The Ministry of Women
T. Ernest Wilson, USA
I TIMOTHY 2. 9-15; 5. 2-l6; TITUS 2. 3-5
Prior to the advent of Christianity, the position of women in pagan Greece and Rome was decidedly inferior. As in Islam today, they were forced to lead very secluded lives. With some exceptions., the wife was regarded merely as a piece of property completely under the control of her husband. History shows that Christian teaching concerning women stood in sharp contrast to anything found in the heathen world.
Luke's Gospel especially emphasises our Lord's attitude to women. It was one of courteous sympathy. It gives the account of His anointing by the city sinner in chapter 7 and of the gracious service of Martha and Mary of Bethany, 10. 38-42. Luke 8. 2-3 mentions three women by name who ministered unto Him. This is the only passage in the Gospels which tells how Jesus and His disciples lived when they were not entertained by hospitable persons. Women were last at the cross and first at the tomb.
But as regards public ministry, it is significant that twelve men were chosen to be apostles. At the institution of the Lord's supper in the upper room, only men were present. The apostolic commission in Matthew 28. 16-20 was given to men only. Later Paul mentions only men as witnesses to the resurrection in 1 Corinthians 15.
Paul in his categorical instructions as to the position of women in the church has been accused of being a confirmed bachelor, completely out of sympathy with the opposite sex. But no one who reads Romans 16, and considers the courteous and appreciative things that he says about a number of women, could have any doubt about his sympathy with the valued service of those about whom he writes. But far more important than what others may say is the fact that what Paul writes in this regard has apostolic authority behind it and the stamp of divine inspiration upon it.
Paul's teaching is that in the oneness of the body there is neither male nor female, Gal. 3. 26-28, but in the public ministry of the Word in the church there is a difference. Three main passages in his Epistles deal with the subject: 1 Cor. 11. 2-3; 14. 34-35; 1 Tim. 2. 12. The last two enjoin silence on the woman in the church. Some would soften this by translating it as "to be quiet". But Paul makes his meaning clear in 1 Corinthians 14. 34 by adding, "for it is not permitted unto them to speak" and again "for it is a shame for women to speak in the church", 14. 35. Then he adds, "If any man think himself to be a prophet, or spiritual, let him acknowledge that the things that I write unto you are the commandments of the Lord", 14. 37.
At Corinth, Paul's teaching of emancipation from the principle of law gave rise to an over-emphasis on freedom. Apparently one of the abuses at Corinth was the fact that women took part publicly and that without having their heads covered. Paul corrects the uncovered head in chapter 11 and the abuse of taking part publicly in chapter 14. He says categorically that the woman must be silent in the church.
The instructions in 1 Timothy 2 concerning the position of women in the church emphasises what he had taught six years previously to the Corinthians. The Corinthian passage has its background in the order established at creation, but the teaching in 1 Timothy is based on what happened at the fall. Eve, instead of consulting her head, Adam, when she was tempted, acted independently with disastrous consequences, not only to herself but to all her posterity. It is a well-known fact that many of the heretical cults today were either started or greatly influenced by women.
There are four keywords relating to the sister in 1 Timothy 2. 9-15; sobriety, subjection, silence and salvation. In 1 Corinthians 11 the problem had been the refusal of the head covering, here it is the other extreme of over-decoration, the adornment of the natural glory and the extravagance of weaving gold and jewels into the hair. Peter, referring to the same subject, says, "Whose adorning let it not be that outward adorning of plaiting the hair, and of wearing of gold, or of putting on of apparel; but let it be the hidden man of the heart . . . the ornament of a meek and quiet spirit, which is in the sight of God of great price", 1 Pet. 3. 3-4. Paul uses the term "sobriety" twice and "silence" twice. His words appear to be more emphatic in Timothy than in 1 Corinthians.
The last verse in chapter 2, "Notwithstanding she shall be saved in child-bearing if they continue in faith and charity and holiness with sobriety" has given rise to a good deal of controversy as to its meaning. There are two main interpretations: (i) That it refers to the promise of the Redeemer, the seed of the woman. The woman shall be saved through the childbearing, namely, the birth of Christ, (ii) That the salvation is from daily temptation through occupation with her sphere in the home and raising a family. In Genesis there was a twofold sentence on the woman as a result of the fall, (i) In sorrow she would bring forth children and (ii) she was to be in subjection to her husband. It is very likely that the salvation referred to in verse 15 is not the salvation of her soul, but daily salvation in her primary function of taking care of the home and her children.
To summarize, the apostle teaches that women are not to take part audibly in public worship; this includes preaching, praying in a mixed company and teaching men in public. This does not mean that a woman may not teach her children, for Timothy himself was taught the Scriptures by his mother and grandmother. There is the exhortation too in Titus 2. 3-4 that the aged women are to teach or train the younger women to be sober, to love their husbands and to love their children. She must never usurp the authority that God gave to the man to lead in the public ministry in the church. This is the pattern established in Scripture.
The comments of W. H. Hoste on 1 Timothy 5. 5 and Titus 2. 3 are very much to the point: "The qualifications of a true widow indicate clearly some phases of women's work. They are sevenfold: (i) She must be a woman of prayer, like Anna; (ii) well reported of for good works, like Phoebe or Priscilla; (iii) have brought up children, like Lois or Eunice; (iv) lodged strangers, like Lydia; (v) washed the saints feet, like Mary; (vi) relieved the afflicted, like Dorcas; (vii) diligently followed every good work, like Per sis. Then, again, the elder women are exhorted to teach (not, it must be noted, the brethren, but) the younger women 'to be sober, to love their husbands . . . It seems clear that the home is the typical sphere for the women, and that her service, though it may be varied, should always be in keeping with this. It would clearly not be the mind the Lord, if a desire for prominent service led anyone to neglect the humbler and more prosaic duties of the home life".