A Woman’s Role in the Congregation

Unfortunately, many men in our religious institutions misuse Scripture to place women in a religious role the Scripture’s never proclaimed. I have listed some of the most common verses used in this manner with an explanation of their true meaning based on credible biblical evidence. Please read on.

1 Tim 2:8 I will therefore that men pray everywhere, lifting up holy hands, without wrath and doubting.

This verse is the one used by misguided leaders to prohibit women from praying publicly as the following is used to prohibit women from teaching and discipling.

1 Tim 2:11 Let the woman learn (manthaneto) in silence with all subjection.
12 But I suffer not a woman to teach, nor to usurp authority over the man, but to be in silence.

First, Greek manthaneto does not mean learn in the modern sense of acquiring information. It is related to the word mathetes, meaning disciple. The understanding of this word in the Greek and not in the English translation gives a whole new meaning to these verses. We see that in this context it is the pattern of discipling and being discipled, as existed in Judaism and was exemplified by Yahshua and his talmidim (disciples). Culturally, Orthodox Jews then and now understand the word “learn” to mean “studying Torah”, not merely gaining knowledge, but to become more holy, mnore disciplined. This is the sense of the word here. Secondly, from the English version, verse 12 would seem to infer that a woman must not “teach” a man nor to have authority over him, but to be in silence. This conveys something akin to “be silent and speak when spoken to.”.

Sha’ul is thinking about the spiritual life of individuals here for discipling is generally a one on one process and requires intimate contact. The situation of a woman closely discipling a man may lead to gossip or even worse. Furthermore, anyone who disciples another has a responsibility for their spiritual life and growth. Sha’ul is saying women are not to place themselves in that kind of situation nor to have that kind of responsibility for men. This is not about teaching, but about discipling. Neither is Sha’ul teaching that Timothy should enforce silence or submission on a woman. On the contrary he teaches Timothy, and us by extension that we are to let a woman learn (be discipled) in peace (Greek esuchia) “silence, restfulness”), without disturbing her. Give her place and time to study. The sense expressed here is not “in silence,” as most translations imply, inferring she should keep her mouth shut, but “at rest”; Compare Acts 22:2 [And when they heard that he spake in the Hebrew tongue to them, they kept the more silence: and [2 Thes 3:12, Now them that are such we command and exhort by our Lord Yahshua HaMashiach, that with quietness (KJV) they work, and eat their own bread.[2 Thes.3:12 Such people we command and urge in the Lord Yahshua HaMashiach to settle down and earn the bread they eat. Where the word is translated, “settle down.” (NIV) On the other hand, 1 Cor 14:34-35 does teach against disturbing chatter by wives at congregational meetings. It was not uncommon for women in Orthodox synagogues where men and women were separated to shout something out to her husband that certainly could have waited until services were over. Women may learn and should learn equally with men, but Sha’ul here does not permit a woman to teach (to disciple) a man or exercise a discipler’s authority over him. It would be unseemly for a woman to have a one on one relationship with a man which discipling requires.

In any well led congregation women may be given authority and responsibility, including the discipling of women and the teaching of men and this is not unscriptural; Sha’ul himself offers many examples: Lydia, the businesswoman who opened her home to him (Acts 16:14, 40), Priscilla, who taught Apollos (Acts 18:26), and Phoebe, who held a leadership position (Rom 16:1), to name but three. In the Old Testament women were prophets, judges and held positions of prominence..

In 1 Tim. 3:10,11 we read: And let these also first be proved; then let them use the office of a deacon, being found blameless. 11 Even so must their wives be grave, not slanderers, sober, faithful in all things.

Greek word gunaikas translated wives here can mean either “wives” or “women.” If the former, Sha’ul is taking for granted that only men can be shahhashin and is predicting their service on their wives’ good behavior. But if the meaning is “women,” he is allowing that women as well as men can fill the office of Shamash. At Romans 16:1 Sha’ul calls Phoebe a Shamash; his use of the masculine form of the Greek word “diakonos,” suggests that he is in fact referring to the office and not just describing her as a worker. She holds that office. Deacon in today’s parlance. Against this idea stands v.12, which says that a Shamash must be faithful to his wife (see v. 2) but says nothing about her being faithful to her husband (compare 5:9). However, this can be explained as brevity of expression, or as a statement that infidelity most often occurs by the male in a marriage partnership.

Now as to 1 Tim. 2:8 you will have to do a little homework on your own. I’ll help. The majority interpretation of this verse is that women may not pray publicly conflicts with his teaching at 1 Cor. 11:5. Gal. 3:28; 1 Cor 14:34-35 and in actuality this passage seems to be applied to a specific kind of learning already examined in v. 11 above.

However, I feel a little explanation is needed on the last citation 1 Cor. 14: 34-45. In this very letter we know that Sha’ul allowed women to speak and pray in public so what does this verse address? Sha’ul is answering a question the Corinthians have presented to him in 7:1 and that is about their wives discussing with their husbands what is said in assemblies while it is being said. This would cause distractions to the other believers present even if the wife were sitting next to her husband. Therefore, a woman or for that matter a man should refrain from disturbing the decorum of the service by chatter that could be addressed later. Jewish synagogues separated men and women and it would have been even more disturbing if a woman called out to her husband across the m’chitzah (dividing wall). This to is the opportune time for Sha’ul to bring this question forward for it is precisely the time he is discussing order and decorum in the synagogue.