Women Teachers: Wells Without Water
Arthur M. Ogden
This is the fifth Article in a series on "Women Teachers." In the four previous Articles, I have sought to show that the truth on 1 Corinthians 14:34-35 and 1 Timothy 2:11-12 permits Christian women to teach classes of other women and children. These two passages do not forbid it.
In this the final study in this series, I am turning my attention to a consideration of some positions taken by some of our brethren on the subject before us, which I feel are out of harmony with the truth. These arguments are "Wells Without Water" and hinder the cause of truth. I assure you, that the things presented for consideration in this article are not intended just to find fault. They are presented that you might prayerfully consider them for their merit, with the hope that by logic and reason, we can come to present an impregnable front to the force of error. I beg you to consider them carefully in the same spirit with which they are written. If they are in error, feel free to call them to my attention.
Public and Private
I once attended a debate on the subject of "Women Teachers," in which about half of the time was spent trying to prove that the real point at issue was whether Bible Classes are public or private. The disputants argued for hours on the point. Both must have been under the impression that Paul said, "I suffer not a woman to teach in public," and "Let your women keep silence in public." The Bible does not read that way, however, and I suggest that until it does, there is absolutely no reason to discuss the point.
Call Bible Classes public or private, it does not matter. It has nothing to do with the issue. The truth is, Christian women are not permitted to violate their submission to man anywhere, whether public or private, and she can teach anywhere, whether public or private, that does not place her in the position of addressing the assembly of the whole church (1 Cor. 14:34-35), and that does not place her in a position of ignoring her submission to man (1 Tim. 2:11-12).
Arguing the issue over public and private with those who are opposed to "Women Teachers" is a serious mistake. First of all, you join hands with the false teachers, saying, "in public" is what qualifies 1 Corinthians 14:34-35, and 1 Timothy 2:11-12. That is an error within itself. It is a disaster to try and qualify these passages with "in public" as we have already seen. Secondly, you find yourself in an endless battle of meaningless words which prove nothing. The words public and private are relative words and their meaning cannot be pinpointed to be absolute. So, what may be in one sense public, may in another sense be private. According to Webster's definitions of public and private, Bible Classes may be considered as both. I have found in my experience that the admission of the fact that Bible Classes are public is a thorn in the flesh to the opposition. Since most of their arguments are based upon Bible Classes being public, they are at a loss for words when you admit that they are public.
The Prophet's Wives
Many brethren have been arguing for years that in 1 Corinthians 14:34-35, Paul is talking about the "prophet's wives," and since we have no prophets today, the passage is not binding. The argument is based upon the premise that Paul had been addressing the prophets (v. 29-33), and since he says, "let your women" in verse 34, it is felt that he is speaking of the prophet's wives. Support is also found for this position in Paul's statement, "let them ask their husbands at home" (v. 35).
I find great dissatisfaction in this argument. First, because it is built upon false premises, and second, because it ignores plain statements. The premise that Paul is addressing the prophets is false. Nowhere in these verses does Paul direct his remarks to the prophets. We must go all the way back to verse 26 to find those addressed. "How is it then, brethren?" The remarks following are directed to the brethren regarding the tongue-speakers, the prophets, and the women. The brethren were to "let the prophets speak" (v. 29), and "let your women keep silence" (v. 34). The brethren were to regulate order in this assembly (v. 40). This involved bringing their ("your") women "under obedience" to "keep silence in the churches." "Your women" were the women of the church, and it included all Christian women, for Paul said, "It is a shame for women to speak in the church" (v. 35). To limit this passage to the prophet's wives is to ignore the fact that the command covers every Christian woman.
Let us suppose for a moment that the application of 1 Corinthians 14:34-35 was just to the prophet's wives. Would that not mean that all other Christian women were not under the restrictions of the passage? Could all other women speak in the church? If not, why not? And if not, what is the point of the prophet's wives argument? Can christian women today speak in the churches? If not, why not? And again, what is the point of the prophet's wives argument?
1 Timothy 2:11-12 is usually cited as the passage that will not permit christian women to speak in the assembly today. This passage does not silence women. We all recognize that 1 Timothy 2:11-12 permits women to teach, as long as she does not violate her submission to man. I maintain that a woman can ask a question, answer a question, read scripture, and make a comment, even in a Bible Class where men are present as long as she is not ignoring her place of submission to man. Most of you agree with that too, but how many of you would let a woman read a scripture from her seat just before we oberve the Lord's supper? How many would allow her to make a comment from her seat after reading the scripture? Would you permit a woman the same liberty in the assembly of the whole church, that you permit her in the classroom? Before you throw 1 Corinthians 14:34-35 out the window on the shoulders of the prophet's wives, I believe it would be wise to consider the consequences of your position.
