“As the law says.” is the little reference source tucked into this 1 Corinthians 14:34-35 silence injunction for women. This makes it very clear that this idea does not originate with Paul, but what outside source it comes from. On page 8 – #8, of their pamphlet Martin & Vos claim that this refers to the Old Testament. This is an incorrect assumption. Many have combed the Old Testament thoroughly for this idea/command/law/quote but not found it. If it were in the Old Testament we would all know about it. I’m afraid Martin & Vos just made a quick assumption and some of their readers have done the same. I do not attribute any bad motives for this mistake, but only the quick and easy path of jumping to conclusions to which we are all tempted. But let me be clear, the Old Testament says nothing about commanding women to silence, either in the temple, synagogue or anywhere else!
We know that the Jews had lots of laws in addition to the books included in the Old Testament, so it is easy to understand that Paul, who was very well educated in all the books of Jewish law, is referring to some other Jewish law, some additional law meant to detail every rule & action thought necessary to ensure a person’s perfect alignment with God’s requirements. He could even have been referring to some pagan or secular law or custom that the Corinthians were familiar with. Wherever this extrabiblical idea/quote/law came from, Paul has made clear to us his perspective on the law as it relates to the gospel. “So we, too, have put our faith in Christ Jesus that we may be justified by faith inChrist and not by the works of the law, because by the works of the law no one will be justified.” (Gal.2:16)
So Paul’s parenthetical note of “as the law says” is just one more clue as to whether this stringent injunction for women to be silent is something Paul is commanding and commending or refuting and rejecting.
In this discussion of 1 Corinthians 14:34-35 we now come to the silence injunction for women.
“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.” (1 Cor. 14:34-35)
That’s pretty strong language! Of course it also seems a little contradictory. Paul has just finished saying,
“What then shall we say, brothers? 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. . . . for you can all prophesy in turn so that everyone may be instructed and encouraged.” (1 Cor. 14:26-31)
So ALL, remember ‘brothers’ includes both men and women, can contribute, not only for the encouragement of other, but for their instruction as well, all in the context of speaking up in church gatherings!
This contradiction and context alone certainly puts these silence injunction verses into the ‘difficult’ or ‘unclear’ category. So we need to tread carefully in making any quick or out-of-context judgments. We must shine the light of the clear and obvious scriptures on these verses to be sure we are understanding them correctly. Here are just a few contradictions from this first letter of Paul to the Church in Corinth alone.
“How can Paul say this when he has just explained in detail the importance and necessity of every gift, every member in the church? How can women exercise their gift “for the common good” if they must remain silent? (1 Cor. 12)
How can Paul say, “it is disgraceful for a woman to speak in the church”? He has just said,
“The eye cannot say to the hand. “I don’t need you!” . . . But God has combined the members of the body and has given greater honor to the parts that lacked it, so that there should be no division in the body, but that its parts should have equal concern for each other. . . . Now you are the body of Christ, and each one of you is a part of it.” (1 Cor. 12:21–27).
How can Paul say the women may not even ask a question when he has just told the Corinthians that each one of them has been given a “manifestation of the Spirit . . . for the common good”? (1 Cor. 12:7; Eph. 4:7)
How can Paul say this when he has just upheld the women’s new freedom in Christ to pray and prophesy publicly in worship? (1 Cor. 11:5)
How can Paul say this when he has just told us that “in the Lord” men and women are completely interdependent? (1 Cor. 11:11–12) What does “in the Lord” mean if not “in the church”? (1 Cor. 14:35)
How can Paul say this when his theme in this letter to the Corinthians is that divisions in the church are sinful? How can there be “no divisions” when half of the group is required to be silent and the other half is not? How can the Corinthians “be perfectly united in mind and thought” (1 Cor. 1:10) if none of the women are allowed to voice their thoughts?
