Women Should Be Seen, But Not Heard (In Church)

I have noticed a disturbing increase in the amount of articles on The Christian Post, as well as sentiments and doctrinal statements from both Catholics and Protestants about the role of women teachers in churches. Interestingly, these opinions seem to coincide with the Supreme Court’s Hobby Lobby decision (but more on that later).

So many churches/Christians/Christian groups have told me to sit down and shut up, at least in the presence of men over the years, that I am beginning to feel like The Unsinkable Molly Brown from James Cameron’s Titanic . Of course those churches, etc. didn’t put it quite like that, but the meaning is the same. According to a great number of churches and Christian groups, my role as a Christian woman is to never ask questions, never argue, and never research or attempt to learn on my own without the careful aid of men to guide me, or the occasional women’s-only Bible study to encourage me. The term is “complementarianism” and the concept serves only to divide the Body of Christ.

What astounds me and pains me the most however, is that there are so many women who hear these things and never question. They even sometimes put themselves and their children at risk, in order to do what men/pastors/churches/older-women-with-a-lot-of-money tell them pleases God. And I am not just talking about women my mother or grandmother’s age who grew up in a culture of this belief. I am talking about young, educated women my own age, many of whom have daughters of their own.

Now when we argue with atheists and those of other religions about how the Bible exalts women, we become hypocrites and contradict ourselves if we then say that the Bible teaches women should be seen but not heard in church settings, or that women cannot teach men. “Separate but equal” was a concept I thought the church had left behind…

woman speakingThis doctrinal belief is based on several different verses, but especially this passage of Scripture from 1 Corinthians 14:34-35,

Let your women keep silent in the churches, for they are not permitted to speak; but they are to be submissive, as the law also says. And if they want to learn something, let them ask their own husbands at home; for it is shameful for women to speak in church.

Another verse cited as a basis for this belief is 1 Tim. 2:11-14,

A woman should learn in quietness and full submission. I do not permit a woman to teach or to assume authority over a man; she must be quiet. For Adam was formed first, then Eve. And Adam was not the one deceived; it was the woman who was deceived and became a sinner. But women will be saved through childbearing – if they continue in faith, love and holiness with propriety.

Now, if we take this verse from 1 Timothy verbatim, not only can women not teach or assume authority over men (and just what does that mean, exactly? Should a son never consult his mother for wisdom or learning?), she also cannot be saved unless she has children. Which is ludicrous, of course. No other place in Scripture ever alludes to that, nor does Scripture ever insist that Eve only, and not Adam was a sinner, so we must be missing something.

In looking closer at the first passage for this belief from 1 Corinthians 14, we will see that this doctrinal belief fails to take into consideration the context of the passage and book overall. Directly before these two verses, is this piece from 1 Corinthians 14:26-33,

What then shall we say, brothers and sisters? When you come together, each of you has a hymn, or a word of instruction, a revelation, a tongue or an interpretation. Everything must be done so that the church may be built up.  If anyone speaks in a tongue, two – or at the most three – should speak, one at a time, and someone must interpret. If there is no interpreter, the speaker should keep quiet in the church and speak to himself and to God. Two or three prophets should speak, and the others should weigh carefully what is said. And if a revelation comes to someone who is sitting down, the first speaker should stop. For you can all prophesy in turn so that everyone may be instructed and encouraged.”

So then, does Paul contradict himself with all of these seemingly different verses? I propose that we modern readers are missing some cultural context. In Galatians 3:26-28, Paul (the same author of Corinthians and 1 and 2 Timothy) writes,

“You are all Sons of God through faith in Jesus, for all of you who were baptized into Christ have clothed yourselves with Christ. There is neither Jew nor Greek, slave nor free, male nor female, for you are all one in Christ Jesus.”

Paul is very inclusive in this passage, and makes it clear that all these groups are counted as “sons” and heirs of God. Moreover, Paul uses the term “brethren”, “brothers”, and “everyone” to include all Christians, not just men. Paul does in fact refer to this verse again in 1 Corinthians 12:13, when he cites it in part,

For we were all baptised by one Spirit so as to form one body – whether Jews or Gentiles, slave or free – and we were all given the one Spirit to drink.

What this belief ultimately means is that even if a woman were to teach sound doctrine to men, it would be meaningless and even rebellious simply because of her anatomy. Are those who hold this belief truly ready to deny or ignore the Holy Scriptures they claim to uphold, based on the shape or status of the vessel that proclaims it?

