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Wednesday, September 4, 2013 | Comments (10)

by John MacArthur

Last time, we saw that women are not to be in authority over men but are to “remain quiet” (1 Timothy 2:12). Obviously, that doesn’t mean a woman must never speak at all. Women are a vital part—a vital half—of the church. It would be a terrible loss to exclude them from church life. So what kind of involvement is acceptable?

An important aspect of church life is hearing the Word taught. In 1 Corinthians 14:35, Paul ensures that women have every opportunity to understand Scripture as well as men: “If they desire to learn anything, let them ask their own husbands at home.”

That command indicates certain women were disrupting the church service by asking questions. If they desired to learn, disrupting the church service was not the way to do it. The acceptable outlet for questions and lengthy discussion was to be at home with their husbands.

As a side note, that verse implies that Christian husbands should be well taught in the Word. Frustration with Christian men, often including their own husbands, who do not responsibly fulfill their God-given leadership assignments can tempt many women to go beyond their biblical roles.

But God has established the proper order and relationship of male and female roles in the church, and they are not to be violated for any reason. For a woman to assume a man’s role because he has neglected it merely compounds the problem. God has led women to do work that men have refused to do, but He does not lead them to accomplish that work through roles He has restricted to men.

That doesn’t mean, however, that God never permits women to speak His truth in public:

  • Paul spoke with various churches and synagogues during his missionary journeys, answering questions from women as well as men (cf. Acts 17:2–4). I see nothing wrong with a woman asking questions or sharing what the Spirit of God has taught her out of the Word during informal Bible study and fellowship.
  • I thank God for the many faithful women who serve on the mission field in a variety of public ways but refrain from leading the church. If there was ever a need for leadership on the mission field, it was in Paul’s day. He could have compromised by using women in leadership roles, but he didn’t. When a shortage of men exists on the mission field, don’t violate biblical principles but instead ask the Lord of the harvest to send more laborers (Matthew 9:38).
  • Women can proclaim the Word of God except when the church meets for corporate worship. The Old Testament says, “The women who proclaim the good tidings are a great host” (Psalm 68:11). The New Testament gives examples of Mary, Anna, and Priscilla declaring God’s truth to men and women (Luke 1:46–55; 2:36–38; Acts 18:24–26).
  • Women can pray in public. Acts 1:13–14 describes a prayer meeting where women and men, including Jesus’ apostles, were present. But leading in prayer during an official meeting of the church is, as we’ve already seen, a role ordained for men (1 Timothy 2:8).

Women can still be actively involved in the life of the church. Appropriate times abound for men and women to share equally in exchanging questions and insights. But when the church comes together as a body to worship God, His standards are clear: The role of leadership is reserved for men.

But why is that the case? What’s the basis for that authority structure?

A popular view is that woman’s subordinate role is a result of the Fall. Since God reversed the effects of the curse through Christ, some argue that He abolished differing male and female roles. Paul, however, grounds woman’s subordinate role in the order of creation, not in the Fall: “For it was Adam who was first created, and then Eve” (1 Timothy 2:13). Eve was created after Adam to be his helper (Genesis 2:18)—she was designed to follow his lead, live on his provisions, and find safety in his strength. Such tendencies were from that point on built into all women.

Some have argued that Paul’s teaching was prompted by a cultural situation at Ephesus and hence is not applicable today. But this teaching was not for Ephesus alone—for example, he taught the same truth to the Corinthians (1 Corinthians 11:8–9).

Paul does not derive woman’s role from the Fall; he uses that event as further corroboration. He points out that “it was not Adam who was deceived, but the woman being deceived, fell into transgression” (1 Timothy 2:14).

We usually connect the Fall with Adam since Romans 5:12–21 speaks repeatedly of the one man (Adam) who ushered sin and death into the world. Although he was not deceived by Satan, as was Eve, Adam still chose to disobey God. As the head of their relationship, he bore ultimate responsibility. But we must keep in mind that he didn’t actually fall first—Eve did (Genesis 3:1–6). When Eve abandoned the protection of Adam’s leadership and attempted to deal independently with the enemy, she was deceived.

By being so easily deceived, Eve revealed her inability to lead effectively. She had met more than her match in Satan. The Greek word translated “deceived” in 1 Timothy 2:14 is a particularly strong term: It refers to being thoroughly deceived. When a woman leaves the shelter of her protector, she exposes a certain amount of vulnerability.

The Fall resulted not only from direct disobedience of God’s command but also from a violation of the divinely appointed role of the sexes. Eve acted independently and assumed the role of leadership; Adam abdicated his leadership and followed Eve’s lead. That does not mean Adam was less culpable than Eve, or that she was more defective—both of them chose to sin. We’re all vulnerable in different ways.

