Most egalitarians and complementarians limit the debate over the involvement of women in public worship to 1 Timothy 2:12. However, Reformed theologians historically held that 1 Corinthians 14:34-35 is a parallel passage to 1 Timothy 2:12. The reason can be seen when the language of the two passages is compared.
Most of the debate today over the role of women in the church centers around 1 Timothy 2:12, where Paul prohibits women from “teaching” or “exercising authority” over men and instead commands them to “remain quiet.” Based on a variety of arguments, egalitarians conclude that 1 Timothy 2:12 does not prohibit women today from serving as pastors or elders or preaching to men. However, among those that hold 1 Timothy 2:12 does place restrictions on women in the church today (often called “complementarians”), there are differing conclusions.
The narrowest complementarian position holds that 1 Timothy 2:12 only prohibits women from holding the office of pastor or elder, which would open the door to some women preaching. However, since Paul prohibits teaching and exercising authority and not just being a pastor, most complementarians understand Paul to prohibit women from performing tasks and not just holding office. Yet interpretations vary regarding which tasks are prohibited. The narrowest complementarian position here holds that 1 Timothy 2:12 only prohibits women from engaging in an “authoritative teaching” to men, and thus women may teach theology to men as long as it is under the authority of the (male) elders (the position of Tim and Kathy Keller, following the grammatical argument of egalitarian Phillip Payne).
But assuming these are separate tasks of “teaching” and “exercising authority” in 1 Timothy 2:12 (as Andreas Köstenberger has argued in Women in the Church), then it becomes a question of when and where the prohibition applies. It at least refers to women teaching or preaching in the public worship assembly. However, many complementarians argue that because the principle is rooted in creation— “For Adam was formed first, then Eve” (1 Timothy 2:13)—this means women should not teach Scripture or theology to groups of men in any public forum, whether Sunday school or the seminary classroom.
Yet even among complementarians who make this broader application of 1 Timothy 2:12, there is still debate over whether women may read Scripture and lead prayer in public worship. This is because 1 Timothy 2:12 targets women “teaching” men, not reading or praying. In response, one may argue that reading Scripture is an extension of “teaching” Scripture and that both reading Scripture and leading prayer are forms of “exercising authority” prohibited by women in 1 Timothy 2:12. However, these arguments could be strengthened significantly by bringing in a similar passage of Scripture to the debate.
Bringing Back 1 Corinthians 14:34-35
Do not get me wrong—debates over the meaning and application of 1 Timothy 2:12 are worth having. But they are hindered by the dismissal of 1 Corinthians 14:34-35. This latter passage is often still mentioned, but not in relation to 1 Timothy 2:12. While egalitarians tend to argue either 1 Corinthians 14:34-35 is an interpolation and not part of Scripture (Gordon Fee, Philip Payne) or Paul is quoting the Corinthians (Lucy Peppiatt), most complementarians have adopted the interpretation that 1 Corinthians 14:34-35 only prohibits women from evaluating prophesy (promoted by D. A. Carson in Recovering Biblical Manhood and Womanhood). Thus, most egalitarians and complementarians limit the debate over the involvement of women in public worship to 1 Timothy 2:12.
However, Reformed theologians historically held that 1 Corinthians 14:34-35 is a parallel passage to 1 Timothy 2:12. The reason can be seen when the language of the two passages is compared:
…the women should keep silent in the churches. For they are not permitted to speak, but should be in submission, as the Law also says. If there is anything they desire to learn, let them ask their husbands at home. For it is shameful for a woman to speak in church.
(1 Corinthians 14:34-35)
Let a woman learn quietly with all submissiveness. I do not permit a woman to teach or to exercise authority over a man; rather, she is to remain quiet. For Adam was formed first, then Eve; and Adam was not deceived, but the woman was deceived and became a transgressor.
(1 Timothy 2:11-14)
The similarities between these passages can be summarized as follows:
- Both use the word “permit” (ἐπιτρέπω) with a negation—women are not permitted to “speak” in 1 Corinthians 14:34, while women are not permitted to “teach” or “exercise authority” in 1 Timothy 2:12.
- Both require women to refrain from speaking—women are to be “silent” (σιγάω) in 1 Corinthians 14:34, while women are to remain “quiet/silent” (ἐν ἡσυχία) in 1 Timothy 2:11, 12.
- Both require women’s submission—women “should be in submission” (ὑποτασσέσθωσαν) in 1 Corinthians 14:34, while women are to “learn quietly with all submissiveness” (ἐν πάσῃ ὑποταγῇ) in 1 Timothy 2:11.
- Both place restrictions on women’s learning—women are to “ask their husbands at home” if they desire to “learn” (μαθεῖν) anything in 1 Corinthians 14:35, while women are to “learn” (μανθανέτω) quietly with all submissiveness in 1 Timothy 2:11.