QUESTIONS TO THE CHURCH (Part 6: If women were given the gift to prophesy in the first-century church, why can’t they preach today?)

The church exists in a time of gender equality and equal rights for all, where the majority of the world believes that anything a man can do, a woman can do. Popular culture puts tremendous pressure on all men to agree! Those who study the Bible find commands and practices divided for men and for women. God assigns roles for men and sometimes different roles for women. God gives men oversight of the church and the household (1 Tim. 3:1,2; Eph. 5:22-24; 1 Cor. 14:34,35), women are given to be keepers of the home, teachers of good things, and examples in holiness (Titus 2:3-5). In the modern world, not all women accept their roles assigned by God and refuse to submit to the authority of a husband or an all-male leadership in the church. Women possess great abilities to teach and inspire others, so many people assume that ability implies authority and the right to use those gifts whenever desired.

A woman asked a question about women’s roles in the church. She asked, “If women were given the ability from God to prophesy in the first century, then why can’t they preach in the church today?” Excellent question. One could assume that with the ability to prophecy came the authority to publicly prophecy in the assembly of the saints, as a preacher would speak from a pulpit. Some advocates even use Genesis 1-3 to say that speech equals authority. God gave women the voice of a prophet, they obviously have authority in speak over others.

The Bible reveals examples of female prophets. There is Anna mentioned in Luke 2:36, the daughters of Philip are mentioned as prophetesses in Acts 21:8-9. There exist also general mentions of women who prophesy that are not named (Acts 2:17; 1 Cor. 11:5).

While the Bible mentions female prophets, there exists no example of these women ever speaking publicly in the worship assembly or in leadership roles in the first-century church. There are examples of prophets in the New Testament that did not preach publicly (when I say “publicly” I mean taking leadership roles in speaking over the assembling of the church) but prophesied to individual people (one on one) and not publicly, which means that prophecy did not have to be done publicly or in the worship assembly (Acts 10:10-11). If the women that prophesied had spoken publicly in the assembly taking leadership over men, then they would have disobeyed God’s command in 1 Corinthians 14:34-35 and 1 Timothy 2:11-14.

Paul addresses an epistle to the Corinthians whose assembly possessed all the spiritual gifts (1 Cor. 12). Paul likewise explains that the brethren were not using the spiritual gifts properly in the worship service (1 Cor. 14). It may have been, although not absolute, that some of the women had the gift of prophecy or speaking in tongues, and those women tried to speak over the men in the assembly of the church. Paul responds, “Let your women keep silence in the churches: for it is not permitted unto them to speak; but they are commanded to be under obedience, as also saith the law. And if they will learn any thing, let them ask their husbands at home: for it is a shame for women to speak in the church” (1 Corinthians 14:34,35). Paul basically concludes by saying that just because people have a gift centered in speaking doesn’t mean they can use it whenever and however they want (1 Cor. 14:37).

Paul mentions the same command in 1 Timothy 2:12: “But I suffer not a woman to teach, nor to usurp authority over the man, but to be in silence.” The women that prophesied could have prophesied at home or on a personal one to one basis, which Bible readers have examples of prophets doing such. If the female prophetesses were to be acceptable to God, then they would have to follow the roles that God assigned to them.

God commands women to teach (Titus 2:3-5; Matthew 28:19-20; Acts 18:25-26), but their teaching is not done in the same way men are commanded to teach; each part of the body has its own responsibilities to uphold (1 Cor. 12:12-14); Christians can’t all do the same thing (1 Cor. 12:15-18). It is not that women do not have the capability to preach publicly, but it is rather that God has assigned women to a different style of teaching than He assigned to men. The reasons for which are given in 1 Timothy 2:13-14. Ability doesn’t equal authority. Women cannot preach and teach over men because God said they could not. God giving women the talent and gift of speech doesn’t mean she can usurp authority over men in the church.  

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