How can Paul pass on the greeting of Priscilla to all the Corinthians if it is “disgraceful for a woman to speak in the church”? (1 Cor. 16:19)
How can Paul say it is “disgraceful” for women to speak in the church when they have received grace (1 Cor. 1:4) and been “sanctified in Christ Jesus and called to be holy”? (1 Cor. 1:2.)“ (From The Full Rights of Sons, Chapter 13, Must She Be Silent?, page 170-171)
Furthermore, lots of Christian women in the church do not have husbands at home to ask.
I would now like to turn to Vos’ intertretation of 1 Cor. 14:34-35 which he makes in support of his position that women elders are not scriptural. Vos refers to this passage on pages 7, 8, 10, 12, 15, & 21 of his pamphlet.
When I apply the hermeneutic rules for interpreting the Scripture as described in the WCF and explained here, this is what I see. I will divide this discussion into five parts:
The Silence Injunction
What is Paul writing?
‘Brothers’ is a collective term of address. Paul writes this letter to the church in Corinth. Are women in that group? Of course! Just as Paul says,
“To those sanctified in Christ Jesus and called to be his holy people, together with all those everywhere who call on the name of our Lord Jesus Christ-their Lord and ours: . . . I appeal to you, brothers . . .” (1 Cor. 1:2 & 10 – Please pay special attention to the footnotes for these verses in the NIV & ESV translations.)
After addressing this group as ‘brothers’ Paul goes on to reference some of that group who are identified with Chloe’s name. (1 Cor. 1:11) ‘Brothers’ includes all the women believers that are a part of the Corinthian church. ‘Brothers’ means men & women Christian believers.
This is the term of address that Paul uses through the entire letter. The section of the letter that contains the silence injunction for women is opened and closed with this term of address. (1 Cor. 14:26 & 39) So it is very clear who Paul is writing to and whom he includes in the pronouns ‘you’ and ‘anyone’. Just as Paul says, he is writing to “all those everywhere who call on the name of our Lord Jesus Christ-their Lord and ours.”
In my last post I discussed Vos’ contention that “‘in Christ’ is not equivalent to ‘in the government of the visible church.’” This leads directly into a discussion of Vos’ use of the following phrases or ideas:
Page 3 – ‘in the government of the visible church’ as relating to Galatians 3:28.
Page 4 – ‘church office’ as relating to the woman at the well in John 4.
Page 5 – ‘preaching’ as relating to Mary Magdalene in Matt.28:1-10; Mark 16:1-8; Luke 24:10 & John 20:11-18.
Page 7 – ‘personal work’, ‘public assemblies’, & ‘ruling power’ as relating to Priscilla in Acts 18:24-26.
Page 8 – ‘publicly, in the church’ as relating to the praying & prophesying of women in 1 Corinthians 11 & 14.
Page 19 – ‘church membership’, ‘church office’, & ‘eldership’ as we define them today and then apply them to Scripture.
All of these terms and ideas are human constructs invented by men in the post-Scripture era to reflect as closely as possible what was seen in the New Testament church. These narrowly defined ideas may be helpful at times, but we must recognize they do not represent the full biblical revelation. These are not biblical terms or definitions!
In Are Women Elders Scriptural these terms seem to be used only to devalue the lives and work of women, both the women of the Bible and the women of today. These human definitions and rules make not only the work of women of no account, but also relegate the scriptures that speak of women to the oblivion of no-account and “setting aside”! (Mark 7:9)
When we use our human constructs and definitions to interpret scripture, rather than the other way around, we are definitely getting the cart before the horse. Big trouble is the result – Then we risk aligning ourselves with the Pharisees and nullifying the Word of God for the sake of our own traditions, our human rules. (Matt. 15:1-9 & Mark 7:1-13)
On pages 3 & 4 of the Martin/Vos pamphlet entitled Are Women Elders Scriptural? they make the assertion in reference to Galatians 3:28 that “in Christ Jesus” is not equivalent to “in the government of the visible church.”
