What does “be in silence” mean for women in church?

Ephesians 5:22-32 is perhaps one of the most misunderstood, debated, and ignored passages in the Bible. Let’s read it first and then point out some important concepts.

  • 22. Wives, submit yourselves unto your own husbands, as unto the Lord.
  • 23. For the husband is the head of the wife, even as Christ is the head of the church: and he is the saviour of the body.
  • 24. Therefore as the church is subject unto Christ, so let the wives be to their own husbands in every thing.
  • 25. Husbands, love your wives, even as Christ also loved the church, and gave himself for it;
  • 26. That he might sanctify and cleanse it with the washing of water by the word,
  • 27. That he might present it to himself a glorious church, not having spot, or wrinkle, or any such thing; but that it should be holy and without blemish.
  • 28. So ought men to love their wives as their own bodies. He that loveth his wife loveth himself.
  • 29. For no man ever yet hated his own flesh; but nourisheth and cherisheth it, even as the Lord the church:
  • 30. For we are members of his body, of his flesh, and of his bones.
  • 31. For this cause shall a man leave his father and mother, and shall be joined unto his wife, and they two shall be one flesh.
  • 32. This is a great mystery: but I speak concerning Christ and the church.
  • 33. Nevertheless let every one of you in particular so love his wife even as himself; and the wife see that she reverence her husband.

There are two parallel concepts here:

  1. Jesus Christ and the church
  2. Husband and wife

There is an order in the church: Christ is its head, and the church is its body. The church is subject (in lesser rank, as in the military) to Christ.

The order in marriage is exactly the same: the husband is the head, and the woman is the body. The wife is subject to (ranks herself willingly under) her husband.

Just as Christ doesn’t abuse His headship over the church, neither should the husband over the wife. (See my post, I Will Make You Submit, here.)

Let’s look at another passage that addresses a woman’s  behavior in the church. Keep in mind, this is talking about a church gathering of men and women together, not a ladies’ class or children’s Sunday school. This is a mixed congregation of the church.

Let your women keep silence in the churches: for it is not permitted unto them to speak; but they are commanded to be under obedience, as also saith the law. And if they will learn any thing, let them ask their husbands at home: for it is a shame for women to speak in the church (1 Corinthians 14:34-35).

This passage says women aren’t supposed to say anything. Silence. It’s a shame for her to speak in church. She needs to ask her husband. 

Seriously?

God wrote the Bible. Here you see the husband-wife relationship as it works in a mixed church service setting. The woman defers to her husband’s authority. You will notice in other passages that the authority in the church is always for men: pastors, teachers, evangelists, deacons. Christ is the Head of the church, and the church responds to Him. The husband is the head of his home, and the wife asks him her questions and doesn’t interrupt the church meeting.

Another passage on this subject gives clarity to what a woman should do. It’s 1 Timothy 2:7-13. The Apostle Paul is writing a letter to Pastor Timothy.

  • 7. Whereunto I am ordained a preacher, and an apostle, (I speak the truth in Christ, and lie not;) a teacher of the Gentiles in faith and verity.
  • 8. I will therefore that men pray everywhere, lifting up holy hands, without wrath and doubting.
  • 9. In like manner also, that women adorn themselves in modest apparel, with shamefacedness and sobriety; not with broided hair, or gold, or pearls, or costly array;
  • 10. But (which becometh women professing godliness) with good works.
  • 11. Let the woman learn 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.
  • 13. For Adam was first formed, then Eve.

Before you label the Apostle Paul a machista, read the context of the whole passage. It’s talking about men praying in faith and women adorning themselves in modesty, with good works. Then, we have the instruction for women at church to learn in silence with subjection—just as we saw in 1 Corinthians 14. But this goes further: a woman is not to teach or usurp—interesting word—authority over the man, but to be in silence. Why? Simply order. Adam came before Eve.

We could go into so many ideas, here, but let’s instead define usurp. In the context of usurping authority, it means teaching the men and thus taking away their authority in the church. For a married woman, this means she is stepping out of her rank. Again, for a mixed church gathering, teachers are to be men.

Women are supposed to teach other women and children, of course. (See Titus 2:3-5.) By the way, women and children make up 80% of the world’s population. God doesn’t limit women except when it comes to church and home leadership. In the church and in the home, it’s for men.

Why? Order.

Too many bosses creates confusion. God straightens out that confusion by making it a simple matter of order. Even Jesus—equal with God the Father—responds willingly to His Father (1 Corinthians 11:3—God is the Head of Christ).

The only other passage I know of that speaks about women’s conduct in church is the controversial one in 1 Corinthians 11:3-15 about hair and head coverings for both men and women. I am not going into that in this post.

Soon, though, we’ll delve into what happens when women “usurp authority” and teach men in the church. We’ll also discuss giving testimonies, prayer requests, and other speaking in church. So, stay tuned. I think you’ll find it interesting.

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