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What May Women Do In The Church?

John Stott

Should women be silent in the church?

John Stott, whom Christianity Today calls “the premier teacher” in the evangelical and international world, helped me understand the challenging passage that is often used to keep women from ministering to anyone but other women or children in the church. This is the passage:

I want men everywhere to lift up holy hands in prayer, without anger or disputing.  I also want women to dress modestly, with decency and propriety, not with braided hair or gold or pearls or expensive clothes,  but with good deeds, appropriate for women who profess to worship God.  A woman should learn in quietness and full submission.  Do not permit a woman to teach or to have authority over a man; she must be silent.
1 Timothy 2:9-11

Stott says that there are three eternal principles, and each has an illustration that is cultural, rather than eternal. We are free to carry out the cultural illustration, but we do not disobey God if we do not always do it. However, we must always obey the eternal principle.

Eternal Principle Cultural Illustration
1.  Men are always to pray Lifting up holy hands
2.  Women are to dress modestly Not with braided hair or pearls
3.  Women are to be in submission to authority Not teach over men and be silent

Here is the actual quote:

John Stott, The Message of 1 Timothy (IVP)

1 Timothy 2:8-12
As men should pray in holiness, love and peace; but not necessarily lift up their hands while they do so; and as women should adorn themselves with modesty, decency, and good works, but not necessarily abstain from all hair-plaiting, gold and pearls; so women should submit to headship (caring responsibility) of men and not try to reverse sexual roles; but not necessarily refrain from teaching them.
John Stott

What do you think? If you disagree, share why. If you agree, what insight do you have for working graciously within a church that interprets the above passage to strongly restrict women in ministry?


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  1. I come from a denomination that includes, honors, and encourages women in ministry within the weekly worship and the many other ministries of churchlife. My pastor is female.

    I do not believe that Jesus would have made a “rule” like what Paul suggests to Timothy. I don’t think Paul was making a “rule,” rather I think Paul was responding to questions Timothy had put to him and was speaking to how he responds to a particular situation in a particular congregation. I might be very wrong. Paul goes on to say that Eve, the original sinner (and therefore all women), will be saved through childbearing and that certainly isn’t what Jesus is all about. I can’t bear children yet Jesus died for my salvation, too. So what part of this scripture do I take as fact, when I can’t take it all that way?

    I would assume that a woman who is in a church that restricts women because of this scripture is there for a reason. She will have to be satisfied with teaching women and children. There is much good in women teaching women.

    The older I get, the more value I see in women teaching women. As women, we can look at scriptures through female eyes and find the stories beneath the stories. There is much to be learned from the women of scripture. I have spent the last 4 years praying with and projecting into the lives of some of these women to write a novel around twelve of them. Helping women discover their value through scripture is indeed a blessing.

    If men honored women and women honored men (and we all honored each other), we would find the gifts we have been given to do the work we have been created to do. In the love of Christ, through the love taught by Jesus, by the power of the Holy Spirit, we would live and love together to grow into the greatness of a people of God. We would be church, not go to church. (End of sermon….oops!)

  2. Yes, I have come to understand the passage as well as how it was stated above. Though I prefer teaching women all day long, God brings men too. He knows how uncomfortable that makes me feel yet a funny thing He did. I was asked to speak at a college event with another male speaker. When I got there there were only maybe four girls and the rest were guys! I was so nervous and pondered these verses again. Yet, it was how God wanted it. I have another one coming up to a mixed group as well. I think I will be better prepared this time if it ends up this way again. My emotions swayed the whole time because I felt like it was wrong but God has been teaching me the truth of those Scriptures. It is all about authority and I am sure to be under the proper chains of it, specifically through the blessing of my husband. I do love the mystery of some passages that God will not open my eyes too yet. I just ponder them awhile and in due time He opens my eyes to them a fresh at the proper time. So I just trust Him when I do not understand. Eventually He explains. I am interested in what others have to say on this topic. I know certain persecution does come though with my call as being a woman. Thanks for the example you have set before us all in this.
    Much love,

  3. That is a great example Dee. I remember hearing Anne Graham Lotz telling a story about being rejected in that way. I think there is no other way than to tread it lightly and with gentleness. God is bigger than any obstacle. He will make them move if He so desires. Yet it is much easier to say all of this then living it day in and day out. 🙂 It is just a process I guess.

    My desire either way is two-fold, I hope the people take note of our actions like they did with the apostles in Acts, they saw ordinary men but there was something very different–noting they had been with Jesus. That changes things. Praying and waiting is sometimes how that is done. Yet on the other side of it, it is so hard to wait at times because God’s word burns in my bones so much sometimes that I cannot help but to share. So I guess if it is that one He brings alongside to hear it or a group, either way He is good and over all these things in it.