(I will discuss such terms as ‘visible church’ in my next post. “The government of the visible church” should represent fairly and completely those who are members of the church. It is a given that those qualified for church leadership will be chosen from among the church members. One important clarification: On page 4 of Are Women Elders Scriptural Vos says, “To interpret the phrase ‘in Jesus Christ’ as equivalent to ‘in the government of the church’ is to confuse the invisible church with the visible church, by maintaining that membership in the former confers the right to hold office in the latter.” No, the 1938 paper, On the Ordination of Women Elders, did not say church membership confers the right to hold office. It suggested that church membership conferred the right to be eligible to hold office.)
But I say that these two should be as close to the same thing as humanly possible. Of course, ‘humanly possible’ is not perfect because humanity is fallible and sinful. Only God can truly judge the authenticity of the faith in a human heart. To the extent that “in Christ Jesus” and “in the government of the visible church” do not coincide is only to our shame.
(I will discuss such terms as ‘visible church’ in my next post. “The government of the visible church” should represent fairly and completely those who are members of the church. It is a given that those qualified for church leadership will be chosen from among the church members. )
Vos contends that “in Christ Jesus” applies only to salvation from sin as in Romans 8:1, “There is therefore now no condemnation to them that are in Christ Jesus.” This seems like proof-texting in the extreme, contriving only to devalue the salvation of some and, in the process, to devalue the powerful scripture of Galatians 3:28 as well as 1 Corinthians 12:13 and Colossians 3:11.
“To the church of God in Corinth, to those sanctified in Christ Jesus and called to be his holy people, together with all those everywhere who call on the name of our Lord Jesus Christ—their Lord and ours:”
Here Paul makes it very clear that the church is one and the same as those sanctified “in Christ Jesus.”
Yes, that is the whole point of the church – it is the body of the redeemed.
“To the churches in Galatia: Grace and peace to you from God our Father and the Lord Jesus Christ,who gave himself for our sins to rescue us from the present evil age, according to the will of our God and Father, to whom be glory for ever and ever. Amen.” (Gal. 1:1-5)
Salvation is our entrance into the church. Ephesians 2 makes this very clear – all of us born again people, from near or far, are being built up into a holy temple, the church, where God lives by his Spirit.
“But now in Christ Jesus you who once were far away have been brought nearby the blood of Christ. . . . 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. 2:6, 13 & 19-22)
Yes, us too, even us women who have often been pushed “far away” from the church. We women in Christ are now “fellow citizens.” We women are “members” of God’s “household”, which is “the church of the living God, . . ..” (1 Tim. 3:15)
We are all members of one body just as we all share together in the promise in Christ Jesus. (Eph. 3:6)
Our starting point must be – The Interpretation of Scripture. How do we find truth in the Bible? The high-falutin word is ‘hermeneutics’! This is a sensible place to begin. Vos begins here also. On page 2 of his pamphlet he says,
“No man’s opinion about the meaning of a text of Scripture is of any weight unless supported by substantial reasons. By weighing the reasons adduced by commentators in support of their opinions, it should be possible to approach closely to the true meaning of a text.”
So how do we evaluate those reasoning of commentators?
We as Reformed Presbyterians are committed to the Bible as the only infallible rule for faith and life. We believe The Westminster Confession of Faith got it right when it says in the first chapter “Of the Holy Scriptures”, section 9:
“IX. The infallible rule of interpretation of Scripture is the Scripture itself: and therefore, when there is a question about the true and full sense of any Scripture (which is not manifold, but one), it must be searched and known by other places that speak more clearly.”
Section 10 goes on to say,
“The supreme judge by which all controversies of religion are to be determined, and all decrees of councils, opinions of ancient writers, doctrines of men, and private spirits, are to be examined, and in whose sentence we are to rest, can be no other but the Holy Spirit speaking in the Scripture.”
Holy Scripture is one harmonious and integrated whole. It doesn’t have many messages. It has one message – the gospel of our Lord Jesus Christ. That person and his gospel is the central focus of all of Scripture and everything else must conform to it. Paul gives us a wonderful plum line against which to measure sound doctrine. In 1 Timothy 1:10-11 he tell us that sound doctrine “conforms to the gospel”, and it is in harmony with this sound doctrine that we must conduct ourselves in the church. (1 Tim. 3:15) Paul rebuked Peter when he was “not acting in line with the truth of the gospel.” (Gal.2:14)
The truth of Scripture is not found through a majority vote of commentators!
