Can a Woman Preach?

By  Connie W. Adams

Can a woman preach? Obviously she can for there are many now who do. To preach means to proclaim, to herald a message. Can a woman do that? Yes she can. Really what concerns us at the present hour is may a woman preach? That gets to the heart of the issue of divine authority. Is such activity on her part approved by God in his word? To that question, we answer emphatically, no.

While other writers will deal with 1 Timothy 2:11-15, I must press it into service here for it settles the question for all who respect the word of God. “And I do not permit a woman to teach or to have authority over a man, but to be in silence.” Paul gave two reasons for that: (1) Adam was first formed, and (2) the woman was deceived in the transgression (vv. 13-14). In the wake of the transgression, God said to Eve: “Your desire shall be for your husband, and he shall rule over you” (Gen. 3:16). In the light of these simple statements, how say some that it is permissible for a woman to preach? Paul said, “I do not permit” it.

I have been asked to address some of the arguments made in defense of women preaching.

“Men and Women Have Equal Ability to Preach”

Some women are more expressive than some men. That cannot be denied. But the issue is not equal ability. It involves the roles which God assigned to men and women in the church. Can you name one woman in the church in the New Testament who preached? This boils down to an argument about the use made of talent. I have heard the same argument used to justify instrumental music in worship. “God gave me this talent and I ought to use it to glorify him.” But people are capable of doing many things which God did not authorize in his word.

“Paul Was Prejudiced Against Women”

This argument has been made not only to escape the force of what Paul wrote in 1 Timothy 2:11-15 but also to nullify what he taught in Ephesians 5:22-25 about the husband being the head of the wife and what he wrote in Titus 2:4-5 about women being “obedient” to their husbands. It is held that Paul was an old bachelor, obviously biased against women and that what he wrote was motivated by the chauvinism of the times in which he lived. Such an argument strikes at the heart of the doctrine of verbal inspiration. The Holy Spirit was to guide the apostles “into all truth” (Jn. 16:13-14). By revelation, Paul received from God the knowledge of the mystery of divine truth which he then wrote in words  “whereby when you read you may understand my knowledge in the mystery of Christ” (Eph. 3:1-4). “But God revealed them unto us by his Spirit” (1 Cor. 2:10). The message was given in words “which the Holy Spirit teacheth” (v. 13), so that Paul and the other apostles had “the mind of Christ” (v. 16). Then to clinch it, Paul wrote, “If anyone thinks himself to be a prophet or spiritual, let him acknowledge that the things I write to you are the commandments of the Lord” (1 Cor. 14:37). Paul was either inspired by the Holy Spirit and taught the commandments of the Lord, or else he lied about it. If the latter, then there is no reason to discuss the New Testament further. Yet those who seek to justify women preaching would have us to believe the practice is taught in the New Testament. It cannot be both ways.

“We Must Make Our Practice Relevant to the Times”

Ah, now we are getting to it. This strikes at the all-sufficiency of the word of God to meet every need in the church for as long as the world stands. This all springs from the notion that the word of God is out of date and out of touch with the demands of modem life. What an insult to God! The faith was “once for all delivered to the saints” (Jude 3). Perverting it is wrong (Gal. 1:8-9). “Going onward” is wrong (2 In. 9-11). Adding to it or subtracting from it is wrong (Rev. 22:18-19). It furnishes us to every good work (2 Tim. 3:16-17). We are equipped with “all things that pertain unto life and godliness” (2 Pet. 1:3). The New Testament is all-sufficient to guide the church and in that delivered faith the Holy Spirit guided Paul to write, “I permit not a woman to teach or to have authority over a man, but to be silence.”

“There Were Women Who Could Prophesy”

Joel had written “your sons and your daughters shall prophesy” and Peter quoted that on Pentecost in Acts 2:17). Early in the New Testament we are introduced to Anna, a prophetess. Phillip the evangelist had four virgin daughters “which did prophesy” (Acts 21:8-9). From 1 Corinthians 11:5 we learn of women who “prayed and prophesied.” Men were to do this with their heads uncovered and women who exercised such gifts were to cover their heads when they did so as a sign of subjection. But I know from 1 Corinthians 14:34-35 and from 1 Timothy 2:11-12 that they could not do this in a situation where they exercised authority over men. That means then that they must do such things as they instructed other women and in a context removed from a mixed public assembly. Paul took great care to protect the chain of authority which he detailed in 1 Corinthians 11:3. Headship was not to be despised. Also, it needs to be remembered that prophesying was not simply teaching. It was inspired teaching. We have none, men or women, who can prophesy today for these gifts have ceased and the argument for women preachers based on this collapses.

“What If the Men Authorize Women to Preach?”

This contends that if men give their permission, then it would be all right. I doubt that argument will please those who are tainted with feminism. They would see that as too demeaning, to think that men had to grant it. But be that as it may, God does not give man the right, ever, to permit what the Holy Spirit said he did not permit. That is equal to saying 1 Timothy 2:12 forbids it but I do permit it. What group of elders, deacons, preachers or other men have grown so large that they can say they permit the very thing the Holy Spirit guided an apostle to write and say he did not permit?

Pentecostal churches have had women preachers a long time. This has gradually spread to the mainline denominations and now it is not uncommon to find women filling pulpits while others are studying in seminaries preparing for this work. The Catholic Church is faced with a possible rebellion from American Catholics over women in the priesthood. Not to be outdone, some in the more liberal Churches of Christ have begun to beat the drums for a changing role for women in the church. One preacher spoke on the Texas college lectureship and reported hearing a sister address a mixed crowd of about 1,000 and said, “she was dynamite.” Evidently, he approved. Such magazines as Image and Wineskins have called for a reassessment of this matter while other journals have opposed any trend in that direction. Who could deny that the increasing clamor for leadership roles from women in the church parallels the agenda of the Feminist Movement?

The God-ordained roles of both men and women in the church, the home and society are in the best interest of all concerned. The upsetting of those roles has led to disaster in the home, in society and bids to do the same in the church. The whole matter must be settled by a “thus saith the Lord.” And what he said through Paul is “I do not permit” it. We can quibble about it from here on out. We can rationalize it, minimize it, philosophize about it, ridicule it, or attempt to simply ignore it. When we get through with all of that, the New Testament will still say the same thing about it. It is that by which we shall all be judged in the last day.

May a woman preach? No, she may not and still please God.

Guardian of Truth XXXIX: 3 p. 12-13
February 2, 1995