said about the time or place where this instruction applies. So it meant wherever and whenever a woman prays or prophesies, she should cover her head.

To emphasize the point, Paul said that if a woman would not comply, her hair should be shaved off. And if she would be ashamed to have her hair shaved off, she should comply with the teaching on head covering.

Some people attempt to sidestep the issue of head coverings by saying that the woman’s hair is her covering (taken from 1 Cor 11:15). However, that cannot be what Paul was talking about. Verses 5 and 6 make no sense if the covering is her hair. Furthermore, in verse 15, Paul says that her hair is given to her as a περιβολαιου (a wrapper, something wrapped around.) But in verses 5-6 Paul said she needs a κατακαλυπτεται (something covering, hanging down from the head.) Although English translation often use the same word in both places, the original Greek used two different words. It is evident from early church writings that those who were native speakers of Greek did not think Paul was saying her hair is sufficient covering.

Paul proceeded to explain to them why women should wear head coverings when praying or prophesying, but men should not. (1 Cor 11:3-16) He offered the following reasons:

1) God is the head of Christ; Christ is the head of man; and man is the head of woman.

Modern western culture does not embrace that teaching. But Paul asserts that it is so, and it is supported by many other passages of scripture. (Eph 5:22, Eph 5:24, Col 3:18, 1 Tim 2:11-12, 1 Peter 3:1, 1 Peter 3:5-6). If we accept those passages as authoritative, then Paul’s first reason still stands.

2) Man was created in the image and glory of God, but woman is the glory of man.

This follows from the first reason. God is the head of Christ, but Christ brings glory to God. Christ is the head of man, but man brings glory to Christ. Similarly, while man is the head of woman, woman brings glory to man. The purpose behind creation has not changed since Paul wrote these reasons, so this point also stands today.

3) Woman came from man.

Eve was created from the rib of Adam. (Gen 2:21-22) The creation account has not changed since Paul wrote this, so this reason still stands.

4) Woman was made for man.

Eve was created as a helper suitable for Adam (Gen 2:18) Note that, by inspiration, Paul interpreted that to mean Eve was created “for” Adam. Again, the creation account has not changed since Paul’s time, so the reason still stands.

5) Because of the angels

Angels are actively interested in Christians. (Heb 1:14, Heb 12:22, Heb 13:2, 1 Pet 1:12) Angels are witnesses to what Christians do and say. (1 Tim 5:21) Those angels who reject authority are fallen and doomed. (2 Peter 2:4, Jude 1:6) Submission to authority is apparently a very sensitive issue among the remaining good angels. Whether or not this explanation conveys Paul’s original meaning, we have no evidence that his reason applied only in his day.

6) Nature teaches that long hair is inappropriate for men, but is the glory of women.

Paul may have been referring to the tendency for women to have longer and thicker hair than men. Or he may have been referring to a universal tendency across cultures. It does seem consistent, in many different cultures, that long hair is characteristic of women and short hair of men. Regardless, we have no basis for thinking Paul’s reasoning is less applicable today than it was when he wrote it.

What do we do with this?

It seems plain that Paul expected the women in the first century Corinthian church to wear head coverings whenever they prayed or prophesied. I’m not aware of any credible Bible scholar who disagrees with that. The disagreements generally come in another form.

1) Some believe Paul was just wrong in saying this. That would mean his writings are not verbally inspired by God. If that were correct, then we could not rely on the Bible, and therefore we would have no reliable standard for truth regarding what God has done and what he calls on us to do. We would be left with the varying opinions of man. I don’t think God has left us there. I believe Paul was exactly right when he wrote these things — no matter how much I don’t like what he said.

2) Some people believe what he wrote only applied to the Corinthian church, because of some unique characteristics of that church and its environment. I don’t think that is a viable conclusion, because Paul ended the section by saying:

1Co 11:16 If anyone wants to be contentious about this, we have no other practice–nor do the churches of God.

3) Some people believe that Paul’s teaching on this subject applied in his day, but no longer applies because our culture is different from the culture of his day. I don’t accept that reasoning for a couple of reasons. First, our culture is not so different from Corinth. This teaching was contentious in Paul’s culture also, but it still applied despite the culture. Second, the reasons Paul listed for the practice have not become unsound. If they were sufficient to prove the point in Paul’s day (and remember, Paul wrote them by inspiration of the Holy Spirit), then they are sufficient today. It seems that some people just don’t think the reasons are strong enough. To hold that position, I think one has to find fault with God.

I know some women who believe the instruction about head coverings only applies when you are praying out loud. They take “prays or prophesies” in verse 5 to mean speaking a prayer or a prophecy out loud, with others present. That may be right, or it may at least be close to right. We’ll say more about this when we get to chapter 14.

As I said at the beginning, I know this is not the predominant view today among Christians. I do not consider this an issue that should divide Christians. Romans 14 should be applied here. The women I know are practicing their convictions, some on one side of the question and some on the other. The greatest danger is for those women who, deep inside, believe as I do but do not practice it. I hope at least this has helped some people to wrestle with a passage we often avoid.