WAMS 2018: What does “Learn in Silence” Mean?
There is much discussion that centers around the silence of women in the church. There are two key passages that come to the forefront of the discussion.
Let a woman learn in silence with all submission. And I do not permit a woman to teach or to have authority over a man, but to be in silence. (1 Timothy 2:11-12)
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. (1 Corinthians 14:34-35)
Many interpretations of these verses exist and my view isn’t going to change that. I submit a view for your rumination as we consider the text and context of these verses. I fully confess that I am on this journey of learning, as we all are, and don’t hold this view dogmatically.
A consistent truth
It should be noted that in both of the “silence” passages Paul uses the word “learn” and connects it with teaching. The Greek word for “learn” is manthanó (Strongs 3129) and means: properly, learning key facts; gaining “fact-knowledge as someone learns from experience, often with the implication of reflection – ‘come to realize'”.
The text itself indicates that in the act of learning within the church, women are to be in silence and are not to be the authoritative teachers. This is consistent with all other scripture that refers to those in the church who are teachers.
Now in the church that was at Antioch there were certain prophets and teachers: Barnabas, Simeon who was called Niger, Lucius of Cyrene, Manaen who had been brought up with Herod the tetrarch, and Saul. (Act 13:1)
A bishop then must be blameless, the husband of one wife, temperate, sober-minded, of good behavior, hospitable, able to teach . (1 Timothy 3:2)
And the things that you have heard from me among many witnesses, commit these to faithful men who will be able to teach others also. (2 Timothy 2:2)
I would suggest that from the passages in 1 Corinthians 14 and 1 Timothy 2 and the examples of men recorded as the teachers of the early church, men are to teach the Word of God corporately in the church today.
Let’s consider when authoritative teaching is to be applied
One of the main issues surrounding this discussion is the “When” question. This is where context plays a big part in understanding. 1 Timothy was written by Paul specifically to address issues when meeting in the church. He states this in 1 Timothy 3:15. This is why we find other topics such as public prayer, elders and deacons.
In 1 Corinthians there are numerous verses surrounding the “silence” verses in chapter 14 that indicate Paul is addressing what happens when gathered in the church. In fact chapter 14 itself is all about a public meeting of the church and how gifts should be used in that meeting.
For first of all, when you come together as a church … 1 Corinthians 11:18
And God has appointed these in the church … 1 Corinthians 12:28
Therefore if the whole church comes together in one place … 1 Corinthians 14:23
How is it then, brethren? Whenever you come together … 1 Corinthians 14:26
Let’s be clear. No other passage in the New Testament restricts women from participating so my observation would be that all other settings are open for women to verbally communicate. We have at least one example of this in Scripture in Acts 18:26. It’s clear that both Aquila and Priscilla “explained” the way of God to Apollos.
When we couple this with the fact that no spiritual gift is restricted to either gender we must conclude that both men and women can be teachers. Some have “assumed” that women teaching needs to be restricted to other women and children but that is not something the Scriptures state.
Older teaching the younger
Some will point to Titus 2:3-5 as proof that women should only teach other women. However, the teaching spoken of in this passage is about character and how each gender should influence the next generation in areas that pertain specifically to men and women. It is not a general statement about all teaching.
What about other kinds of verbal presentation?
The logical question that comes out of this is in regards to other forms of verbal communication. Can women share verbally in other ways in the church that would not be considered teaching? My answer is yes, and we will explore this in a future article.