Christians affirm the leadership of men in the church because it is established by creation and confirmed by the Fall. The headship of man, then, was part of God’s design from the beginning. The tragic experience of the Fall confirmed the wisdom of that design. No daughter of Eve should follow her path and enter the forbidden territory of authority intended for men.

(Adapted from Divine Design. All Scripture quotations are from the New American Standard Bible.)


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#1  Posted by Mae Ella Jones  |  Wednesday, September 4, 2013 at 8:03 AM


I learned this lesson after suffering through some years of disobedience, but I am now learning God's word with my husband at home, with him in the lead. The submissive factor has also influenced ever area of our lives and has brought much joy to our lives. What a wonderful restful place to be.

#2  Posted by Astrea Jones  |  Wednesday, September 4, 2013 at 12:32 PM

So...can a woman be the VBS or children's church director if she has male teachers under her? Does this depend on her duties or is it different from the corporate worship of the church so doesn't apply?

#4  Posted by Franklyn Beasley  |  Wednesday, September 4, 2013 at 6:01 PM

Yes! Its like he (MacArthur) read my blogs on here! That's everything I said to everyone on here! (Except he used bigger words and more words than we can type, lol).

But, that is what I was teaching in my classes about the roles of men and women in the church.

Thank you, Lord. This was INDEED a blessing to read. John MacArthur and me, a layman of God's word, Bible teacher...are on the same path of thought....this is indeed the work of the Holy Spirit....I feel cleansed, lol.

Thank you, John. It is sooooo great to know and see that one of my MANY mentors I look up to in Christ to be an effective leader for His kingdom are on the same page and teaching the same as the Holy Spirit taught us in Scripture....Wow, this is awesome, lol.

Thanks again :D

#5  Posted by Joyce Atela  |  Wednesday, September 4, 2013 at 6:45 PM

What about single women. They have no male to instruct them at home. Can she teach her adult male children who aren't believers yet?

#6  Posted by Regina Pennington  |  Wednesday, September 4, 2013 at 10:13 PM

Thank you so much for this most in depth explanation. It answered many questions for me. I am one who began to live for the Lord after my marriage and my husband, though a believer, is not zealous for the Word. It is difficult to get answers to questions from him, or as a woman alone in the church. That has been a blessing in that it has pushed me to seek answers and study more independently. I listen to your archived sermons/ teachings daily and you have enlightened me to so much in scripture. You truly bring the scripture to life. God Bless you!

#7  Posted by Ralphene Hebert  |  Thursday, September 5, 2013 at 2:44 AM

If a woman is a widow how does this role of leadership apply to her?She now has no husband.

#8  Posted by Kelvin Peterson  |  Thursday, September 5, 2013 at 9:10 AM

For the question posed by Astrea Jones, the post on 8/29 says

"In a study of the extrabiblical uses of authentein, however, Dr. George Knight concludes that the common meaning is “to have authority over.” [3] Paul, then, forbids women from exercising any type of authority over men in the church, including teaching."

#9  Posted by P B  |  Thursday, September 5, 2013 at 9:31 AM

What about women worship leaders or choir directors? I personally find it kind of unnatural but wonder what John thinks of it. Even in situations where the woman in question is very talented, humble and submissive in her demeanor, it still seems off kilter when she is directing men.

#10  Posted by Xxxxxxxxxx Xxxxxxxxxx  |  Monday, September 9, 2013 at 3:24 AM

Pastor MacArthur,

I am grateful that you have brought clarity to what is a touchy subject for many. There is an evangelist named Tony Miano who has just written a book on this subject, he insists women cannot proclaim God's truth publicly...ever. He also believes his grown daughters must stay at home until he chooses a worthy husband for them. I do not find this in God's word, this is mis-using the word of God to oppress women.

I thank you for your faithfulness to God's truth, and your rightly dividing the truth.

#11  Posted by Fred Butler  |  Monday, September 9, 2013 at 10:12 AM

Laurie, #10

I am familiar with what Tony is arguing. He believes, and I happen to agree with him, that when it comes to street preaching, that should be a role specifically reserved for men. I'd have to ask Tony, but to my knowledge, he isn't saying women can't share the gospel or proclaim Christ to unbelievers. His concern is in the context of a street preaching ministry. It would be a similar restriction that Paul gives on women to fulfill the role of elders and pastors.

I haven't heard Tony address your other concerns, but though that may be his opinion, I don't take his keeping his daughters home until they are married to be "unbiblical" in that he is "misusing" the Word of God. I certainly don't see his choice in that matter as oppressive.