    I think it does all boil down to authority overall. If those people who oppose it see that you are not a threat or trying to take over then they are more likely to open up over time. Just some thoughts. Love all the insight Dee!
    Much love,

  4. Dear Dee,

    I’ve been thinking about the question you asked about other scripture regarding how women are to behave and the scriptures that come to mind are the woman at the well and Mary Magdalene at the tomb.

    Jesus talked comfortably and with authority to the Samaritan woman at the well. When the disciples returned and found him interacting with this woman they marvelled that he was talking to her but were hesitant (or afraid)to say anything to him. She knew the cultural rules and left when the others arrived, going into town and telling her story to all she met. Because she was a “scarlet woman” the men were probably more inclined to hear her out than the women in the town. Whether that’s true or not, the men were the ones who rushed out to check this Jesus out for themselves. While they were rushing out, Jesus was reprimanding his disciples about dilly dallying with the “harvest” and told them the time was NOW. Then the Samaritan men arrived and asked him to stay. He stayed and taught. They believed. They believed not because of what the woman had told them but because she had opened their eyes and led them to Jesus. She told her story, they sought Jesus, Jesus converted. Jesus used this woman to teach these men.

    Again, at the tomb, Jesus spoke to Mary Magdalene … the one who came seeking him and found him in a whole new way … and told her to go and tell the men what she had seen and heard and to give them a message from him. Jesus used this woman to deliver his message. Why? Not because she was a woman. Because she was available, open to receive, and willing to serve.

    Jesus did not seem to have a hang-up about women and treat them as lesser, the men of the times were the ones with the issue. Paul was one of those men. He spoke to the values of the current culture. There’s nothing wrong with that, we have to have order to live together. But the current culture in our time and in our country does not silence women. Women lead in the workplace. Women raise children alone. Women are as educated as men and, therefore, as qualified to teach.

    Teaching in church, about scripture, should be inspired by the Holy Spirit. I do not believe God’s Holy Spirit discriminates against women. In fact, I believe even Paul said something somewhere about in the Spirit there is no man or woman, no mother or father, no young or old but we are all one in the Spirit.

    Those are my thoughts. I am open to correction……..Janet

  5. Dear Dee, Our pastor recently preached on 1 Timothy 2:15. (“But women will be saved through childbearing — if they continue in faith, love, and holiness with propriety.”) He is quite adamant about comparing Scripture with Scripture and not stretching verses to an illogical conclusion. Christ is the way, the light, and the truth. No one can come to the Father but through Him. (my apologies for not remembering references). This truth is supported throughout Scripture and how many times did Paul rail against those who tried to add conditions like being circumscized before being a “full” believer. Therefore requiring a woman to birth a child before being truly saved does not conform to the teaching of Scripture. Adam and Eve were both specifically created/formed by God. Every person since then has been formed in the womb and birthed including Christ. Therefore woman(specifically Mary) has been given the special privilege of carrying the Savior. Through childbirth Christ came to earth to save us. Meaning that the childbirth referenced in I Timothy 2:15 means the birth of Christ and that a woman would bear Him.

    If I continue in faith, love, and holiness with propriety – follow Christ with all my heart, soul, mind, and body then I am His. And the joy of knowing that God judges my faith, love and holiness according to what He sees in Christ – I’m covered totally and completely in spite of my frailty and foolishness. And what a privilege that Christ came to earth just like us, to live just like us, and die that we can be saved.

  6. i really don’t understand because i want to study theology and i heard that i cannot do it because i will not be able to preach to no one or evangelize to no one but i will have to keep silent and say nothing. how can i have the greatness of God in me and keep silent. how can i be free from sin and shame and not tell someone how good God is. i really want to know so if anything i will not waste my money to go to college for theology when i wont be able to do nothing more than sit down in church and be quiet. by the way, can a woman be youth leader in a church? can she be a children director? what can they do in church apart from being a women’s leader?

  7. I’m a believer a Christian that loves the Lord.  I have to say that it is one of the most aggravating and sad things to hear of when I hear of other Christian folks interpreting the Bible in such a way that as if it were meant for ALL time.  In my opinion and opinion of many biblical scholars, this topic of women having to be silent was a cultural thing that was speaking to an audience of that time period plane and simple.  As a Christian, I’ve seen so many people get so bent out of shape and off-track about interpreting scripture without thinking about the period it was written and cultural differences at the time.  For example; slaves were acceptable to have in that period (Ephesians 6:5)  In this day, that is not acceptable.  Hair; in the day of the Bible, it was not acceptable for a woman to have her hair uncovered while praying or in the Church (1st Corinthians 11:5)  Obviously, in this day that is acceptable.  These are just some examples of realizing and understanding that some scriptures are meant for a time period or audience of that time period/culture.