Good and helpful as commentators may be, they must never be our primary resource or ultimate authority. That role belongs to the Bible alone. We must follow the Berean example of searching the Scriptures to see if what the commentators say is true. (Acts 17:11)
So, whatever our view of women serving as elders or serving in other ways or their status in the church, it all must be in conformity to our Lord Jesus Christ and his glorious gospel. We must learn the status of women in the church by studying all of scripture, searching for themes and principles which will help us. We must learn the meaning of difficult words by how those words are used elsewhere in Scripture. If some passage or idea seems difficult or unclear we must interpret it in light of the clear and easily understood.
These principles will lead us to the truth.
The part must be interpreted in light of the whole.
The old must be interpreted in light of the new.
The difficult &/or unclear must be interpreted in light of the clear.
All scripture portions must be interpreted in light of and in harmony with the person of our Lord Jesus Christ and his gospel.
It is this method of interpretation to which I believe the RPCNA is committed. It is this method that I learned within and from the RPCNA from my earliest days of reading the Bible. It is this method of interpretation that will yield the truth. It is this method of interpretation that will bring light and freedom to the church. As I go forward in these discussions, it this method of interpretation which I will employ.
As Paul prayed for the saints in Ephesis, the faithful in Christ Jesus, so let us pray as well.
“. . . remembering you in my prayers. I keep asking that the God of our Lord Jesus Christ, the glorious Father, may give you the Spirit of wisdom and revelation, so that you may know him better. I pray that the eyes of your heart may be enlightened in order that you may know the hope to which he has called you, the riches of his glorious inheritance in his holy people, and his incomparably great power for us who believe. That power is the same as the mighty strength he exerted when he raised Christ from the dead and seated him at his right hand in the heavenly realms,. . .” (Eph. 1:13-20)
York summarizes J.G. Vos’ contribution to the RPCNA as praiseworthy in directing the church toward a deeper biblical Christianity. I am happy to agree with this and highly respect Vos’ work. I knew Dr. Vos. He was the chairman of the Bible Department at Geneva College when I attended there, although I never had him for a Bible class. I grew up in the First Beaver Falls congregation where Dr. Vos was the teacher of the adult Sabbath School class for many years. That class was always very well attended and the entire congregation benefited from his influence. My sister Esther worked as Dr. Vos’ assistant when she attended Geneva and had only good things to say about her boss. My personal encounters with Dr. Vos were always genial and helpful. I am very grateful for his work in missions, teaching and publications.
However, I cannot agree with the implication within York’s article that the RPCNA of the early 20th century was on the verge of slipping into liberalism or was confused and frustrated. This maligns the work of many godly and faithful men and women who spent their lives in the service of Christ through the RPCNA on a quick quote from one man. I would think that much more careful research is needed before such an evaluation should be given any credence whatsoever. Many throughout the years of its existence have done their part to bring constant and ongoing renewal to the RPCNA and to keep it on a Bible-centered path. We should be careful of demeaning our forebears by succumbing to the temptation of prideful arrogance in how much better our own generation is.
1 Cor. 12:4 ”There are different kinds of gifts, but the same Spirit distributes them. 5 There are different kinds of service, but the same Lord. 6 There are different kinds of working, but in all of them and in everyone it is the same God at work.7 Now to each one the manifestation of the Spirit is given for the common good.”
But it is the subject of “Are Women Elders Scriptural”, the meat of the article, which I most want to address. I have read the 1938 paper submitted to Synod “On the Ordination of Women Elders.” Now I have also read the Martin/Vos rebuttal pamphlet: “Are Women Elders Scriptural?” and would like to address a few issues that come to my mind as a result. I hope you will come along with me through my next few blog posts as I discuss this important subject. I want to know what you think, too.