But if you show favoritism, you sin and are convicted by the law as lawbreakers. For whoever keeps the whole law and yet stumbles at just one point is guilty of breaking all of it.James 2:9-10


If the entire New Testament is about equality and being free from the Law, why are we so quick and eager to put women (and we women often put ourselves or sisters) back under the Law?

“It is for freedom that Christ has set us free. Stand firm, then, and do not let yourselves be burdened again by a yoke of slavery…You who are trying to be justified by law have been alienated from Christ; you have fallen away from grace…For in Christ Jesus neither circumcision nor uncircumcision has any value. The only thing that counts is faith expressing itself through love.” (Galatians 5:1, 4, and 6)

This belief about women not being Biblically allowed to teach men is wrong, not because it is ancient or out-of-date, but because it abuses Scripture in order to control and dominate (see also: 3 Complementarians and a Mutualist by Zach Hoag). It is not about protection (what do women need protection from in this case? The Bible? God?), and it is not about obedience to Scripture since we have seen so many other places where the Bible encourages freedom for women. This belief is founded on legalism, plain and simple, and as with any case of legalism, where will the line be drawn and who has the authority to draw it?

If a woman has no husband, some churches insist that her “spiritual covering” be her father, her father-in-law, a brother, a brother-in-law, or perhaps the woman’s pastor. Do I need to point out how the idea of having a pastor becoming a woman’s “spiritual covering” can and has lead to all kinds of evil? And what constitutes as a church setting; Bible studies? Sunday school? Sunday morning service? Church picnics? And what constitutes teaching? Singing? Reading the Bible out loud? Speaking to men from a podium? Speaking to men while they sit and the woman stands (no announcements, right)? Speaking to men in general? And films teach lessons, too. So Christian female actresses are out. Or what about writing? Can women write books that men might read?  If you are a man, should you be reading this blog post?

As long as women are in church, they are expected to sit down, be quiet, and just “trust and obey”. So much damage has been done because of that injunction to “trust and obey” men, when the Bible uses that phrase for Jesus alone. Instead of teaching men or being in leadership positions, women are relegated to the kitchens, children’s Sunday school classes, and offices of churches. But wait! There is a Bible verse that says one of the gifts of the Spirit is administration. It comes from…(drum roll) 1 Corinthians 12! Now, if women can be administrators, help others, have gifts of healing, be apostles (see Junia, Romans 16:7) and be prophets (see also Joel 2:28; Acts 2:17; and Acts 21:9), why are they prevented from teaching? 1 Corinthians 12:27-28,

Now you are the body of Christ, and each one of you is a part of it. And God has placed in the church first of all apostles, second prophets, third teachers, then miracles, then gifts of healing, of helping, of guidance, and of different kinds of tongues.

James 4:7 ,Submit yourselves, then, to God.

The church should not be encouraging anyone to bend their knee to anyone but Christ alone. He alone is the head of the church, He alone died for my sins, and He alone commands me.


Want more info? Check out these blogs and articles:

The New Calvinism

Different but Complementary and Separate but Equal

Covering and Authority: Hebrews 13:17

On Biblical Leadership: Submission, Control, and Authority in the Church

A Critical Spirit?

6 thoughts on “Women Should Be Seen, But Not Heard (In Church)

  1. I may be wrong here, but assuming later editors and copyists didn’t overemphasize or… shall we say, improvise… certain scripture as they put the Bible together, what specific passage is there where Jesus said women are inferior or ineligible for ecclesiastical leadership? Any? I would assume He is the authority to ask, since even the Old Testament God is much more concerned with ancient Hebrew civilization than modern Western culture. I don’t see how anyone justifies such a patriarchal position when Paul of Tarsus and Christ seemed alright with feminine pastors, when the community involved would respond well.


    1. You are correct, to my knowledge, that Jesus never made such an injunction. In many ways Jesus elevated women. There is a lot of interesting history concerning ancient Greek priestesses and secret pagan rites that form the background for these passages and others in Scripture, that seem at first glance to silence Christian women in church settings.


      1. I wish I could say there was a permanent reversal to this sexism, but alas, men are men every so often in history. It’s nice to see when that abates for a while, but we may be in the downturn again.


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