Others have been contending that the women of 1 Corinthians 14:34-35 were "inspired women," and since we have no inspired women today, the passage is not applicable. This position is based upon the premise that all of those regulated in the chapter were inspired.
I have previously referred to this position in Article 2, "1 Corinthians 14:34-35: Is It Binding Today?" I pointed out in that article that this conclusion is based upon an assumption, which is not inferred, much less necessarily inferred. In fact, Paul's statement in verse 35 precludes this position, for he said, "it is a shame for women to speak in the church." He did not say, "inspired women."
In Article 3, "1 Corinthians 14: Truth, The Roadblock to Errors," I made mention of the fact that we do not have the right to take the regulations given to govern commanded things, and use them to regulate the realm of expediency. This is to extend a thing beyond its legitimate bounderies. To illustrate my point, the Lord commanded the use of the cup (Matt. 26:27-29). There can be only one element, the fruit of the vine. It is specified, and must be observed. The container is not specified. It comes within the realm of expediency. Which kind, and how many are left to human judgment. We understand that it is wrong to apply the rule for determining the element to the realm of expediency.
Applying these principles to 1 Corinthians 14, we find that the regulations of the chapter are commanded, and are designed to control a divine arrangement. Bible Classes are a human arrangement. They are not commanded. They are simply an expedient method of grouping people in order to teach them the Word of God. The only rules governing them are those rules which govern the realm of expediency (1 Cor. 10:23), and those commands which have generic application. For that reason, there is not one single rule in 1 Corinthians 14 that applies to the Bible Class arrangement. Some brethren wish to apply the rules of verses 28-30 to the Bible Classes, but will not apply verses 34-35. That is an inconsistency. The truth of the matter is, none of those regulations apply to the Bible Class arrangement.
"As Also Saith The Law"
Paul says that the women are to keep silence because they "are commanded to be under obedience, as also saith the law" (1 Cor. 14:34). Many rightly contend that the principles of "obedience" as taught by Paul in this verse, is the same principle taught in the law from the beginning. Miriam (Ex. 15:20-21), Deborah (Judges 4:46; 5:7), Huldah (2 Chron. 34; 2 Kings 22), and Anna (Lk. 2:36-38) are cited as examples of women who taught (even men) without violating this principle.
I hesitate mentioning this argument because it has some merit. My main objection to the argument is that I consider any appeal to the Old Testament to prove anything under the New Testament, a weak argument (Gal. 5:4). Even if we proved that women could teach under the Old Testament without violating the principle of "obedience" we still would not have proved they could do it today. It is also weak, because it places one in the position of having to justify other things done hy those Old Testament women which are not permitted of christian women. Never give a man a board with which to beat you.
New Testament Women
Rhoda, Lydia, Euodias, and Syntyche are often cited as proof that Christian women can teach. These examples actually teach nothing about the scripturalness of women teaching. What Lydia did after she became a Christian, I do not know, and what she did before she became one, certainly could not help me to understand what christian women can do. Rhoda "constantly affirmed" (Acts 12:15) before a group of christians that Peter was at the door, but I do not know who was present, nor whether she sinned or not. I do know that 1 Corinthians 14:34-35 and 1 Timothy 2:11-12 teach that if Rhoda did not sin, it was because she was not in the assembly of the church, and did not exercise authority over any man. But that is all I know. Euodias and Syntyche "labored with me (Paul) in the gospel" (Phil. 4:2), but I do not know what they did. What they did was approved, but I do not know what it was. So, you see, I cannot use them to prove that christian women can teach classes of other women or children. We must go elsewhere to prove that women can teach.
Other examples of "Wells Without Water" could be cited, but these are sufficient. It is my honest opinion that in dealing with false teachers, we should make arguments that are strong and that cannot be answered by [he opposition. We must use reasoning that proves the point, and that does not prove too much. "Wherefore be ye not unwise, but understanding what the will of the Lord is" (Eph. 5:17). May God help us to study, understand, and rightly use His Word.
Truth Magazine XX: 45, pp. 712-714